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”

Power of Attorney: Why You’re Never Too Young

When that time comes, having a power of attorney is a critical document to have. The power of attorney is among a handful of estate planning documents that help with decision making when a person is too ill, injured or lacks the mental capacity to make their own decisions. The article, “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney” from Lancaster Online, explains what these documents are, and what purpose they serve.

There are three basic power of attorney documents: financial, limited and health care.

You’re never too young or too old to have a power of attorney. If you don’t, a guardian must be appointed in a court proceeding, and they will make decisions for you. If the guardian who is appointed does not know you or your family, they may make decisions that you would not have wanted. Anyone over the age of 18 should have a power of attorney.

It’s never too early, but it could be too late. If you become incapacitated, you cannot sign a POA. Then your family is faced with needing to pursue guardianship and will not have the ability to make decisions on your behalf until that’s in place.

You’ll want to name someone you trust implicitly and who is also going to be available to make decisions when time is an issue.

For a medical or healthcare power of attorney, it is a great help if the person lives nearby and knows you well. For a financial power of attorney, the person may not need to live nearby, but they must be trustworthy and financially competent.

Always have back-up agents, so if your primary agent is unavailable or declines to serve, you have someone who can step in on your behalf.

You should also work with an estate planning attorney to create the power of attorney you need. You may want to assign select powers to a POA, like managing certain bank accounts but not the sale of your home, for instance. An estate planning attorney will be able to tailor the POA to your exact needs. They will also make sure to create a document that gives proper powers to the people you select. You want to ensure that you don’t create a POA that gives someone the ability to exploit you.

Any of the POAs you have created should be updated on a fairly regular basis. Over time, laws change, or your personal situation may change. Review the documents at least annually to be sure that the people you have selected are still the people you want taking care of matters for you.

Most important of all, don’t wait to have a POA created. It’s an essential part of your estate plan, along with your last will and testament.  Our Homer Glen estate planning lawyers are here for you and your family.  May we help you?  Book a Call!

Reference: Lancaster Online (May 15, 2019) “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney”

Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Estate planning attorneys see them all the time: the mistakes that people make when they try to create an estate plan or a will by themselves. They learn about it when families come to their offices trying to correct mistakes that could have been avoided just by seeking legal advice in the first place. That’s the message from the article “Five big estate planning ‘don’ts’” from Dedham Wicked Local.

Here are the five estate planning mistakes that you can easily avoid:

Naming minors as beneficiaries. Beneficiary designations are a simple way to avoid probate and be certain that an asset goes to your beneficiary at death. Most life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts, and other financial accounts permit you to name a beneficiary. Many well-meaning parents (and grandparents) name a grandchild or a child as a beneficiary. However, a minor is not permitted to own an asset. Therefore, the financial institution will not name the minor child as the new owner. A conservator must be appointed by the court to receive the asset on behalf of the child and they must hold that asset for the minor’s benefit until the minor becomes of legal age. The conservator must file annual accountings with the court reflecting activity in the account and report on how any funds were used for the minor’s benefit until the minor becomes a legal adult. The time, effort, and expense of this are unnecessary. Handing a large amount of money to a child the moment they become of legal age is rarely a good idea. Leaving assets in trust for the benefit of a minor or young adult, without naming them directly as a beneficiary, is one solution.

Drafting a will without the help of an estate planning attorney. The will created at the kitchen table or from an online template is almost always a recipe for disaster. They don’t include administrative provisions required by the state’s laws, provisions are ambiguous or conflicting and the documents are often executed incorrectly, rendering them invalid. Whatever money or time the person thought they were saving is lost. There are court fees, penalties and other costs that add up fast to fix a DIY will.

Adding joint owners to bank accounts. It seems like a good idea. Adding an adult child to a bank account, allows the child to help the parent with paying bills if hospitalized or lets them pay post-death bills. If the amount of money in the account is not large, that may work out okay. However, the child is considered an owner of any account they are added to. If the child is sued, gets divorced, files for bankruptcy or has trouble with creditors, that bank account is an asset that can be reached.

Joint ownership of accounts after death can be an issue if your will does not clearly state what your intentions are for that account. Do those funds go to the child, or should they be distributed between heirs? If wishes are unclear, expect the disagreements and bad feelings to be directly proportionate to the size of the account. Thoughtful estate planning, that includes power of attorney and trust planning, will permit access to your assets when needed and division of assets after your death in a manner that is consistent with your intentions.

Failing to fund trusts. Funding a trust means changing the ownership of an asset, so the asset is owned by the trust or designating the trust as a beneficiary. When a trust is properly funded, assets funding the trust avoid probate at your death. If your trust includes estate tax planning provisions, the assets are sheltered from estate tax at death. You have to do this before you die. Once you’re gone, the benefits of funding the trust are gone. Work closely with your estate planning attorney to make sure that you follow the instructions to fund trusts.

Poor choices of co-fiduciaries. If your children have never gotten along, don’t expect that to change when you die. Recognize your children’s strengths and weaknesses and be realistic about their ability to work together, when deciding who will make financial decisions under a power of attorney, health care decisions under a Health Care Power of Attorney and who will best be able to settle your estate. If you choose two people who do not get along or do not trust each other, it will take far longer and cost more to settle your estate. Don’t worry about birth order or egos.

