What Does a Living Will Do for Me?

During a medical crisis, families frequently must make decisions quickly regarding whether to withhold or provide life-sustaining treatments. A living will is a part of advance care planning. It’s a legal document that provides specific instructions on how to carry out your wishes to receive or decline such treatments when you otherwise can’t communicate those wishes yourself, explains, Forbes’ recent article entitled “How Does A Living Will Work?”

Your estate plan may already include a durable power of attorney for health care, which is a legal document that lets your designated agent or proxy make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. However, unlike that document, the instructions in a living will can be used only when the person named in the living will has no hope of recovery or cure.

A living will provides limited authority to an agent on behalf of the principal who’s no longer able to communicate their preferences to withhold or withdraw artificial means of life support or life-sustaining treatments. A living will should have your wishes noted for receiving or going without treatment when your condition isn’t expected to improve and treatment would extend your life for only a limited time.

A living will is designed to apply only in very limited situations when the principal who signed the document has an incurable or irreversible medical condition or conditions that will most likely result in the principal’s death within a short period of time—typically six months or fewer.

Life-sustaining treatments addressed in a living will may include:

  • Ventilators
  • Heart-lung machines
  • Nutrition via a feeding tube
  • Hydration via feeding tube or IV
  • Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or other extraordinary measures; and
  • Dialysis.

Living wills can also address issues, like pain management and palliative care. You may even include provisions such as “I would prefer to die at home” in a living will.

Provide as much information as you can to make certain that your proxy isn’t making the decision for you, but rather your wishes and words are moving through your proxy. The more information you can provide in your living will to your proxy to illustrate for them the type of care that you’d want to receive or decline, the better.

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 18, 2022) “How Does A Living Will Work?”

Understanding the Issues of Elder Law

The legal needs of many older Americans go beyond basic legal services. They are also all intertwined. In addition to understanding the legal issues and complications that older Americans face, elder law attorneys must also understand the surrounding personal concerns of their clients, such as health, financial and family issues, and how those affect their clients’ legal issues.

Recently Heard’s article entitled “What You Need to Know About Elder Law” explains that other specific areas of expertise include the following:

  • End of life planning could extend to planning your health care support system as you age, signing a power of attorney, establishing a living will and other issues surrounding end of life care.
  • Financial issues frequently entails questions about retirement and financial planning, housing financing, income and estate tax planning and gift tax issues.
  • Long term care can include planning for asset protection, insurance for in-home care or assistance with activities of daily living, Medicare planning, insurance, veterans’ benefits and other issues.
  • Residents’ rights issues may include claims or complaints you bring while a patient in a nursing home or long term care facility.
  • Workplace discrimination issues stem, from the fact that older Americans sometimes face age and disability discrimination in the workplace.
  • Guardianship issues might include guardianship avoidance, planning wills and trusts, planning for the future of a special needs child, probate court and other issues surrounding minor or adult children.
  • Landlord-tenant law may mean handling disputes with landlords, contesting an eviction, dealing with foreclosure issues, rent increases and more.
  • Abuse, neglect, and fraud. These elder law attorneys specialize in cases where an older client is being victimized.

An elder law attorney can be a great partner for you as you plan out the legal and financial aspects of the next stage of your life-or the life of a loved one. Speak to one today.

Reference: Recently Heard (June 23, 2022) “What You Need to Know About Elder Law”

What Do I Need to Do Right after Spouse Dies?

If you are very close to the person who has passed away, you’ll likely have a lot to do immediately after their death.

Katie Couric Media’s recent article entitled “What to Do Immediately After the Death of a Loved One” says that it’s normal to feel like your brain short circuits each time you try to make a decision and you find it hard to concentrate. Making it through the days after a loss will be painful. However, here are some things to do immediately and shortly after someone dies to make the process of grief a bit easier.

Plan ahead. This can make a big difference. It will let you have the time and space to grieve after death. This involves both talking about priorities and, ideally, talking to an elder law or estate planning attorney.

Call 911 if they’re at home. To get a death certificate, first, you have to get an official declaration of death. If your loved one died at home without a medical professional present, a medical professional must declare them deceased. Call 911 soon after they have died and have them transported to a hospital, where they can be declared deceased and moved to a funeral home.

