Archive for the ‘Asset Protection’ Category

National Financial Literacy Month: Six Steps Toward Successful Estate Planning

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

In support of National Financial Literacy Month (April) and National Estate Planning Awareness Week (3rd week in October), the following estate planning article contains a very important message:

Estate planning is a financial process that can protect you and your family and is a very important component of your overall financial planning. Now is the perfect time to put your estate planning house in order. If you don’t have an up-to-date estate plan and you happen to get hurt or sick and cannot manage your financial affairs, the courts will have to appoint someone to manage them for you. The person they appoint might not be the one you would want to perform those tasks.

Without an estate plan, when you pass away, your affairs will be settled by default through a complex legal system called “probate.” The handling of your financial affairs can turn into a costly and frustrating ordeal for your family and heirs.

The crafting of a good estate plan starts with planning, followed by the proper drafting and signing of appropriate legal documents such as wills, trusts, buy-sell agreements, durable powers of attorney for asset management, and an advanced health-care directive or health-care power of attorney. Having these documents in place saves you and your family a lot of money and time at a very difficult and emotional time.

Your estate planning should also address the coordination of the way you hold title to your various assets, your beneficiary selections, and the possible transfer of certain assets while you are alive.

Regardless of the extent of your net worth, estate planning is important for everyone. Complex strategies may be used by wealthy people to reduce death taxes and costs. Others may only require a simple will and/or trust to pass on property to their heirs and provide for minor children.

Even if a simple will is all you require, an estate plan is an essential part of your financial planning. Everybody will need it someday. The time to address or update your estate plan is now. See the checklist provided below to help update your estate plan:

CHECKLIST — SIX STEPS TOWARD SUCCESSFUL ESTATE PLANNING

1. DEFINE YOUR GOALS: What do you want to happen to your assets in the event of your death or disability? If your beneficiaries predecease you, who are your alternate selections? How will your assets be distributed, and when will these distributions take place?

  • Decisions on distribution of your estate assets should take into account the size of the estate, the ages and abilities of your children, and your personal desires. For example, a distribution to children over time might consist of 10 percent of the estate at age 18, 25 percent at age 21, 50 percent at age 24 or upon completion of college, and the balance at age 30.
  • Choose your appointees for important roles: Who will be your executor and, if applicable, trustee and/or guardians? It is advisable to list at least a first and second alternate for each appointment in case your first choice is unwilling or unable to serve.
  • If you have children who are minors, the appointment of a guardian is probably the most important decision you’ll make. With the court’s approval, this person, or persons, will raise your children. Consider appointing a family member and spouse, or another close couple who’ll care for your children the way you would want.
  • You may want to consider listing multiple executors, trustees and guardians to serve together in handling the details of your estate. This can provide a check-and-balance system for the appointees and help them avoid oversights or misappropriations. Consider appointing family members, friends, professionals, advisers and/or trust companies for this position.
  • There is some risk here: If these people disagree and have problems, they can each be represented in court by counsel paid for by your estate, so be very careful in making your selections.
  • Living trusts have become popular because less administration is required in comparison with a will. Be aware that having a living trust does not eliminate the need for a will and administration at either the first or second spouse’s death.
  • To get the benefits of the trust, certain details must be attended to, and this is the job of your appointees. For example, leaving a trust for the surviving spouse requires that the trust be funded properly and in a timely manner at the first death, or major tax benefits can be lost.
  • Is estate privacy an issue for you? Do you want your estate to be public record upon your death? Do you have any special gifts you want made to charity? Do you want an elderly parent or friend to be financially cared for? All of these circumstances should be noted in your plan.
  • GATHER & ORGANIZE YOUR DATA: There are three basic tasks to be accomplished:
  • Review and update your financial position.
  • Review how you hold title to your assets. Is it consistent with your estate plan?
  • Review your beneficiary selections. Are they aligned with your estate plans?
  • Did you know that how you hold title to assets has a higher legal priority than your will? For example, if you and your best friend held title to an investment club account as joint tenants and you died, the property would revert to your friend even though you had willed your interest to your spouse.

3. ANALYZE YOUR SITUATION: Start by determining your current net worth, assuming your death occurred today. This can be done by totaling your current assets and liabilities, and adding the value of any life insurance.

