An Estate Plan Can Highlight Religious Values… Within Limits
April 27, 2012
All parents hope to pass their values onto their children; and of the many values they hope to pass on religion and spirituality often tops the list. In some cases, religious values are so important to a parent that they will even include mention of these values in their estate plan. Our firm strongly believes that an estate plan is not just about money, but about leaving a legacy, and we often encourage our clients to include mention of their values—religious or otherwise.
Formalizing a legacy of values is not always as easy as leaving a financial legacy, however; and as this recent article in the Wall Street Journal mentions, there is a limit to how far a parent or grandparent can go in dictating religious values to their heirs. The article points out that “being too restrictive in an estate plan in an effort to pass on religious values—say, disinheriting children who marry outside the faith—can create divisions within a family and spark extended, costly legal battles, all while failing to have any impact on the heirs’ beliefs.”
One of the most common value-imposing strategies used by parents in estate planning is to require that children marry within a certain faith in order to receive their inheritance. This strategy has worked in some instances, for example, “in a 2009 case that was closely watched by estate planners, the Illinois Supreme Court—overturning the decisions of lower courts—unanimously ruled that a Jewish man, Max Feinberg, and his wife, Erla, could legally cut off their grandchildren who chose to marry outside of the Jewish religion.”
This strategy is often hurtful, however, and quite frequently expensively controversial, causing some heirs to challenge the will or trust; a process which can take many years and thousands of dollars to resolve. It is often better to explore other options as far as passing on values. “One increasingly common alternative to strict provisions that may penalize certain heirs is to leave money for children and grandchildren in a trust and give the trustee discretion to make distributions based on broader criteria that you set out when creating the trust… That way you provide guidance on how you would like your money to be distributed, but you leave some leeway for the trustee to consider special circumstances that you may not have anticipated and to weigh the consequences of each decision on distributions.”
A trusted and sensitive estate planner can talk to you about what is important to you and your family, and help you choose the best and most respectful way to pass on your wealth and your values.
Compassion is Key When Talking to Aging Parents
April 25, 2012
Being a caregiver is one of the most difficult (and rewarding) jobs on the planet; but sometimes when it comes to strong-willed aging parents, getting them to admit they might need a caregiver is more difficult than the caregiving itself. Take the story of David Solie, published recently in the Los Angeles Times; “David Solie thought he was being a good son and a competent manager. But his strong-willed mother was having none of it.”
According to the article, Mr. Solie (who “had cared for hundreds of elderly patients as a physician’s assistant” ) and his mother did not speak for almost three years after he tried to convince her that she “should move someplace easier to navigate — an assisted living complex, perhaps.” Mr. Solie also expressed that his mother “should relinquish her role as chief caregiver to Roger [Solie’s brother], who could be placed in a group home.”
These kinds of suggestions are often very difficult for independent and strong-minded seniors to hear, and with good reason; after having taken care of themselves, their children, and in some cases taken care of their own parents as well, in their time—it’s not easy to have someone come along and say they can’t do it anymore.
The key, says Mr. Solie, is to recognize and respect a parent’s psychological needs as well as their physical limitations. Once they were on speaking terms again, Mr. Solie started “asking his mom questions about her life and listening intently to her stories. Acknowledging to his mother that there were no longer easy ways to reconcile her safety and her desire to stay put, he asked what would work for her. Then mother and son struck compromises that built a network of support around her and Roger in their home.”
The process of transitioning elderly parents from independent lifestyles they may not be able to handle anymore will be made much easier if you begin the process by asking and listening, instead of simply telling. If the ultimate goal is to increase ease and avoid frustration, shouldn’t that be the goal of each conversation along the way as well?
Avoid the Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes
April 23, 2012
In a world where bureaucracy and taxation become more present and complex every year, it has become absolutely necessary for every family to have an estate plan. Not all estate plans are created equal, however, and it takes a little bit of research—or a conversation with the right advisors—to determine which plan will be the best fit for your family.
A recent article in Forbes may not be able to tell you which of the many estate planning options will work best for your family, but it does list some of the major errors in estate planning to look out for and avoid; and in light of what you just read in the paragraph above, number one on the list is not having a plan at all.
If you’re reading this you probably already know on some level how important an estate plan is, so it’s the remaining six errors you’ll want to consider most carefully; these include common mistakes such as #2, using online or DIY programs rather than professionals to create your plan, the problem with which is that “estate planning documents should represent the culmination of a well thought out financial and estate plan. An amalgam of stand-alone documents does not a plan make. Furthermore, those pesky nuanced requirements (i.e. the “formalities”) for a validly written and executed document will vary from state to state. Internet sites can provide you with documents but no actual advice that fits you in the context of your specific financial and personal life.”
The error listed as #7, leaving assets to children outright rather than in trust, is another mistake commonly made by those who my not yet understand just how useful a well-thought-out estate plan can be. As the article points out, the problem with leaving assets to children outright is that those assets are just as likely to end up in the hands of creditors or ex-spouses as in the hands of your children or designated heirs. The right trust can give your heirs complete access to their inheritance while providing protection from divorce or debt.
