Articles Posted in Elder law estate planning

Adding trust instruments to your estate plan can help a surviving spouse and other beneficiaries have access to assets while the rest of the estate is wound up. Especially if there are young children or children with special needs ensuring continuity of financial security to survivors is at the forefront of individuals making end of life decisions. There are many types of trust instruments, such as a marital “A” trust or a bypass “B” trust. These trusts can also be revocable and irrevocable.

Revocable or living trusts

A revocable trust permits the passing of assets outside of probate, the legal proceeding that winds up and settles the estate of the deceased person. Also known as a living trust, you (the grantor) are able to retain control of the assets during your (the grantor’s) lifetime. A living trust is flexible. They can be dissolved at any time should you wish to change the beneficiary or you yourself need access to the trust assets for any reason. Once you (the grantor) dies, the living trust becomes irrevocable. A living or revocable trust is subject to estate taxes, unlike an irrevocable trust. Lastly, you are able to name yourself the trustee or co-trustee and retain complete ownership and control over all of the trust assets during your lifetime.

It is not uncommon in our region for people to own real property outside of New York State. Increasingly, people own other home or investment properties out of state and even out of the country. A will generally disposes of all of an individual’s assets. The rules are different however if the asset is real property. There are three rules to keep in mind and carefully consider when dealing with assets outside of New York as part of your estate planning process.

Consider the following rules when drafting or revising your will:

  1.   If the out of state asset is real property it is vital to develop your estate plan in conjunction with the law in that locality. Real estate assets are governed by the laws of the country or state in which they are situated. This means that the law of the other locality will determine if the New York will is recognized as valid there with respect to the real property.

Some couples approach their estate planning lawyer seeking advice on creating a joint will. Generally, the estates lawyer will frown upon such a suggestion because in practice, joint wills are fraught with problems. A joint will can be created by a married couple and is a single will. A joint will is signed by the couple and in it contain provisions leaving all of their assets to each other. The reason why joint wills are not more commonly used as an instrument to bequeath gifts upon death is that usually, even in longtime marriages, most married couples do not have identical wishes regarding their assets.

Joint tenancy vs. tenancy in common

Married couples generally own real estate assets as joint tenants. A lesser form of home ownership is a tenancy in common. The key difference between the two is their effect on the distribution of assets at the death of one of the partners. Joint tenancies contain a right to survivorship. This means that at a partner’s death, their share of any joint assets become the sole property of the surviving partner by operation of law and outside any asset distribution of a will for example. In a will, assets held as a tenancy in common are distributed according to the terms of each person’s will. Tenancy in common may be a better ownership form where couples wish to gift or bequeath their assets or shares in an asset in different ways. This may be an attractive form of ownership for couples with children from a prior marriage particularly if the new spouse has no children of his or her own.

Despite the prevalence of aggressive, life-prolonging medical procedures, such as feeding tubes, ventilators, and dialysis, once a patient enters a long-term care hospital, L.T.C.H. for short, more than one-third of them will never return home. According to the New York Times, the median survival for such patients is 8.3 months. Much of the time will be spent in a combination of hospitals, skilled nursing home, and specialized rehab facilities.

The high and low spots

Patients in their 60s with musculoskeletal diagnoses, like complications from a hip fracture or joint replacement, do better in L.T.C.H. institutions then people over 80. A high number of patients that are transferred to L.T.C.H facilities from hospitals have undergone a medical procedure called a tracheostomy. Also called a stoma, a tracheostomy is a surgical opening in the windpipe to accommodate a breathing tube that is attached to a ventilator. This procedure is commonly performed on patients who suffer from chronic and severe lung disease and neck cancers among other neck and voice box disorders.

Parents with dementia and other memory loss disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, present extraordinary challenges for the parent and adult children tasked with assisting them. Drafting a will, making health care decisions, and taking care of legal and financial matters are just some of the items that must be sorted out, hopefully before the onset of the worst conditions.

The first step when caring for a parent is to assess their mental capacity. It is important that you seek medical guidance, including a diagnosis, when you observe signs of dementia. If your parent has been diagnosed with dementia-causing illnesses, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, adjustments should be made to all legal and financial matters.

