Making Plans for Aging at Home

Elder LawNo Comments

There used to be very few options for seniors who began to have trouble living on their own. In many cases the only options available were to move in with family or move into a nursing home. Now, however, that doesn’t have to be the case. With new advancements in technology, the help of family and local aging services, and with some planning and forethought, many seniors will be able to live at home and on their own for many years. Here are a few things to consider right now if you want to age at home in the future:

Support System- Do you have family or friends nearby who can check on you regularly and help when home maintenance issues crop up? Having someone close to you who can provide you with transportation is helpful as well, although many cities have public transportation services that may be an option.

Home Renovations- Is your home senior or handicap friendly? Are doorways and hallways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair? Could you easily add ramps or lifts in place of stairs, if necessary? Do your kitchen and bathrooms facilitate easy maneuverability with as little reaching or bending over as possible?

Security or Medical Alert System- Having a security or medical alert system in place can provide immeasurable comfort to an elderly homeowner and his or her family. The technology for this is improving by leaps and bounds, and there are a number of different options available.

In-Home Care Services- The length of time you can remain in your home can be greatly increased if you have the financial means for (and access to) quality in-home care services. Someone to do basic cleaning and cooking, and help with daily activities, can prolong your time spent at home… but you have to plan for it.

Getting older shouldn’t mean you have to give up your home, your friends and neighbors, or your independence. For more information about what you may need to stay in your home as you age check out the website for the National Aging In Place Council.

Excuses, Excuses… Why You Don’t Have a Healthcare Directive

Estate Planning, Health CareNo Comments

What is keeping you from signing a healthcare directive?

A recent article in Reuters mentions that only 2 out of 5 U.S. citizens have some kind of healthcare directive, and that our own U.S. laws might be the cause. A study done by Rebecca Sudore of the University of California, San Francisco found that “Most states had practical restrictions that could make it difficult for many people to complete an advanced directive… In addition, many of the documents used in end-of-life planning were written in complicated legal language that the average person would have trouble understanding.”

Some portions of an advance directive might be written in complicated legal language out of necessity, but we don’t think that’s any excuse not to have one, especially not if you have a knowledgeable and trusted attorney who is willing to go through the legal language with you to ensure you are comfortable with it. As for the other obstacles, the fact that “many states do not allow oral advance directives, and usually require that written documents have witnesses’ signatures, be notarized, or both…” and that currently “40 states do not automatically allow domestic partners and same-sex partners to become the default healthcare proxy;” well, these seem to us to be all the more reason to make sure you DO contact your attorney and get your healthcare directive in place.

A healthcare directive, along with a will and a durable power of attorney, are the three foundational documents of any estate plan. Whether you choose to move on to more advanced planning techniques or not, every person should have these three documents at the very least. These simple documents can end up saving you and your family a world of heartache and expense.

Of course, according to Reuters there is one other possibility about why you might be putting off your healthcare directive, “The biggest issue is that people do not want to do advance directives… There is a fear of planning for how we die.” Don’t let superstition keep you from protecting yourself or your loved ones.

Government Rescinds Medicare Coverage of End-Of-Life Planning

Current Events, Health CareNo Comments

Apparently the suspicion surrounding end-of-life planning is not as far in the past as we might have hoped. The recent Medicare regulation which would have allowed the government to pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care was rescinded only days after it was enacted.

Why such an abrupt turnaround? The reason is probably not too difficult to guess. Most people know that Medicare-covered end-of-life planning has a tempestuous history both in politics and in the media. This article in the New York Times stated that “while administration officials cited procedural reasons for changing the rule, it was clear that political concerns were also a factor.”

The alteration of the rule may be disappointing, but it shouldn’t stop you from thinking—or talking to your doctor—about your choices for your own end-of-life care. After all, this administrative change of heart does not alter the fact that having these discussions with your doctor (as well as with your health care agent and loved ones) preserve patient autonomy at a time when events may seem to spiral out of control. As National Public Radio pointed out in their article, “it remains perfectly legal for physicians to talk with patients during annual visits paid for by Medicare about how much or little care they want when facing a terminal illness.”

Media firestorms and political debate notwithstanding, your decisions about your end-of-life care are important. When you have these discussions with your doctor and loved ones, and when you have a living will or healthcare directive in place, you are far more likely to get the care you want at the end of your life, regardless of how invasive or restrained you want that care to be.

