Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Where Should an Estate Plan Be Stored?

If you have a medical emergency or die unexpectedly, and your documents can’t be located, your family will be scrambling to give you the assistance you need or to close your final affairs, says AARP’s recent article, entitled “Storing Legal Documents in an Easy-to-Find Place for Family Caregivers.”

Security and accessibility are the two primary factors in making the decision about where to store originals. However, frequently the most secure spot isn’t always the most accessible.

Some attorneys offer to keep the originals of your legal documents for safekeeping. However, this has drawbacks. Your family would have to contact the law firm and obtain the release of the documents.

If you opt to keep your original documents at home, secure them from fire or flood. A fire-rated safe is more protective than a file cabinet.

If you lock them up, remember that someone will need to either have a key or know where the key is.

If you decide not to provide copies or originals to your future caregivers and loved ones, tell them where they’ll be able to find the documents, if they need them (and how to access them!).

If you’re reluctant to tell them in advance, leave a letter of instruction for their use if you’re incapacitated or pass away.

Inform your attorney of the location and ask them to note it in your file or perhaps provide a copy of your letter of instruction for them to keep.

If you decide to change the location, let the attorney know.

When you draft new documents, make certain you destroy or discard your now-outdated documents.

Send a notice of revocation to anyone who’s holding copies or originals. If you’ve recorded any of those documents, record the notice of revocation as well. Also, ask that anyone holding copies also destroy or discard the documents in their possession.

You don’t want your loved ones to get delayed in probate court if they can only find a copy of your documents or, even worse, no documents at all.

Organization and dialog are critical to both safeguarding your paperwork and making it easy for your loved ones to use it when the time comes.

Reference: AARP  (July 27, 2022) “Storing Legal Documents in an Easy-to-Find Place for Family Caregivers”

How to Talk to Parents about Estate Planning

Research from the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP shows that more than 50 million Americans currently serve as unpaid caregivers. This number has increased by nearly 25% since 2015. Statistically, baby boomers and women take on the biggest caregiving burden when it comes to providing care for aging family members. As life expectancy increases, and baby boomers advance well into senior years of their own, the need for caregiving will only continue to rise.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Holiday Season Tips For Caregivers” says that as the number of seniors in America continues to grow, we find ourselves on the verge of the largest transfer of wealth in history. It is estimated that 45 million Americans will transfer some $68 trillion over the next 25 years.

As a result, having estate planning conversations has become more important than ever.

Discussions about money and mortality can be challenging and emotional. Here are some tips on how to broach this sensitive subject with family and loved ones.

Schedule a time: This can be an overwhelming topic, but don’t ignore it. Scheduling dedicated time to open the dialogue and creating a timeline to complete the basic estate planning documents can make the process more manageable and keep everyone involved accountable.

Share your wealth of knowledge: Share your knowledge about what the documents mean, how and when they come into play, as well as what happens if there’s no estate plan in place. Remind them that this is their chance to ensure that their wishes are carried out.

Ask questions: Provided the person is in a sound state of mind, they’re in a position to be involved in the decision-making. Ask open-ended questions like what steps have already been taken and document as much as possible without judgment.

Share your plan: Sharing your ideas and discussing your own plans can ease tension and help eliminate fears. It shows others that they’re not alone in the planning process.

Leave the conversation open-ended: The key to these planning conversations is empathy because many seniors are experiencing a variety of emotions. Reassure them that you’re available for future conversations and will plan to check back in at the times set forth in the timeline you created together.

You should also ask an experienced estate planning attorney for assistance.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 29, 2022) “Holiday Season Tips For Caregivers”

How to Find New Doctor for Mom if She Moves

Seasons’ recent article entitled “How do I help an older adult switch doctors after a move?” advises that breaking the process into manageable pieces will help you make sure you don’t miss any details.

First, check mom’s insurance because Medicare options are different when moving states. Check with Medicare to determine the process based on your mom’s existing coverage. Then you can find new health care providers.

Caregivers should have at least one dedicated three-ring notebook with dividers specifically for their loved one’s important information. Two is even better: one for financial information and one for medical information. Separate notebooks allow you to take the one with medical information to appointments without having sensitive financial information out and about at appointments.

Place some blank calendar pages in the front of the medical notebook. You’ll be able to organize your mom’s appointments in one place, as well as have a record of past appointments.

