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Sometimes creating an estate plan means more than just simply designating who will receive your assets. Instead, it sometimes becomes critical to think about how a loved one will receive what you leave them. Fortunately, estate planning presents the opportunity to contemplate the particular needs of your beneficiaries as well as the structure of such transfers. One of the most common but serious obstacles that exist in passing assets to a loved one is if a beneficiary is financially irresponsible.

Understandably, after decades of working hard, you want to make sure that the assets you pass on to loved one can be fully utilized. If a loved one does not treat assets with the same serious nature that you do, however, this intent can quickly defeat your estate planning goals. Fortunately, there are estate planning strategies that are available to make sure that assets last a long time and are responsibly managed. This article considers just some of the critical issues to remember about passing assets on to a beneficiary who is financially irresponsible.

# 1 – The Role of Trusts

The general consensus is that Social Security replaces around 40% of your pre-retirement income. The reality is that half of all single people depend on their Social Security benefits to replace close to 90% of their pre-retirement income, says the Social Security Administration (SSA). From the start, the only way for you to survive retirement is to cut your living expenses to 40% of your working income.

For married couples, the outlook is better. One spouse, usually the one who may never have worked or earned less than the other spouse, is able to receive Social Security benefits based on the other spouse’s work record. Because that spouse is married, his or her Social Security benefits will be higher than a single person. According to the SSA, only 21% of married couples depend on their checks for at least 90% of their retirement income.

If you are single and divorced, in some circumstances, you too can receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record, even if your ex has remarried. You may be surprised to learn that there are few eligibility requirements you’ll have to meet in order to claim benefits based on your ex’s work record. To qualify for Social Security benefits based on your ex’s work record:

Many of you may recall when President John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in 1961 and may have even signed up as a volunteer to help provide social and economic development assistance abroad. Borrowing on this model, an initiative is underway to establish an internal national volunteer care corps to help older adults age in place by relying on the assistance of volunteers to help people manage their day-to-day living needs.

Introducing the National Volunteer Care Corps

The National Volunteer Care Corps is a government initiative run by the Administration for Community Living, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The National Volunteer Care Corps seeks to build an army of domestic volunteers to help older people live better and longer in their homes, especially if they can still take care of their primary needs. From teens, to college students, or civic minded adults, volunteers would perform the following tasks:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released a set of helpful guides to help individuals manage the financial affairs of loved ones or others who are unable to do so and require a fiduciary to take of such matters. The guides cover multiple topics to help fiduciaries, including how to spot financial exploitation and avoid scams as well as a “Where to go for help” section with a list of relevant resources for more information.

One of the guides included is “Help for agents under a power of attorney” which lists the four basic duties that fiduciaries with a power of attorney need to keep in mind when managing the affairs of another. Those include to act only in the beneficiary’s interest, manage the beneficiary’s property and money carefully, keep the money and property of the beneficiary and fiduciary separate, and to keep good records of all transactions.

Another helpful guide included in the series is “Help for court-appointed guardians of property and conservators” which someone the court names to manage money and property for someone else whom the court has found cannot manage it alone. This can also apply to instances where a fiduciary is named to act in the interest of another person as a guardian, managing that person’s healthcare and other personal decisions. Other times, a court may be appointed to manage the governmental benefits of an individual and the CFPB also provides outlines for these responsibilities too.

A Kings County Surrogate’s Court judge recently removed the executor to an estate without a hearing over the individual’s failure to comply with the court’s order to properly account of the estate’s assets. The case is a prime example of how and why someone can be removed as the executor from estate if he or she fails to comply with their fiduciary duty to faithfully discharge the responsibilities of the executorship.

The petition to remove the executor was brought by a co-beneficiary to the estate, the sister of the former executor, after the executor failed to open a separate trust account and to file federal or state income tax returns for the trust. Additionally, the petition charged that the respondent’s neglect of the real property held by the limited liability company caused it to sell for a price much less than two previous offers to purchase the real estate, which the executor had rejected.

Prior to suspending the executor from his role of managing the estate, the co-beneficiary filed two-petitions with the Surrogate’s Court. The first, seeking the executor’s removal from management of the estate and the second asking the court to compel the executor into account and file the estate. The court subsequently issued a 45-day order for the executor to account for the estate and file the necessary paperwork.