Get organized. Make a list of the things people are doing for you and your family, and keep a folder to keep all the documents you’ll be given.

Get the death certificate — and make copies. Without a declaration of death, you can’t get a death certificate. You also won’t be able to handle the deceased’s legal affairs. Obtain a dozen copies of the death certificate from the funeral home because you’ll need these copies for things, such as insurance claims and closing accounts.

Read everything carefully. In your grief, haste and anxiety, it is easy to overlook things. Therefore, when it comes to things like the death certificate — which the funeral home staff often prepares based on the information you provide — the exact spelling of names matters. Draft the obituary and send it to a family member or close friend to review before submitting it to the funeral home.

Think through, or put off, financial decisions. Wait on making financial decisions. In times of distress, especially grief, your judgment may be a bit clouded. So, unless a big purchase is absolutely necessary for the funeral or the burial, wait on other financial decisions.

Take a video of the home. It’s important to document what assets are in the home, such as any valuables, both of financial and sentimental value. A good way to do this is to record a video of the house. Record each room, and every detail. Be sure to open up cabinets and drawers. If there is ever an issue as to the person’s assets later, or even the insurance company, you have your video.

Overcoming sadness accompanied by grief is a terrific feat. Use these tips to help you.

Reference: Katie Couric Media (April 28, 2022) “What to Do Immediately After the Death of a Loved One”

What’s Involved in an Estate Inventory?

If you’re named as executor of an estate, you will be tasked with identifying all the assets of the decedent. Let’s look at some of the options you may have for identifying assets:

  • The deceased’s will if they have one
  • Their financial statements or legal documents
  • Their recent tax returns
  • Abandoned asset database searching; and
  • A public property records search.

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?” says you may also be able to find assets for an estate inventory by talking to the decedent’s financial advisor, estate planning attorney, or relatives. An executor must be as thorough as possible, so the final inventory list submitted to the probate court is accurate and complete.

If you’re planning your estate, you can make this job easier for your executor by creating an estate inventory yourself. Keep a copy of this inventory with a copy of your will, if you have one in place. (If you don’t have a will, draft one sooner rather than later.) If you pass without a will in place, your assets would be distributed according to state law.

If you’re making an inventory of your estate, include the types of assets for which an executor might search. Depending on your financial situation, your personal estate inventory might include:

  • A 401(k) plan or similar employer-sponsored retirement plan
  • Traditional or Roth IRAs
  • Business retirement accounts, such as a solo 401(k) or SEP IRA if you’re self-employed
  • Taxable brokerage accounts
  • A Health Savings Account (HSA)
  • College savings accounts
  • Life insurance policies
  • Bank accounts
  • Vehicles
  • Real estate and land
  • Personal possessions that are valued at $500 or more; and
  • Family heirlooms, antiques, or collectibles.

The executor’s job can be simplified by making a list of any liabilities or debts that you owe. This can include a mortgage on your home, auto loans, private student loans, credit cards, installment loans, business loans, tax liens, medical bills and personal loans. Once you complete your personal estate inventory you may want to file a copy of it with your estate planning attorney. Review your inventory annually to make certain that it’s up to date.

Knowing what’s included in an estate inventory can make your job as an executor easier. If you submit an incomplete inventory, it may delay the probate process.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Feb. 15, 2022) “What Is Included in an Estate Inventory?”

How Do I Find a Great Elder Law Attorney?

Zobuz’s recent article entitled “4 Tips for Hiring a Lawyer to Help with Medicaid Planning” says you may need to turn to an Elder Law attorney who can help you with Medicaid planning.

Here are some factors in choosing the best attorney:

Referrals and Recommendations. Look for an elder law attorney in the National Elder Law Foundation or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys database. You can also ask local agencies who work with seniors, such as the Alzheimer’s Association, AARP, as well as hospitals and nursing home social workers.

Experience. Elder law attorneys specialize in legal and financial issues that affect seniors. This includes areas such as estate planning and Medicaid planning. Look for an attorney who’s been successful in Medicaid planning and is board-certified in elder and special needs law.

Fees. Be sure that you understand how fees are structured. You should get a client engagement letter that outlines the services he or she will provide, as well as the fees they charge.

