Why Even “Regular Folks” Can Benefit from Having a Living Trust

A trust is a useful tool, even if you’re not a wealthy person. There are many different types of trusts, but the most basic types are revocable and irrevocable. A recent article from Business Insider “A trust fund gives you control over your money after you’re gone, and it’s not just for the super rich” clarifies when and how to use a trust fund.

Trust funds are often used to avoid having assets pass through the probate process. They allow for a tax-efficient means of transferring wealth, avoid or defer estate taxes and help with charitable giving. An experienced estate planning attorney can help clarify what type of trust is needed, and how it can work with an overall estate plan.

Trust funds have a bad reputation for creating badly-behaved young adults, but they are a good planning tool for anyone. Some trusts are more expensive to maintain than others, which is why they are often associated with wealthy people. However, they have the same purpose: to ensure that a person’s money goes where they want it to go. The directions can be as specific as you wish.

There are three people involved in any trust: the grantor, who puts their assets in the trust fund; the beneficiary or beneficiaries, who receive those assets according to the terms of the trust; and the trustee, the person or group of advisors or the organization that is responsible for managing the trust when the trust is created and after the grantor has died. A grantor can put almost any kind of asset into a trust, but most people use them for real estate, bank accounts, investment accounts, business interests and life insurance policies.

If a trust is revocable, it means the grantor may make changes at any time and can generate income through the assets in the trust. The assets are included in the grantor’s estate and the grantor may pay taxes on the assets now and upon their death. Creditors can access the assets for any unpaid debts. Once the grantor of a revocable trust dies, the trust becomes irrevocable.

In general, an irrevocable trust cannot be changed, once it is created. It can only be accessed after the death of the grantor. The assets are not included in the grantor’s estate and they do not have to pay taxes during their lifetime or at death. The taxes are the responsibility of the trust and beneficiaries. Depending on how the trust is designed, creditors may not access the trust.

If you are considering setting up a trust, meet with an estate planning lawyer to discuss your unique situation and determine which type of trust works best for you and your family.

Reference: Business Insider (December 2, 2019) “A trust fund gives you control over your money after you’re gone, and it’s not just for the super rich”

 

How Do I Plan for My Incapacity?

The Post-Searchlight’s recent article, “How to go about planning for incapacity,” advises that planning ahead can make certain that your health-care wishes will be carried out, and that your finances will continue to be competently managed.

Incapacity can strike at any time. Advancing age can bring dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and a serious illness or accident can happen suddenly. Therefore, it’s a real possibility that you or your spouse could become unable to handle your own medical or financial affairs.

If you become incapacitated without the proper plans and documentation in place, a relative or friend will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian for you. This is a public procedure that can be stressful, time consuming and costly. In addition, without your directions, a guardian might not make the decisions you would have made.

Advance medical directives. Without any legal documents that state your wishes, healthcare providers are obligated to prolong your life using artificial means, if necessary, even if you really don’t want this. To avoid this happening to you, sign an advance medical directive. There are three types of advance medical directives: a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care (or health-care proxy) and a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). Each of these documents has its own purpose, benefits and drawbacks, and may not be effective in some states. Employ an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare your medical directives to make certain that you have the ones you’ll need and that all documents are consistent.

Living will. This document lets you stipulate the types of medical care you want to receive, despite the fact that you will die as a result of the choice. Check with an estate planning attorney about how living wills are used in your state.

Durable power of attorney for health care. Also called a “health-care proxy,” this document lets you designate a representative to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). This is a physician’s order that tells all other medical staff not to perform CPR, if you go into cardiac arrest. There are two types of DNRs: (i) a DNR that’s only effective while you are hospitalized; and (ii) and DNR that’s used while you’re outside the hospital.

Durable power of attorney (DPOA). This document lets you to name an individual to act on your behalf. There are two types of DPOA: (i) an immediate DPOA. This document is effective immediately; and (ii) a springing DPOA, which isn’t effective until you’ve become incapacitated. Both types end at your death. Note that a springing DPOA isn’t legal in some states, so check with an estate planning attorney.

