Oconee Estate Planning Blog

Serving Oconee County Georgia and the Surrounding Area

What Financial Actions Can Be Taken if Mom Has Alzheimer’s?

Because of the debilitating impact of Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia on a senior’s ability to make sound financial decisions, the sooner you can get financial matters in order the better, says The (Florence, AL) Courier Journal’s recent article entitled “4 Financial Steps When Dealing with Alzheimer’s.”

Here are four important steps to take:

  1. Watch for signs of unusual financial activity. Discrepancies with money can frequently be a signal of cognitive challenges. Red flags may include difficulty paying a proper amount for an item, leaving bills unpaid, or making odd purchases.
  2. Name a power of attorney. Many people are hesitant to give control of their personal finances to another. However, it’s important to have an honest discussion with your family member and discuss looking out for their interests. Identify a person who can be trusted to manage day-to-day money matters, if necessary. This person should be designated as financial power-of-attorney, with the authority to sign checks, pay bills and monitor the senior’s finances.
  3. Prepare proper documentation. A senior must be deemed competent to complete or update estate planning documents. It is important to be certain that the named beneficiaries are up-to-date.
  4. Examine care expense and how it will be covered. Create a strategy for how the senior will be cared for, if their cognitive abilities deteriorate over time. Make decisions about whether specialized care will be needed (either in the home or in a nursing or assisted living facility). Long-term care insurance should also be considered to help with costs. Speak to an elder law attorney about trusts that can be established to provide for care for the disabled individual, while still protecting the family’s assets.

Delaying for too long to address financial issues after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can make an already stressful and emotional time even worse.

Take action to address the situation, as soon as you are aware that it could be a problem. Even creating a plan for addressing these issues before a form of dementia is firmly diagnosed makes sense.

See an experienced elder law attorney for guidance on how to manage these challenging times.

Reference: The (Florence, AL) Courier Journal (June 8, 2021) “4 Financial Steps When Dealing with Alzheimer’s”

Suggested Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Disability, Elder Care, Power of Attorney, Caregiving, Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease

Will Vets Get Relief for Toxic Exposure?

The Military Times’ recent article entitled “Millions of vets could get new benefits under toxic exposure legislation. But can it become law?” says that Congress could be headed to another round of legislative fighting and advocacy heartbreak in the attempt to gain full recognition of the danger of burn pit exposure and other military contaminant hazards.

“We know the path ahead still won’t be easy, but with the commitment we’re seeing today, the possibility of passing comprehensive toxic exposure legislation has never been greater,” said Joy Illem, national legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, during a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday. “This is long overdue.”

This legislation is thought to be the most ambitious legislation on the topic of military toxic exposure since the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which for the first time granted presumptive disability benefits status to all troops who served in Vietnam because of the widespread use there of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange.

“Toxic exposure is a cost of war,” said committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif. “It’s time America makes good on our promise to care for all veterans exposed to toxic substances.”

The bill adds hypertension to the list of illnesses covered for Vietnam vets. This will potentially grant 150,000 elderly veterans, access to disability payouts. The legislation also includes presumptive status for radiation poisoning for thousands of additional veterans who served in areas where nuclear testing and weaponry was used. However, the most significant part of the bill would be recognition that all troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan likely suffered some level of poisoning from burn pits used extensively throughout the country (despite the fact that the scientific specifics on the chemical vapors present is still incomplete). The legislation creates a list of 23 cancers and respiratory illnesses believed linked to the toxic smoke, allowing those who served in the countries and later contract the conditions to bypass eligibility and verification processes for VA benefits.

“If we can get those presumptions, that’s a major strategic victory,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., a former emergency room doctor who has been pushing for burn pit legislation for several years. “This must be the year that we send a bill to the president and turn it into law, and the most important part is the extensive list of presumptions.”

More than 3.5 million veterans could see some benefit change under the scope of the House bill.

Reference: Military Times (May 26, 2021) “Millions of vets could get new benefits under toxic exposure legislation. But can it become law?”

