When Does a No Contest Clause Make Sense?

It’s an emotionally charged decision. Parents who sit down with an estate planning attorney would much rather talk about their grandchildren and how much they are looking forward to retirement.

However, then the discussion turns to how they want to distribute their assets, as reported in the article “Why is it called a ‘No Contest’ clause?” from The Daily Sentinel, and a problem is revealed.

The parents share that there is a family member, an adult child, who has never been part of the family. Usually they have had a troubled past, pushed others in the family out of their lives and it’s heartbreaking for all concerned.

The discussion then moves to determining how to handle that individual with respect to their estate plan. “Do you want her to be part of your estate plan?” is the least judgmental question the attorney can ask. In many cases, the parents say yes and say they’ll keep trying to foster some kind of relationship, no matter how limited. In other cases, the answer is no.

In both cases, however, the concern is that the difficult child will fight with their siblings and take the battle to court. That’s one of the reasons to include a no contest clause.

As long as estate planning documents are prepared correctly and signed, they will survive a legal contest. However, putting in a no contest clause creates another barrier to an estate battle.

The no contest clause is intended to act as a strong deterrent for those individuals who believe they are entitled to more of the estate. It makes it clear that any challenges will result in a smaller portion of the estate, and possibly no inheritance at all, depending upon how it is written.

Both parents need to have a no contest provision included in their wills. The message is clear and consistent: these are the estate plans that we decided to create. Don’t try to change them.

For families with litigious family members or spouses who married into the family and feel that they are not being treated fairly, a no contest clause makes sense to protect the wishes of the parents.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about how a no contest provision might work in your situation. If your family doesn’t need such a clause, count your blessings!

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Aug. 10, 2019) “Why is it called a ‘No Contest’ clause?”

Suggested Key Terms: No Contest Clause, Estate Planning Attorney, Wills, Last Will and Testament, Asset Distribution

How to Plan for Long-Term Care Costs

The odds are that most of us will need long-term care. At least 52% of those over age 65 will need some type of long-term care at some point in our lives, according to a study conducted by AARP. As most of us are living longer, we’ll probably need that care for a longer period of time, as reported in the article “It’s best to plan for long-term care” from the Times Herald-Record.

Here’s the problem: ignore this issue, and it won’t go away. This is a fairly common response for people 55 and older. The size of the problem makes it a bit overwhelming, and the cost to tackle it seems unsolvable. However, not addressing it becomes even more expensive. How can we possibly pay for long-term care insurance?

Here’s a simple example: a 64-year-old woman who broke her ankle in three places. She was healthy and mobile. However, a badly broken ankle required extensive rehabilitation and she was not able to stay in her home. She has been living at a rehabilitation center and the costs are mounting. What could she have done?

There are two basic ways (with a number of variations) to pay for long-term care.

The first and most obvious: purchase a long-term care insurance policy. Only 2.7 million Americans own these policies. They are wise to protect themselves and their families.

Most families put off buying this kind of insurance, because it’s expensive at any age and stage. The average cost is about $2,170, according to the Kiplinger Retirement Report, for about $328,000 worth of insurance. That rate varies, and it should be noted that if you have a chronic condition, you may not be able to purchase a policy at all.

If a local nursing home costs $216,000 per year and you have $328,000 of coverage, you’ll run out of coverage. The average nursing home stay is about two years. As boomers age, the cost of long-term care insurance is rising, while benefits are becoming skimpier, says Kiplinger.

There are some alternatives: a hybrid life insurance plan that includes long-term care coverage.  However, those can be more expensive than regular long-term care insurance. Try about $8,000 a year for a 55-year-old, about $13,000 for a 65-year-old.

Another choice: a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust. You’ll need to work with an estate planning attorney to create and fund this trust long before you actually need it. Your assets must be placed in the trust five years before an application to Medicaid, which will then pay for your care. You don’t have to live in poverty to do this. If the care is for one person, the applicant is permitted to keep about $15,450 of assets. The spouse may also keep a home worth up to $878,000 and assets up to about $120,000. In New York State, you can keep the principle of retirement funds like an IRA or 401(k), as long as you are taking the required distribution withdrawals.

However, what if you have money to pay or need long-term care before you put assets in trust? If you live in New York, Florida and Connecticut, you have what is called “spousal refusal.” The spouse of the person in long-term care can choose not to pay for their cost of care. This can get complicated, and Medicaid will try to get funds for the care. However, an estate planning elder law attorney can negotiate the amount of payment, which may leave the bulk of your estate intact.