Customer Service. Dealing with Medicaid planning is a process that takes time. You need an attorney you can contact when you have questions.

A Few Other Thoughts…

Meet the elder law attorney in person for a consultation. This will help you to get a sense of his or her personality.

Look for a lawyer who will speak to you in a way you can understand and clarify points as needed.

Remember: if you don’t feel at ease with the attorney, look elsewhere.

When you select a qualified lawyer to help you with Medicaid planning and other medical insurance concerns, you will secure your future care.

Don’t risk your financial security or that of your family by waiting until it is too late.

Reference: Zobuz (April 22, 2022) “4 Tips for Hiring a Lawyer to Help with Medicaid Planning”

What Is the HEMS Standard?

The HEMS standard is used to inform trustees as to how and when funds should be released to a beneficiary, according to a recent article from Yahoo! News, “What is the HEMS Standard in Estate Planning.” Using HEMS language in a trust gives the trustee more control over how assets are distributed and spent. If a beneficiary is young and not financial savvy, this becomes extremely important to protecting both the beneficiary and the assets in the trust. Your estate planning attorney can set up a trust to include this feature.

When a trust includes HEMS language, the assets may only be used for specific needs. Health, education or living expenses can include college tuition, mortgage, and rent payments, medical care and health insurance premiums.

Medical treatment may include eye exams, dental care, health insurance, prescription drugs and some elective procedures.

Education may include college housing, tuition, technology needed for college, studying abroad and career training.

Maintenance and Support includes reasonable comforts, like paying for a gym membership, vacations and gifts for family members.

The HEMS language provides guidance for the trustee. However, ultimately the trustee is vested with the discretionary power to decide whether the assets are being used according to the directions of the trust.

Sometimes beneficiary requests are straightforward, like college tuition or health insurance bills. However, maintenance and support need to be considered in the context of the family’s wealth. If the family and the beneficiary are used to a lifestyle that includes three or four luxurious vacations every year, a request for funds used for a ski trip to Spain may not be out of line. For another family and trust, this would be a ludicrous request.

Having HEMS language in the trust limits distribution. It has greater value, if the trustee is also a beneficiary, lessening the chances of the trust diminishing for non-essentials or to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Giving the trustee HEMS language narrows their discretionary authority enough to help them do a better job of managing assets and may limit challenges by beneficiaries.

HEMS language can be as broad or narrow as the grantor wishes. Just as a trust is crafted to meet the specific directions of the grantor for beneficiaries, the HEMS language can be created to establish a trust where the assets may only be used to pay for college tuition or career training.

Reference: Yahoo! News (Jan. 7, 2022) “What is the HEMS Standard in Estate Planning”

How to Approach Parents about Estate Planning
Young doctor holding the old lady's hand

How to Approach Parents about Estate Planning

One of the lessons learned from the pandemic is not to wait for the “right time” to prepare for death or incapacity. Aging parents who don’t have a plan in place leave their children with a number of obstacles, says this recent article entitled “Why (and How) To Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning” from NASDAQ.

One is scrambling to unravel the family finances at a time when you are still grief-stricken. Another is managing costs associated with severe illness and death. Incapacity can be even more complicated. It is more so, if the family has to apply for guardianship to make medical and financial decisions for a parent who can’t speak for themselves or manage their financial affairs.

To prevent a host of problems and expenses, start talking with aging parents about estate planning.  They don’t have to live in an” estate” to have an estate. This is simply the term used to describe all assets owned by a couple or individual.

An estate plan is a tool to convey intentions about assets and health. The first step may be to create an inventory of all assets and belongings, from the family home to personal belongings and digital assets. Next, is to have some tough conversations about their wishes for end-of-life care and medical decisions.

A few questions to get started:

  • Who should be the primary caregiver and decision maker?
  • How will health care expenses be paid?
  • Who do you want to make medical decisions?
  • What do you want to happen to your property after you die?
  • Should the family sell the home, or should one of the children inherit it?
  • Do you have any estate planning documents, and where are they kept?

Estate planning is different for everyone, so be wary of downloading basic estate documents from the web and hoping they will be valid. An experienced estate planning attorney will create the necessary documents, as per the laws of your parents’ state of residence, and reflecting their wishes.

