A Good Estate Plan Takes the Guess Work Out of What You Wanted

With an estate plan, you can distribute your assets according to your own wishes. Without one, your heirs may spend years and a good deal of money trying to settle your estate, reports U.S. News & World Report in the article “5 Reasons to Make an Estate Plan.”  

If there is no estate plan in place, including a will, living trust, advance directives and other documents, people you love will be put in a position of guessing what you wanted for any number of things, from what your final wishes would be in a medical crisis, to what kind of a funeral you would like to have. That guessing can cause strife and worry between family members that they didn’t do what you wanted.

What is estate planning? Estate planning is the process of legally documenting what you want to happen when you die. It also includes planning for your wishes in case of incapacity, that is, when you are not legally competent to make decisions for yourself because of illness or an injury. This is done through the use of wills, trusts, advance directives and beneficiary designations on accounts and life insurance policies.

Let’s face it, people don’t like to think about their passing, so they postpone making an appointment with an estate planning attorney. There’s also the fear of the unknown: will they have to share a lot of information with the attorney? Will it become complicated? Will they have to make decisions that they are not sure they can make?  Rest assured, there is no need to fear speaking with an estate planning attorney or procrastinate in making an appointment.  Estate planning attorneys are experienced with the issues that come with planning for incapacity and death, and are able to guide clients through the process.

The power of memorializing your wishes on paper can provide a great deal of relief to the people who are making the estate plan, as well as their family members. Here are five reasons why everyone should have an estate plan:

Avoid Probate. Without a will, the probate court may decide how to distribute your estate. In Illinois, it can take months to administer the estate and allow creditors to put through claims. The estate is also public, with your information available to the public. Probate can also be expensive.

Minimize Taxes. There are a number of strategies that can be used to minimize taxes being imposed on your heirs. While the federal estate tax exemption is $11.4 million per individual, states have estate taxes.  An estate planning attorney can help you minimize the tax impact of your estate.

Care for Minor Children. Families with minor children need a plan for care, if both parents should pass away. Without a will that names a guardian for young children, the court will appoint a guardian to raise a child. With a will, you can prevent the scenario of relatives squabbling over who should get custody of minor children.

Distributing Assets. If you have a will, you can say who you want to get what assets. If you don’t, the laws of your state will determine who gets what. You can also use trusts to control how and when assets are distributed, in case there are heirs who are unable to manage money.

Plan for Pets. In many states, you can create a Pet Trust and name a trustee to manage the money, while naming someone in your will who will be in charge of caring for your pet. Seniors are often reluctant to get a pet, because they are concerned that they will die before the pet. However, with an estate plan that includes a pet trust, you can protect your pet.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (October 18, 2019) “5 Reasons to Make an Estate Plan”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Plan, Pet Trust, Asset Distribution, Beneficiaries, Minor Children, Guardian, Probate

When Planning for Retirement, Don’t Forget About Long Term Care Insurance

Roughly 60% of those turning 65 can anticipate using some form of long-term care in their lives, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. Those individuals may be faced with a nursing home, assisted living, or in-home care.  The costs associated with these types of care make elder law planning extremely important.  This is one reason individuals should consider the possibility of long-term care insurance.

CNBC’s recent article, “Not having long-term care insurance can be ‘the single biggest devastator’ of your financial plan,” reports that over 8 million Americans have long-term care insurance. However, the cost of that insurance is rising. The increase is due to several factors, including the fact that companies under priced their policies for years and misjudged how many would drop coverage.  Because of those rising premiums, some individuals may choose self-insurance.  That means saving a pool of money to earmark for long-term care. Coverage is also available through Medicaid, which has eligibility requirements.  Despite these increases, when planning, one should consider purchasing  some form of coverage. This is because not being insured can be the biggest devastator of a financial plan.

The rule of thumb has been to buy LTC coverage at age 55. However, it really depends on your situation. The big unknown is health, and the odds of being able to qualify for coverage at age 60, compared to age 30 or 40, is vastly different.

A traditional LTC policy will cover the costs of care for a certain period of time, generally up to six years. The amount of coverage is based on the average cost of care for your location. Most insurers offer it in the form of a monthly benefit, and possibly with some inflation protection.  There’s also a hybrid policy that covers long-term care costs, but becomes life insurance paid to heirs, if it’s not used. Of the 350,000 Americans who purchased long-term care protection in 2018, 85% chose the hybrid coverage. It’s also called combo or linked-benefit. The big difference between a traditional LTC policy and the hybrid policy is you’ll pay more for the hybrid policy.

The attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. would be happy to discuss your options for long term care planning and the benefits of long term care insurance so you have piece of mind that your assets are preserved and left to those who mean the most to you.  If you are looking for long-term care planning in Orland Park, Illinois or the surrounding suburbs of Chicago, please give us a call.

Reference: CNBC (October 14, 2019) “Not having long-term care insurance can be ‘the single biggest devastator’ of your financial plan”

 

Long-Term Care Planning is Important

The expense of long-term care is often astronomical. Many people who end up requiring long-term care initially pay for it out of their own their own assets.  Medicaid is the federal program that assists with healthcare benefits for those who qualify and cannot afford them.  Many people end up accessing Medicaid benefits, after their own assets have been depleted.  The Medicaid program can help with paying for home care, assisted living, and nursing home care, explains Insurance News Net’s recent article, “Medicaid planning.”

Speaking with an elder law or Medicaid planning attorney is a great idea to make sure people can qualify for Medicaid before they completely exhaust their resources.  These practitioners specialize in helping people qualify for Medicaid benefits far in advance of their assets becoming depleted.

For those who are thinking of transferring all of their assets to their children to qualify for Medicaid, the government has already thought of that. If you gift any assets to your children, you may be subject to a penalty before becoming Medicaid eligible. However, there are perfectly legal strategies that a senior can use to become eligible for Medicaid, while still keeping considerable assets.  Assets may be freely transferred between spouses to help gain eligibility for a spouse that needs care.  There are also many assets that are exempt for purposes of gaining eligibility.

With the guidance and planning from qualified legal counsel, seniors who require long-term care can get assistance with their healthcare from the government, while preserving assets for their loved ones.

The attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. would be happy to sit down with you and assist with long term care planning so you have piece of mind that your assets are preserved and left to those who mean the most to you.  If you are looking for long term care planning in Orland Park, Illinois or the surrounding suburbs of Chicago, please give us a call.

Reference: Insurance News Net (September 29, 2019) “Medicaid planning”

 

The Big Eight: Don’t Risk Your Retirement with These Mistakes

During our working lives, we have a cash flow called a “paycheck” that we rely on. A similar cash flow occurs when we retire and start the process of “deaccumulation” or creating income streams from sources that include our retirement funds. However, generating enough income to enjoy a comfortable retirement requires managing that cash flow successfully, says CNBC.com in the article “Here are 8 costly retirement mistakes to avoid.”

Preparing for the risk of a bear market. If markets take a nosedive the year you retire and you stick with your plan to withdraw four percent from your portfolio, your plan is no longer sustainable. Better: have an emergency fund in place, so you don’t have to tap investment accounts until the market recovers.

Investing with inflation in mind. We have been in such a low inflation environment for so long, that many have forgotten how devastating this can be to retirement portfolios. You may want to have some of your money in the market, so you can continue to get rates above any inflation. If inflation runs about 3.5% annually, a moderate portfolio returning 6% or 7% keeps up with inflation, even after withdrawals.

Be ready for longevity. Worries about outliving retirement savings are due to a longer overall life expectancy. There’s a good chance that many people alive today, will make it to 95. One strong tactic is to delay taking Social Security benefits until age 70, to maximize the monthly benefit.

What about interest rates and inadequate returns on safer investments? This is a tricky one, requiring a balance between each person’s comfort zone and the need to grow investments. Current fixed-income returns lag behind historical performance. Some experts recommend that their clients look into high-dividend stocks, as an alternative to bond yields.

Prepare NOT to dump stocks in a temporary downturn. Without strong stomachs and wise counsel, individual investors have a long history of dumping stocks when markets turn down, amplifying losses. We are emotional about our money, which is the worst way to invest. Try working with a financial advisor to remove the emotion from your investments.

Don’t withdraw too much too soon. It looks like a lot of money, doesn’t it? However, even 4% may be too much to take out from your investments and retirement accounts. It all depends upon what other sources of income you have and how markets perform. Be careful, unless going back to work in your seventies is on your bucket list.

Prepare for cognitive decline. This is way harder to conceive of than inflationary risks, but it becomes a real risk as we age. Even a modest level of age-related cognitive impairment, can make managing investments a challenge. Have a discussion with family members, your estate planning attorney and a financial advisor about deciding who will manage your investments, when you are no longer able.

Are you ready for health care costs? If at all possible, wait until 65 to retire, so you will be eligible for Medicare. Even when you have this coverage in place, there may still be considerable expenses that are not covered by Medicare. If you don’t have long-term care insurance, get it as soon as possible.

