Blog Articles

Serving Clients in Edmond, OK
and the Surrounding Area

How Do I Spot Elder Abuse?

Edmond estate planning when divorcedThe Courier Tribune’s recent article entitled “Are you a victim of elder abuse?” reports that the biggest problem is that these thefts often go unreported.  Much elder abuse is not reported, so a good question is how do I spot elder abuse?

The main reason why so much elder abuse flies under the radar and is not reported, is because the one doing the abusing is typically a family member.  Answering the question of how do I spot elder abuse is useful even if it is a family member that is suspected of the abuse.

Remember that financial abuse and theft are not the only forms of elder abuse. This crime also includes emotional, sexual and physical abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Emotional abuse can include threats, belittling and verbal attacks. It can be anything that causes mental distress and pain.

Exploitation can be fraud, undue influence over a senior’s assets and being pressured to sign papers he or she does not understand. This might be a power of attorney (POA) that gives a caretaker overly broad authority to abscond with a senior’s money or property.

One Texas county says the elder abuse reports are on the rise—a phenomenon seen across the U.S.— with self-neglect comprising the largest percentage of intake reports for older people, followed by financial crimes.

If you or a loved one sees themselves in any of those categories, speak to an elder law attorney and go to the National Center on Elder Abuse website (ncea.acl.gov).

If you or an elderly family member is being abused in some way, help is available.

In all states, there are professionals who are required to report suspicions of maltreatment.

Known as mandatory reporting, many states have a comprehensive list of professions who must take actions and file a report, such as chiropractors, occupational therapists, member of the clergy, attorneys, animal control officers, bank employees and many others.

Reference: Courier Tribune (July 11, 2021) “Are you a victim of elder abuse?”

 

What Not To Include in A Will?

A last will and testament is the basic document of an estate plan, which is how you direct assets according to your wishes after you have died. A good question is what not to include in a will, too.  There are certain things that do not belong in a will, and it’s important to know what they are. Mistakes can lead to expensive and worrisome complications, says the article “Things you should never put in your will” from msn.com.

Your will can get very specific about who receives what in the way of your personal possessions. For example, you can give your car to a family member of your choice. What you can’t do is tell the family member how they can use the car, or if she should never sell the car. Enforcing conditional wishes through a will isn’t legal, nor is it practical.

If you want to control aspects of an inheritance, the best way to this is through a trust, which allows you to set terms that are enforceable, even after you have died. A trust is a legal entity with a trustee and the law to enforce its terms. You can set goals or milestones for heirs best with a trust.

Leaving assets out of your will actually benefits family members in many regards. First, they’ll receive their inheritance faster. Upon death, your will must be reviewed and validated in a court of law in a process known as probate. Depending on your jurisdiction and the complexity of your estate, this can take months and, in some cases, years. Papers have to be filed, judges have to review your will and determinations must be made. Wills can also be contested in court, further tying up assets and slowing the process of distribution.

Putting property in a trust or having accounts that are Payable On Death (POD) will speed up the process for heirs.

Don’t put anything in a will that you don’t own outright. If you are a co-owner with someone, upon your death, the other owner will become the owner, with no need for court involvement.

Trusts are a key tool in estate planning, used to avoid probate and increase control of assets. Once property is titled into the trust, it becomes subject to the rules and directions of the trust, which are explained in detail in the trust documents. Nothing placed in a trust should be included in a will to avoid any confusion and delays.

Certain accounts and assets are payable or transferable on death. They are distributed directly to heirs, so putting them in a will is not necessary. These are accounts with beneficiary designations, typically brokerage or investment accounts, retirement accounts, pension plans and life insurance policies.

Business interests can be given through a will, but you don’t want to do this. Succession could be contested, and your business partners may be left with a big headache, instead of focusing on transitioning the business to the next generation of owners. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help create a succession plan that will align with your estate plan. The two need to work together.

Once deemed valid by the probate court, your last will and testament becomes a public document.  Anyone who wants to read it, can do so. Your will should not include any account numbers, account values, login information, passwords, or any information you would not want to be shared in public.

