Anthony Bourdain Left Loved Ones In Limbo But The Heirs Will End Up Better Than Michael Jackson’s

Via The Wealth Advisor Scott Martin Contributor

He lived on the edge and died without warning. The family needed a disaster plan to minimize strain in the worst moments and smooth the financial transition afterward. These are teachable moments.

Anthony Bourdain chased gusto all over the planet, occasionally tracking into war and disaster zones along the way. There were moments when he could’ve gotten in over his head and never come home.

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A personal disaster plan would have been the responsible way to approach that kind of life. From the way news of his death spread last week, it’s fairly clear that level of forethought just wasn’t his style.

That’s a burden on those he left behind. At a moment when they’re already stunned and vulnerable, it’s up to them to make the hard decisions about managing the press, the authorities and the fans.

Let’s hope that his financial situation was in better shape. While the money will never bring him back, it can at least make life without him easier — provided of course it’s managed properly now.

The personal disaster plan

Enterprises, individual professionals and even well-run restaurants have succession plans. But while Bourdain’s life revolved around his personal participation in every venture, there’s no sign that the work can continue without him.

The TV show is unlikely to ever film again. There won’t be any new expeditions and no new episodes beyond what’s already ready to roll.

There won’t be any new books. There’s no archive of unreleased material waiting for a successor organization to release to bereaved fans.

And the window for him to ever open another restaurant has slammed shut. If he gave much thought to a creative executor to groom the intellectual property he built up in life, again, it would be a surprise.

Otherwise, that person or some other spokesperson he delegated would have stepped up to handle the announcements last week. Instead, everyone looked to Asia Argento, who was understandably shocked and stunned.

The family was quiet. His ex-wife isn’t active on public social media networks and their daughter is only 11. It was up to a colleague to find his body and his network to break the news to the world.

A lawyer, a financial advisor, an agent, a manager: someone could have been authorized to route messaging to the public and make absolutely sure nobody bothered the family.

That didn’t really happen here. There’s no crime in that beyond a missed opportunity to make a tidier transition, whether death comes by surprise or design.

And in the absence of any clear plan on that front, it remains to be seen whether there was a plan to keep his businesses afloat without his personal participation.

Bourdain never really created much of an institution around himself. The copyright on his books was never assigned to any trust, holding company or other entity. While he got production credit on his shows, the actual production company belonged to other people.

There’s no restaurant for his heirs to operate or sell off. He could’ve built a foodie empire to survive him, but evidently wasn’t interested.

His big dream, the Blade Runner themed global food court in New York, stalled last year. Whether that failure to create something lasting preyed on him, we just don’t know.

Again, that level of planning really wasn’t his style. Even if it could’ve made his heirs more comfortable down the road, we would’ve seen the hints years ago.

Healthier, maybe even wealthier

That said, there can be a morbid tinge to building a captive empire of intellectual property and operating businesses. Look at Michael Jackson, who was practically insolvent in life because he’d hoarded other people’s creative output as well as his own.

Jackson’s kids are reportedly billionaires now. He’s the best-selling musical artist in the world. But the cold equations of the estate forced the executors to sell off his songs and back catalog to pay the debts.

Bourdain’s books are seeing a similar posthumous bestseller effect now. Odds are good that ratings of unaired episodes will be the best ever. His daughter will get her piece of that income.

If he left a will — a big hypothetical, all in all — the rights and royalties may well go into a trust for her upkeep now and use when she’s an adult. Otherwise, the money flows into Unified Gifts To Minors Act (UGMA) accounts while the assets themselves sit in Unified Transfers To Minors Act (UGTA) accounts until she turns 18.

Unlike Michael Jackson’s kids, she has an immediate parental guardian to look out for her in the meantime. While mom and dad split up a few years ago, mom is definitely alive and well. As you’ll recall, she’s a professional kickboxer.

Reading between the lines, mom also got the $3 million New York condo as part of the split. She might already have all of the Bourdain cash as it is. Otherwise, sad to say, child support evaporates now.

Whatever Bourdain left behind for his daughter is that support. She can’t touch it for awhile. I hope he made arrangements for someone to monetize his legacy in the here and now.

With the right management, the Bourdain name and likeness stay vibrant and keep generating income. Maybe there actually are book drafts to polish, TV concepts to pitch. There might even be restaurant concepts looking for partners.

The potential here is vast. A creative and savvy executor can turn Bourdain’s name into the empire he never chased in life — maybe even a Michael Jackson scale franchise built on new approaches to food, new grocery models, who knows?

And without the $400 million debt hole Jackson’s heirs started with, right now Bourdain’s survivors are financially ahead of the game. I know it still hurts, but against the inevitability of pain sometimes the only thing we can do is stack the dollar signs.

When his daughter comes of age, she may pick up the family legacy. It belongs to her. That’s the best bequest of all.

 

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Here’s 6 good reasons you should consider a trust…

Trusts can help you control your assets and build a legacy.

Via FIDELITY VIEWPOINTS 06/06/2018

Key takeaways

  • Trusts can help pass and preserve wealth efficiently and privately.
  • Trusts can help reduce estate taxes for married couples.
  • Gain control over distribution of your assets by using trusts.
  • With a trust, you can ensure that your retirement assets are distributed as you’ve planned.