If you also use an online calendar like Google Calendar or iCalendar, create a color specifically for your mom’s appointments, so you can easily see the dates and times of her appointments.

Try using the paper option even if you also use an online calendar because this makes certain the information is easily accessible in case you need to share information with another person who helps with the caregiving.

Having all of your loved one’s medical information in one place that’s easily accessible will be invaluable when going to appointments at different doctors’ offices. You’ll have all of the info ready to share with different medical providers.

Once you get a system started to keep your mom’s information in an easily accessible place, it will be a pretty simple process to keep doctor appointments and medical information organized.

Reference: Seasons (Nov. 28, 2022) “How do I help an older adult switch doctors after a move?”

How to Manage Aging Parent’s Finances

A day will come when age begins to catch up with your parents and they will need help with their finances. Even if your parents don’t want to feel dependent, when you think they need your assistance, you can approach the issue with sensitivity and extend your support for the management of their finances, says Real Daily’s recent article entitled “5 Tips to Manage an Aging Parent’s Finances.” Here are some tips:

  1. Start the conversation early. Your parents may not need your help with the handling of their financial matters right away. However, it is smart to begin the conversation early. Approach the issue of who will manage the financial responsibilities when they’re no longer able to do it. Parents should select a trusted family member by providing their advance written consent. This will let you to talk about your parents’ financial issues with financial advisors, doctors and Medicare representatives and carry out timely financial planning.
  2. Create a list of all pertinent legal and financial documents. Prepare a list of your parents’ important contacts, bank account details and locations of any stored documents, like wills, property deeds, insurance policies and birth certificates. Make certain all information and documentation is accurate and up to date. If information needs to be modified because of a change of circumstances, this is time to apprise them of it and help them do what’s needed.
  3. Consider executing a power of attorney. A competent adult can sign a power of attorney to authorize another person to make decisions on their behalf. A power of attorney for a specific purpose may cover medical, financial, or other decisions, and it may be designed to give limited or more sweeping powers. When your parents sign a power of attorney with you named as their attorney in fact, it will legally empower you to make key decisions when they can’t. An elder law attorney can help you draft an appropriate power of attorney according to your situation.
  4. Document your actions and keep others in the know. Transparent communication will help you avoid misunderstandings or controversy within your family. Keep your parents, siblings and any other loved ones involved with your family informed about your actions. No matter how noble your intentions may be, if others are kept in the dark, it can raise questions about your motives. Managing the finances of aging parents is a lot of work, and you can ask for the support of family members or at least keep the lines of communication open.
  5. Don’ comingle your finances with your parents’ plans. While it may look to be a convenient or cost-effective thing to do, it’s never a good idea to combine your parents’ finances with your own. Keep them separate. Using your parents’ money for your purposes or your own money to help them out is usually a slippery slope that should be avoided. Don’t forget about your own financial goals and retirement savings while you focus on helping your parents.

Reference: Real Daily (Sep. 9, 2022) “5 Tips to Manage an Aging Parent’s Finances”

Scammers Try to Take Senior for a Ride

An 80-year-old woman figured out she was being scammed before going to the bank, after receiving an email from fraudsters who hired an Uber to take her there.

However, the story is a stark reminder of the extent to which thieves will go to scam the elderly, says Krebs on Security’s recent article entitled “Scammers Sent Uber to Take Elderly Lady to the Bank.”

Travis Hardaway said his mother last month replied to an email she received regarding an appliance installation from BestBuy. He said the timing of the scam email couldn’t have been worse, since his mom’s dishwasher had just died. She’d paid to have a new one delivered and installed.

“I think that’s where she got confused, because she thought the email was about her dishwasher installation,” Hardaway said.

Hardaway said his mom initiated a call to the phone number listed in the phony BestBuy email. The scammers told her she owed $160 for the installation, which seemed about right. However, they then asked her to install remote administration software on her computer, so that they could control the machine from afar and assist her in making the payment.

After she logged into her bank and savings accounts with scammers watching her screen, the fraudster on the phone claimed that instead of pulling $160 out of her account, they accidentally transferred $160,000 to her account. They said they needed her help to make sure the money was “returned.”

