Articles Posted in Elder law estate planning

Winter months are difficult on many of those who live in areas that experience great seasonal changes. The National Center for Health Services actually found that death rates are twice as high in the winter than the hottest part of summer. Not only do we have bundle up and face the chilling weather, there is also a major threat of seasonal illness.

Thus, it is not surprising that individuals have the highest risk of dying from natural causes in the end of December and beginning of January. In fact, one study showed that those who die from natural causes, circulatory problems, respiratory diseases, nutritional/metabolic problems, digestive diseases and cancer have a greater chance of dying between Christmas and New Years than any other time of year.

Not Just in America

Physician assisted suicide has been a controversial topic across the world, however as the reasoning behind it becomes better understood, many countries have chosen to legalize the practice for reasons outside of terminal illness. In the United States, in the past few decades, the public began to take notice with news headlines such as those regarding Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the Michigan physician who helped assist numerous patients chose when they would die from terminal illnesses and subsequently served eight years for his acts.

Today, physician assistance in dying is legal in Washington, Vermont, Montana, Oregon, with California recently signing in their aid in dying legislation in June 2016, Colorado approving a ballot measure in the most recent November 2016 election by two thirds majority, as well as the District of Columbia signing in their version of the same aid in dying law in December 2016. With a not so surprising passage of these laws comes the realization that Americans as a whole see the reasoning or at least themselves would want the option, in the circumstance they were to become terminally ill.

What is different with the United States’ various aid in dying laws in place is that they are all for those patients that are terminally ill, requiring certain validation steps through physicians and therapists.

When we place our loved ones in the care of a nursing home we expect that they will be properly treated and cared for. Sadly, there are many instances where negligent care is given. In one recent case, a nursing home resident was seriously injured after being scaled by hot water that was spilled on her. The woman’s health declined and she died. A representative for the woman’s estate has filed a lawsuit in stating that they did not provide proper care to her.

Burns Can Be Serious

Burns to the skin can occur for a number of reasons. In this case, the woman suffered burns due to hot water that was spilled. The nursing home staff allegedly did not properly supervise the woman while under their care. The woman sustained severe physical injuries that contributed to her death. Burns are painful, and may become infected, causing other medical problems. In this instance, the lawsuit alleges that the burns were quite severe and indeed led to the woman’s decline in health, and subsequent death.

Probate and Contested Estates

When an individual dies, their transfer of property through the legal system is known as probate. During this process, the court determines the validity of a legally formed will or a how property will be distributed if it has not been designated to be inherited by another named party. When an estate enters probate, all of the debts and taxes owed by the deceased on the property are paid, any remaining income, dividends, stocks or investments are sold and the property is distributed or transferred out to the heirs of the deceased. While the deceased individual can leave property or assets to any party they wish, there are certain situations that call into question the validity of the transfer. If one of these suspicious situations arises, a party may raise a contested issue with the distribution.

Examples of Contested Estate Issues

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.

Claiming inheritance upon its distribution is something that many individuals welcome and conversely is the source of many family disputes. There are many reasons why someone may want to refuse their bequest however, in a process in estate planning referred to as disclaiming inheritance. Some beneficiaries seek to disclaim their inheritance due to their personal wealth, whether wealthy or poor, for tax reasons, or to pass the gift on. In estate planning, if you decide to disclaim your gift or bequest, you will be treated as if you died before the grantor did, and your share is redistributed according to the terms of the will.

Examples of Why You May Consider Disclaiming

Estate taxes can be particularly hefty and if disclaimed, the gift or bequest would pass to the next of kin, who may be more willing to take on the potential tax burden. In years past, disclaimers have been used a stopgap measure after the estate tax expired in which the first million in assets valued from an estate is exempt and assets thereafter is levied at 55%. Once the tax expires, there are sometimes unintended consequences which end up negatively impacting the estate of the beneficiaries.

Advance Directives

When determining the type of health care you wish to receive in the event that you are no longer able to make medical decisions, advance directives give you the ability to determine when you will continue or cease to receive medical care, the kinds of care or treatment that are acceptable, as well as who has the power to make health care decisions on your behalf as your health care power of attorney/health care proxy. There are a few different types of advance directives, we have previously discussed the health care proxy roles in medical decisionmaking as well as the importance of living wills. Although the names and regulations vary by state law, there are also Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment forms, as well as Do Not Resuscitate Orders that patients can fill out in order to refuse or request medical care.

DNR Orders

International Will Issues

As our world continues to grow and technology allows us to move places once never thought imagined, many individuals have the opportunity to live abroad throughout the course of their lives. After spending time in a specific area, whether it is for the majority of your life or for a shorter time, you may acquire property in that new place. However, when it comes to estate planning, issues may arise for a citizen who has acquired property in another country and has executed multiple wills for their multiple properties.

If you have property in another country, having a will in that jurisdiction disposing of that property generally will make it easier than if the property’s disposition is listed in a will in a different country, since it will increase the efficiency of estate administration for the property in that jurisdiction. However, if the testator has multiple wills in multiple countries, covering multiple pieces of land, he must write the most recent will in a way as to not revoke the previous foreign wills and subject the land to differing dispositions.

CERTAIN LIMITATIONS ON SPECIAL NEEDS TRUSTS

Last year a case out of the Western District of Massachusetts Federal District Court dealt with the interplay of a special needs trust and eligibility for certain governmental benefits that the special needs trust was supposed to address. The case of DeCambre v. Brookline Housing Authority dealt with the beneficiary of a valid special needs trust who applied for a section eight housing voucher but was denied because of income that she received from a third party special needs trust, established by a Court. Ms. DeCambre was involved in a catastrophic accident which resulted in a series of settlements, with the proceeds directly deposited into the special needs trust. She received a total of $330,000.

The trust did not earn any income of it’s own, the truste only distributed the income in line with the terms of the trust and charged the normal and typical trustee fees. Ms. DeCambre did not have any control over the distribution of the income or money in the trust. The Court noted that the special needs trust was indeed valid and in conformity with the special needs trust enabling statute, found at 42 U.S.C. § 1396p(d)(4)(A) and (C). Indeed, the Court noted that Ms. DeCambre benefited from this trust insofar as she received Supplemental Security Income of approximately $850 per month and validly received Medicaid. These programs, the Court noted, specifically excluded the income from the a valid special needs trust. Ms. DeCambre applied for a section eight housing voucher through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2005. The voucher was approved and provided from 2005 through to 2012, when HUD reduced it by approximately $1,000 per month, based on her income from the special needs trust. Ms. DeCambre sued HUD in Federal Court on several statutory grounds, based on HUD’s decision to reduce the amount of her housing voucher.

CONVERSION OF LIFE INSURANCE DURING LIFE OF COVERED INDIVIDUAL

As this blog discussed in the past, long term planning insurance is something that many consumers are reluctant to purchase for a number of reasons One of the main reasons for this reluctance is the long term cost may not financially justify its utilization. Life insurance companies recognized this problem and started to allow for a hybrid financial product in their life insurance policies. The life insurance company allows for the conversion of a life insurance policy to pay for the long term care services.

The animating philosophy is that there will be a pay out regardless of whether or not it happens during the insured’s lifetime, so the life insurance company could just as easily pay out on the policy during the insured’s life. Every day over 10,000 baby boomers turn 65, so the population base that could potentially utilize such as a product is growing larger every day. It is estimated that at least 70 percent of the baby boomer population will need some sort of long term care during their lifetime, with 40 percent in need of nursing home treatment.

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