  • Try sketching a picture or flow chart of your existing estate plan. Review your appointees:
  • Executor
  • Guardian of the Person/of the Property
  • Trustee
  • Power of Attorney – Property Management
  • Advance Health-Care Directive or Health-Care Power of Attorney

4. DEVELOP YOUR STRATEGIES: With the assistance of your estate planning advisor(s), identify the legal documents that need drafting or make any necessary adjustments to existing documents. Determine any other actions that must be taken for your wishes to be carried out.

5. IMPLEMENT YOUR PLAN: Do what needs to be done — i.e., create new wills, trusts and powers of attorney, adjust title to your properties, change alternate beneficiaries of retirement plans and life insurance policies to trusts.

6. TRACK & MONITOR YOUR PROGRESS: Check your estate plan annually or any time there are changes in your family situation or net worth. Use your financial planning calendar to schedule your next review.

 

Learn more about National Financial Literacy Month by clicking here. For more information on estate and financial planning content contact v.sabuco@TheFinancialAwarenessFoundation.org.

 

 

 

How Divorce and Remarriage Affect Social Security Retirement Benefits

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

People considering divorce as their 10-year wedding anniversary approaches should know that delaying the split until after the decade mark can result in higher Social Security retirement benefits for a spouse with a lower earning record.

Taking the example of a divorced couple where the ex-husband had a higher earnings record, if the couple was married for 10 years or more, then the ex-wife can receive higher benefits based on his record, provided she is age 62 or older and has not remarried.

Even if the ex-husband has not applied for retirement benefits, the ex-wife may receive benefits based on his record, provided they have been divorced for more than two years. If the woman remarries, then she would no longer be able to collect the benefits unless the later marriage ends.lawyer-or-notary-with-cl

Recent years have seen a rise in both marriages and divorces later in life, and statistics suggest that divorcing couples may take retirement benefits into account, as there is a measurable increase in divorce after the 10-year mark. As might be expected, the effect is most pronounced for couples nearing retirement age. A recent study found that for people 55 and older, there is an 11.7 percent increase in the likelihood of divorce at about the decade mark. For couples age 35 to 55, that drops to a 6 percent increase in likelihood of divorce at 10 years, and for people under age 35, there is almost no effect.

Other researchers are skeptical that many people take retirement benefits into account in their divorce decisions, pointing to studies that show that only 13 percent of people are very knowledgeable about how Social Security benefits are calculated.

Whether divorcing couples currently consider retirement benefits in timing their divorce, many advisers agree that they should. Divorcing just short of the 10-year mark could result in thousands of dollars in lost benefits, so it may be worthwhile for some to delay the process.

Financial considerations are often part of making decisions about divorce, so it is important to be aware of how Social Security benefits can be affected.

 

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Leaving Unequal Inheritances to Children Can Cause Problems

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Many people creating or updating an estate plan are blessed with children and grandchildren, and enough assets to leave them a significant inheritance. However, deciding how to provide for future generations can lead to conflict, and much of that conflict stems from unequal treatment of children, whether it is intended or not. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid.

In some families, especially in previous generations, it was common to treat sons and daughters differently in regards to inheritances. A family business might be left to sons, while another asset such as a trust may have been created to provide for daughters. Needless to say, this can cause resentment and disputes. In modern times, such gender distinctions are less common. However, parents creating an estate plan often still choose to treat some children differently.

Parents sometimes consider providing for their adult children differently based on each child’s family income and assets. While this may seem like fairness, it is likely to cause resentment. It is, of course, one’s right to distribute one’s assets according to one’s wishes. However, parents may want to consider simply dividing their assets equally among their children. This simple solution can head off arguments and hurt feelings.

Distribution of assets to one’s children and grandchildren during one’s lifetime may be unequal for valid reasons. Paying for college may entail a greater cost for one child than for another. Helping to provide for grandchildren may mean that one’s adult children with more children of their own receive more help. These matters are best approached with openness and an attempt at fairness, keeping in mind individual circumstances.

When it comes to planning one’s estate, there may be a temptation to either mirror those inequalities by leaving more to adult children with more children of their own, or to make up for them by leaving something additional to one’s other children. However, the best approach may be the simplest: dividing one’s estate equally among one’s adult children, and providing that in the case of an adult child who has passed away, that any grandchildren receive that child’s share of the estate.

Passing on a family business may seem like a special case, but it need not be. If one or more adult child has had a special role in a family business, then that role will likely continue. Ownership of a family business may still be passed on to all adult children equally, with a child who has worked in the business continuing to be compensated for his or her work. Alternatively, a child who works in the business can receive ownership shares during the parents’ lifetime, so that the remaining family shares are distributed equally upon the parents’ death.