“They took control of her screen and said they had accidentally transferred $160,000 into her account,” Hardaway said. “The person on the phone told her he was going to lose his job over this transfer error, that he didn’t know what to do. So, they sent her some information about where to wire the money and asked her to go to the bank. However, she told them, ‘I don’t drive,’ and they told her, “No problem, we’re sending an Uber to come help you to the bank.’”

Her son was out of town when this happened. Thankfully, his mom eventually grew exasperated and gave up trying to help the scammers.

“They told her they were sending an Uber to pick her up and that it was on its way,” Hardaway said. “I don’t know if the Uber ever got there. However, my mom went over to the neighbor’s house and they saw it for what it was — a scam.”

Hardaway said he has since wiped her computer, reinstalled the operating system and changed her passwords. However, he says the incident has left his mom rattled.

“She’s really second-guessing herself now,” Hardaway said. “She’s not computer-savvy, and just moved down here from Boston during COVID to be near us, but she’s living by herself and feeling isolated and vulnerable, and stuff like this doesn’t help.”

According to the FBI, seniors are often the targets of scams because they tend to be trusting and polite. They also usually have financial savings, own a home and have good credit—all of which make them attractive to scammers.

“Additionally, seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how, or they may be too ashamed of having been scammed,” the FBI warned in May. “They might also be concerned that their relatives will lose confidence in their abilities to manage their own financial affairs. And when an elderly victim does report a crime, they may be unable to supply detailed information to investigators.”

Reference: Krebs on Security (Aug. 4, 2022) “Scammers Sent Uber to Take Elderly Lady to the Bank”

Wayward Senior Tracked by Bluetooth Technology

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office recently received a report of a missing adult in the Hernando Beach area.

According to the agency, the elderly man, who suffers from dementia, was reported missing by his wife at about 7:30 in the morning.

Units were dispatched within minutes, reports WTSP.com, in the article entitled “’Technology is one of the best tools…’: Missing elderly man found through Bluetooth tracking device.”

The sheriff’s office said this wasn’t the first time the man has been reported missing.

This time, his wife was prepared: she attached a Bluetooth tracking device to her husband’s belt.

Bluetooth is a type of wireless technology that allows the exchange of data between different devices, such as two cellphones.

Because she planted the device, she was able to give deputies a location to where to find her husband.

Law enforcement was able to locate the man by 7:54 a.m.

He was returned safely home to his family.

“With the high heat index this time of year and the multiple access points to water in the area, we are thankful for this assistance of technology in order to locate this individual within 18 minutes,” the sheriff’s office wrote in a statement.

The sheriff’s office says tracking devices like the one used in this incident can give families peace of mind when caring for a senior with mental health issues, by being able to monitor their location.

“Whether it is a child with special needs or a senior who is forgetful, there are usually warning signs that a person is prone to wandering,” Sheriff Al Nienhuis said in a statement.

“Technology is one of the best tools family members can use to alert them when that individual has unexpectedly left the house.”

“It also provides invaluable tools to increase the likelihood the person will be returned safely. We strongly encourage families to research what technology is right for their situation.”

Reference: WTSP.com (August 8, 2022) “’Technology is one of the best tools…’: Missing elderly man found through Bluetooth tracking device”

What’s Going on with Marvel Comics Creator Stan Lee’s Estate?

According to a court document filed recently, comic book icon Stan Lee’s estate moved to dismiss claims against Lee’s former business manager, Jerardo “Jerry” Olivarez. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. The settlement doesn’t include claims against Lee’s former attorney, Uvi Litvak.

The Hollywood Reporter’s recent article entitled “Stan Lee’s Estate Settles Elder Abuse Suit Against Ex-Business Manager” explains that the four-year legal saga, sparked by The Hollywood Reporter‘s investigation detailing accusations of elder abuse, centers on a fight over Lee’s estate. The battle includes his daughter, J.C., and people who allegedly manipulated her in efforts to exploit her famous father. Lee accused J.C., his only child and heir to his estate, of verbally abusing him.

J.C.’s outbursts turned physical at some points in conflicts over money, reports say.

The executive vice president and publisher of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee sued Olivarez and Litvak in 2018, calling them “unscrupulous businessmen, sycophants and opportunists” seeking to take advantage of him following the death of his wife, Joan Lee. Olivarez joined Stan’s inner circle as a consultant to J.C. and Joan’s various business endeavors before ending up with power of attorney over Lee after Joan’s death. He was given the title of “senior adviser,” handling caregiving duties for Lee.