Reference: msn.com (July 11, 2021) “Things you should never put in your will”

 

Why DO I Need a Will or a Trust

estate planning faqSay that some time ago– when your family was still young, and the estate tax limit was $600,000—you created a revocable and an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). This was designed to take care of your family after your death. However, at this point, everyone is financially independent, and the value of your estate is far less than the taxable threshold of $11.7 million.  When the value of your estate is not taxable many may ask why do I need a will or trust?

If the trust is terminated, the beneficiaries will get a step-up basis at your death and pay taxes at their own rates, rather than the trust rate. If all the accounts have your children as beneficiaries is an estate plan necessary? The ILIT was also funded with a term life insurance policy that is going to expire soon.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Should I terminate this trust and do I need a will?” says that there are number of issues to address. The purpose of an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is to own and control term or permanent life insurance policies, so that the policy proceeds aren’t included in the insured’s taxable estate upon his or her death.

While the current federal estate tax exemption amount is $11.7 million per person, the law is scheduled to expire at the end of 2025, when it will return to an exemption of $5 million, adjusted for inflation. It’s unknown if Congress will change the proposed exemption amount when the law sunsets.

If the ILIT is funded with a term policy that is set to expire soon, it may be easier to let the policy owned by the ILIT expire, which would render the ILIT immaterial. The terms of the ILIT will govern the procedure for the termination of the trust, which may be simple or onerous. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to who can look more closely at the trust’s language.

A revocable living trust lets the person creating the trust control the assets in the trust and avoid probate. It also can be used to manage the trust assets by a successor trustee, in the event the grantor who created the trust becomes incapacitated.

For example, New Jersey banks may freeze 50% of the assets in an estate at the owner’s death to be certain that any estate or inheritance taxes that may be due are paid. A tax waiver must be obtained to lift the freeze. However, any assets in a trust, aren’t subject to a similar freeze.

At the grantor’s death, a trustee must pay income tax, if the gross income of the trust is $600 or more. Depending on the amount of assets in the trust, the trust may not accumulate gross income of $600, if the assets are distributed outright to the beneficiaries right after the death of the grantor.

Lastly, an estate plan is necessary even if the majority of assets are in a living trust or are in IRAs and other retirement accounts. That is because there may be some assets that are outside the trust or retirement account or there may be a need for a personal representative of the estate to handle tax or other types of refunds.

Reference: nj.com (June 15, 2021) “Should I terminate this trust and do I need a will?”

 

Advance Directives

A medical crisis only gets worse, when you learn you don’t have legal authority to make medical decisions for a loved one, or find out after a loved one is incapacitated that you can’t gain access to assets in their trust. You need to have certain estate planning legal documents, including advanced directives,  already in place, according to the article “Tips you should know for Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives” from seacoastonline.com.

Power of Attorney. The power of attorney (POA) allows one person, the “principal” to appoint another person as their “agent” (also known as an “attorney in fact”). The agent has the authority to act on behalf of the principal, depending on the powers described in the document. Each state has its own laws about who can be an agent, if more than one person can be appointed as agent and if there are any limits to what power can be given to an agent. Your estate planning attorney will be able to create a POA to suit your situation.

A POA can be created to give extremely broad powers to an agent. This is sometimes called a “general” POA, where agents can do everything that you would do, from accessing and managing bank accounts, applying for Social Security, to filing tax returns. A POA can also be limited in scope, known as “limited” POA. You could permit an agent to only sign a tax return or conduct a specific transaction.

In most estate planning scenarios, the POA is “durable,” meaning the named agent can continue to have authority to act, even if the principal is incapacitated after the documents have been executed. This makes sense: a durable POA generally avoids having to go to court and have a guardian appointed. The person you have selected will be the POA, not a court-appointed person.

Advance Directive. The advance directive allows a person to appoint another person to make medical decisions on their behalf if incapacitated. In some states, this is called a durable power of attorney for health care, and in others it is referred to as a health care proxy.