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If you haven’t stopped to consider how a trust may help you pass your wishes and wealth on, you could be making a critical estate planning mistake. Especially for individuals with substantial assets, protecting wealth for future generations should be top of mind.

“People often fail to appreciate the power a trust can have as part of a well-crafted estate plan, but that can be a costly mistake,” says Rodney Weaver, estate planning specialist at Fidelity. “Trusts are flexible and powerful tools that can be used to gain greater control over how they pass their wealth to future generations.”

A trust is a legal structure that contains a set of instructions on exactly how and when to pass assets to trust beneficiaries. There are many types of trusts to consider, each designed to help achieve a specific goal. An estate planning professional can help you determine which type (or types) of trust is most appropriate for you. However, an understanding of the estate planning goals that a trust may help you achieve is a good starting point. Also, please note that this information is based on current tax law.

Benefits of a trust

An effective trust begins with documentation carefully drafted by a qualified attorney with knowledge of your specific situation as well as current laws. Without the appropriate documentation, you and your beneficiaries may not reap the benefits of a trust, some of which are described below.

1. Pass wealth efficiently and privately to your heirs

Perhaps the most powerful and straightforward way to use a trust is to ensure that your heirs have timely access to your wealth. When you transfer your assets to your beneficiaries through a will, your estate is settled through a procedure known as “probate,” which is conducted in state courts. However, probate is a public, legal process that can carry with it some unforeseen negative consequences for the administration of your estate, including:

  • Delays: Probate proceedings will take time, some may take longer than a year. Additionally, if you own property located in states other than your home state, probate may be required in each such state.
  • Costs: Probate fees can be quite substantial, even for the most basic case with no conflict between beneficiaries. A rule of thumb is that probate attorney’s fees and court fees could take over 4% of an estate’s value.1
  • Publicity: The probate process is public. When your will is admitted to probate, it becomes a public record, to be viewed by anyone who wishes to review it. Such transparency can create unwanted scrutiny.

With proper planning, the delays, costs, and loss of privacy can often be avoided.

You may be able to avoid probate and gain greater control over how your estate is settled by establishing and funding a revocable trust. Because the trust is revocable, it can be altered or amended during the grantor’s2 lifetime. After a grantor’s death, the trust acts as a will substitute and enables the trustee to privately and quickly settle the grantor’s estate without going through the probate process with respect to assets held in the trust.

A grantor can also give the trustee the power to take immediate control of the assets held in trust in the event that the grantor becomes incapacitated (and the grantor generally has the ability to define what constitutes “incapacity” within the trust document). This provision can save heirs the time, financial cost, and emotional distress of going to court to request a conservatorship or guardianship over a loved one. Finally, revocable trusts are dissolvable, meaning the grantor can generally pull assets out of the trust at any point during the grantor’s lifetime.

2. Preserve assets for heirs and favorite charities

If you have substantial assets, you may want to consider creating and funding an irrevocable trust during your lifetime. Because the trust is irrevocable, in almost all circumstances, the grantor cannot amend the trust once it has been established, nor can the grantor regain control of the money or assets used to fund the trust. The grantor gifts assets into the trust, and the trustee administers the trust for the trust beneficiaries based on the terms specified in the trust document.

Significantly, while the gift could use up some or all of a grantor’s lifetime gift tax exclusion, any future growth on these assets generally will not be includable in the grantor’s estate and therefore will escape estate taxes at the grantor’s death. The individual lifetime federal gift tax exclusion is set at $11.18 million for 2018.

Irrevocable trusts can also serve several specialized functions, including:

  • Holding life insurance proceeds outside your estate. Generally, without trust planning, the death benefit payout from a life insurance policy would be considered part of an estate for the purposes of determining whether there are estate taxes owed. However, this is not the case if the policy is purchased by an independent trustee and held in an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) that is created and funded during the grantor’s lifetime, with certain limitations (please consult your attorney).

    Despite not being subject to estate taxes at death, the life insurance proceeds received by the ILIT can be made available to pay any estate taxes due by having the insurance trust make loans to, or purchase assets from, the estate. Such loans or purchases can provide needed liquidity to the estate without either increasing the estate tax liability or changing the ultimate disposition of the assets, as long as the life insurance trust benefits the same beneficiaries as the estate does. In particular, this means that illiquid assets like real estate, or tax-inefficient assets like taxable retirement accounts, may not have to be sold or distributed quickly to meet the tax obligation.

  • Ensuring protection from creditors, including a divorcing spouse. An irrevocable trust, whether created during your lifetime or at your death, can include language that protects the trust’s assets from the creditors of, or a legal judgment against, a trust beneficiary. In particular, assets that remain in a properly established irrevocable trust are generally not considered marital property. Therefore, they generally won’t be subject to division in a divorce settlement if one of the trust’s beneficiaries gets divorced. However, a divorce court judge may consider the beneficiary’s interest in the trust when making decisions as to what constitutes an equitable division of the marital property that is subject to the court’s jurisdiction.