A King County Surrogate’s Court judge recently handed down a significant ruling in the case of a caretaker who appeared to marry her elderly patient in his final days in an effort to claim part of the deceased’s estate. The judge hearing the case decided the woman forfeited her statutory share of the estate because she knowingly married the deceased while he was alive and mentally incapacitated.

The ruling came down after a 37-day trial and nearly 12-years of litigation surrounding the $5 million estate of a successful businessman who was 100-years old when he passed away in 2006. The now deceased married his caretaker in secret in from of the New York City Clerk’s Office, without the knowledge of his two adult sons who brought the challenges to the estate.

The judge said he found it impossible that the deceased’s wife did not know her husband was mentally incapacitated when they married just a year before the man’s death.. “The evidence presented shows consistent, insidious and duplicitous conduct that led to” the wife’s “clandestine marriage” to the deceased, the judge said.

As our parents age, it may become necessary to take on a some type of guardianship role to help them live out their golden years in comfort and dignity. Even highly functioning seniors can use a little help in certain areas to ensure their best interests are served and avoid costly mistake that can leave elders in financial and medical dire straits.

Under New York law, mentally competent seniors may willfully yield control over certain aspects of their lives to trusted friends or family to act in certain ways on their behalf. This is often referred to by the courts as the “least restrictive form of intervention” since it only gives the guardian limited power to help compensate for any limitations faced by the elder.

To achieve this type of guardianship, both parties (the elder and prospective guardian) will need to file their paperwork in the probate court where the elder lives. As long as the elder agrees and can demonstrate to the court why it is in his or her best interest to appoint a guardian, courts are generally inclined to allow this limited guardianship. Depending on the powers granted, the guardian can help their elder manage decisions related to medical care, financial management, and paying taxes.

While it might not be the most important things on peoples’ minds, the truth is that all of us need a last will and testament, regardless of whether or not we think our estates are large enough to need one. Without a last will and testament or some type of trust, the assets of our estate will enter into what is known as intestacy and be distributed according to a line of succession dictated by the law, rather than what our final wishes may have been.

In New York, any assets not placed into a trust will need to pass through probate court (known as Surrogate’s Court in the state). Even in cases where the deceased created a will and specifically dictated which assets go to which heirs, the court must still hear the matter to ensure the deceased’s wishes are carried out.

However, certain assets will not pass through probate with or without a will. These types of assets include homes that are jointly owned by spouses, life insurance payouts, retirement accounts with named beneficiaries, and bank accounts set up as payable-on-death. Without a will, any other assets like personal property and savings accounts will be passed along according to New York’s intestacy laws.

Creating a trust is one of the most common ways people use to pass on the assets without having to pass the estate through probate and deal with courts, judges, and create a public record of what the individual has accrued over his or her lifetime. Just like there are many ways to pass on an estate to heirs, there are also different types of trusts that people can use to accomplish these goals.

Picking the right type of trust for one’s estate depends on many things including the type of assets in one’s estate, the individual’s goals, and whether some of the assets might go to minor children that will be unable to manage finances for themselves. Whichever type of trust you choose to go with, it should be based on careful analysis and attention to detail to ensure that your final wishes are carried and heirs receive their due inheritance.

Inter vivos trusts

A last will and testament is an incredibly important document that needs to be kept safe and help ensure that when your estate passes through probate, New York courts will allow your executor to carry your final wishes and disperse assets to your heirs. After taking all of the important steps like consulting with family members, working with a trust and estate attorney, and finally drafting the last will and testament, great care needs to be taken in storing the original copy of the will to make sure the estate can pass through probate courts as quickly as possibly and make the job of the executor that much easier.

To preserve the original copy of their last will and testament, testators (the person creating the will) have a number of options to preserve the original copy of their executed will. Many people elect to keep their executed will in a safe deposit box at a bank or other secured facility. It is important to note that no matter where the document is kept safe, the executor must know the location of the last will and testament to pass the estate through probate.

New York probate law holds that if the original executed copy of the last will and testament is lost, the probate court will presume the testator meant to revoke the document and proving anything to the contrary can be a difficult, time consuming, and expensive endeavor. Even if a bona fide copy can be produced, New York probate courts will likely not accept the document and enter it as a copy of the will.

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