“Jerry Olivarez and JC Lee, Stan and Joan Lee’s only daughter and Trustee of the Lee Family Trust, are happy to announce the resolution of their Court dispute,” said Olivarez’s attorney Donald Randolph in a statement. “The genesis of this dispute was the unfortunate manipulation of Stan Lee and his family undertaken by certain individuals — not named in the lawsuit — which was intended to unfairly malign Jerry Olivarez. These individuals exerted undue influence on the Lee family to accuse Jerry Olivarez of harmful acts which he did not do.”

According to the complaint, Olivarez fired Stan Lee’s banker of 26 years along with his lawyers and transferred roughly $4.6 million out of his bank account without authorization. After convincing Lee to sign a power of attorney to give him authority, Olivarez allegedly appointed his own lawyer, Livtak, as Lee’s lawyer without disclosing the conflict of interest.

Prior to his death, Lee alleged fraud, financial abuse of an elder and misappropriation of name and likeness, among other claims.

“Olivarez abused his relationship of trust with Lee and JC Lee, knowledge of Lee’s and JC Lee’s confidential business and estate planning operations, and ability to mislead Lee due to his advanced age all in a covert and intentional effort to dupe Lee into a host of schemes and financial missteps that benefited Olivarez and disenfranchised Lee,” reads the complaint.

Reference: The Hollywood Reporter (July 27, 2022) “Stan Lee’s Estate Settles Elder Abuse Suit Against Ex-Business Manager”

Why Does Government Deny Social Security Disability Benefits

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “3 Main Reasons Why the Government Denies Social Security Disability Benefits” says three main issues are the primary contributors to the high denial rates and prolonged appeals process:

  1. Applicants fail to satisfy work history requirements. Anyone who pays FICA payroll taxes long enough, is typically insured for SSDI. However, that doesn’t mean they’re eligible for benefits. To meet the SSA definition of disability, one must have physical or mental impairments that prevent them from being unable to perform any substantial gainful activity (SGA) for at least 12 months or have a terminal diagnosis. SGA encompasses work performed for pay or profit, and for 2022, the monthly benefit one would receive after qualification is set at $1,350 a month, or $2,260 if you are blind.
  2. Applicants provide incomplete documentation. Detailed medical evidence is required to document a disability and its impact on the person’s ability to perform SGA—it’s a crucial part of the SSDI application. This should include diagnoses, medical tests and results, treatment history, prescription drugs, surgeries, ER and doctor visits and other relevant medical details to show not just that you have a problem, but also that you’ve been receiving regular medical treatment for your issue. This, along with details about how a disability influences your activities of daily living, is especially significant if you have an invisible disability, such as mental disorders, neurological conditions or cognitive dysfunctions caused by injury or disease. Regular monthly treatments and drug therapies with specialists and mental health professionals are an important part of your claim.
  3. Applicants not knowing they have the right to an SSDI representative. The SSA doesn’t tell initial applicants they have the right to retain a representative to assist them. As a result, most people try to navigate the complicated program on their own. You need an advocate to tell the story of your disability and its impact on you and your family. Less than 30% of applicants have an SSDI representative to help them apply. Those individuals are 23% more likely to get their application approved. It also means getting benefits in six months compared with a year or two!

Representatives are taking on more SSDI cases resulting from long COVID symptoms that have exacerbated physical and mental impairments. Long COVID may affect up to 30% of COVID patients, or an estimated 25 million people in the United States, especially those with respiratory disease, diabetes and cognitive issues.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 16, 2022) “3 Main Reasons Why the Government Denies Social Security Disability Benefits”

Why Is Medicare Enrollment Confusing?

Seniors enrolling in Medicare experience a process with many challenges. People also have significant gaps in knowledge of plan components and are overwhelmed. This causes them to enroll in plans that fail to best reflect and support their evolving healthcare needs.

Markets Insider’s recent article entitled “New Report Reveals Significant Gaps in Medicare Knowledge Among Older Adults” reports that such issues may jeopardize the ability of seniors to make the best choices for their unique health and wellness needs. Moreover, the results may worsen as they age. That’s what the findings are in a new report, Hidden Crisis: The Medicare Enrollment Maze, issued by national healthcare consultancy Sage Growth Partners. The report is based on a survey of 1,142 individuals ages 64 and older.