Keep in mind, though, that irrevocable trusts are permanent. “The trust dictates how the funds are distributed, so you want to fund this type of trust only with assets that you are certain you want to pass to the trust beneficiaries, as specified by the terms of the trust,” cautions Weaver.

3. Reduce estate taxes for married couples

For a married couple, a revocable trust may be used as part of the larger plan to take full advantage of both spouses’ federal and/or state estate tax exclusions. Upon the death of a spouse, the assets in a revocable trust can be used to fund a family trust—also known as a “credit shelter,” “bypass,” or “A/B” trust—up to the amount of that spouse’s federal or state estate tax exclusion. The assets held in the family trust can then grow free from further estate taxation at the death of the surviving spouse. Meanwhile, the balance of the assets in the revocable trust can be transferred to the surviving spouse free of estate tax pursuant to the spousal exemption. At the death of the surviving spouse, of course, these assets may be included in the surviving spouse’s estate for estate tax purposes.

The estate tax-free growth potential for funds in a family trust can be significant. Say, hypothetically, that you and your spouse live in Florida, which does not have a separate state-level estate tax, and have a net worth of $12 million. If one of you dies in 2018, that spouse’s revocable trust can fund the family trust with $11.18 million without paying any federal estate tax. Over the next 20 years, this $11.18 million could grow in value, all of which would remain outside the surviving spouse’s taxable estate.

4. Gain control over the distribution of your assets

By setting up a trust, the grantor is able to establish ways that the assets are to be passed on to the beneficiaries. For example:

  • Distributions for specific purposes. A grantor can stipulate that the trustees of a trust shall make money available to children or grandchildren only for college tuition or perhaps for future health care expenses.
  • Age-based terminations. This provision can stipulate that the trust’s assets shall be distributed to heirs at periodic intervals—for example, 30% when they reach age 40, 30% when they reach age 50, and so on.

If you are charitably inclined, you may also want to consider establishing a charitable remainder trust, which allows the grantor, and possibly the grantor’s spouse and children, to receive an annual payment from the trust during his or her lifetime, with the balance transferring to the specified charity when the trust terminates. The grantor may also receive an income tax charitable deduction based on the charity’s remainder interest when property is contributed to the charitable remainder trust.

For more on charitable trusts, read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: Charitable giving that gives back.

5. Ensure that your retirement assets are distributed as you’ve planned

You may be concerned that a beneficiary of a retirement account will liquidate that account and incur a large income tax obligation in that year as a result. To help alleviate that concern, by naming a properly created trust as the beneficiary of a retirement account at the grantor’s death, the trustee can limit withdrawals to the retirement account’s required minimum distributions (RMDs), required of each beneficiary.

6. Keep assets in your family

You may be concerned that if your surviving spouse remarries, your assets could end up benefiting their new family rather than your own loved ones. In this case, a qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust provision can be used to provide for a surviving spouse while also ensuring that at their subsequent death, the remainder of the trust’s assets are ultimately transferred to the beneficiaries identified by the grantor in the trust document.

Building your legacy

The purpose of establishing a trust is to ultimately help you better realize a vision for your estate and, in turn, your legacy. Therefore, it’s important to let your goals for your estate guide your discussion with your attorney and financial adviser as they help determine what kind of trust and provisions make sense for you. It is vitally important that the trust be properly drafted and funded, so that you and your beneficiaries can fully realize all the benefits available.

Download our Free Guide To Estate Planning here>

Let me know if you have any questions or need help setting up the best type of trust for you and your family.

Regards, Brian

How to Talk About Moving to a Retirement Home: ‘It’s a Journey’

Having a conversation about moving — whether it’s with a relative,
even a spouse — brings up lots of anxiety. Here’s how to go about it.

Proving That a Transfer Was Not Made in Order to Qualify for Medicaid

Medicaid law imposes a penalty period if you transferred assets within five years of applying, but what if the transfers had nothing to do with Medicaid? It is difficult to do, but if you can prove you made the transfers for a purpose other than to qualify for Medicaid, you can avoid a penalty.

You are not supposed to move into a nursing home on Monday, give all your money away on Tuesday, and qualify for Medicaid on Wednesday. So the government looks back five years for any asset transfers, and levies a penalty on people who transferred assets without receiving fair value in return. This penalty is a period of time during which the person transferring the assets will be ineligible for Medicaid. The penalty period is determined by dividing the amount transferred by what Medicaid determines to be the average private pay cost of a nursing home in your state.

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The penalty period can seem very unfair to someone who made gifts without thinking about the potential for needing Medicaid. For example, what if you made a gift to your daughter to help her through a hard time? If you unexpectedly fall ill and need Medicaid to pay for long-term care, the state will likely impose a penalty period based on the transfer to your daughter.

To avoid a penalty period, you will need to prove that you made the transfer for a reason other than qualifying for Medicaid. The burden of proof is on the Medicaid applicant and it can be difficult to prove. The following evidence can be used to prove the transfer was not for Medicaid planning purposes:

  • The Medicaid applicant was in good health at the time of the transfer. It is important to show that the applicant did not anticipate needing long-term care at the time of the gift.
  • The applicant has a pattern of giving. For example, the applicant has a history of helping his or her children when they are in need or giving annual gifts to family or charity.
  • The applicant had plenty of other assets at the time of the gift. An applicant giving away all of his or her money would be evidence that the applicant was anticipating the need for Medicaid.
  • The transfer was made for estate planning purposes or on the advice of an accountant.