Suggested Key Terms: VA Benefits, Veterans, Military, Legislation

Does a Prenup Make Sense?

Take the time to think about your financial plans before you get married to help set you on the right path. chase.com’s recent article entitled “How to prepare your finances for marriage” explains that a prenuptial agreement sets out each prospective spouse’s rights and responsibilities, if one spouse dies or the couple gets divorced.

This is a guide for dividing and distributing assets. A prenuptial agreement can also be a valuable tool for planning since it will take priority over presumptions about what’s deemed community property, separate property, and marital property. A prenup can also prevent one spouse from being responsible for premarital debts of the other in the event of death or divorce.

A prenup is used frequently when one spouse or one spouse’s family is significantly wealthier than the other; or when one family owns a business and wants to make sure only family members can own and manage it.

Negotiate a prenuptial agreement early. If you know that you want to have your fiancé to sign a prenuptial agreement, do it ASAP because some courts have found a prenup invalid because it was entered into under duress and signed and negotiated right before the wedding.

Examine employee benefits. Make certain that you understand know how marriage will impact your employee benefits, especially if you and your spouse are working. See what would be less expensive, and if one offers significantly better coverage. Marriage almost always is a life event that permits you to modify your benefits elections outside of annual open enrollment.

Review beneficiary designations and estate planning documents. It’s common for young people prior to marriage to name their parents or siblings as beneficiary of accounts, like IRAs, 401(k)s, life insurance and transfer on death (TOD) and payable on death (POD) accounts. Review these designations and accounts and, if needed, change your beneficiary to your new spouse after the wedding. You should also be sure you to update your estate planning documents, including wills, health care designations, powers of attorneys and others, to reflect your new situation.

Communication is critical. Start your marriage with strong communication to help you better face future challenges together.

Reference: chase.com (May 25, 2021) “How to prepare your finances for marriage”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Asset Protection, Power of Attorney, Healthcare Directive, Living Will, Probate Attorney, Pre-nuptial Agreement, Beneficiary Designations, Life Insurance, Financial Planning, IRA, 401(k), Pension, Community Property, TOD, Transfer on Death, POD, Payable on Death

What to Leave In, What to Leave Out with Retirement Assets

Depending on your intentions for retirement accounts, they may need to be managed and used in distinctly different ways to reach the dual goals of enjoying retirement and leaving a legacy. It’s all explained in a helpful article from Kiplinger, “Planning for Retirement Assets in Your Estate Plan”.

Start by identifying goals and dig into the details. Do you want to leave most assets to your children or grandchildren? Has philanthropy always been important for you, and do you plan to leave large contributions to organizations or causes?

This is not a one-and-done matter. If your intentions, beneficiaries, or tax rules change, you’ll need to review everything to make sure your plan still works.

How accounts are titled and how assets will be passed can create efficient tax results or create tax liabilities. This needs to be aligned with your estate plan. Check on beneficiary designations, asset titles and other documents to make sure they all work together.

Review investments and income. If you’ve retired, pensions, annuities, Social Security and other steady sources of income may be supplemented from your taxable investments. Required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax deferred accounts are also part of the mix. Make sure you have enough income to cover regular and unanticipated medical, long term care or other expenses.

Once your core income has been determined, it may be wise to segregate any excess capital you intend to use for wealth transfer or charitable giving. Without being set apart from other accounts, these assets may not be managed as effectively for taxes and long-term goals.

Establish a plan for taxable assets. Children or individuals can be better off inheriting highly appreciable taxable investment accounts, rather than traditional IRAs. These types of accounts currently qualify for a step-up in cost basis. This step-up allows the beneficiary to sell the appreciated assets they receive as inheritance, without incurring capital gains.

Here’s an example: an heir receives 1,000 shares of a stock with a $20 per share cost basis valued at $120 per share at the time of the owner’s death. They will pay no capital gains taxes on the gain of $100 per share. However, if the same stock was sold while the retiree owner was living, the $100,000 gain in total would have been taxed. The post-death appreciation, if any, on such inherited assets, would be subject to capital gains taxes.