Incapacity can be determined by (i) physician certification where you can include a provision in a durable power of attorney naming one or more doctors to make the determination, or you can state that your incapacity will be determined by your attending physician at the relevant time; and (ii) judicial finding where a judge is petitioned to determine incapacity where a hearing is held where medical and other testimony will be heard.

Reference: The Post-Searchlight (December 13, 2019) “How to go about planning for incapacity”

 

Caring for Your Aging Parents – Top 5 Questions and Answers

Caring for aging parents can be stressful. It’s a new experience, and one that you’re not always prepared for. The good news is that there are plenty of resources out there to help you navigate this new chapter in your life. To help get the process started, we’ve curated the top 5 questions that people have about caring for an aging loved one and have provided answers to those burning questions.

Question #1 – How do I ensure their legal affairs are in order?

No one likes to think about, much less talk, about the end of their lives. Unfortunately, burying your head in the sand can lead to costly and frustrating situations, once your loved one has passed. Of course, coming out and asking if your parents have an estate-plan in place may not be the most tactful approach. Consider these icebreakers to get a conversation started:

  • “Bob and I just met with our estate planning attorney last week to update our will. Do you and dad have an estate plan in place?”
  • “I was so troubled to hear that Uncle Harry passed and left Aunt Hilary with such a financial mess. Do you think you and mom have your affairs, so that doesn’t happen to one of you?”
  • “We just sent Jenny off to college and our attorney recommended a HIPAA release and power of attorney, just in case something happens to her and we need to step in. Do you have a power of attorney?”

Question #2 – How can I gain access to their health information?

It’s not uncommon for parents to withhold healthcare information from their children. This is often because they don’t want to worry their adult children or grandchildren. It may also be because they don’t want to admit that they have a serious healthcare issue. Sometimes, this lack of disclosure can lead to lapses in care.

If you believe you need access to your parents’ medical records, you have a few options.

  • Go to the doctor with your parents. Ask questions.
  • Ask your parents to make you their personal representative for healthcare matters.
  • Ask your parents to request in writing that medical records be sent to you.

If your parent is incapacitated and unable to give consent, the healthcare provider may share personal healthcare information, if they believe that disclosure is in your parent’s best interest.

Question #3 – Is it time to move them to a care home?

When the family home becomes unsafe for one or both of your aging parents, it may be time to consider some sort of alternative arrangement. Nursing homes are not the only alternatives, however. You might consider an incremental approach that includes things like:

  • In-home Care
  • Senior Daycare
  • Assisted Living Communities
  • Additional Dwelling Units

Discuss these options with your parents and other family members to determine what is best for the whole family.

Question #4 – Should they be driving?

Driving is one of the most important activities to one’s independence. Losing the ability to drive is naturally one of aging people’s top fears. Therefore, of course, you want to let them drive as long as it is safe for them to do so. Once reflexes begin to slow, flexibility declines, hearing levels decrease and peripheral vision narrows, it’s time to start assessing the safety of their driving.

How do you assess their abilities? Take a drive with them. See how they do with highways, traffic, driving at night and during inclement weather. It may not be that they need to give up driving all at once. Perhaps night driving becomes a problem at first. If that’s the case, ask them to agree to let you drive at night.

Question #5 – Am I partnering—or parenting my parents?

Often, when adult children are faced with caring for their parents, the go-to position is one of “parent.” It may be one you’re naturally disposed to, because you have children of your own. It could also be that you’re simply mirroring the role your parents played with you. While natural, this may not be the best approach, because your parents may perceive this new scenario as you taking their independence from them.

Instead of dictating terms and telling them how it’s going to be, reframe your roles from parent-child to partnership. Just because they may be lower on energy or losing memory function, doesn’t mean they can’t make decisions. Talk to them like the adults they are, making sure that each of you is maintaining boundaries and autonomy. You may find them more receptive to your help, which will make things much easier in the long run.

Resources:

The Healthy. “8 Questions You Must Ask to Keep Your Aging Parents Safe and Healthy” (Accessed November 29, 2019) https://www.thehealthy.com/healthcare/caregiving/questions-to-ask-your-aging-parents/

HHS.gov. “Under HIPAA, when can a family member of an individual access the individual’s PHI from a health care provider or health plan?” (Accessed November 29, 2019) https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/faq/2069/under-hipaa-when-can-a-family-member/index.html