Proving that a transfer was made for a purpose other than to qualify for Medicaid is difficult. If you innocently made transfers in the past and are now applying for Medicaid, consult with your elder law attorney. Medicaid Planning without a qualified attorney can lead to costly mistakes. To read more about common Medicaid Planning mistakes people make visit my website by clicking here.

Regards, Brian

 

Did You Know Choosing Retirement Account Beneficiaries Can Have Tax Implications?

While the execution of Wills requires formalities like witnesses and a notary, the reality is that most property passes to heirs through other, less formal means.

Many bank and investments accounts, as well as real estate, have joint owners who take ownership automatically at the death of the primary owner. Other banks and investment companies offer payable on death accounts that permit owners to name the person or people who will receive them when the owners die. Life insurance, of course, permits the owner to name beneficiaries.

All of these types of ownership and beneficiary designations permit these accounts and types of property to avoid probate, meaning that they will not be governed by the terms of a Will. When taking advantage of these simplified procedures, owners need to be sure that the decisions they make are consistent with their overall estate planning. It’s not unusual for a Will to direct that an estate be equally divided among the decedent’s children, but to find that because of joint accounts or beneficiary designations the estate is distributed totally unequally, or even to non-family members, such as new boyfriends and girlfriends.

It’s also important to review beneficiary designations every few years to make sure that they are still correct. An out-of-date designation may leave property to an ex-spouse, to ex-girlfriends or -boyfriends, and to people who died before the owner. All of these can thoroughly undermine an estate plan and leave a legacy of resentment that most people would prefer to avoid.

These concerns are heightened when dealing with retirement plans, whether IRAs, SEPs or 401(k) plans, because the choice of beneficiary can have significant tax implications. These types of retirement plans benefit from deferred taxation in that the income deposited into them as well as the earnings on the investments are not taxed until the funds are withdrawn. In addition, owners may withdraw funds based more or less on their life expectancy, so the younger the owner the smaller the annual required distribution.  Further, in most cases, withdrawals do not have to begin until after the owner reaches age 70 1/2. However, this is not always the case for inherited IRAs.

Following are some of the rules and concerns when designating retirement account beneficiaries:

  • Name your spouse, usually. Surviving husbands and wives may roll over retirement plans inherited from their spouses into their own plans. This means that they can defer withdrawals until after they reach age 70 1/2 and take minimum distributions based on their age. Non-spouses of retirement plans must begin taking distributions immediately, but they can base them on their own presumably younger ages.
  • But not always. There are a few reasons you might not want to name your spouse, including the following:
    • He or she is incapacitated and can’t manage the account
    • Doing so would add to his or her taxable estate
    • You are in a second marriage and want the investments to benefit your first family
    • Your children need the money more than your spouse
  • Consider a trust. In a number of the above circumstances, a trust can solve the problem, providing for management in the case of an incapacitated spouse, permitting assets to benefit a surviving spouse while being preserved for the next generation, and providing estate tax planning opportunities. Those in first marriages may want to name their spouse as the primary beneficiary and a trust as the secondary, or contingent, beneficiary. This permits the surviving spouse, or spouse’s agent if the spouse is incapacitated, to refuse some or all of the inheritance through a “disclaimer” so it will pass to the trust. Known as “post mortem” estate planning, this approach permits flexibility to respond to “facts on the ground” after the death of the first spouse.
  • But check the trust. Most trusts are not designed to accept retirement fund assets. If they are missing key provisions, they might not be treated as “designated beneficiaries” for retirement plan purposes. In such cases, rather than being able to stretch out distributions during the beneficiary’s lifetime, the IRA or 401(k) will have to be liquidated within five years of the decedent’s death, resulting in accelerated taxation.
  • Be careful with charities. While there are some tax benefits to naming charities as beneficiaries of retirement plans, if a charity is a partial beneficiary of an account or of a trust, the other beneficiaries may not be able to stretch the distributions during their life expectancies and will have to withdraw the funds and pay the taxes within five years of the owner’s death. One solution is to dedicate some retirement plans exclusively to charities and others to family members.
  • Consider special needs planning. It can be unfortunate if retirement plans pass to individuals with special needs who cannot manage the accounts or who may lose vital public benefits as a result of receiving the funds. This can be resolved by naming a special needs trust as the beneficiary of the funds, although this gets a bit more complicated than most trusts designed to receive retirement funds. Another alternative is not to name the individual with special needs or his trust as beneficiary, but to make up the difference with other assets of the estate or through life insurance.
  • Keep copies of your beneficiary designation forms. Don’t count on your retirement plan administrator to maintain records of your beneficiary designations, especially if the plan is connected with a company you worked for in the past, which may or may not still exist upon your death. Keep copies of all of your forms and provide your estate planning attorney with a copy to keep with your estate plan.
  • But name beneficiaries! The biggest mistake many people make is not to name beneficiaries at all, or they end up in this position by not updating their plan after the originally-named beneficiary passes away. This means that the plan will have to go through probate at some expense and delay and that the funds will have to be withdrawn and taxes paid within five years of the owner’s death.