If you have reservations about what a health care directive might mean to your future medical care, or if you have any questions about this issue, please don’t hesitate to call our office. Your peace of mind is our first priority.

No More Excuses, It’s Time To Plan Your Estate

Current Events, Estate PlanningNo Comments

The dust surrounding all the estate tax law “remodeling” is finally settling, and it’s time now for families to give their old (or future) estate plans some serious scrutiny. For all of you who were waiting until Congress made some firm decisions on the estate tax laws—there are no more excuses. Forbes writers Janet Novack and Ashlea Ebeling explain in their recent article why—now that the estate tax is no longer in flux—it is so important to move quickly on your estate plan.

Many first time planners will be ready to take advantage of the new laws, now that the “hefty $5 million exemption, combined with a new portability provision, should allow many affluent couples to simplify their planning.” Couples with estate plans already in place will be able to take advantage of the new laws as well, but the motivation to update their existing plans may have more to do with the need to undo outdated formulas in wills and trusts that, with the new laws in place, may now do more harm than good.

“Many couples have old wills designed mainly to preserve the estate tax exemption of the first spouse to die, something the law now does. Under these old “formula” wills, when the first spouse dies assets equal to his or her federal estate exemption go into a “bypass trust” for their kids. The surviving spouse has access to the trust’s earnings and, if need be, principal, but what’s in the trust “bypasses” the survivor’s estate. Problem is, with the exemption jumping to $5 million (it was only $2 million in 2008) the survivor could be left with nothing outside the trust.”

The new estate tax laws are much friendlier to middle-income families, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you don’t need to plan at all. “Whatever your age, marital status or net worth, you need a will (saying who gets your stuff); a living will (stating your wishes about end-of-life care); a health care proxy (naming someone to make medical decisions for you if you can’t); and a durable power of attorney (designating someone to act on your behalf in financial and legal matters if you can’t).” Not to mention you still may have state taxes to contend with in your estate plan.

Now is the time to call your attorney and talk about estate planning in the New Year. There is no more reason to procrastinate, and it’s your family’s legacy that’s on the line.

A Low-Pressure (And Fun) Way to Discuss Legacy and Estate Planning

Estate Planning, Trust AdministrationNo Comments

The hardest part of legacy planning or estate planning isn’t necessarily choosing the right fiduciaries, or deciding how to distribute your wealth fairly among your loved ones… the hardest part of legacy planning or estate planning is often simply talking about it with family. In fact, having “The Discussion” can be such a daunting task that many families simply don’t do it, choosing instead to take their chances when the family patriarch or matriarch passes away and the succession plan is revealed.

But avoiding the subject isn’t going to do you or your family any favors. More family infighting takes place after a death than at any other time. After all, this is when loved ones are grieving and emotions are high, when the central family figure or peacemaker may no longer be with you, and seemingly unequal inheritance distributions can no longer be explained.

What if there was a way to have “The Discussion” before it was forced upon you? What if there was a way to make that legacy and estate planning discussion low-pressure and even fun? That is exactly what husband and wife psychologist team Carolyn Friend and James Weiner have done with their book and accompanying card game, The Legacy Conversation: the missing gem in wealth planning.

A review of the Conversation Starters card game in Forbes gives a more detailed description of the game, including 7 or so sample questions to get the juices flowing; obvious questions such as “What cherished possession might your family fight over?” to the not-so-obvious questions such as “Have you ever found wisdom in a song’s lyrics? Name that tune.” The point of the Conversation Starters is not merely to discuss the family legacy, but to get to know your family members better, enjoy each other, and perhaps even grow closer in the process.

If your family has been putting off the necessary discussion of succession and legacy planning, this might be just the game you need. Don’t be afraid to tackle the difficult subjects, you might find you enjoy them more than you expect. And when you’re ready, call our office. We can help your family with the practical details and legal legwork.

Resolutions to Last You Through the Year

Current EventsNo Comments

What are your resolutions for 2011? A majority of New Year’s resolutions have to do with money and health—or more specifically, with saving money and losing weight. Unfortunately, most New Year’s resolutions don’t last through the first month of the year. But what if there were steps you could take in that first month, when you’re still feeling inspired and motivated, that would pay-off throughout the rest of the year when all your good intentions fall by the wayside?