If there is no will, or if a will is deemed invalid by the court, the laws of the state will govern how assets are distributed. Making sure a will is properly prepared, along with other estate planning documents, is a more efficient and less costly way to go.

Estate planning includes tax planning, which occurs when property passes from one person to another. Estate and inheritance taxes are the most common concern. While most Americans don’t need to worry about the federal estate tax, individual states have their own rules and thresholds. Some states have both state estate taxes and inheritance taxes. There are ways to minimize taxes, from gifting during your parent’s lifetimes, to establishing trusts for beneficiaries.

An estate plan includes a will, a Power of Attorney for financial matters, a Health Care Proxy so someone can make health care decisions, a Living Will (also known as an Advance Care Directive) and usually some kind of trust. Each serves a different purpose, but all name a designated person to act in a legal manner to handle the affairs of the person, while they are living and after they have passed.

Some families are more comfortable than others about talking about death and money, so you probably already know what to expect from your parents when trying to have this conversation. Be mindful of their feelings, and those of your siblings. These are hard, but necessary, conversations.

Reference: NASDAQ (Nov. 10, 2021) “Why (and How) To Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning”

When Should I Consult with an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law attorneys assist seniors or their family caregivers with legal issues and planning that related to the aging process. These attorneys frequently help with tax planning, disability planning, probate and administration of an estate, nursing home placement and many other legal issues.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Hiring an Elder Law Attorney,” explains that elder law attorneys are specialists who work with seniors or caregivers of aging family members on legal matters that older adults face as they age. Many specialize in Medicaid planning to help protect a person’s financial assets, when they have Alzheimer’s disease or another debilitating illness that may require long-term care. They can also usually draft estate documents, including a durable power of attorney for health and medical needs, and even a trust for an adult child with special needs.

As you get older, there are legal issues you, your spouse or your family caregivers face. These issues can also change. For instance, you should have powers of attorney for financial and health needs, in case you or your spouse become incapacitated. You might also need an elder law attorney to help transfer assets, if you or your spouse move into a nursing home to avoid spending your life savings on long-term care.

Elder law attorneys can help with a long list of legal matters seniors frequently face, including the following:

  • Preservation and transfer of assets
  • Accessing health care in a nursing home or other managed care environment and long-term care placements
  • Estate and disability planning
  • Medicare, Social Security and disability claims and appeals
  • Supplemental insurance and long-term health insurance claims and appeals
  • Elder abuse and fraud recovery
  • Conservatorships and guardianships
  • Housing discrimination and home equity conversions
  • Health and mental health law.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 4, 2021) “Hiring an Elder Law Attorney”

What If Account has No Named Beneficiary?

It’s not uncommon for a person to have a banking, retirement, or other investment account with no designated beneficiary when they pass away.

Beneficiaries can include spouses, children, other family members, friends and charities. Beneficiary designations can generally be added to assets, such as bank accounts, securities accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, savings bonds and a number of other assets. Designating a beneficiary will determine how an asset is distributed at the owner’s death– regardless of the provisions of the person’s will or trust.

The first step is to probate the will of a deceased, assuming she had one, says nj.com’s recent article entitled “My wife died and her account has no beneficiary. What’s next?”

When a person dies without a surviving beneficiary named for an account, the assets go to that person’s estate.

So, if a person left a will, the assets in the banking account would pass to the beneficiaries under that will.

If the decedent had no will, the beneficiaries would be dictated by the laws of the state in which the decedent resided. These are known as intestacy laws, and they describe who inherits if there’s no will.

An estate may have to go through the probate process before the decedent’s assets can be transferred to the will’s beneficiaries. It depends on the size of the decedent’s estate, and where he or she lived and died. States have what’s called a small estate limit: if an estate falls below that limit, no probate is required.

If you don’t need to go through probate, there’s a way for a beneficiary to request that a banking account be transferred without a court order. If an estate must go through probate, you’ll need a court order (which is how probate ends) to have the assets transferred to your name.

Reference: nj.com (Oct. 22, 2021) “My wife died and her account has no beneficiary. What’s next?”