In short, while Wills are important, in large part because they name a personal representative to take charge of your estate and they name guardians for minor children, they are only a small part of the picture. A comprehensive plan needs to include consideration of beneficiary designations, especially those for retirement plans.

If you have any question or planning needs, feel free to contact me.

Regards,

Brian

Top 10 Elder Law decisions of 2016

Below, in chronological order, is ElderLawAnswers’ annual roundup of the top 10 elder law decisions for the year just ended, as measured by the number of “unique page views” of our summary of the case.

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1. Medicaid Applicant’s Irrevocable Trust Is an Available Resource Because Trustee Can Make Distributions

An Alabama appeals court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s special needs trust is an available resource because the trustee had discretion to make payments under the trust. Alabama Medicaid Agency v. Hardy (Ala. Civ. App., No. 2140565, Jan. 29, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

2. Trust Is an Available Asset Because Trustees Have Discretion to Make Distributions

A New York appeals court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s trust is an available asset because the trustees have discretion to make distributions to her. In the Matter of Frances Flannery v. Zucker (N.Y. Sup. Ct., App. Div., 4th Dept., No. TP 15-01033, Feb. 11, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

3. Medicaid Applicant Who Transferred Assets in Exchange for Promissory Note May Proceed with Suit Against State

A U.S. district court holds that a Medicaid applicant who was denied Medicaid benefits after transferring assets to her children in exchange for a promissory note may proceed with her claim against the state because Medicaid law confers a private right of action and the Eleventh Amendment does not bar the claim. Ansley v. Lake (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Okla., No. CIV-14-1383-D, March 9, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

4. Mass. Court Bridles at Allegations in Request for Reconsideration in Irrevocable Trust Case

In a strongly worded response to a Medicaid applicant’s request for reconsideration of an unsuccessful appeal involving an irrevocable trust, a Massachusetts trial court strikes the applicant’s pleadings after it takes great exception to the tone of the argument.  Daley v. Sudders (Mass.Super.Ct., No.15-CV-0188-D, March 28, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

5. Caretaker Exception Denied Because Child Did Not Provide Continuous Care

A New Jersey appeals court determines that the caretaker child exception does not apply to a Medicaid applicant who transferred her house to her daughter because the daughter did not provide continuous care for the two years before the Medicaid applicant entered a nursing home. M.K. v. Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services (N.J. Super. Ct., App. Div., No. A-0790-14T3, May 13, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

6. State Can Place Lien on Medicaid Recipient’s Life Estate After Recipient Dies

An Ohio appeals court rules that a deceased Medicaid recipient’s life estate does not extinguish at death for the purposes of Medicaid estate recovery, so the state may place a lien on the property. Phillips v. McCarthy (Ohio Ct. App., 12th Dist., No. CA2015-08-01, May 16, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

7. Attorney Liable to Third-Party Beneficiary of Will for Legal Malpractice

Virginia’s highest court rules that an intended third-party beneficiary of a will may sue the attorney who drafted the will for legal malpractice. Thorsen v. Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Va., No. 150528, June 2, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

8. Nursing Home’s Fraudulent Transfer Claim Against Resident’s Sons Can Move Forward

A U.S. district court rules that a nursing home can proceed with its case against the sons of a resident who transferred the resident’s funds to themselves because the fraudulent transfer claim survived the resident’s death. Kindred Nursing Centers East, LLC v. Estate of Barbara Nyce (U.S. Dist. Ct., D. Vt., No. 5:16-cv-73, June 21, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

9. Irrevocable Trust Is Available Asset Because Medicaid Applicant Retained Some Control

New Hampshire’s highest court rules that a Medicaid applicant’s irrevocable trust is an available asset even though the applicant was not a beneficiary of the trust because the applicant retained a degree of discretionary authority over the trust assets. Petition of Estate of Thea Braiterman (N.H., No. 2015-0395, July 12, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

10. NY Court Rules that  Spouse’s Refusal to Contribute to Care Creates Implied Contract to Repay Benefits

A New York trial court enters judgment against a woman who refused to contribute to her spouse’s nursing home expenses, finding that because she had adequate resources to do so, an implied contract was created between her and the state entitling the state to repayment of Medicaid benefits it paid on the spouse’s behalf. Banks v. Gonzalez (N.Y. Sup. Ct., Pt. 5, No. 452318/15, Aug. 8, 2016). To read the full summary, click here.

Feel Free to contact me to see how any of these decisions may affect your personal situation.

-Brian A. Raphan, Esq. 

Make Reviewing Your Estate Plan One of Your New Year’s Resolutions

The beginning of a new year is a good time to take a look at your estate plan to make sure it is up to date. Less than half of people actually have any estate planning documents in place and many of those people may have outdated documents. Documents that were created when your children were born may need updating 20, 30, or 40 years later, after your family and financial situation have changed entirely.