Luckily, there are steps you can take right now that will help you save money throughout the rest of the year. This article in USA Today lists 5 steps you can take right now to help you save money in 2011:

  1. Order your free credit report
  2. Get a medical exam
  3. Update your beneficiaries
  4. Increase your 401(k) contributions
  5. Rebalance your portfolio

All of these will help you keep your 2011 resolutions throughout the entire year, but the ones we’re most concerned with are #s 2 and 3. Too many people “take care of business” pertaining to beneficiaries and 401(k)s when they first get hired (or open a new account or life insurance policy) and then never think of it again. But lives change over the years, and the people you listed, or the amount you contributed 5 or 10 years ago is probably not what’s best for your family right now.

The New Year brings with it new beginnings… and new hopes. Why not take advantage of this feeling of optimistic euphoria by taking steps now that will carry you through the entire year?

Taking Time for End-Of-Life Planning

Current Events, Health CareNo Comments

Advance Health Care Directives (legal documents which include a nomination of your health care agent, and your preferences for end-of-life care) saw a lot of press in 2009 when the Obama administration sought to include end-of-life planning in the new healthcare overhaul. The option was dropped after a media firestorm about “death panels,” but according to this article in the New York Times Medicare-funded end-of-life discussions may be back.

According to the new regulation, Medicare will pay for “voluntary advance care planning” as part of patients’ annual visits with their doctor. “Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.”

The reasoning behind the new regulation is simple, and something estate planning lawyers have known for a long time; “research [has] shown the value of end-of-life planning. ‘Advance care planning improves end-of-life care and patient and family satisfaction and reduces stress, anxiety and depression in surviving relatives.’” Additionally, “end-of-life discussions between doctor and patient help ensure that one gets the care one wants.”

So why does end-of-life planning make so many people uncomfortable when research has shown just how beneficial it can be? Paula Span, author of this post on the New Old Age blog thinks it might simply be a matter of semantics, especially when it involved the term “Do Not Resuscitate.” Ms. Span argues that a more friendly term such as “Allow Natural Death” could make all the difference in the world.

“The phrase “do not resuscitate” signals an intent to withhold or refuse… ‘It says you’re not going to do something.’ To “allow natural death,” on the other hand, connotes permission. ‘It doesn’t sound so overwhelming or scary.’”

Whatever term you use, or however you choose to talk about it, the important thing is that you DO talk about it—with your family and loved ones, with the person you choose as your agent, with your doctor… and even with your lawyer. End-of-life planning is about personal and medical preferences, but the document itself is a legal one; your lawyer can help ensure that your Advance Health Care Directive will hold up in a court of law as well as in the hospital.

Technology for the Older Generation

Current EventsNo Comments

There is a common complaint among Baby Boomers when it comes to aging parents and grandparents: It’s hard to keep in touch with them. Most communication among the middle and younger generations now takes place on the computer—e-mail, Facebook, electronic photo-sharing and more. Very rarely do we pick up the phone for a good old-fashioned chat; and when we do it’s usually on the go, in the form of a quick call or text message from our cell phones. Unfortunately, where all this technology helps us to be more connected to friends and family in our own cohort, it ends up leaving our elderly loved ones out of the conversation.

Karen Stabiner, in her article “Elder Tech: What’s Important” argues that it doesn’t have to be this way. Stabiner states that the key to getting elderly relatives involved in high-tech communication is to get out of our own heads and look at it from their point of view. “For technology to become ‘sticky’ with the older generation, we have to get into their heads and understand what would make them think this is fun… The bells and whistles that might attract us are too often counterintuitive [for them.]”

The younger, tech-savvy generations tend to look for high-tech devices that do everything, but that’s not necessarily what’s going to be appealing to grandma or grandpa. This article in GrayTimes.com suggests that single-purpose gadgets—devices designed only for e-mail or only for sharing photos—are more intuitive for elderly users.

New high-tech devices may be harder for parents or grandparents to use, but being able to connect with their loved ones can be a huge motivating factor. Being able to communicate with family makes our elderly parents and grandparents happy, but it also helps keep them safe. Adult children who communicate with their parents on a regular basis are better able to recognize and respond when mom or dad suddenly have trouble caring for themselves.

At Long Last: What to Expect from Estate Taxes in 2011

Current Events, Estate PlanningNo Comments

It has been a long and uncertain year for anybody interested in the future of the estate tax, filled with a few ups, a few downs, and a lot of speculation.  But after the recent passage of the new bipartisan tax bill all of the confusion and speculation is finally at an end, and it’s very close to what we anticipated early last week.  The bill is good news for most taxpayers; the Wall Street Journal says there are “many winners, a few losers,” and according to the New York Times “Almost no one will have to worry about paying the estate tax under the tax legislation just approved by Congress.”

Here is a brief overview of what you can expect in 2011:

New Estate Tax Exemptions and Rates: The new bill sets the estate tax exemption at $5 million per individual ($10 million per married couple), with amounts over the exemption taxed at a 35% rate.  This is opposed to the $3.5 million exemption and 45% rate some lawmakers were hoping for.

Tax Election Option for 2010 Estates: As mentioned in a previous post, this is one of the biggest parts of the new bill. There may have been no estate tax in 2010, but there was also no “step up in basis,” meaning that heirs selling inherited assets were taxed based on the original acquisition cost of the assets, not on their value as of the date of the taxpayer’s death, as is usually the case.  This led to a higher tax paid on the assets if and when they were sold, in spite of the lack of estate tax. Tax election gives 2010 estates the choice of whether to use 2010 or 2011 tax rules—a happy option for 2010 heirs.

Estate, Gift, and Generation-Skipping Taxes: In recent years these three levies have had varying exemption levels, making gift giving and succession planning and challenging exercise at best. The unification of all three makes tax planning and giving gifts to grandchildren much easier than it used to be.

Individual Income and Payroll Taxes: The new bill wasn’t just about estate taxes; it also extends the Bush-era income tax rates; this is good news as it prevents a rise for nearly all taxpayers.

How Long Will It Last? We’re all glad that the waiting is over and we finally know what to expect, but the new law is only effective through 2012, at which point the provisions will “sunset.” This new tax package sets our minds at ease now, but the estate tax issue is far from over.  It looks as if we may have to revisit the issue in 2012-2013.

With the threat of high estate taxes out of the way does any reason remain to create (or update) your estate plan? Absolutely!

Estate planning is about more than just planning for taxes, it’s about taking control of your assets and choosing how your estate will be distributed.  Divorce, second marriages, planning for college, charitable gifts—these are just a few of the reasons why estate planning is essential regardless of the state of the estate tax.

At the very least, the recent fluctuation of the law means that you’ll want to call our office and make an appointment to have your existing plan reviewed and updated to ensure you don’t have any outdated clauses that could negatively affect your heirs.

Estate Tax Update: The End Is Near

Current Events, Estate Planning5 Comments

It looks as if the long and weary road to estate tax clarity may soon be at an end. Especially if Washington lawmakers vote to approve the tax package negotiated between President Obama and Republican leaders without making too many changes.

Laura Saunders of the Wall Street Journal claims in her recent article that everything looks to be coming up roses, “it seems estate planners got everything they wanted and nothing they didn’t.” Good news for estate planners translates into good news for our clients. We recommend you read the entire article for the full story, but here are some of the highlights of what estate taxes may have in store for us in 2011:

Tax Election for 2010 Estates: This is one of the biggest parts of the deal. “The bill gives 2010 estates the choice of whether to use 2010 or 2011 tax rules.” This is good news because “the tax on heirs who sell assets of those who died in 2010 is based on the original acquisition cost of the assets, not on their value as of the date of the taxpayer’s death, as is usually the case,” meaning that “taxes were higher if they died in 2010 than 2009 or 2011.”

Unification of the Estate, Gift, and Generation-Skipping Taxes: “In recent years the exemptions for the three levies have been out of synch, complicating succession planning for family businesses and other matters.” With the new deal, however, there would be a simple $5 million per-individual exemption for all three.

And of course we can’t have a conversation about estate taxes without discussing Effective Date and Duration: The effective date of the new provisions is set to be January 1, 2011. As for duration, “The Senate’s bill makes this regime effective only for 2011 and 2012, at that point the provisions ‘sunset.’” What this means is that the new tax package may be only a temporary reprieve, and we could be going through all of this again in 2012-2013.

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