In most cases, the advance directive becomes effective when one or more treating physicians determine the person no longer has capacity to make or communicate health care decisions. Having this document in place avoids having to go to court to have a guardian appointed. If time is of the essence, any delay in decision-making could lead to a poor outcome. If there is no advance directive and physicians have decided you are unable to make these decisions, they go by a hierarchy of relatives to make the decisions for you. If you have an estranged adult child, for instance, but they are your next-of-kin, they could be the one making decisions for you.

If you have children who recently became legal adults (usually age 18), these documents will protect them as well, since just being their parent does not provide you with the right to make these decisions.

Reference: Seacoastonline.com (June 27, 2021) “Tips you should know for Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives”

 

Farm Transition and Estate Planning

Edmond estate planning when divorcedFarm transition and estate problem is extremely important, yet 60% of farmers don’t have a will, and what’s even worse: 89% don’t have a farm transfer plan, as reported in the recent article “10 Farm Transition and Estate Planning Mistakes from Farm Journal’s Pork Business. Here are the ten most commonly made mistakes farmers make. Substitute the word “family-owned business” for farm and the problems created are identical.

Procrastination. Just as production methods have to be updated, so does estate planning. People wait until the perfect time to create the perfect plan, but life doesn’t work that way. Having a plan of some kind is better than none at all. If you die with no plan, your family gets to clean up the mess.

Failing to plan for substitute decision-making and health care directives. Everyone should have power of attorney and health care directive planning. A business or farm that requires your day-in-day-out supervision and decision making could die with you. Name a power of attorney, name an alternate POA and have every detail of operations spelled out. You can have a different person to act as your agent for running the farm and another to make health care decisions, or the same person can take on these responsibilities. Consult with an estate planning attorney to be sure your documents reflect your wishes and speak with family members.

Failing to communicate, early and often. There’s no room for secrecy, if you want your farm or family business to transfer successfully to the next generation. Schedule family meetings on a regular basis, establish agendas, take minutes and consider having an outsider serve as a meeting facilitator.

Treating everyone equally does not fit every situation. If some family members work and live on the farm and others work and live elsewhere, their roles in the future of the farm will be different. An estate planning attorney familiar with farm families will be able to give you suggestions on how to address this.

Not inventorying assets and liabilities. Real property includes land, buildings, fencing, livestock, equipment and bank accounts. Succession planning requires a complete inventory and valuation of all assets. Check on how property is titled to be sure land you intend to leave to children is not owned by someone else. Don’t neglect liabilities. When you pass down the farm, will your children also inherit debt? Everyone needs to know what is owned and what is owed.

Making decisions based on incorrect information. If you aren’t familiar with your state’s estate tax laws, you might be handing down a different sized estate than you think. Here’s an example: in Iowa, there is no inheritance tax due on shares left to a surviving spouse, lineal descendants or charitable, religious, or educational institutions. If you live in Iowa, do you have an estate plan that takes this into consideration? Do you know what taxes will be owed, and how they will be paid?

Lack of liquidity. Death is expensive. Cash may be needed to keep the business going between the date of death and the settling of the estate. It is also important to consider who will pay for the funeral, and how? Life insurance is one option.

Disorganization. Making your loved ones go through a post-mortem scavenger hunt is unkind. Business records should be well-organized. Tell the appropriate people where important records can be found. Walk them through everything, including online accounts. Consider using an old-fashioned three-ring binder system. In times of great stress, organization is appreciated.

No team of professionals to provide experience and expertise. The saying “it takes a village” applies to estate planning and farm succession. An accountant, estate planning attorney and financial advisor will more than pay for their services. Without them, your family may be left guessing about the future of the farm and the family.

Thinking your plan is done at any point in time. Like estate planning, succession planning is never really finished. Laws change, relationships change and family farms go through changes. An estate plan is not a one-and-done event. It needs to be reviewed and refreshed every few years.

Reference: Farm Journal’s Pork Business (June 28, 2021) “10 Farm Transition and Estate Planning Mistakes

 

Estate Planning Challenges

Estate Planning in Edmond OklahomaThere are many estate planning challenges.  Law school teaches about estate planning and inheritance, but experience teaches about family dynamics, especially when it comes to blended families with aging parents and step siblings. Not recognizing the realities of stepsibling relationships can put an estate plan at risk, advises the article “Could Your Aging Parents’ Estate Plan Create A Nightmare For Step-Siblings?” from Forbes. The estate plan has to be designed with realistic family dynamics in mind.