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Estate planning is all about five essential documents. Here they are in order of importance:

1. The Durable Power of Attorney

The most important estate planning instrument for taking care of you and your family during life, as opposed to after death, is the durable power of attorney. This appoints one or more people you trust to step in and handle your finances and legal matters in the event of your incapacity, whether through illness, dementia, or an accident, and whether the incapacity is temporary or permanent. In the absence of a durable power of attorney, family members often must resort to going to court to be appointed conservator. This causes delay and expensive and unnecessary legal fees. It can also cause infighting by family members since you have not chosen who should step in.

While the concept of the durable power of attorney is simple – I appoint you as my agent for financial and legal matters in the event of incapacity – the devil, as always, is in the details. You have to make decisions about how many agents to appoint, whether to have alternates, whether to allow gifting, when the power of attorney should take effect, and whether to grant trust powers. I can help you with these details if you need me. More POA info on my website here.

2. Health Care Proxy

Like the durable power of attorney, a health care agent steps in for you to make health care decisions when and if you become incapacitated. Unlike a durable power of attorney, it only takes effect when a doctor determines that you are unable to make decisions yourself and you can only appoint one individual to serve at a time. This is so that there will be a single point-person in dealing with medical professionals and no possibility of disagreement or stalemate between co-health care agents. You can and should name one or more alternates to the principal agent.

The main problem with health care proxies is that agents often have no idea or only a vague idea of what decision the patient would make in a particular circumstance. This can be addressed in one or more of these ways: a medical directive, a conversation between the potential patient and the agent, and a number of available workbooks (see below).  A general medical directive can be included with the health care proxy that says either (1) pull the plug if I’m in a vegetative state or irreversible coma, (2) balance the potential benefit and discomfort of any proposed treatment, or (3) do whatever you can to keep me alive.

Part of the problem with giving guidance to one’s agent is that it’s hard to predict situations that may occur and treatments that may be available. A number of organizations have developed workbooks to provide more detailed guidance than simply “keep me alive at all costs” or “do nothing.” Check out: The Consumer’s Toolkit from the American Bar Association. Click here for a sample Health Care Proxy from my website.

3. HIPAA Release

In addition to a health care proxy, everyone needs a HIPAA release. The HIPAA law bars medical practitioners from releasing medical information to anyone, even to the spouse of a patient, without a release. You may well ask why a heath care proxy isn’t sufficient. There are a few answers: First, the health care proxy is “springing” in that it doesn’t get activated until or unless the patient is declared incapacitated. Second, while the health care proxy may only name one person at a time, you may well want a much broader group of people to communicate with medical providers. The agent may not always be available or may not be the first person on the scene.

All too often we have seen medical providers hide behind HIPAA to avoid having to deal with family members, sometimes to great harm to the patient. Especially in emergency situations, family members often have vital information about the patient, whether it’s the medications he is taking, allergies he may have, or his usual physical and mental health. HIPAA does not say that medical personnel cannot listen to this information, but it can be misconstrued in that fashion. It’s best to eliminate the whole issue by having a HIPAA release signed and available in case it’s ever needed.

4. Your Will

Your Will says who will get your stuff when you die and who will be in charge of paying your bills, filing your tax returns, gathering your stuff and distributing it according to your instructions.

But here’s the irony: although the will gets all the recognition and there’s a whole set of laws governing the so-called “probate” process, these days most assets pass outside of probate. What the will says does not apply in many situations, including: joint accounts that pass to the other joint owners, retirement plans and life insurance policies that go to designated beneficiaries, and property in trust that passes to the beneficiaries named in the trust document. Only what you own in your own name alone passes under the will. In addition, while the will requires a lot of formality – two witnesses and a notary all signing at the same time – these other forms of passing on property usually require only the signature of the owner, or sometimes simply filling out a form online.

That said, wills are important in terms of distributing your tangible personal property – stuff you can touch, such as furniture, jewelry, tools, clothing, boats, and cars. Your will appoints your executor or personal representative who is in charge of carrying out your wishes. This can be very important in avoiding squabbling among children. And your will can be used to appoint guardians for minor children. A will permits you to make charitable or other specific bequests. Finally your will can serve as a failsafe in case other means of passing on property fail.

5. Revocable Trust

The documents listed above may be enough, but you may also want a revocable trust, sometimes called a “living” trust. A trust is a construct under which one or more people, the trustees, manage property or investments for the benefit of one or more people, the beneficiaries. In a revocable trust, typically at the start the same person acts as the creator of the trust, the grantor or donor, as trustee and as beneficiary. Not much changes in their lives after they set up the trust. But it avoids probate by naming successor beneficiaries after the initial beneficiary passes away. While probate is not the worst thing that can happen to people, avoiding it can save heirs time and trouble.

But more importantly, a trust is a terrific tool for intervening in the event of incapacity. Financial institutions that are resistant to accepting durable powers of attorney appear to be more comfortable with trusts when a successor trustee is named. But it works even better when a parent names one or more adult children as co-trustees. The parent then does not give up any rights or autonomy, but permits the child to begin participating in financial management. Even if the child does nothing, he or she can view accounts and step in immediately if a problem arises. This can be especially important in the event of dementia or scams. Seniors are the primary victims of scams and having a trusted family member with access to accounts can help identify scams and permit intervention to limit their effect.