Contact an Evergreen Park Estate Planning Lawyer for Help

Being prepared for retirement is crucial for your future. At the Law Office of Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. we have an experienced group of attorneys who can assist you with your retirement to avoid making such mistakes. If you are nearing your retirement or trying to make arrangement for your future, contact our Lemont, IL estate planning attorneys at 708-852-0733 for a free consultation.

Reference: CNBC.com (March 5, 2019) “Here are 8 costly retirement mistakes to avoid.”

Long-Term Care Costs and Your Estate Plan

Illinois medicaid planningThere are many misunderstandings about long-term or nursing home care and how to plan from a financial and legal standpoint. The article “Five myths about nursing home costs and estate planning” from The Sentinel seeks to clarify the facts and dispel the myths. Some of the truths may be a little hard to hear, but they are important to know.

Myth One: Before any benefits can be received for nursing home care, a married couple must have spent at least half of their assets and everything but $120,000. If the person receiving nursing home care is single, they must spend almost all assets on the cost of care, before they qualify for aid.

Fact: Nursing homes have no legal duty to advise anyone before or after they are admitted about this myth.

Several opportunities to spend money on items other than a nursing home, include home improvements, debt retirement, a new car and funeral prepayment. An elder law attorney will know how to use a Medicaid-compliant annuity to preserve assets, without spending them on the cost of care, depending on state law.

There are people who say that an attorney should not help a client take advantage of legally permitted methods to save their money. If they don’t like the laws, let them lobby to change them. Experienced elder law and estate planning attorneys help middle-class clients preserve their life savings, much like millionaires use CPAs to minimize annual federal income taxes.

Myth Two: The nursing home will take our family’s home, if we cannot pay for the cost of care.

Fact: Nursing homes do not want and will not take your home. They just want to be paid. If you can’t afford to pay, the state will use Medicaid money to pay, as long as the family meets the eligibility requirements. The state may eventually attach a collection lien against the estate of the last surviving homeowner to recover funds that the state has used for care.

A good elder law attorney will know how to help the family meet those requirements, so that the adult children are not sued by the nursing home for filial responsibility collection rights, if applicable under state law. The attorney will also know what exceptions and legal loopholes can be used to preserve the family home and avoid estate recovery liens.

Myth Three: We’ve promised our parents that they’ll never go to a nursing home.

Fact: There is a good chance that an aging parent, because of dementia or the various frailties of aging, will need to go to a nursing home at some point, because the care that is provided is better than what the family can do at home.

What our loved ones really want is to know that they won’t be cast off and abandoned, and that they will get the best care possible. When home care is provided by a spouse over an extended period of time, often both spouses end up needing care.

Myth Four: I love my children equally, so I am going to make all of them my legal agent.

Fact: It’s far better for one child to be appointed as the legal agent, so that disagreements between siblings don’t impact decisions. If health care decisions are delayed because of differing opinions, the doctor will often make the decision for the patient. If children don’t get along in the best of circumstances, don’t expect that to change with an aging parent is facing medical, financial and legal issues in a nursing home.

Myth Five: We did our last will and testament years ago, and nothing’s changed, so we don’t need to update anything.

Fact: The most common will leaves everything to a spouse, and thereafter everything goes to the children. That’s fine, until someone has dementia or is in a nursing home. If one spouse is in the nursing home and receiving government benefits, eligibility for the benefits will be lost, if the other spouse dies and leaves assets to the spouse who is receiving care in the nursing home.

A fundamental asset preservation strategy is to make changes to the will. It is not necessary to cut the spouse out of the will, but a well-prepared will can provide for the spouse, preserve assets and comply with state laws about minimal spousal election.

When there has been a diagnosis of early stage dementia, it is critical that an estate planning attorney’s help be obtained as soon as possible, while the person still has legal capacity to make changes to important documents.

The important lesson for all the myths and facts above: see an experienced Orland Park estate planning elder law attorney to make sure you are prepared for the best care and to preserve assets. The Attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. are anxious to assist you and your family through this difficult and confusing process. If you need assistance with estate planning of any sort, contact our Lemont estate planning attorneys at 708-852-0733 for help.

Reference: The Sentinel(May 10, 2019) “Five myths about nursing home costs and estate planning”

Figuring Out A Parent’s Financial Life, When They Cannot

Imagine that your perfectly fine, well-aging parent has had a minor stroke and is no longer able to manage their financial or legal affairs. Your parent has been living independently, waiving off offers of help or even having someone come in to clean for years. It seemed as if it would go on that way forever. What happens, asks the Daily Times, when you are confronted with this scenario in the aptly-titled article “Senior Life: What a nightmare! Untangling a loved one’s finances”?