Passing on an inheritance to one’s children should be a cause for celebration rather than disputes. Making distributions as equal as possible is one way to keep it that way.

 

 

Understanding Asset Rules for Medicaid

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Many seniors take advantage of Medicaid for health insurance coverage, nursing home care, or, in the state of New York, home health care.  Because Medicaid is a joint program between the federal government and the states, it is important to understand the rules that apply where you live.  Here we will review the resource or asset rules that apply to the program for nursing home or home health care recipients, both generally and in the state of New York.

Individuals who have a disability, are blind or are age 65 or over, or who require nursing home care, must pass a resource test to be eligible for Medicaid.  In New York, in order to be eligible for Medicaid, a person’s assets must be $14,250 or less.  Income is restricted to $792 per month if the person continues to reside in the community.  Nursing home residents are permitted a small monthly income for personal needs.

Asset rules also apply to a nursing home resident’s spouse, known as the “community spouse.”  In New York, the Community Spouse Resource Allowance (CSRA) is $74,820, or half of the joint assets of the couple, up to $113,640 in countable assets.

The community spouse is also entitled to a small amount of income, what is known as a minimum monthly maintenance needs allowance (MMMNA).  For income in excess of the MMMNA, 25 percent may go to the cost of the nursing home resident’s care.

Assets that do not count against the resource limits are those defined as “noncountable,” including personal possessions like furniture and clothing.  A primary residence and an automobile can be considered noncountable, with certain restrictions.  Prepaid funeral arrangements, some life insurance, and assets that are “inaccessible” can also be considered noncountable.

For more information about New York Medicaid rules, visit http://www.health.ny.gov/health_care/medicaid/. For more information about our elder law services, visit www.elderlawnewyork.com.

Planning to Retire Soon? Create a Retirement Checklist

Monday, July 16th, 2012

If you are considering retiring within the next five years, now is the time to create a retirement plan.  Many seniors say they wish they had planned more carefully for retirement.  There are several things you can do now to make sure your legal and financial affairs are in order when you retire.

Define Your Financial Goals

Naturally, one of the most important considerations in planning for retirement is safeguarding your financial security.  That means defining what you expect your lifestyle to be during retirement, and how your financial goals will be met.  You will want to consider factors such as how you will allocate money from your savings to supplement your retirement income, the possibility of rising health care expenses, and the effect that inflation may have on your purchasing power.

Your retirement plan will need to include a budget and an asset allocation strategy, and you will need to consider how to balance different sources of income and benefits, including Social Security, Medicare, and your own assets.  If you are employed, one thing you can do to maximize your savings is to invest as much as you can in your 401(k) before you retire.  Your employer can be a valuable source of information on how best to make use of your 401(k), and what benefits you will receive in retirement.  If you are married, then you and your spouse should create a joint retirement plan.

Create an Estate Plan

If you do not already have an estate plan, now is the time to create one.  Before retirement, you will want to be sure that you have taken the necessary steps to ensure that your assets will be distributed according to your wishes, through the execution of a will, and the establishment of any trusts that would benefit you and your family.  It is also important to establish a durable power of attorney, designating a person to make decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated.  Through a living will, you can issue specific instructions for what is to be done in certain medical situations.  An estate planning attorney can help you create a holistic plan for the management of your assets.

Retirement is something to look forward to, and something to plan for carefully.

To learn more about our elder law services, visit www.elderlawnewyork.com.

Pros and Cons of Joint Accounts

Monday, February 8th, 2010

If you’re thinking that joint accounts are a foolproof way to escape probate and funnel dollars to loved ones as a sort of “poor man’s estate plan,” think again. Sometimes a joint account is an excellent option. But the instrument has its pitfalls as well, and if misused or entered into without caution, joint accounts can pose serious risks. Adding a loved one to a bank account may seem like a prudent action, but such actions can impact Medicaid planning or even make your account “fair game” for your loved one’s creditors.

There are viable alternatives to joint accounts. A consultation with your attorney specializing in Elder Law may suggest a durable power of attorney or a well-considered trust instrument.

To learn more about New York Elder Law, NY Elder Law, New York Elder Care, NY Elder Care, or New York Estate Planning visit http://www.elderlawnewyork.com.