Durable power of attorney

Alcohol and drug abuse among adults 60 years and older is underestimated and under-diagnosed. To caregivers, whether they are a spouse, adult child, or a home health aide, understanding how and where to get help for their loved one is critical to getting a person in treatment.

Nationwide, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers found a 33.3 percent increase in older adult (ages 65 and older) deaths from heroin between 2014 and 2015 (heroin deaths for all ages rose only 21 percent).

Doctors fail to diagnose drug addiction in older adults because some of the symptoms experienced by alcohol and drug abusers mimic symptoms more common in older adults generally. Alcohol and drug abusers, like older adults, suffer from depression, diabetes, and dementia. It may be harder to attribute the cause to alcohol or drugs rather than old age, so treatment is under-diagnosed.

This is the last post on gifting digital assets. So far, we have examined digital assets generally and digital asset planning in the estate planning process and the business succession planning process. Today’s post will review how to handle digital assets in the estate administration process.

Traditional estate administration process v. Estate administration process with digital assets

Let’s say I’m an executor in an estate and I’ve identified digital assets that decedent made in his or her lifetime. How is the estate administration process with digital assets different from the traditional estate administration process without digital assets?

Following the death of a loved one, most people would rather think of anything else than finances, assets in an estate, or something besides the memories of the person who passed away and left our lives. However, the time will eventually come when the person named as the executor to the deceased’s estate will need to begin the probate process and divide assets among heirs and settle any outstanding taxes and debts.

Sometimes, it may take a family effort to account for assets and pass the estate through the probate court, making cooperation and understanding all the more vital to moving along with a process during and already difficult situation. However, the responsibility to pass the estate through probate will ultimately fall onto whoever was appointed as the executor of the estate in the last will and testament of the person who passed away.

First, any valuable property will need to be secured and accounted for as these items may be listed in the deceased’s last will and testament to be distributed amongst heirs, family, and friends. This should be done as soon as possible as it may be more difficult if surviving relatives help themselves to the deceased’s property while under the impression it may have been promised to them but otherwise not recorded in the will.

Having a well through out, defined estate plan is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and our families during our life. Without an estate plan, your assets may be thrown into the uncertainty of probate court and legal challenges from interested parties that may feel they are somehow owed part of your estate. Those are just some of the very good reasons to have an estate plan and one that includes more than just a last will and testament.

For starters, an estate plan should include a revocable or “living trust” to pass assets onto friends and family while avoiding probate. Sometimes referred to as an “inter vivos” trust, it is a legal document through which assets are placed into a trust for your benefit during your lifetime and then transferred to designated beneficiaries at your death by your chosen representative, called a “successor trustee.” They are called revocable living trusts because they can be amended at any time and are created during the grantor’s lifetime.

Next, your estate plan will require a last will and testament to pass on any personal or sentimental items not covered by the trust. The will can also give specific instructions for when and how these assets are to be disbursed as well as give surviving family members clear burial instructions and otherwise pass on any other sentiments that are wished to be expressed.

Marie Kondo, an organizing consultant, has taken the world by storm with her two-step approach to tidying up in her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. First, she encourages people to one-by-one hold in their hands everything they own. Once in their hands, people should ask themselves if the item sparks joy. If it doesn’t, Kondo’s approach thanks the item for its service and then puts it in a trash pile. Second, once people identify which of their possessions gives them joy, they should place it in a visible and accessible place. Only then, will adherents to this method, experience the magic of tidying up once and for all.

We thought about this concept and how it can be used to help plan an estate. Planning an estate is a hard and uncomfortable process. It asks you to contemplate your mortality. At the end of the process you have not thrown anything out, but simply begun a process to transfer one of your possessions to someone else. While your family and friends may have a joyful reaction to receiving your beloved cabin home in Maine, that joy will be sparked by your own death. What follows are lessons we learned when we applied Kondo’s tidying up approach to estate planning.

Step One: A proper estate plan will determine what will happen to your property and how your assets will be distributed in the event of your death. It will also consider how decisions will be made regarding your medical care and treatment and finances in the event of mental or physical incapacitation. With the former, you will need to clearly articulate your wishes about your medical care. With the later, one by one, you will need to consider your property and assets and determine what will happen to it when you die. Gifts can be made to family members, friends, charitable organizations, and other testamentary instruments, like a trust.

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