After the health crisis is over, it’s time to get busy. Open the door to the home and start looking. Where’s the will, where are the bank statements and where’s the information about Social Security benefits? When you start making calls or going online, you run into a bigger problem than figuring out where the papers are kept, no one will talk with you. You are not legally authorized, even though you are a direct descendant.

This happens all the time.

Statistically speaking, it is extremely likely that your parent will end up, at some point, in a nursing home or a rehabilitation center for an extended period of time. Most people have no idea what their parent’s financial situation is, where and how they keep their financial and legal records and what they would need to do in an emergency.

It’s not that difficult to fix, but you and your hopefully healthy parent or parents need to start by planning for the future. That means sitting down with an estate planning attorney and making sure to have some key documents, most importantly, a Power of Attorney.

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives you permission to act on another person’s behalf as their agent if they are unable to do so. It must be properly prepared for your state’s laws.  It allows you to pay bills and make decisions on behalf of a loved one, while they are alive. Without it, you’ll need to go to court to be appointed as legal guardian. That takes time and is more expensive, than having a POA created and properly executed.

If you have downloaded a Power of Attorney and are hoping it works, be warned: chances are good it won’t. Many financial institutions insist that the only POA they will accept, are the ones that they issue.

Once you have a POA in place, assuming that your parent is able to sign it, then it’s time to get organized. You’ll need to go through all the important papers, setting up a system so you can see what bills need to be paid, how many bank accounts or investment accounts exist and review her financial status.

Next, it’s time to consolidate. If your parent was a child of the Depression, chances are they have money in many different places. This gave them a sense of security and gives you a headache. Consolidate four different checking accounts into one. The same should be done for any CDs, investment accounts and credit cards. Have her Social Security and any pension checks deposited into one account.

If you need help, and you might, don’t hesitate to ask for it. The stress of organizing decades of a loved one’s home, plus caring for them and managing the winding down of a home can be overwhelming. Our experienced Evergreen Park estate planning attorneys will be able to connect you with a number of resources in your area.  The attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. are available to help your family.  May we help your family?

Reference: Daily Times (April 9, 2019) “Senior Life: What a nightmare! Untangling a loved one’s finances”

Are You Retiring in 2019? Here’s What You Need to Know

Estate Planning for Peak Earning YearsThere are more than a few steps you’ll need to complete, before packing up your desk, cubicle or locker and saying goodbye to your work family. Even if your 401(k) and IRA is in order, there are things you need to do during the last few months before retirement, says Next Avenue in the article “Tips to Prepare for Retiring This Spring or Summer.”

There’s detailed planning, organization of documents, and additional financial details that need attending. You may also want to start creating your “bucket list” — a list of things you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time to do while you were working. Getting all of this in order, will speed your waiting time and prepare you better when the last day of your working life does finally arrive.

Whether you are three months or six months from retirement, here are some tips for your to-do list:

Social Security. Figure out when the best time for you to take Social Security benefits will be. Can you delay it until age 70? That’s when you’ll get the biggest payout. The earlier you start collecting benefits, the smaller your monthly check will be. Take it early, and you are locked into this lower rate.

Health Care. Figuring out how to manage health care costs, is the single biggest worry of retirement for most Americans. An injury that puts you in a nursing care facility can make a huge dent in your retirement funds, even if it’s just for a short while. This is the time of your life, when focusing on your health is most important, even if you’ve been careless in earlier decades. Evaluate your health status and get check-ups with your regular physician and your dentist.

Investments. Check with your HR department about when you’ll need to roll over your 401(k) plan. If you transfer the funds into a low-cost IRA, you may save in fees. Work with your financial advisor to determine what your withdrawal rate will be. You may need to reevaluate some of your retirement goals or consider working part-time during retirement for a few years.

Medicare. If you’re almost 65, you can start enrolling in Medicare now. The government lets you start the process within three months of your 65th birthday. Start this process, so you are covered, once you are not on the company’s health care plan.

Expectations. The first six months to a year of retirement can be both wonderful and terrible. While enjoying freedom, many people find it hard to withdraw money from the same accounts they spent so many years building. What if they don’t have enough for a long life? Take a realistic look at your lifestyle, budget, and spending habits, before you retire to make sure you are financially ready to do so. If you think you might work part-time, look into the positions that are available in your area and what they pay.

Lifestyle. Often, we are so busy planning for the financial side of retirement, we forget to plan for the “soft” side: what will you do in retirement? Will you volunteer with an organization that has meaning for you? Write the novel you’ve started on a dozen times? Spend more time with your grandchildren? Travel? What will make you feel like your time is being well-spent, and what will make you fulfilled?