The report explores the significant effect of widespread confusion and overwhelming enrollment challenges on the elderly and the entire healthcare system. There were roughly 64 million Americans enrolling in Medicare in 2021 and the U.S. Census Bureau projects more than 73 million Americans will enroll by 2030. Many think the negative effects will only get worse.

“This report shows the striking level of confusion surrounding Medicare enrollment for all ages. While there may be many better plan options, very few enrollees have the necessary knowledge to choose them,” said Dan D’Orazio, Sage Growth Partners CEO. “The level of satisfaction with shopping for Medicare plans lies below the cellar-dwellers of industry satisfaction, such as cable tv providers and internet shopping. This is very troubling considering what is at stake for older adults and their clinical and financial health.”

The report’s key findings include the following:

  • Only 20% of Medicare-eligible individuals have a solid understanding of Original Medicare, and less than a third (31%) have a good understanding of Medicare Advantage.
  • 63% say they’re “overwhelmed” by Medicare advertising, with just 31% of respondents who “strongly agree” that they can make effective selection decisions.
  • Over half (58%) stay in their current Medicare plan each year and don’t review their plan options and enroll in the best plan for their evolving needs.

“This report confirms that most older adults find Medicare enrollment confusing and lack adequate resources or support to choose the best plan,” said Dave Francis, CEO of Healthpilot. “Enrolling in Medicare is a pivotal time for millions and the Medicare marketplace is ripe for transformation. I believe that it is possible to make health care better for individuals aged 64 and older throughout the country, but we need dynamic platforms and sincere actions to make this happen.”

Reference: Markets Insider (July 12, 2022) “New Report Reveals Significant Gaps in Medicare Knowledge Among Older Adults”

How Can I Save on Medicare Drugs?

New research by the Senior Citizens League shows comparing plans also works for Medicare Part D plans, which cover prescription drugs for those with Medicare health insurance. The advocacy group found that the price of a particular drug can vary by hundreds or even thousands of dollars from one Medicare Part D plan to another. So, shopping around for the best plan could save you hundreds, says Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “How to Save Hundreds of Dollars on Medicare Drug Costs.”

The best time to do comparison shopping is during the annual Medicare open enrollment period that starts October 15 and ends on December 7.

The Senior Citizens League’s analysis identified several reasons for which drug prices can vary so much for Medicare recipients, including the fact that most people on Medicare rarely shop around during open enrollment. each Part D plan also has its own formulary, a list of prescription drugs that a plan covers. The federal government, which runs the Medicare program, doesn’t negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare recipients. Each private insurance company that offers Medicare drug coverage does its own negotiating.

There are two main types of Medicare health insurance: Original Medicare, which is offered directly by the federal government, and Medicare Advantage plans, which are offered by private insurers that contract with the federal government’s Medicare program. Note that original Medicare doesn’t include prescription drug coverage. Seniors on Original Medicare who want drug coverage must buy a separate Medicare Part D plan from a private insurer.

Here’s a checklist for the process:

  1. Review your current coverage. Look at the Annual Notice of Change (ANOC) that you get from your Medicare Part D plan or Medicare Advantage plan. This will include changes to your current plan that take effect in the new year, if you stay on that plan.
  2. Do an inventory of your prescriptions. Make a list of all prescription meds you take. For each drug, include the name, dose, quantity taken per day and quantity required per month. You’ll need it to compare drug plans. It is also handy to take with you on each visit to your physician.
  3. Consider getting help. Medicare recipients have access to free, one-on-one Medicare insurance counseling from State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs). To find the SHIP for your state, visit the national SHIP website.
  4. Narrow down your options. When you know what your Medicare Part D plan or your Medicare Advantage plan will cover next year, and you have a detailed list of your medications, compare that coverage with other drug plans to determine if they’d provide better or cheaper drug coverage. To compare plans, use the Medicare Plan Finder feature at Medicare.gov, the federal government’s official Medicare website.

If you choose to switch to a new plan, go through the Medicare website rather than the insurer.

Reference: Money Talks News (Nov. 11, 2019) “How to Save Hundreds of Dollars on Medicare Drug Costs”