Retirees often try to preserve traditional IRAs and qualified accounts, while spending taxable accounts to take advantage of lower capital gains taxes as they take distributions. However, this sets heirs up for a big tax bill. Another strategy is to convert a portion of those assets to a Roth IRA and pay taxes now, allowing the assets to grow tax free for you and your heirs.

Segregate assets earmarked for charitable donations. If a charity is named as a beneficiary for a traditional IRA, the charity receives the assets tax free and the estate may be eligible for an estate deduction for federal and state estate taxes.

Your estate planning attorney can help you understand how to structure your assets to meet goals for retirement and to create a legacy. Saving your heirs from estate tax bills that could have been avoided with prior planning will add to their memories of you as someone who took care of the family.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 21, 2021) “Planning for Retirement Assets in Your Estate Plan”

Suggested Key Terms: Legacy, Inheritance, Charitable Giving, Step-Up in Basis, Traditional IRA, Estate Planning Attorney, Capital Gains Taxes, Beneficiaries, Required Minimum Distributions, RMDs, Retirement

Do QTIP Trusts Help avoid Estate Taxes?

Using a QTIP trust allows one spouse to create a trust to benefit the surviving spouse, while providing the surviving spouse with up to nine months to decide how to treat the gift for tax purposes, explains a recent article “How Certain Trusts Soften The Blow Of Estate Tax Increases” from Financial Advisor. This flexibility is just one reason for this trust’s popularity. However, while the QTIP election can be made on the 2021 gift tax return, which is filed in 2022, the choice as to how much of the transfer will be subject to tax can be made in 2022.

The current estate and gift tax exemption of $11.7 per individual is slated to sunset in 2025, but the current legislative mood may curtail that legislation sooner. Right now, flexibility is paramount.

The surviving spouse is named as the primary beneficiary of the trust and must be the only beneficiary of the trust during the lifetime of the surviving spouse, in terms of both receiving income or principal from the trust.

If the decision is made to treat the trust as a QTIP trust, a gift to the trust is eligible for the marital deduction and is not taxable. It does not use up any of the donor’s gift tax exclusion. That flexibility to make a transfer today and decide later whether it uses any lifetime exemption is something most people don’t know about. A QTIP can also protect the recipient spouse and the principal from any creditors.

There are conditions and limitations to this strategy. If the QTIP election is not made, all net trust income must be distributed to the beneficiary spouse. There’s also no flexibility for the trust income to be accumulated or distributed directly to descendants.

The property over which the QTIP election is made is included in the estate of the surviving spouse.

The election can be made over the entire asset or only a portion of the asset transferred to the trust. The option to apply only a portion of the transfer makes it more tax efficient. For generation skipping-trust purposes, an election can be made to use the transferor spouse’s GST exemption when the decision about the QTIP election is made.

QTIPs are not the solution for everyone, but they may be the best option for many people while the people in Washington, D.C. determine the immediate future of the estate tax.

There are many Americans who are moving forward with making gifts using the current gift tax exclusion, using spousal lifetime access trusts (SLATs). However, the QTIP elections remain a way to hedge against the risk of being on the hook for a substantial gift tax, if there is a reduction in the federal estate tax exemptions.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn if a QTIP or another type of trust is appropriate for you. Note that these are complex planning strategies, and they must work in tandem with the rest of your estate plan.

Reference: Financial Advisor (May 24, 2021) “How Certain Trusts Soften The Blow Of Estate Tax Increases”

Suggested Key Terms: QTIP, Qualified Terminable Interest Property, Trust, Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts, SLATS, Federal Exclusion, Estate Planning Attorney, Assets, Transfers, Spousal Donor, Marital Deduction

Why Is Estate Planning So Important?