These are complicated matters that become very costly, often at a time when you are least able to deal with yet another issue. Speak with an estate planning attorney before you need the care and learn how they can help you protect your spouse and your assets.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (July 22, 2019) “It’s best to plan for long-term care”

What Are the Biggest Estate Planning Questions I Need to Answer?

However, if you have a family, you can probably benefit from estate planning, regardless of your asset level. The Montrose Press published an article, “Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future,” that answers some of the big questions:

What will happen to my children? As part of your estate planning, you should name a guardian to take care of your children, if you pass away. You can also name a conservator–sometimes called a “guardian of the estate”–to manage the assets that your minor children inherit.

Will there be a battle over my assets? If you fail to put a solid estate plan in place, your assets could be subject to the time-consuming, expensive and public probate process. During probate, your relatives and creditors can get access to your records. They may even challenge your will. However, with proper planning, you can maintain your privacy.

Who will control my finances and my living situation, if I’m incapacitated? You can sign a durable power of attorney. This permits you to name someone to manage your financial affairs, if you’re incapacitated. A medical power of attorney lets the person you choose handle health care decisions for you, if you’re not able to do so yourself.

Will my family feel cheated if I leave significant assets to charities? As part of your estate plan, you have options. You could establish a charitable lead trust. This will provide financial support to your chosen charities for a set period. The remaining assets will then go to your family members. On the other hand, a charitable remainder trust will provide a stream of income for family members for the term of the trust. The remaining assets will then be transferred to one or more charitable organizations.

Careful estate planning with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney can answer many of the questions that may concern you.

Once you have your plans in place, you can face the future with greater clarity, peace of mind and confidence.

Reference: Montrose Press (July 7, 2019) “Estate plans can help you answer questions about the future”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Guardian of the Estate, Guardianship, Conservatorship, Incapacity, Charitable Lead Trust, Charitable Remainder Trust, Asset Protection, Probate Court, Inheritance, Power of Attorney, Planning, Financial Planning, Charitable Donations

Protecting Your Family’s Inheritance

The name sounds like you might be trying to keep children and grandchildren from being irresponsible with the assets you’ve amassed through a lifetime’s work, but irrevocable trusts offer a flexible solution. They are also helpful in cases of divorce, substance abuse and other situations, reports The Chattanoogan in an article titled “Keeping Your Family from Losing Its Inheritance.”

If we are lucky, we are able to leave a generous inheritance for our children. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should give them easy access to all or some of the assets. Some people, particularly younger adults who haven’t yet developed money management skills, or others with problems like a troubled marriage or a special needs family member, aren’t ready or able to handle an inheritance.

In some cases, like when there is a substance abuse problem, handing over a large sum of money at once could have disastrous results.

Many people are not educated or experienced enough to handle a large sum of money. Consider the stories about lottery winners who end up filing for bankruptcy. Without experience, knowledge or good advisors, a large inheritance can disappear quickly.

An irrevocable trust provides protection. A trustee is given the authority to control how funds are used, when they are given to beneficiaries and when they are not. Depending on how the trust is created, the trustee can have as much control over distributions as is necessary.

An irrevocable trust also protects assets from creditors. This is because the assets are owned by the trust and not by the beneficiary. An irrevocable trust can also protect the funds from divorces, lawsuits and bankruptcies, as well as manipulative family members and friends.

Once the money leaves the trust and is disbursed to the beneficiary, that money becomes available to creditors, just as any other asset owned by the person. However, there is a remedy for that, if things go bad.  Instead of distributing funds directly to the beneficiary, the trustee can pay bills directly. That can include payments to a school, a mortgage company, medical bills or any other costs.

The trustee and not the beneficiary, is in control of the assets and their distributions.

The person establishing the trust (the “grantor”) determines how much power to give to the trustee. The grantor determines whether the trustee is to distribute funds on a regular basis, or whether the trustee is to use their discretion, as to when and how much to give to the beneficiary.

Here’s an example. If you’ve given full control of the trust to the trustee, and the trustee decides that some of the money should go to pay a child’s college tuition, the trustee can send a check every semester directly to the college. The trustee, if the trust is written this way, can also put conditions on the college tuition payments, mandating that a certain grade level be maintained or that the student must graduate by a certain date.

Appointing the trustee is a critical piece of the success of any trust. If no family members are suitable, then a corporate trustee can be hired to manage the trust. Speak with a qualified estate planning attorney, to learn if an irrevocable trust is a good idea for your situation and also to determine whether or not a family member should be named the trustee.

Reference: The Chattanoogan (July 5, 23019) “Keeping Your Family from Losing Its Inheritance.”