Trouble often begins when one parent loses the ability to make decisions. That’s when trusts are reviewed for language addressing what should happen, if one of the trustees becomes incapacitated. This also occurs in powers of attorney, health care directives and wills. If the elderly person has been married more than once and there are step siblings, it’s important to have candid discussions. Putting all of the adult children into the mix because the parents want them to have equal involvement could be a recipe for disaster.

Here’s an example: a father develops dementia at age 86 and can no longer care for himself. His younger wife has become abusive and neglectful, so much so that she has to be removed from the home. The father has two children from a prior marriage and the wife has one from a first marriage. The step siblings have only met a few times, and do not know each other. The father’s trust listed all three children as successors, and the same for the healthcare directive. When the wife is removed from the home, the battle begins.

Estate planning challenges can also occur with a nuclear family but is more likely to occur with blended families. Here are some steps adult children can take to protect the whole family:

While parents are still competent, ask who they would want to take over, if they became disabled and cannot manage their finances. If it’s multiple children and they don’t get along, address the issue and create the necessary documents with an estate planning attorney.

Plan for the possibility that one or both parents may lose the ability to make decisions about money and health in the future.

If possible, review all the legal documents, so you have a complete understanding of what is going to happen in the case of incapacity or death. What are the directions in the trust, and who are the successor trustees? Who will have to take on these tasks, and how will they be accomplished?

If there are any questions, a family meeting with the estate planning attorney is in order. Most experienced estate planning attorneys have seen just about every situation you can imagine and many that you can’t. They should be able to give your family guidance, even connecting you with a social worker who has experience in blended families, if the problems seem unresolvable.

Reference: Forbes (June 28, 2021) “Could Your Aging Parents’ Estate Plan Create A Nightmare For Step-Siblings?”

 

How to Prepare for Higher Taxes

Edmond estate planning when divorcedTaxing the appreciation of property on gifting or at death as capital gains or ordinary income is under scrutiny as a means of raising significant revenue for the federal government. The Biden administration has proposed this but proposing and passing into law are two very different things.  A question arises of how to prepare for higher taxes.  The question is discussed in the article “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime.”   

The tax hikes are being considered as a means of paying for the American Jobs Act and the American Families Act. Paired with the COVID-19 relief bill, the government will need a total of $6.4 trillion over the course of a decade to cover those costs. Reportedly, both Republicans and Democrats are pushing back on this proposal.

A step-up in basis recalculates the value of appreciated assets for tax purposes when they are inherited, which is when the asset’s value usually is higher than when it was originally purchased. For the beneficiary, the step-up in basis at the death of the original owner reduces the capital gains tax on the asset. Taxes are reduced significantly, or in some cases, completely eliminated.

For now, taxpayers pay an estate tax on the value of the assets and the basis of appreciated assets is stepped up to fair market value. The plan under consideration would treat appreciated assets owned at the time of death as sold, which would trigger income tax and subject those assets to estate tax.

Biden’s proposal would also subject many families to the estate tax, which they would not otherwise face, since the federal estate tax exclusion is still historically high—$11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. Let’s say a widowed mother dies with a $3 million estate. Most of the value of the estate is the home she lived in with her spouse for the last four decades. Her estate would not owe any federal tax, but the deemed sale of a highly appreciated home would generate income tax liability.

The proposal allows a $1 million per individual and $2 million per married couple exclusion from gain recognition on property transferred by gift or owned at death. The $1 million per person exclusion is in addition to exclusions for property transfers of tangible personal property, transfers to a spouse, transfers to charity, capital gains on certain business stock and the current exclusion of $250,000 for capital gain on a personal residence.

How should people prepare for what sounds like an unsettling proposal but may end up at a completely different place?

For some, the right move is transferring properties now, if it makes sense with their overall estate plan. Regardless of what Congress does with this proposal, the estate tax exemption will sunset to just north of $5 million (due to inflation adjustments) from the current $11.7 million. However, the likelihood of the proposal passing in its present state is low. The best option may be to make any revisions focused on the change to the estate tax exemption levels.