“Estate planning” will be your family’s guidebook once you have passed away. The Big Easy Magazine’s recent article entitled “Estate Planning Is Essential and Here’s Whyexplains that estate planning is similar to writing a last will. HOwever, writing one is not limited to what happens to your house, car, possessions, or other assets after you pass away. It also entails the question of who will take care of your minor children, if they are left without a parent, as well as your instructions for burial and other items.

If you fail to leave specific instructions, the state’s intestacy laws will apply at your death, meaning that the court will decide who gets what. There is no guarantee this will be in your best interest. Let’s look at the consequences of not writing your will:

  • If you prefer cremation or a traditional burial, your family may not know and decide based on their preferences or convenience.
  • Your properties will be managed by someone you do not necessarily trust, if you do not name an executor to your will.
  • Some of your loved ones may not get an inheritance if there is no will. State law may not carry out your intentions, and some people may be left out.
  • Your favorite charity may not receive donations. For those committed to leaving a legacy, your organization of choice should be listed in the will.
  • The court will assign guardians for your minor children, and social services will appoint a guardian. You can avoid this, by naming a trusted person in your will.

Aside from avoiding these consequences, estate planning can also save your family a lot of headaches and expense. A detailed will with your instructions will alleviate the stress and provide them with comfort, while they recover emotionally from their loss. Here are the top reasons why you need to plan these things:

  • You can avoid inheritance taxes and federal estate taxes with proper estate planning.
  • You can name who will care for you, if you are unable to make your own decisions because of illnesses, infirmity, or old age. With a power of attorney, you can name someone you trust to manage your finances.
  • If your minor children are orphaned, you can name someone you trust to be their guardian in your will.
  • Some family members are greedy, so you can exclude them from your will. With an estate plan created by an experienced estate planning attorney, you can ensure that the people you love will receive what you intend.

Estate planning is essential to securing a comfortable life for your loved ones. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to set things up correctly.

Reference: The Big Easy Magazine (May 17, 2021) “Estate Planning Is Essential and Here’s Why”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Intestacy, Probate Court, Inheritance, Asset Protection, Capacity, Guardianship, Executor, Personal Representative, Power of Attorney, Healthcare Directive, Living Will, Probate Attorney, Estate Tax, Charitable Donation, Funeral Arrangements, Burial

What Is Elder Law?

With medical advancements, the average age of both males and females has increased incredibly.  The issue of a growing age population is also deemed to be an issue legally. That is why there are elder law attorneys.

Recently Heard’s recent article entitled “What Are the Major Categories That Make Up Elder Law?” explains that the practice of elder law has three major categories:

  • Estate planning and administration, including tax issues
  • Medicaid, disability, and long-term care issues; and
  • Guardianship, conservatorship, and commitment issues.

Estate Planning and Administration. Estate planning is the process of knowing who gets what. With a will in place, you can make certain that the process is completed smoothly. You can be relieved to know that your estate will be distributed as you intended. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to help with all the legalities, including taxes.

Medicaid, Disability, and Long-Term Care Issues. Elder law evolved as a special area of practice because of the aging population. As people grow older, they have more medically-related issues. Medicaid is a state-funded program that supports those with little or no income. The disability and long-term care issues are plans for those who need around-the-clock care. Elder law attorneys help coordinate all aspects of elder care, such as Medicare eligibility, special trust creation and choosing long-term care options.

Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Commitment Matters. This category is fairly straightforward. When a person ages, a disability or mental impairment may mean that he or she cannot act rationally or make decisions on his or her own. A court may appoint an individual to serve as the guardian over the person or as the conservator the estate, when it determines that it is required. The most common form of disability requiring conservatorship is Alzheimer’s, and a court may appoint an attorney to be the conservator, if there is no appropriate relative available.

Reference: Recently Heard (May 26, 2021) “What Are the Major Categories That Make Up Elder Law?”

