Monday, July 1, 2019 Office News: 5 Elements of a Great Estate Plan

An “estate” consists of all of the items a person owns. These can include cars, bank accounts, retirement accounts, furniture, real estate, and life insurance.

An “estate plan” is the method in which the estate is passed on to the next generation.

  1. Will: a will or testament is a legal document by which a person expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death. If you do not have a will, the state will determine how your property is distributed. A will also appoints an executor to carry out your wishes and manage the estate until its final distribution. In the event of minor children, a will is especially important because it allows you to appoint a guardian for them. A will only covers probate property. Joint owned property, property in trust, life insurance proceeds and property with a named beneficiary, such as IRAs or 401K plans, all pass outside of probate and won’t be covered under a will.
  2. Trust: A trust is an arrangement that allows a third party (trustee) to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary. The most common reason a trust is established is to avoid probate (a lengthy and costly process whereby the will is “proven” in a court of law).  There are several types of trusts and each has different benefits. One type of trust will terminate when you die and any property in the trust passes immediately to your beneficiaries. This saves your loved ones both time and money. Other types of trust can result in tax advantages for the donor and the beneficiary. Some trusts may be used to protect property from creditors or help the donor qualify for nursing home benefits. Unlike wills, trusts are private documents and only those individuals with a direct interest in the trust need know of trust assets and distribution. Provided they are well drafter by an experienced estate planning attorney, a trust will be continuously effective even if the donor dies or becomes incapacitated.
  3. Power of Attorney: A power of attorney is a legal document you can use to give someone else the authority to take specific actions on your behalf, such as signing your checks to pay your bills or selling a particular piece of real estate for you. A durable power of attorney remains valid and in effect even if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. A durable power of attorney allows a person you appoint (attorney-in-fact) to step in and handle your financial affairs. If a power of attorney document does not explicitly say that the power is durable, it ends if you become incapacitated. In the event you don’t have a durable power of attorney, you must go through a court process whereby a conservator or guardian will be appointed. This process takes time, costs money, and the judge may not choose the person you would prefer. Under a guardianship or conservatorship, your representative may have to seek court permission to take planning steps that he or she could implement immediately under a simple durable power of attorney.
  4. Medical Directives: A medical directive (also known as an advanced directive) may encompass a number of different documents including a health care proxy, a durable power of attorney for health care, a living will, and medical instructions. These documents are written legal instructions regarding your preferences for medical care if you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Both a health care proxy and a durable power of attorney for health care designate someone you choose to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. Advance directives also guide choices for doctors and caregivers if you’re terminally ill, seriously injured, in a coma, in the late stages of dementia or near the end of life. A living will spells out medical treatments you would and would not want to be used to keep you alive, as well as other decisions such as pain management  or organ donation.
  5. Beneficiary Designations: Most retirement plans, annuities, and life insurance policies let you decide what should become of your assets in the event of your demise. They do this by asking you to designate  beneficiaries. Although not necessarily a part of your estate plan, at the same time you create or tune up your estate plan, you should make sure your retirement plan beneficiary designations are up t0 date. If you don’t name a beneficiary, the distribution of benefits may be controlled by state or federal law or according to your particular retirement plan. Some plans automatically distribute money to a spouse or children. Your financial institution’s inability to identify could result in a delay in your intended beneficiary receiving the assets and could also cost your beneficiary legal fees if it becomes necessary for the courts to decide who the beneficiary is. The only way to control where the money goes is to name a beneficiary.

If you need help in planning your estate please call Alexander at 508-660-0331 today and get started. Or call for a free consultation. But don’t delay.

Monday, June 24, 2019 Office Info: Phone Scams

How to Recognize a Robocall

Listen for these key phrases related to insurance, jury duty and Social Security.

Health Insurance Scam

What they’ll say: “Open enrollment has passed, but luckily that doesn’t mean you’ll be without coverage this year. New laws in place still allow you to get an affordable health insurance plan from an A-rated insurer at a price that you and your family can afford. Press 1 now to speak to an agent.”

The goal: Often this is a lead-generation operation (to get private information they can sell to others or use later). Some of these calls will legitimately connect you to a local insurance agent; others are pure scams.

Use good sense: Do not respond to inquiries like this over the phone. Instead, if you’re looking for lower-cost health insurance, your best option is to contact the State Health Insurance Assistance Program in your state. (Find it at shiptacenter.org.) The counseling is free. If you are under age 65 and not yet eligible for Medicare, go to healthcare.gov for options on the individual market.

Jury Duty Scam

What they’ll say: “Hello, this is Officer Garrison from the police department. It is my duty to inform you that a warrant has been issued for your arrest as a result of your failure to show up for jury duty. Please call us immediately to avoid incarceration.”

The goal: To persuade you to pay a large “fine” to the crooks posing as police.

Use good sense: The legal system doesn’t work this way. You would get a notice of jury duty in the mail. Police and court officials don’t solicit payments by phone. If you are concerned, contact your county clerk’s office about jury duty.

The SSA warns you to beware of phone calls from phony SSA employees

Social Security Scam

What they’ll say: “The purpose of this call is regarding an enforcement action executed by the U.S. Treasury against your Social Security number. Ignoring this would be an intentional attempt to avoid initial appearances before the magistrate judge for a federal criminal offense. So before this matter goes to the federal claims courthouse or you get arrested, kindly call us back.”

The goal: To convince you that someone is using your Social Security card to commit crimes and that, to clear your name, you need to share private information.