Reference: Financial Advisor (June 28, 2021) “How Rich Clients Should Prepare For A Biden Estate Tax Regime”

 

Should I Stay Fit after 50?

Edmond legacy and estate planning for individuals in their peak earning years in EdmondBeing physically fit after 50 will help improve your health as you age, but it can also benefit your body, mind and wallet in ways you might not realize. Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “7 Surprising Benefits of Staying Fit in Retirement” says that maintaining muscle health can also help improve energy levels, decrease the risk of fractures and speed up recovery from illnesses.

When asking should I stay fit after 50, there are some big potential benefits of staying in shape in your 50s (and well beyond that) you might not have considered. But visit your doctor for a checkup before beginning a fitness program and work your way into any exercise routine to avoid injuries.

  1. Thinking More Clearly. In addition to building muscles, exercise can help with brain function. Exercise can improve mood and sleep and decrease stress and anxiety. These can indirectly help with overall cognitive function.
  2. Spending Less On Medical Care. The average retiree household spends $6,800 a year on health care. However, with a regular exercise regimen, you can improve your health. That means you may be able to spend less time and money at the doctor’s office. The Mayo Clinic says regular exercise helps prevent or manage a wide range of health problems, such as stroke, high blood pressure, depression and cancer.
  3. Save On Life Insurance. If you stay fit, you may save money on life insurance because underwriters generally base policy costs on your risk of death. Overweight seniors will pay higher rates but maintaining a healthy weight and strong vital signs could reduce your premiums.
  4. Feel Happier. There’s a strong link between physical fitness and happiness. In addition to boosting your energy, exercise can elevate your mood. Physical activity stimulates brain chemicals that can make you feel more relaxed and less anxious. You may also feel better about your appearance, which can raise your self-esteem.
  5. Decrease Muscle And Bone Mass Loss. Regular strength training can help women to reduce the loss of bone and muscle mass that happens as they get older. This condition is more pronounced in women than men, since menopause accelerates this decline. Weight-based exercises are intended to thwart these conditions, which can impact a woman’s ability to perform daily activities.
  6. Keep Your Independence. According to the National Council on Aging, regular exercise can help older adults stay independent. Certain types of exercise, such as tai chi, can even reduce your risk of falls, which are the top cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among seniors.
  7. Live longer. Aerobic fitness is a dynamic indicator of long-term mortality, and the more aerobic exercise you do, the greater the benefit. Three hours a week of regular exercise may potentially extend life by as much as five years. However, not exercising creates a risk of premature death that is equal to or worse than cardiovascular disease, diabetes or smoking, according to a large study published in 2018 in JAMA Network Open.

Reference: Money Talks News (December 25, 2020) “7 Surprising Benefits of Staying Fit in Retirement”

 

Answers About College Savings Plans?

Legacy and estate planning for children in EdmondMany have questions and want answers about college savings plans.  There are two basic types of 529 plans, says Texas News Today’s recent article entitled “What you need to know about the “529” Education Savings Account.” The more common type is the 529 College Savings Plan. This allows parents, grandparents and others to invest money to cover eligible education for beneficiaries. The less common type is the 529 prepaid tuition program, in which tuition is paid at a set price.

Contributions to the 529 Plan aren’t tax deductible at the federal level. However, many states offer state income tax deductions or credits. Your money grows tax-free and withdrawals to pay tuition and other eligible expenses are free of federal taxes and, in many instances, state income taxes.

529 plans can be used to pay for various college fees like tuition, room, food, books, and technology. You can pay up to $10,000 a year for K-12 tuition. You can also transfer the money in your account to other recipients. There are more pluses than minuses. However, you should note that you may face tax impacts and penalties for withdrawals that aren’t considered eligible costs. Your child’s college needs financial assistance may also be reduced, and you cannot purchase individual stocks within the 529 plan. However, you can select a number of investment options. Even so, you have fewer options than if you were designing your own portfolio.

You can transfer some or all of the existing funds in your account to another investment option twice in a calendar year or after changing beneficiaries. You can also select a different investment option whenever you join the plan. You can switch to another state’s plan once every 12 months. However, there are a few states that exclude such shifts from their plans.