Suggested Key Terms: Elder Law Attorney, Medicaid, Paying for a Nursing Home, Long-Term Care Planning, Long-Term Care Insurance, Medicaid Trust Planning, Medicaid Nursing Home Planning, Assisted Living, Nursing Home Care, Medicaid Planning Lawyer, Disability, Elder Care, Conservatorship, Probate Court, Power of Attorney, Tax Planning, Financial Planning, Estate Tax, Caregiving, Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Guardianship, Commitment

Do You have to Go through Probate when Someone Dies?

Probate involves assets, debts and distribution. The administration of a probate estate involves gathering all assets owned by the decedent, all claims owed to the decedent and the payments of all liabilities owed by the decedent or the estate of the decedent and the distribution of remaining assets to beneficiaries. If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is, according to the article “The probate talk: Administrators, creditors and beneficiaries need to know” from The Dallas Morning News.

The admission of a decedent’s will to probate may be challenged for up to two years from the date it was admitted to probate. Many people dismiss this concern, because they believe they have done everything they could to avoid probate, from assigning beneficiary designations to creating trusts. Those are necessary steps in estate planning, but there are some possibilities that executors and beneficiaries need to know.

Any creditor can open a probate estate and sue to pull assets back into the estate. A disappointed heir can sue the executor/administrator and claim that designations and transfers were made when the decedent was incapacitated, unduly influenced or the victim of fraud.

It’s very important that the administrator handles estate matters with meticulous attention to detail, documenting every transaction, maintaining scrupulous records and steering clear of anything that might even appear to be self-dealing. The administrator has a fiduciary duty to keep the beneficiaries of the estate reasonably informed of the process, act promptly and diligently administer and settle the estate.

The administrator must also be in a position to account for all revenue received, money spent and assets sold. The estate’s property must not be mixed in any way with the administrator’s own property or funds or business interests.

The administrator may not engage in any self-dealing. No matter how easily it may be to justify making a transaction, buying any of the estate’s assets for their own benefit or using their own accounts to temporarily hold money, is not permitted.

The administrator must obtain a separate tax identification number from the IRS, known as an EIN, for the probate estate. This is the identification number used to open an estate bank account to hold the estate’s cash and any investment grade assets. The account has to be properly named, on behalf of the probate estate. Anything that is cash must pass through the estate account, and every single receipt and disbursement should be documented. There’s no room for fuzzy accounting in an estate administration, as any estate planning lawyer will advise.

Distributions don’t get made, until all creditors are paid. This may not win the administrator any popularity contests, but it is required. No creditors are paid until the taxes are paid—the last year’s taxes for the last year the decedent was alive, and the estate taxes. The administrator may be held personally liable, if money is paid out to creditors or beneficiaries and there’s not enough money in the estate to pay taxes.

If the estate contains multiple properties in different states, probate must be done in all of those different states. If it is a large complex estate, an estate planning attorney will be a valuable resource in helping to avoid pitfalls, minor or major.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (May 16, 2021) “The probate talk: Administrators, creditors and beneficiaries need to know”

Suggested Key Terms: Probate, Administrators, Creditors, Beneficiaries, Assets, Distribution, Debts, Estate Planning Attorney, Executor, Decedent, Claims, Estate Taxes, Fiduciary, EIN, Self-Dealing

How Do I Get Brain Power?

The search for effective treatments and a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and other memory disorders has been difficult. There are 33 investigational drugs that have made it to the final stage of experimental testing, and each has failed. Remarkably, doctors are treating Alzheimer’s symptoms with the same medications they have had since 2003.

AARP’s recent article entitled “7 Things to Do After 50 for a Healthier Brain” say that, as treatment research struggles, data on prevention is continuing to be complied and is very helpful. Many studies show that it’s possible to decrease the risk of dementia as we age with more than medication. Let’s look at seven habits that can boost your brain health in your 50s and beyond.