Don’t forget the legal plan. Retired or not, you need to have a will, power of attorney, and health care power of attorney to protect your family, whether you are preparing for retirement or in the middle of your career. Speak with a New Lenox estate planning attorney to ensure that these important documents are in place.  The Attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. are available to help.  May we help you?

Reference: Next Avenue (March 6, 2019) “Tips to Prepare for Retiring This Spring or Summer”

What Happens to Social Security when Your Spouse Dies?

Planning When Divorced or Single AgainMary is right to be concerned. She is worried about what will happen with their Social Security checks, who she needs to notify at their bank, how to obtain death certificates and how complicated it will be for her to obtain widow’s benefits. Many answers are provided in the article “Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies” from Tuscon.com.

First, what happens to Social Security monthly benefits? Social Security benefits are always one month behind. The check you receive in March, for example, is the benefit payment for February.

Second, Social Security benefits are not prorated. If you took benefits at age 66 and then turned 66 on September 28, you would get a check for the whole month of September, even though you were only 66 for three days of the month.

If your spouse dies on January 28, you would not be due the proceeds of that January Social Security check, even though he or she was alive for 28 days of the month.

Therefore, when a spouse dies, the monies for that month might have to be returned. The computer-matching systems linking the government agencies and banks may make this unnecessary if the benefits are not issued. Or, if the benefits were issued, the Treasury Department may simply interrupt the payment and return it to the government, before it reaches a bank account.

There may be a twist, depending upon the date of the decedent’s passing. Let’s say that Henry dies on April 3. Because he lived throughout the entire month of March, that means the benefits for March are due, and that is paid in April. Once again, it depends upon the date and it is likely that even if the check is not issued or sent back, it will eventually be reissued. More on that later.

Obtaining death certificates is usually handled by the funeral director or the city, county or state bureaus of vital statistics. You will need more than one original death certificate for use with banks, investments, etc. The Social Security office may or may not need one, as they may receive proof of death from other sources, including the funeral home.

A claim for widow’s or widower’s benefits must be made in person. You can call the Social Security Administrator’s 800 number or contact your local Social Security office to make an appointment. What you need to do, will depend upon the kind of benefits you had received before your spouse died.

If you had only received a spousal benefit as a non-working spouse and you are over full retirement age, then you receive whatever your spouse was receiving at the time of his or her death. If you were getting your own retirement benefits, then you have to file for widow’s benefits. It’s not too complicated, but you’ll need a copy of your marriage certificate.

Widow’s benefits will begin effective on the month of your spouse’s death. If your spouse dies on June 28, then you will be due widow’s benefits for the entire month of June, even if you were only a widow for three days of the month. Following the example above, where the proceeds of a check were withdrawn, those proceeds will be sent to your account. Finally, no matter what type of claim you file, you will also receive a one-time $255 death benefit. If your spouse has recently passed, contact our experienced Hickory Hills, IL lawyers at 708-852-0733 for help.

Reference: Tuscon.com (March 13, 2019) “Social Security and You: What to do when a loved one dies”

What Taxes Do I Owe When I Inherit My Dad’s House?

Estate Planning When Near RetirementAfter the last surviving parent passes away, the estate may sell his home. The proceeds are then divided up, pursuant to the directions set out in the will. If children are the heirs, they may split the funds among themselves. However, what are the tax consequences?

nj.com’s recent article asks: “I inherited my father’s home. Do I owe any kind of taxes?”

The article explains that the federal estate and gift tax exemption amount is now $11.4 million. In Illinois, residents are subject to the Illinois Estate Tax if the value of the adjusted gross estate exceeds $4 million. Many residents do not have Estates with a value subject to either the Federal or Illinois Estate Tax.  However, there is also the question of income taxation.

The proceeds from the sale of the house will be subject to income tax. However, it’s unlikely that a person would incur the tax because income tax is paid on the difference between the sales price and the basis of the asset, minus costs of the sale.

“Basis” is generally defined as the purchase price, plus the cost of improvements.

Assets owned by a decedent receive a “step-up” or a “step-down” in basis to the value, as of the date of death.

This means that a sibling inheriting a parent’s home and then selling it would only be taxed on the difference between the sales price and the value at the date of death, less selling costs, assuming the parent owned 100% of the home at the time of his death.

If this difference between date of death and sale values is substantial, the adult child would incur a tax, typically at capital gains rates. However, as a general rule, there’s little or no gain to tax.

Be sure to keep evidence of the date of death value of the parent’s home, in case there’s an income tax audit down the road. If you need help understanding the taxes tied to your inheritance, contact our Midlothian tax planning attorneys at 708-852-0733.

Reference: nj.com (March 11, 2019) “I inherited my father’s home. Do I owe any kind of taxes?”