The sixth biggest estate planning mistake people make is failing to review their estate plan every few years. Estate laws change, tax laws change and lives change. If it’s been a while since your estate plan was reviewed, make an appointment to meet with your estate planning attorney for a review.

Do any of these mistakes sound familiar?  Let our experienced Orland Park estate planning attorneys help you avoid these mistakes and minimize the potential for disputes after your death; or worse, have your estate assets wasted through unnecessary probate costs and legal fees. We are here for you and your family.  May we help you?  Book a Call!

Reference: Dedham Wicked Local (May 17, 2019) “Five big estate planning ‘don’ts’”

Why Is a Revocable Trust So Valuable in Estate Planning?

There’s quite a bit that a trust can do to solve big estate planning and tax problems for many families.

As Forbes explains in its recent article, “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning,” trusts are a critical component of a proper estate plan. There are three parties to a trust: the owner of some property (settler or grantor) turns it over to a trusted person or organization (trustee) under a trust arrangement to hold and manage for the benefit of someone (the beneficiary). A written trust document will spell out the terms of the arrangement.

One of the most useful trusts is a revocable trust (inter vivos) where the grantor creates a trust, funds it, manages it, and has unrestricted rights to the trust assets (corpus). The grantor has the right at any point to revoke the trust, by simply tearing up the document and reclaiming the assets, or perhaps modifying the trust to accomplish other estate planning goals.

After discussing trusts with your attorney, he or she will draft the trust document and re-title property to the trust. The assets transferred to a revocable trust can be reclaimed at any time. The grantor has unrestricted rights to the property. During the life of the grantor, the trust provides protection and management, if and when it’s needed.

Let’s examine the potential lifetime and estate planning benefits that can be incorporated into the trust:

  • Lifetime Benefits. If the grantor is unable or uninterested in managing the trust, the grantor can hire an investment advisor to manage the account or a spouse, child, trusted friend or a trust company to act for the grantor.
  • Incapacity. A spouse, child, trusted friend or trust company can be named to care for and represent the needs of the grantor/beneficiary. The spouse, child, trusted friend or trust company will manage the assets during incapacity, without having to declare the grantor incompetent and petitioning the Court for a guardianship. After the grantor has recovered, he or she can resume the duties as trustee.

A properly funded revocable trust is a great tool for estate planning because it bypasses probate, which can mean considerably less expense, stress and time.

In addition to a trust, please ask the attorneys of Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. about the rest of your estate plan: a will, powers of attorney, medical directives and other considerations.

The law office of Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. would be honored to sit down with you to discuss your needs and develop an estate plan to help you achieve what you want to accomplish.

Reference: Forbes (February 20, 2019) “Revocable Trusts: The Swiss Army Knife Of Financial Planning”

Why Do I Need a Will?

Estate planning is a very personal process. It is not a one-size-fits-all task. When a person has no close relatives (other than perhaps a spouse), the decisions needed to create an estate plan can be overwhelming. Kiplinger’s recent article, “No Children? Why You Still Need an Estate Plan,” provides some ideas, if you find yourself struggling:

Incapacity. Everyone should have an advanced directive for health care and a durable power of attorney for legal and financial decisions. These let you decide who will be in charge of your medical and legal affairs, in the event you are no longer able to make these decisions for yourself. If you become incapacitated without these documents, your relatives will be involved in a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding to appoint someone (who you may not know) to make these decisions for you.

Trusts. This is a legal document that can be used to manage many of your assets during your life, and facilitate the distribution of your assets when you pass away. A trust has two big advantages: it often helps avoid probate at your death and allows you to distribute your assets privately. Without at least a will, your family (as determined by the state intestacy laws) could inherit your assets. The best way to avoid these issues is to create a trust.

Deciding What to Do with Your Assets. This can be a tough decision.  Children often want to make sure that their parents are cared for. However, since many of us will survive our parents, successor beneficiaries must be named. Nieces and nephews are typically beneficiaries, when there are no children. However, you may want to consider friends, pets and charities. Talk to the estate planning attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. to review the best way to leave your assets.

Charities. These can also be included in your estate plan. Charitable bequests can be either a specific bequest for a general or specific purpose. If the charitable gift is sizable, contact the charity beforehand to be certain your gift is used, and recognized, in the way that makes you most comfortable.

Pets. Your estate plan can also help establish who will take care of your pets, when you’re no longer here. You can leave the pet and some money to a trusted friend or family member, or you can create a formal pet trust to provide for your pet. Either way, create a plan so your pet can be properly cared for, if you are no longer able to do so.

When it comes to estate planning, you can decide who will inherit your assets. To be certain your wishes are executed as you intended, it is important to have the proper planning in place to avoid probate and allow for an efficient transfer. The attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. would be happy to sit down with you, and assist with the decision making process so you have piece of mind that your assets are left to those who mean the most to you.

Reference: Kiplinger (February 11, 2019) “No Children? Why You Still Need an Estate Plan”