Each state has set a total contribution limit of $235,000 to $542,000 per beneficiary. When an account hits the limit, you will not be able to make any more donations. However, revenue will continue to accumulate. There’s no annual donation limit, but donations are considered gifts for federal tax purposes. Therefore, this year, you could donate $15,000 per donor and per recipient with no federal gift tax. You can also make a $75,000 tax-exempt 529 plan donation and evenly distribute it to your tax return for the next five years, which is an option that some grandparents use as a tool for real estate planning.

The benefits of saving for college through the 529 plan are likely to outweigh the potential impact on financial assistance. Assets in an account owned by either a student or their parents are considered parental assets for federal financial assistance purposes, and typically only 5.64% of accounts are considered annually in the FAFSA (Federal Student Assistance Free Application) calculation. This is an advantage over being counted as a student asset because distribution under this ownership structure doesn’t disqualify the university for financial assistance. The assets of the grandparents’ account don’t impact the student’s FAFSA, but the distribution counts as the student’s income and affects aid.

Reference: Texas News Today (June 8, 2021) “What you need to know about the “529” Education Savings Account”

 

What Is A Conservatorship?

estate planning faqThe headlines surrounding Britney Spears’ fight against her father’s conservatorship have kept the issue in the public eye. It’s how her father controls her finances and her life, dating back to 2008 when she suffered a very public mental health crisis. Her $60 million fortune is controlled by her father Jamie Spears, according to the article “Britney Spears Is Under Conservatorship. Here’s How That’s Supposed to Work” from npr.com. In this case, only her father has the ability to negotiate business opportunities and other financial arrangements.

Britney made a passionate plea before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to end the conservatorship, saying she is exploited, unable to sleep, depressed and cries daily.

Her conservatorship was set up because of the court’s agreement in 2008 with her father that she was no longer able to manage her own affairs. The judge appointed Jamie Spears, known as the “conservator” to care for another adult (the “conservatee”), who is deemed to be unable to care for themselves.

The conservatee does not lose all rights. They may still take part in important decisions affecting their property and way of life. They have a right to be treated with understanding and respect, and they have basic human rights. However, the court is saying that decisions about where to live and how to support the person need to be made by someone else. This is an extreme situation and is usually done only as a last resort. Once the court has appointed a conservatorship, only a court can lift it.

Conservatorships are usually used for people with a severe cognitive impairment or older people with severe dementia. Guardianships are also appointed for individuals with severe developmental disabilities. Spears is not the typical person under conservatorship. In the last 13 years, she has released albums, judged on The X Factor and earned an estimated $148 million performing in Las Vegas. Spears told the court she should not be in a conservatorship, if she can work and provide money and pay other people.

Many reforms to guardianship laws have taken place, including one principle that guardianship should only extend to the areas of the person’s life they are not able to manage. However, the Spears’ conservatorship includes every aspect of her personal affairs, as well as her property management.

Individuals under guardianship don’t select their guardian, but they may in some instances make recommendations and requests. The court is supposed to give serious consideration to their requests. The court does not seem to be recognizing this or other changes in Britney Spears’ case. She has been asking since 2014 for her father to be removed from his prime role in the conservatorship, and in 2020 she asked the court to suspend her father from his role entirely.

Family members are usually named as guardians, but there can be bankers, or professional guardians named. A wealth management company was added to Spears’ conservatorship in recent months as a co-conservator, but her father remains in charge of all aspects of her life.

Ending a guardianship is difficult, unless the guardianship has been set up for a specific length of time. If there’s a lot of money involved, things can get complicated. The guardian may not agree to steps to modify the guardianship because they will lose income. There’s a real conflict of interest in this case, as Spears’ father is also her business manager.

There is a trend towards avoiding guardianship and having a person or a handful of people who can help with decision making, while permitting the person to be involved in some way. However, the Britney Spears case is unlike any conservatorship case.

Reference: npr.com (June 24, 2021) “Britney Spears Is Under Conservatorship. Here’s How That’s Supposed to Work”

 

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