Suggested Key Terms: Trust, Irrevocable, Trustee, Beneficiary, Estate Planning Attorney, Grantor, Assets, Distribution

What Estate Planning Documents Do I Need, When I’m Diagnosed with a Serious Illness?

More than 130 million Americans are living with chronic illness. Forbes’ recent article, “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness,” says that if you (or a loved one) are living with a chronic illness, you’ll likely need the same estate planning documents most people should have.

The article discusses these key estate planning documents, along with some suggestions that might help you customize them to your unique challenges because of chronic illness. These documents might need to be altered to better serve your needs or address your challenges. It’s best to get your estate planning documents in place, soon after your diagnosis.

HIPAA Release. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 governs the requirements for maintaining the confidentiality of protected or personal health information (PHI). A HIPAA Release lets someone you trust access your protected health information.

Living Will. This is a statement of your health care wishes and can address end of life decisions, as well as many other matters. If you’re living with a chronic illness, there are special considerations you might want to make in having a living will prepared. You might alter the general language to explain your specific disease. The fact that you’re living with disease doesn’t mean you might not face another health issue. Therefore, if you make modifications, set them out as examples of specific changes but retain the broad language that might be more typically used. You can address the disease you have, at what stage and with what anticipated disease course, and how if at all these matters should be reflected. You might wish to also speak to experimental treatments.

Health Care Proxy. This is also known as a medical power of attorney. It is a legal document in which you designate a trusted person to make medical decisions for you, if you’re unable to do so. If your health challenges might result in your becoming incapacitated, you can say that the agent appointed under your health proxy is also to be named as your guardian of the person, should a guardianship proceeding ever happen. Although this may not be binding on the court, it may be persuasive.

Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). This is a document that may be included as part of your medical records. A POLST is meant for the end of life medical decisions and may not be as broad as what you might accomplish with a health proxy or living will.

Financial Power of Attorney. This legal document lets you designate a trusted person to handle your legal, tax, and financial matters, if you can’t. There are some unique considerations for those living with chronic illnesses to consider. One is the amount of control that should be given up now or at what stage. Relinquish enough control, so you can be assisted to the degree necessary, but not more than you need at any point in time. Another characteristic for your powers of attorney, is if you should sign a special power that restricts the agent’s authority to certain specified items or sign a general power that provides broad and almost unlimited powers to the agent.

A Revocable Trust. A frequent goal of a revocable trust is to avoid the publicity, costs and difficulties of probate. However, if you or a family member has a chronic illness, using a revocable trust may be a good way to provide for succession of management for your finances.

Reference: Forbes (July 5, 2019) “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Capacity, Revocable Living Trust, Power of Attorney, Healthcare Directive, Living Will, Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), HIPAA Release, Guardianship

Avoiding a Family Feud When Choosing a Power of Attorney

The challenge in tasking a family member or trusted friend is not just making sure they have the necessary skills, but to navigate family dynamics so that no fights occur says Considerable.com in the article “How to assign power of attorney without sparking a family feud.” Every family situation is different, but in almost all cases, transparency is the best bet.

Start by understanding exactly what is meant by power of attorney, how it functions within the estate plan, and how siblings can all be involved to some degree with the family’s decision-making process.

Power of attorney is a term that gives an individual, or sometimes, individuals, the legal authority to act on behalf of someone else. It is usually used when a person, usually a parent or a spouse, is unable to make decisions for themselves because of illness or injury. It must be noted that power of attorney relates to financial and legal decisions. There are methods to address making decisions for another person for their health care or end-of-life decisions, but they are not accomplished by the power of attorney (POA).

It should be noted that there is a distinct difference between power of attorney and executor of the estate. Power of attorney is in effect while the person who has granted the authority is alive, but unable to act on their own behalf. The executor of the estate assumes responsibility for managing the estate through the probate process. While they are two different roles, they are often held by the same person, usually an adult child who is responsible and has good decision-making skills.

There are different types of power of attorney roles. The most common is the general power of attorney, followed by the health care or medical power of attorney. The general power of attorney refers to the person who has the authority to handle financial, business or private affairs. If a parent grants power of attorney to one of their children, that child then has the authority to act on behalf of the parent.

Trouble starts if the relationship between siblings is rocky, or if major decisions are made without discussions with siblings.

It’s not easy for siblings when one of them has been granted the power of attorney. That means they must accept the inherent authority of the chosen sibling to make all decisions for their parent. The sibling with the power of authority will have a smoother path if they can be sensitive to how this makes the others feel.

“Mom always liked you best,” is not a sentence that should come from a 50 year old, but often childhood dynamics can reappear during these times.

