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There are many estate planning tools that should be considered when writing a will. While the obvious includable provisions are for assets and property distribution, you should also consider how you want your life insurance policy distributed as well as any retirement benefit accounts. The policies you have subscribed to and pay premiums on will administer a life insurance policy or benefits as you have provided, however, many people forget to amend these policies when they go through events such as a divorce or if they lose a loved one.

Life Insurance Policies

Failing to update life insurance policies can end up benefitting a party you no longer intend to provide for, such as a former spouse who has since remarried, or a family member or friend you have been estranged from. Thus, it is certainly a good practice to amend and update your policy after a major event or to make sure it aligns with your wishes every few years. Making reference to the life insurance policy and the intended beneficiary in your will just goes to further support your claim to show whom you wish to receive the proceeds of policy.

How property and assets are distributed when you pass can be a sensitive topic that many people do not like to address, in fact, more than half of Americans die without a will every year. This failure to plan for the distribution of assets and property can leave many interested parties at odds and may not reflect what your last wishes were for your legacy. Depending on what you are leaving behind, there are some considerations that must be made regarding your assets.

Depending upon the state you reside in, your property may pass subject to probate or it may pass outside due to pre-documented rights of survivorship or trust language. If you live in a community property state, which means that all property acquired by you or your spouse during the marriage, regardless of who bought it is property of the marriage, then your property will pass subject to probate court. However, passing through probate may be avoided if you have left rights of survivorship language in your will or property ownership documentation. Property is then subject to the estate tax, which may not be the main concern of dissolution, depending on the assets involved.

Additionally, a trust can be set up that will either avoid probate or will continue to be includable in your estate. If you seek to avoid probate, you can form what is called an irrevocable trust, which allows you to put your assets and property in a  trust, to be held and owned by the trustee, who works to administer the trust under the governing trust and also make decisions in the best interest of the grantor and any potential beneficiaries. However, if you wish to form a trust but still seek to maintain control of your assets and property by amending or revoking the trust during your lifetime, you can form a revocable trust.

As we continue to age, there are a number of ailments that develop and health issues that we are forced to address and adapt to. While we anticipate problems such as achy joints and the occasional stiff legs, we do often forget about the continued upkeep associated with dental hygiene. Dental checkups are easy to forget about and avoid, especially when you do not feel like anything is wrong, however, as soon as something starts to ache, the check up can turn into a very expensive visit. Many elderly individuals avoid going to the dentist due to the associated fear of costs and lack of coverage.

 

Medicare does not provide dental care coverage for their insured beneficiaries, which leads many to either go without coverage or to retain an independent plan that could cost them more than they can afford in their budget. Millions of elderly Americans rely on Social Security and Medicaid or Medicare to support them in their old age, however, these programs continue to shrink in size and will not be able to provide for all of those soon to be retirees. Medicare does provide dental care for some chronic medical conditions such as reconstruction following an accidental injury, or extraction due to radiation exposure for neoplastic diseases of the jaw, a very specific list. Even with those exceptions, the reimbursement rate is so low that some doctors will not accept Medicare coverage in their offices because they know how difficult it becomes to get paid.
The National Center for Health Statistics has found that 20% of Americans over 65 years old have cavities that are currently going untreated, with the numbers steadily increasing with old age. With teeth becoming more brittle and procedures performed decades earlier needing maintenance, many elders find themselves in the Emergency Room due to the pain. There are a number of nonprofits however across the nation that offer free or discounted dental cleanings for elderly patients that do not have dental coverage and cannot afford it. Additionally, many universities offer discounted cleanings as well as procedures by having elderly patients be seen by their class of graduating dentists. They will offer up front costs of services as well as payment plans in an effort to avoid having the individual rack up debt.

Meals on Wheels is a government program that started in the 1950s that has assisted elderly citizens by delivering food to them when in need, either by providing the meals in the elderly individual’s home or in a community senior center. They not only provide the meal but also provide safety checks and visit with the senior, critical actions that have been shown to help elders live longer. There are over 5,000 independent organizations across America that help administer the program, and it has for decades, had much success. In order to receive funding local communities as well as the Older Americans Act help to keep the program afloat.

 

As the new budget is proposed, many programs are in jeopardy of being cut. One program that is may see a threat to funding is Meals on Wheels, due to the program not providing results. However, the nature of the program is not a results oriented initiative. The program services 2.4 million Americans, a number that will undoubtedly grow in the coming decades due to the large number of baby boomers beginning the retirement age. These cuts are the result of discretionary spending decisions related to the Community Development Block Grant that allocates a portion of the block grant money to elderly through Meals on Wheels. There have been numerous studies conducted that have showed the effectiveness of Meals on Wheels decreasing loneliness scores and also decreasing reliance on traditional care, while allowing elderly individuals to remain in their homes longer.