In addition to probate avoidance and incapacity protection, trusts are infinitely flexible in terms of how they are drafted. They can state any number of specifics on who receives property when, for instance, permitting its distribution over time to children and grandchildren. The options and opportunities for creativity are limitless

As you can see, most of these documents are about life not death. Of course, they’re still about planning for an unwanted event – incapacity of some sort. It’s like insurance to make sure that you and your family are taken care of if an unfortunate accident occurs.

Additional Estate Planning articles from my ElderLawNews blog>

Protecting Your House from Medicaid Estate Recovery

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After a Medicaid recipient dies, the state must attempt to recoup from his or her estate whatever benefits it paid for the recipient’s care. This is called “estate recovery.” For most Medicaid recipients, their house is the only asset available.

Life estates

For many people, setting up a “life estate” is the simplest and most appropriate alternative for protecting the home from estate recovery. A life estate is a form of joint ownership of property between two or more people. They each have an ownership interest in the property, but for different periods of time. The person holding the life estate possesses the property currently and for the rest of his or her life. The other owner has a current ownership interest but cannot take possession until the end of the life estate, which occurs at the death of the life estate holder.

Example: Jane gives a remainder interest in her house to her children, Robert and Mary, while retaining a life interest for herself. She carries this out through a simple deed. Thereafter, Jane, the life estate holder, has the right to live in the property or rent it out, collecting the rents for herself. On the other hand, she is responsible for the costs of maintenance and taxes on the property. In addition, the property cannot be sold to a third party without the cooperation of Robert and Mary, the remainder interest holders.

When Jane dies, the house will not go through probate, since at her death the ownership will pass automatically to the holders of the remainder interest, Robert and Mary. Although the property will not be included in Jane’s probate estate, it will be included in her taxable estate. The downside of this is that depending on the size of the estate and the state’s estate tax threshold, the property may be subject to estate taxation. The upside is that this can mean a significant reduction in the tax on capital gains when Robert and Mary sell the property because they will receive a “step up” in the property’s basis.

As with a transfer to a trust, the deed into a life estate can trigger a Medicaid ineligibility period of up to five years. To avoid a transfer penalty the individual purchasing the life estate must actually reside in the home for at least one year after the purchase.

Life estates are created simply by executing a deed conveying the remainder interest to another while retaining a life interest, as Jane did in this example. In many states, once the house passes to Robert and Mary, the state cannot recover against it for any Medicaid expenses Jane may have incurred.

Trusts

Another method of protecting the home from estate recovery is to transfer it to an irrevocable trust. Trusts provide more flexibility than life estates but are somewhat more complicated. Once the house is in the irrevocable trust, it cannot be taken out again. Although it can be sold, the proceeds must remain in the trust. This can protect more of the value of the house if it is sold. Further, if properly drafted, the later sale of the home while in this trust might allow the settlor, if he or she had met the residency requirements, to exclude up to $250,000 in taxable gain, an exclusion that would not be available if the owner had transferred the home outside of trust to a non-resident child or other third party before sale.

Contact me to find out what method will work best for you.

More Related Articles >

It’s Official: Estate Exclusion to Rise to $5.45M in 2016

The IRS has announced that the basic estate tax exclusion amount for the estates of decedents dying during calendar year 2016 will be $5.45 million, up from $5.43 million for calendar year 2015.  This figure is in line with earlier projections.

Also, if the executor chooses to use the special use valuation method for qualified real property, the aggregate decrease in the value of the property resulting from the choice cannot exceed $1,110,000, up from $1,100,000 for 2015.

The increase in the estate tax exclusion means that the lifetime tax exclusion for gifts will also rise to $5.45 million, as will the generation-skipping transfer tax exemption. The annual gift tax exclusion will remain at $14,000 for 2016.

For details on many of these and other inflation adjustments to tax benefits, go to:https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/rp-15-53.pdf

[More on Estate Planning]

[Ten Reasons to Create an Estate Plan Now]

Regards,

Brian

 

Financial Abuse of the Elderly: Sometimes Unnoticed, Always Predatory

Caution to elders and family members of elders. This happens too often:

Via The New York Times 11/27/15 Elizabeth Olson

It was only after Mariana Cooper, a widow in Seattle, found herself with strained finances that she confessed to her granddaughter that she was afraid she had been bilked out of much of her savings.

Over three years, Ms. Cooper, 86, had written at least a dozen checks totaling more than $217,000 to someone she considered a friend and confidante. But the money was never paid back or used on her behalf, according to court documents, and in early November the woman who took advantage of Ms. Cooper, Janet Bauml, was convicted on nine counts of felony theft. (She faces sentencing on Dec. 11.)

Ms. Cooper, who lost her home and now lives in a retirement community, is one of an estimated five million older American residents annually who are victimized to some extent by a caregiver, friend, family member, lawyer or financial adviser.