The important point to take away from this article is that an estate plan is not something to be hastily created, checked off the list, and tucked away to collect dust and be forgotten. An estate plan can serve as a roadmap for your family, serving as a reminder of values, as a guide for your children, and as a shield against loss and attrition.
The Good News and The Bad News About Retirement
April 20, 2012
The good news is that Americans are living longer, the bad news is that it costs a whole lot more to retire than it used to. But the rising cost of retirement has more to do with just longer life expectancy. As this recent article in the New York Times points out, “Social Security and Medicare are being eyed for cutbacks and 401(k)’s produce ever-varying lump sums.” This means that people are learning to think differently about saving, to think differently about planning for the future, and especially to think differently about when and how they will retire.
Another related article from U.S. News and World Report mentions that “the average expected retirement age and been gradually increasing over the past seventeen years from age 60 in 1995 to 64 in 2005,” and most recently to 67 in 2012. In addition to influencing your financial planning, this shift in the retirement age can also influence your estate planning in some of the following ways:
1. Gift-giving. Parents and grandparents may now choose to hold off on giving significant cash gifts to their heirs; socking that cash away for a longer retirement, if necessary.
2. If your estate plan includes a Retirement Trust you will absolutely want to talk to your estate planning attorney before making any significant decisions regarding your plans for retirement.
3. Long-Term Care Insurance. The longer you’re working, the longer you may be able to contribute to a long-term care insurance policy. Consider adjusting your contributions accordingly.
Everybody’s happy about a longer life expectancy, and there are many people who are happy to push off retirement a few years as well, but it does require a little extra planning. “If life expectancy continues its upward curve, you’ll have your work cut out for you, because you may need to think about what you want to do in your 10th and 11th decades.”
Transfer of Home Ownership Does Not Replace an Estate Plan
April 18, 2012
Imagine this: You’re retired, your only significant asset is your home, you’re very close to your child or children, and you don’t want the cost of creating an estate plan. In such cases, what’s the harm of simply putting your home in the name of your child to avoid probate and then be done with it?
We’ve gotten this question more than once at our office, and we almost always advise against it. There are a number of reasons to keep your home in your own name, and this article in the Huffington Post points out two of the biggies: Property taxes and your child’s liabilities.
These aren’t the only reasons to keep your home in your own name, however. Other reasons include:
* Your relationship with your child may not be as great as you think it is. Once the home is in their name they have no obligation to continue to let you live in it one, two or ten years down the line.
* You have more than one child. Putting your home in one child’s name can cause a rift of bad feelings between siblings. The alternative, of putting the home in the names of all your children, only makes it more vulnerable to liabilities and paperwork errors.
* There are other, safer ways to avoid probate. One of those ways is with a Revocable Living Trust. A Revocable Living Trust is flexible and reliable, and doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, a Revocable Living Trust can actually end up saving your family money in the long run.
Don’t make a mistake that could end up causing you to lose your home. Contact our office to discuss how we can help you protect your family and your assets from probate and liabilities.
A “New Wave” of Lawsuits May Force Children to Pay for Elderly Parents’ Nursing Costs
April 16, 2012
Many of our clients and readers are caregivers of elderly parents; they have chosen to take responsibility for their parents—whether it be physical responsibility, financial, or other. But what if instead of making that choice, you had responsibility for your aging parents thrust upon you? This is exactly the issue addressed in this recent article from Elder Law Answers.
“John Pittas’ mother entered a nursing home for rehabilitation following a car crash. She later left the nursing home and moved to Greece, and a large portion of her bill at the nursing home went unpaid. Mr. Pittas’ mother applied to Medicaid to cover her care, but that application is still pending. Meanwhile, the nursing home sued Mr. Pittas for nearly $93,000 under the state’s filial responsibility law, which requires a child to provide support for an indigent parent. The trial court ruled in favor of the nursing home.”
The article points out that many states still have filial responsibility laws on the books, but that those laws are rarely enforced. This ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not bode well for Baby-Boomers, many of whom are finding themselves caught between caring for elderly parents and for grown children who have not yet left the nest.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about this case is that the nursing home was given so much leeway. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that “the law does not require [the nursing home] to consider other sources of income or to wait until Mrs. Pittas’s Medicaid claim is resolved.” This would seem to condone (if not encourage) a litigious mind-set among nursing homes. As if this weren’t bad enough, the court “also said that the nursing home had every right to choose which family members to pursue for the money owed.” If you are one of many siblings you could find yourself involved in a lawsuit merely because you live the closest, are the wealthiest, or called mom more often than your brothers or sisters.
The best way to ensure that your family doesn’t find itself embroiled in a similar lawsuit is to ensure that you (or your elderly parents) have a plan in place to pay for long-term care. Contact our office to explore your options.