  1. Keep your blood pressure under control. Things that promote heart health also promote brain health. However, heart and brain health are linked not only by lifestyle factors but also by genetics, cholesterol metabolism and the health and integrity of the cardiovascular system. Blood pressure management can be achieved with a well-balanced diet, exercise and medication.
  2. Exercise regularly. In addition to increasing blood flow to the brain, exercise — particularly running — can be great for brain health. That’s because it generates the release of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF promotes the growth of the cells that send and receive signals from the brain (neurons). BDNF also increases the connections between neurons, and sustains them in the face of environmental and other challenges.
  3. Eat a heart-healthy diet. This is a regimen that monitors cholesterol and promotes normal insulin activity. Both can decrease the risk of dementia. A Mediterranean-style diet is recommended. It’s full of vegetables, fish and heart-healthy fats. The MIND diet also combines the Mediterranean diet with the American Heart Association’s DASH diet. It is rich in neuroprotective foods (nuts, berries, green leafy vegetables, fish and olive oil).
  4. Watch your weight. Obesity is a well-established risk factor for dementia. Neurons, like all cells, use glucose for their energy source. However, they are unable to take it up without normal insulin function. Excess body weight (especially in the belly), not exercising, smoking and short sleep make it more difficult for insulin to move into cells. This results in insulin resistance, which is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. People with that condition have roughly a 60% increased risk of developing dementia. Losing weight is the best way to prevent, or even reverse, insulin resistance.
  5. Learn new things. Brains are meant to be active. Try things like crossword puzzles and sudoku for brain exercises, but make sure they’re challenging.
  6. Get good sleep. Chronic short sleep — particularly in midlife — can damage the brain. Lack of sleep interferes with the brain’s nightly cleaning cycle, since in deep sleep, neurons produce less beta amyloid and tau (proteins at the heart of Alzheimer’s) and secrete more of them as waste. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is a temporary cessation of breath, followed by gasping, is a common problem. It’s been linked to cognitive impairment and structural changes in the brain. It is also linked to obesity, increasing age and poor muscle tone. These are some excellent reasons to lose weight and exercise.
  7. Manage your stress. Stress isn’t just a state of mind—but a state of body. Stress exerts powerful physical changes in the brain and has direct adverse effects on health, including blood sugar, blood pressure and abdominal obesity. It’s also a very serious disruptor of sleep.

Reference: AARP (May 18, 2021) “7 Things to Do After 50 for a Healthier Brain”

Suggested Key Terms: Financial Abuse, Elder Care, Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Senior Health

Tell Me again Why Estate Planning Is So Important

The Legal Reader’s recent article entitled “The Importance of Estate Planning” explains that estate planning is not just for the rich.

If you don’t have a comprehensive estate plan, it could mean headaches for your family left to manage things after you die, and it can be expensive and have long-lasting impact.

Here are four reasons why estate planning is critical, and you need the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Estate plan beneficiaries. Middle-class families must plan in the event something happens to the bread earner. You might be only leaving behind one second home, but if you don’t decide who is to receive it, things might become complicated. The main purpose of estate planning is to allocate heirs to the assets. If you have no estate plan when you die, the court decides who gets the assets.

Protection for minor children. If you have small children, you must prepare for the worst. To be certain that your children receive proper care if they are orphaned, you must name their guardians in your last will. If you don’t, the court will do it!

It can save on taxes. Estate planning can protect your loved ones from the IRS. A critical aspect of estate planning is the process of transferring assets to the heirs to generate the smallest tax burden for them. Estate planning can minimize estate taxes and state inheritance taxes.

Avoid fighting and headaches in the family. No one wants fighting when a loved one dies. There might be siblings who might think they deserve much more than the other children. The other siblings might also believe that they should be given the charge for financial matters, despite the fact that they aren’t good with debts and finances. These types of disagreements can get ugly and lead to court. Estate planning will help in creating individualized plans.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney and see how estate planning can help your specific situation.

Reference: The Legal Reader (May 10, 2021) “The Importance of Estate Planning”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Intestacy, Probate Court, Inheritance, Asset Protection, Guardianship, Probate Attorney, Estate Tax, Inheritance Tax

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