Remember that the power of attorney is also a fiduciary obligation, meaning that the person who holds it is required to act in the best interest of the parent and not their own. If the relationship between siblings is not good, or there’s no transparency when decisions are made, things can get bumpy.

Here are some tips for parents to bear in mind when deciding who should be their power of attorney:

  • Understand the great power that is being given to another person.
  • Make sure the person who is to be named POA understands the entire range of responsibilities they will have.
  • The siblings who have not been named will need to understand and respect the arrangement. They should also be aware of the potential for problems, keeping their eyes open and being watchful without being suspicious.

Some families appoint two siblings as a means of creating a “checks and balances” solution. This can be set up so the agents need to act jointly, where both agree on an action, or independently, where each has the full authority to act alone. In some cases, this will lesson the chances for jealousy and mistrust, but it can also prolong the decision-making process. It also creates the potential for situations where the family is engaged in a deadlock and important decisions don’t get made.

Parents should discuss these appointments with their estate planning attorney. Their years of experience in navigating family issues and dynamics give the attorneys insights that will be helpful with assigning these important tasks.

Reference: Considerable.com (July 10, 2019) “How to assign power of attorney without sparking a family feud”

Suggested Key Terms: Power of Attorney, Estate Planning, Health Care Power of Attorney, POA, Fiduciary Obligation, Probate, Agent

What is Portability and How Does It Impact Estate Planning?

Let’s address the elephant in the room: the word “estate” in planning doesn’t have anything to do with the size of your home. It simply refers to a person’s assets: their home, bank accounts, a second home, investment accounts, cars, etc.

The federal estate tax, says The Times Herald in the article “Federal estate tax and portability considerations,” impacts very few people today, as a person would have to have assets that total more than $11.4 million (or $22.8 for a couple) before they have to worry about the federal estate tax.

Individuals and couples with significant assets are advised to have an estate plan created by an estate planning attorney with experience working with people with large assets There are numerous tools used to minimize the federal tax liability.

However, when one spouse dies, it is generally recommended that the surviving spouse file a Federal Estate Tax return for reasons of portability. That is because when the first spouse dies, they use a portion of the Federal Estate Tax exemption, but there’s usually a portion available for the surviving spouse.

If IRS Form 706 is filed in a timely manner, the surviving spouse can “port over” or protect the remaining amount of Federal Estate Tax exemption that the deceased spouse has not used. This return needs to be filed within nine months of the date of death, although the surviving spouse can obtain an extension.

No tax will be owed, since the return is filed merely for reporting purposes. The assets in the entire estate must be reported, including everything the person owned. That may be cash, securities, real estate, insurance, trusts, annuities, business interests, and other assets. It should be noted that this will likely include probate as well as non-probate property. Appraisals and significant documentation are not usually required on a return just for portability purposes.

Why does a return need to be filed to claim the unused exemption, if no taxes are going to be paid? For one thing, the law may change and if the Federal Estate Tax exemption amount is reduced in the future, the surviving spouse will have protected their additional exemption amounts for his or her heirs. If the surviving spouse remarries and acquires significant assets, they will need proof of their exemption. The surviving spouse might own land or other property that increases dramatically in value. Or, the surviving spouse may inherit a large amount of assets.

Completing an IRS Form 706 for portability is not a complex task, but it should be done in conjunction with settling the estate, which should be done with the help of an estate planning attorney to be sure any tax issues are dealt with properly. In addition, when one spouse has passed, it is time for the surviving spouse to review their estate plan to make any necessary changes.

Reference: The Times Herald (July 7, 2019) “Federal estate tax and portability considerations”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning, Portability, Exemptions, Federal Estate Tax, Inheritance, IRS Form 706, Surviving Spouse

How Does a Life Estate Work?

Life estates are used for a number of estate planning purposes. However, the most frequent strategy is to use a life estate where a parent transfers a home to a child and retains a life estate for themselves.

nj.com’s recent article, “How does a life estate work to transfer a home to a child?” explains that as a result of the transfer, the child becomes the owner of the home but the parent has certain rights and responsibilities.

The most critical right retained with a life estate is the exclusive right to reside in the property. A child cannot force the parent to move out, and likewise, the child doesn’t have any right to live there. The child can live with their parent, but the deed doesn’t give the child the legal right to live there.

With a life estate, the parent must pay the property taxes and all the regular maintenance connected to the property. In addition, the life tenant is responsible for repairs—but not improvements.

This can be hard to determine, but typically the life tenant must maintain the property in the same condition as when the life estate deed was signed. So, if the parent moves out, and the property is rented, the parent has the right to receive all of the rents.

When the parent passes away, the life estate automatically ceases, and the child now has all of the rights associated with the property.