With 10,000 people turning 65 every day for the next decade, a growing pool of retirees are susceptible to such exploitation. As many as one in 20 older adults

said they were financially mistreated in the recent past, according to a study financed by the Justice Department.

Traditionally, such exploitation, whether by family, friends or acquaintances, often has been minimized as a private matter, and either dismissed with little or no penalty or handled in civil court.

Even when the sums are large, cases like Ms. Cooper’s are often difficult to prosecute because of their legal complexity and because the exploitation goes unnoticed or continues for long periods. Money seeps out of savings and retirement funds so slowly it draws attention only after it is too late.

Ms. Cooper, for example, wrote her first check, for $3,000, in early 2008, and later gave Ms. Bauml her power of attorney. In early 2012, after Ms. Cooper realized that Ms. Bauml was not going to repay her in time for her to afford a new roof for her house, she told her granddaughter, Amy A. Lecoq, about the checks. She later called the police.

Ms. Bauml maintained that Ms. Cooper gave her money for services she provided as a home organizer or as loans.

Later, testing by a geriatric mental health specialist found that Ms. Cooper had moderate dementia, which showed her judgment had been impaired.

The diagnosis “helped the jury to understand why she would keep signing all these checks to this woman as loans when she was never being paid back,” said Page B. Ulrey, senior deputy prosecutor for King County, Wash., who pressed the case against Ms. Bauml.

The case was challenging in part because Washington State does not have an elder abuse statute, said Ms. Ulrey, who is one of a small but growing number of prosecutors around the country with the specific duty of prosecuting those who take financial advantage of elders, whether it is connected to investments, contracts or other fraud.

As the number of complaints grows, more municipalities are trying to combat such abuse, which is often intertwined with physical or sexual abuse, and emotional neglect.

Some organizations also have set up shelters, modeled on those for victims of domestic abuse. In the Bronx, for example, the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale started such a shelter in 2005. Since then, 14 other such shelters have been opened in various long-term care operations around the country to deal with urgent cases of financial abuse.

One such woman, who agreed to talk only if she was not identified by her last name, stayed at Riverdale after she was threatened with eviction. A neighbor discovered that the woman, a 73-year-old widow named Irene, had not paid her rent in six months because relatives living with her had been withdrawing money from her account and leaving her short of funds.

“I had to leave with one small suitcase,” Irene said. “They were abusing me.”

She was later able to move to federally subsidized housing away from the abusive situation.

To help elders in financial and other distress, more municipalities, using federal funds, are training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and social workers how to spot the sometimes subtle signals that may indicate someone has been swindled.

“We see many cases where someone convinces an older person to give them the power of attorney, and then uses that authority to strip their bank accounts, or take the title of their home,” said Amy Mix, a lawyer at the AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly, which works with the Adult Protective Services division in the District of Columbia government as well as the city’s police department.

In the most recent fiscal year, 934 cases of abuse were reported in Washington. About one-quarter of those were financial exploitation, according to Sheila Y. Jones, chief of Adult Protective Services. “And they involve millions of dollars,” she said.

But many cases are not counted officially because older people are reluctant to pursue legal remedies against relatives and friends. Louise Pearson, 80, a retired government computer analyst, declined to press charges against a security guard in her building who had befriended her and later obtained $30,000 from her savings.

“There was something about him you just had to take to,” Ms. Pearson said.

When she finally asked Malika Moore, a social worker at Iona Senior Services in Washington, for some assistance with her shaky finances, the social worker realized that the situation was serious.

One clue, she said, was that, “When I opened her refrigerator, it was empty.”

Ms. Moore was able to get Ms. Pearson home-delivered meals, and after the bank confirmed that she was missing savings, help to find a conservator to handle her money. Ms. Pearson, who now lives in a housing complex for the elderly, said, “I get money whenever I need it, and more than I did before.”

In Seattle, Ms. Cooper’s granddaughter expressed determination to educate others on the warning signs of financial abuse. “I wish we had known some of the red flags,” she said.

But even though she’s a trained social worker, it’s not surprising she missed the signs. She was deeply involved in caring for her mother, Ms. Cooper’s daughter, who was fighting cancer and died shortly before the period when her grandmother was writing the checks.

“Our family saw her regularly,” Ms. Lecoq said, “but we just didn’t see indications of what was going on.”

In retrospect, she might have been more suspicious with “my grandmother suddenly having a new friend and a friend who got so close so fast.”

Once Ms. Lecoq and her husband, John, recognized what had happened, they pushed for prosecution. Ms. Ulrey, the prosecutor, said the case required medical tests and search warrants for both the victim’s and the suspect’s financial accounts.

Ms. Cooper was unable to recover her lost money and worries about how long she will be able to pay for her retirement home. “She’s ashamed and embarrassed and feels guilty,” Ms. Lecoq said of her grandmother. “But I tell her: ‘You were a victim of a crime.’”

To help older people, families and friends should be on the lookout for some of the warning signs of financial abuse. These include not being able to cover normal expenses; paying for excessive, unexpected gifts to others; and signing over power of attorney or transferring property to unrelated individuals. 

To learn more about protecting the savings of the elderly and helping them avoid being exploited financially, these publications are worth reading: