The New Rule

When consulting a financial advisor, we all assume that they would have our best interest in mind when determining where our portfolio should be invested and what investments best suit our interests, however, this has not always been the case. This year, the Labor Department issued new regulations that require industry professionals dealing with individual retirement accounts and 401k accounts to act on the best behalf of their clients.

Before this new standard was issued, financial advisors only needed to meet a suitability standard, meaning that the financial advisor only has to choose what is suitable for the portfolio, which is not always what is in the client’s best interest. A financial advisor under this standard could invest in a fund he found suitable, but may be more risky or expensive, although a similar option is available with a different fund. This suitability standard led to many advisors investing in funds they were personally interested in, sparking a need for change.

David Bowie’s Estate

This year, we lost two music icons. While the death of Prince came as a surprise to the music community, David Bowie lost his battle with cancer. It was not surprising that David Bowie’s estate was left with almost $100 million dollars, a very large sum of money that was all properly distributed according to the terms of his will. Bowie outlined his wishes in his will, that was made over a decade ago, which even stating how he wanted to be cremated. The star died on January 10th, 2016, and in accordance with the terms of his will, his last wishes to be cremated were followed, on January, 12th. The will not only outlined how to distribute the estate, but also how and when funds set aside in trusts were to be distributed to his wife and children.

Additionally, the making of this will has provided a straightforward method to determine how future earnings from his music, past as well as unreleased, will be distributed. Bowie recorded a final few songs which are set for release at specific times in the future.

Recently, in Ocean County, New Jersey, a well known elder law attorney was arrested and charged with stealing money from his clients. The attorney, considered an older adult himself, is charged with stealing over 1.2 million dollars over the course of five years from a number of elderly clients he served. A court order allowed officials to freeze the firm’s numerous bank accounts, seize billings records, and a number of other records implicating his crimes.

This attorney had a particular target on the elder population, however, he did not discriminate who he took money from when it came to clients. Notably, the attorney stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients suffering from dementia, clients who had elected him power of attorney (or so he had claimed) which allowed him to write checks from their accounts, depositing annuities proceeds into his account instead of the client, and misfiling legal fees. His behavior did not go unnoticed by some family members of clients, and when confronted, he claimed there were administrators errors and would issue repayments.

Important Questions to Ask Your Elder Law Attorney

2017 Projected Increases

Those individuals receiving social security benefits can expect another disappointing increase in their benefits in 2017. While this increase is another record low over the past five years, some view it as a win since social security beneficiaries failed to see any increase in their benefits in 2016, although costs of living continued to rise. The projected increase, coming at .3%, or $4 a month, was assessed by the federal government in response to adjusted costs of living.

How this Affects Elders

Physician Assisted Suicide and The Election

Physician assisted suicide has continued to be a widely controversial, but popular topic across the country over the past decade. With the presidential election coming to a close very soon, the future of physician assisted suicide, or dying with dignity, may become a more widely spread practice, legal medical practice available to those terminally ill patients. Thus far, The Death with Dignity Act, or a similar version, has been passed in Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California and Montana.

California recently passed the California End of Life Option Act in June of 2016, after years of deliberation, voting and criticism, Governor Jerry Brown ultimately signed the bill into effect in the fall of 2015. Many families are relieved that this may become an option for a terminally ill loved one. What is different about death under this Act, is that it is no longer viewed as suicide, and will legally allow loved ones to retain what their terminally ill family member has designated for them after their passing.

There comes a time when difficult conversations must be had with an elderly loved one in your life that requires a caregiver, but is not receptive to the idea. These conversations can initially be overwhelming for both the loved one and the elderly person, as they start to make a plan about how their lives will change, but as so many Americans continue to live longer with a number of chronic health problems, enlisting the help of a caregiver is a very realistic and responsible choice in order to ensure an elderly person is well taken care of. This also tends to be the best option for those families who are not geographically close enough to care for their loved one full time but see the need for change in the current situation.

In determining the needs of your loved one, continue the dialogue to assess what is most important to both of the parties, such as, full time versus part time care, what daily activities the individual partakes in and what kind of assistance is needed with those, if any, as well as whether overnight care or meal assistance is needed, among many other factors.

Once needs have been determined, it is important to build a pool of applicants to interview. Caregivers build a very personal and intimate relationship with those they care for, thus, it is critical that the individual not only approves of the caregiver, but shares something in common and can trust that person.

Upon the happening of an event described in a trust, whether it is a term being met, a beneficiary reaching a certain age, or the death of a certain party, the trustee must settle the trust, terminating it and distributing the assets out. While sometimes these terminating events can be easily foreseen and planned for accordingly, such as a beneficiary reaching age attainment, other events may be more sudden. These sudden events, such as an unforeseen death, can cause particular difficulty for those administering the trust as well as those seeking the trust continue to pay for certain expenses, including funeral costs.

When the event occurs, the trustee, in most states, must either file paperwork with the court or notify all the of the beneficiaries of the event, the trust’s consequential termination, and next steps for distribution. This release is required in order for the trust to distribute out and for the trustee’s duties to terminate. The trustee’s acknowledgement of the event insulates the trustee in the event that the estate or any of its beneficiaries attempt to bring legal action against the trustee.

What many beneficiaries of a trust do not realize is that upon the happening of the event, as of that day, the trust going forward can no longer allocate any assets to pay costs that may have formerly been taken care of by the trust, such as real estate taxes or various bills. The trust must act as if it is then frozen in time in order to preserve what will eventually be distributed out. While it can be inconvenient in terms of timing as well as financially, the trustee can no longer pay out or make distributions on behalf of the trust because it fails to exist and the will of the grantor is no longer known.

Trustees serve a very important role in the effective administration of a trust. The maker of the trust document, the grantor, gives another neutral third party, the power to administer the terms of the trust throughout the lifetime of the grantor and after, if the terms of the trust provide so. The trustee is essentially in charge of managing all the assets of the trust, without taking an interest in them. While a trustee can also be the maker of the trust, many people elect another individual, or a corporate trustee to continue administering the trust upon their death.

There are some express terms that a trustee must follow, such as:

  • Keeping separate the investments and accounts of the trust,

Elder abuse has been an increasing trend over the past few decades, within roughly one in ten Americans over 60 years of age experiencing elder abuse, whether it be financial, harassment, sexual, physical, or passive abuse through neglect or deprivation. Of the elders subjected to abuse, over 90% of those Americans are abused by someone they know, either a family member, friend, acquaintance, medical staff employee, or caretaker.

Predators seek out opportunities with the elderly in order to become involved in their lives and then later exploit them in their most vulnerable state. Often times, an individual will claim to be helping the elder individual, either by assisting in caretaking or house keeping, and then will later bill them for an exorbitant amount of money or get ahold of their checking account to pay themselves.

Warning Signs

There are three main types of trusts for special or supplemental needs. Each has their own specific purpose and use, and will apply differently for every party.

First Party Special Needs Trusts

The first party special needs trust was developed to be funded with assets owned by the trust beneficiary in order to help them qualify for government benefits. This type of trust is usually established when the intended beneficiary is about to receive either a lawsuit settlement, inheritance from an estate, a large gift, or assets, that would disqualify him from receiving supplemental security income. Supplemental security income has a qualifying threshold that the beneficiary must meet; the individual cannot possess personal assets that equal over $2,000.

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