As far as income tax, when the parent dies, the property receives a “step up” in basis to the date of death value. If the property is sold after the parent dies, the capital gain or loss is calculated by deducting the date of death value from the sales price. It’s a very important tax advantage if the parent has owned the home for a long time, and the property has a low basis.

Retaining the life estate can help the child avoid the capital gains tax more effectively than just transferring the property outright to the child.

However, in contrast, if the property is sold while the parent is still alive, part of the proceeds will be allocated to the parent and part will be allocated to the child.

Only the percentage that’s allocated to the parent will be excluded from income under the federal tax laws. The part that’s allocated to the child may be subject to capital gains taxation.

Every family’s situation is different, so it would be wise to speak with an estate planning attorney to explore whether or not a life estate would be the best situation for you and your family.

Reference: nj.com (July 12, 2019) “How does a life estate work to transfer a home to a child?”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Life Estate, Inheritance, Estate Tax, Tax Planning, Capital Gains, Stepped-up Basis

What Can I Do with a Trust to Help My Kids?

Young people like to keep things simple. Millennials don’t want their parents’ furniture or antiques. They want to be able to move easily without a lot of headache. Millennials are okay with jewelry, art, and cash. Likewise, with estate planning, Millennials want a simple will. This can be a wise choice if they’re just married and under the estate tax threshold. But when they have children of their own, they should consider a trust.

Forbes’s recent article, “Why A Simple Will Won’t Cut It If You Have Young Children,” explains that without a trust, minor children inherit assets outright when they turn 18. And that may be a problem if your kids are apt to blow through their inheritance in a few years, instead of using the money wisely.

But an inheritance could last a lifetime if the beneficiary lives within her means, doesn’t tap into the principal, and works to help support her lifestyle and supplement her income. But this isn’t always the case, and individuals with access to so much cash are often vulnerable to developing addictions.

A trustee can make certain that your children and young adults are cared for long-term. If you’re not alive to guide and direct your children, a trust can set the necessary limitations for their finances. Also, the trustee can help with your children’s financial literacy, so they’ll possess tools if and when they’re given additional responsibility for their inherited assets.

This isn’t just for minor kids who are under 18 years old, but also for young adults. The fact that a child is “legal” in the eyes of the law doesn’t mean she’s responsible enough to invest a million-dollar inheritance. A trust sets up an experienced advisor to manage inherited assets along the way.

One option, when they’re mature enough, is to set up the trust so they will become a co-trustee. This lets them have a say with the trustee and to make decisions about the management of the trust assets. Your trust can also give them access to distributions of principal slowly over time, so they get used to managing large sums of money.

Simple solutions can work for some people, and there are definitely situations in which a simple will is appropriate. But if you have minor children, you don’t want to allow them to let them inherit money at 18.

Ask your estate planning attorney about the options available to set up a trust to work for your family.

Reference: Forbes (July 12, 2019) “Why A Simple Will Won’t Cut It If You Have Young Children”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Trusts, Trustee, Asset Protection, Inheritance

What Happens When the Family Fights over Personal Items or Artwork?

A few years after her death in 2014, Joan Rivers’ family put hundreds of her personal items up for auction at Christie’s in New York.

As The Financial Times reported in “Why an art collector’s estate needs tight planning,” a silver Tiffany bowl, engraved with her dog’s name, Spike, made headlines when it sold for thirty times its estimated price.

This shows how an auction house can generate a buzz around the estate of a late collector, creating demand for items that, had they been sold separately, might have failed to attract as much attention.

A problem for some art and collectible owners is that their heirs may feel much less passionately about the works, than the person who collected them.

A collector can either gift, donate or sell in their lifetime. He or she can also wait until they pass away and then gift, donate, or sell posthumously.

The way a collector can make certain his or her wishes are carried out or eliminate family conflicts after their death, is to take the decision out of the hands of the family, by placing an art collection in trust.

The trust will have the collector’s wishes added into the agreement, and the trustees are appointed from the family and from independent advisers with no interest in a transaction taking place.

Many collectors like to seal their legacy, by making a permanent loan or gift of art works to a museum.However, their children can renege on these agreements, if they’re not adequately protected by trusts or other legal safeguards after a collector’s death.

Even with a trust or other legal structure put in place to preserve a legacy, the key to avoiding a fight over a valuable collection after the death of the collector, is to have frank discussions about estate planning with the family well before the reading of the will. This can ensure that their wishes are respected.

Reference: Financial Times (June 20, 2019) “Why an art collector’s estate needs tight planning”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Trusts, Trustee, Inheritance, Asset Protection, Art Collection, Legacy

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