Use good sense: The Social Security Administration won’t ask for such information over the phone. If you’re in doubt, look up the number for your SSA office and call it. Do not call the number in the phone message.

Pain Center Scam

What they’ll say: “This is an important message from the pain center. You’re receiving this call because someone at this number recently requested information about a pain-relieving brace for their back or knee. You may qualify for a knee or a back brace at little to no cost to you. To speak with a product specialist, press 1 now.”

The goal: This is often a Medicare fraud. More often than not, you will receive a low-quality brace — and the scammer will bill the government a huge amount for it.

Use good sense: Quality medical products generally are not sold over the phone. Don’t give your personal information to someone you don’t trust.

Office News: Thursday, June 20, 2019

KEEP MOVING!!

You’ve probably been told you need to stay active.

The average adult sits for 6.4 hours each day, and adults age 65 and over tend to sit even longer. Sitting too long increases your risk for a variety of ailments and even premature death, but physical activity can lessen, or even eliminate, that risk. To do so, you need at least five hours of physical activity a week.

If you need some motivation to help you get up and moving, how about trying a fitness tracker? You’ve probably heard about the Fitbit and Apple Watch, but there are a variety of options out there to fit every need and budget.

From low tech options, up to all the bells and whistles:

Pedometer – This option won’t require any help from your friends or family to get going. You simply strap a pedometer on your belt and get going. The information is basic, but it is simple to use, and you can grab one for under $5 in some places.

Smartphone – Many smartphones have a handy, no-charge extra feature that will track your activity. On an iPhone there is an icon with a red heart that says “Health”, but your Android phone likely has an option too. It will track walking and running distance, flights of stairs climbed, steps taken, and there is even a place for medical ID information where you can list your age, weight, height, medical conditions, medications, and emergency contacts.

Smartphone apps – Many of these apps are free and easy to download. Give MyFitnessPal a try. It can help you map a walk, run, or bicycle ride. If you get bored with one app, just try another one.

Fitbit Charge 3 – This little gem shows up on many tech lists for 2019. It’s not cheap, at a cost of $120 or so, but these little watches will connect to your phone, tablet, or computer and track your steps and heart rate. It is water resistant and has a seven-day battery life. You can set goals for your active minutes, sleep information, and calories burned. Fitbit has other options available, so check out their store for more options.

Apple Watch – This has numerous features that go beyond fitness features but will set you back about $400. This watch will monitor your heart rate and workout details, will let you set goals and a target pace, and tell you when you’ve reached those goals.

Tips for using your fitness tracker

Before you go out and buy a fitness tracker, here are a few tips to take into consideration:

Keep in mind that you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to help you stay active. If you are just starting to get active, don’t set your goal at the recommended 10,000 steps that you may have heard of. Instead, try a beginning goal of 3,000 steps per day. Each week try to increase that by 10 percent. You need to stay motivated, not limping toward your couch every day. JUST KEEP MOVING!

June 13, 2019 Informational (Elder Abuse)

You’ve heard about it in the news before, and maybe from your attorney – elder abuse.

This particular topic is very personal to me as my Mom died due to neglect when she lived in a nursing home. It was many years ago, but it still happens today. The irony is that she was an RN who was always taking care of others. Even in the nursing home setting she was always offering to help others, lend a hand or give assistance to those who were unable to help themselves because of illness or physical handicap.

Please pay close attention to your loved ones who live in a nursing home or hospice setting. Try to visit them as often as you can. If you cannot be there as much as you want, find out what the routine is, who is on staff, what the process is for getting help. Be a strong advocate for your elderly parents or relatives. It may save a life.

You think it can’t happen to you or your loved one, but recent news stories show that not only can it happen to you, but it can happen to those that we think are nearly untouchable.

Stan Lee, the comic book legend who created characters for Marvel including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, X-Men, Incredible Hulk, Avengers, and more, is estimated to be worth $50 to $70 million. But even he wasn’t immune from elder abuse.

Lee’s former business partner and caretaker, Keya Morgan, was recently charged with three felony crimes including grand theft of a dependent adult or elder, false imprisonment, and elder abuse, a misdemeanor crime.

Lawyers say that Morgan isolated Lee from his family and moved him into a condominium from his home. He was also exerting undue influence over Lee and allegedly mishandled more than $5 million of Lee’s money.

What about Lee’s estate?

Since Lee’s death, there has been plenty of talk about what will happen to his estate. His wife passed away in 2017, so the likely heirs are his brother and his daughter. Lee did mention during an interview in October before his death that his daughter was going to be his sole heir. He said he was giving money to her as much as he could now instead of waiting until he died.

The specific details surrounding Lee’s estate haven’t yet been disclosed, but what is known is that Lee fired his attorney and changed his mind about some of the things he had planned for his estate.

Since his passing, Lee’s estate could experience further complications because several legal representatives have been in charge of his affairs. Lee did have a trust for his daughter, but it is not known whether he had a will or other trusts.

Is your estate planning adequate?

Any time estate planning involves an individual with significant assets, an estate planning attorney will be needed to make things easier to manage.

If elder manipulation or abuse is a concern, there are documents that can be put into place to protect assets and prevent a take over of assets. If there are concerns about possible actions of trustee, such as Lee had with his daughter, your attorney may also suggest naming a trust protector.

 

An experienced estate planning attorney can help ensure all steps are taken to protect the things that you have worked so hard for. Call Alex for more information.