 

However, there are conflicting opinions about how much influence this will actually have on the institution. From financial statements released last year, only about 3% of the total funding was made from the block grant. On a local level, there is much more monetary influence, with federal funds accounting for 30% of the expenses relating to the home delivered meals. While the program’s costs and returns are currently being debated, it is evident that although it may not be the most lucrative on it’s face, Meals on Wheels can provide a number of benefits. One study even found that if there was a 1% increase in elderly individuals receiving Meals on Wheels, states would saved over $109 million, due to reductions in need for nursing home care.

One of the biggest promises in the Trump candidacy was repealing Obamacare, a promise he attempted to follow through on within the first few months into his presidency. Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, was a widely known proponent, who worked to rally votes and repeal Obamacare in order to get The American Health Care Act implemented in it’s place. While the vote was called off before a final count was made, the American Health Care Act still has some changes to make before there will be bi-partisan agreement. It is not a surprise that this program was one of the first to be reconsidered for funding, the program covers 74 million people alone.

 

Lawmakers were drastically divided on the topic, with those focused on public health benefits contesting the bill due to the cut in benefits that those most in need would experience, Once Obamacare was fully implemented, Medicaid programs across the nation greatly expanded, giving coverage to 11 million Americans opting for coverage under the federal program, which in turn assisted states who were not able to pay for the health care expansion for their citizens on their own. Medicaid was able to expand coverage to so many Americans by qualifying low income individuals for the program and paying through state and federal funding. Governors in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Ohio all oppose any kind of restructuring for their Medicaid programs. Kansas and North Carolina are currently attempting to expand their Medicaid in light of the recent bill failure.

 

On the other side of the debate, critics of the mandatory health care system feel that it has left states and citizens ‘hooked’ on the federal government supplying funds for health care now. The states that receive federal assistance with Medicaid cannot sustain losing the funding while still providing coverage to all their citizens. While some states are starting to cover some costs associated with their Medicaid expansions, the federal government in 2017 is still covering at least 90% of the costs associated with the expansion, which is projected to continue through 2020.  Critics continue to note the declining insurance provider participation in Medicaid and Obamacare services which fails to provide medical specialists.

The new year has brought a number of changes to our healthcare system and is projected to make many more in the coming months. In an effort to control the state budget, many lawmakers are attempting to find ways in which to decrease spending in order to get out of the major defect they have incurred over the past few years.

One of those states is Massachusetts, where, Governor Baker, is attempting to reduce their budget by cutting nearly $100 million dollars in funding for a number of organizations. This budget cut was cited as an adjustment due to lagging state revenues, which need to be counterbalanced. The organizations most affected by the cuts include HIV treatment centers, opioid abuse relief centers that assist many citizens of the state in dealing with the drug problem that has run rampant through the city, as well as other elder care organizations.

The majority of the funding to be cut will come from programs in charge of assistance in paying for long term care, nurse visits, as well as other specialists. This ultimately affects the demographic of aging people who seek to age in place and receive care in their home as their health declines.

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 you begin estate planning, there are a variety of options that are available in order to plan how your estate will be distributed and may seem very similar, however, they all have distinct benefits. Two main estate planning tools commonly used are wills and/or trusts, but their main features are very different. When determining which tools are right for you, you should first assess what stage of distribution and what assets you wish to control.

Trusts

There are a number of different types of trust that one may use, depending on what their intentions are. Trusts can be enacted during the grantor’s, also known as the person who made the trust, lifetime, or may take effect upon the death of the grantor. When forming a trust, the grantor seeks to transfer their property to the trust, which is run by a trustee. A trustee can be any number of people, but are neutral third parties who are employed to operate in the best interest of all interested parties involved, including both the grantor and those beneficiaries.

When a deceased individual, known as a decedent, leaves a Will, family members and friends that have reason to believe something may be wrong with that Will may be able to have a court rule that the Will is invalid in some situations. The following are examples of common situations in which a person may have reason to ask a court to overturn a Will, most of which can be avoided by working with an attorney to create a valid Will.

The Will Does Not Comply with Law

There are several specific requirements the person making a Will, known as the testator, must comply with for a Will to be valid in New York. Basically, these include:

Pets play a special role in all our lives; they serve as companions, security, as well as important additions to our families. However, when it comes to naming beneficiaries in your will, it has long been debated on a state level whether pets can legally be named as beneficiaries of an estate, due to their lack of capacity.

Many people name their animals, such as their dogs or cats, in their will, without realizing that, depending upon the state in which they make the will enforceable, probate court may find the provision invalid and treat the bequest as if it had not been named, passing down using the rules of probate court.

In order to effectively name a pet as a beneficiary in a will, there are specific ways of writing the provision that ensures your pet will be cared for after your passing. You can designate a friend or relative in your will to be the caretaker of the pet in the event of your passing. In this provision, you can designate a specific amount of money that will be received for care, for taking the pet, and what will happen upon the pet’s death. The caretaker of the animal will then become the owner of the pet legally, because pets are technically considered living property.

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