Estate Planning

Understanding the Differences Between Wills and Trusts

Wills and trusts have specific and quite different benefits for estate planning purposes. Each state has specific laws and regulations governing these legal documents. You can have both a will and a trust; however, the information in each should compliment the other. As a standalone, it is not accurate to say one is better than the other. The better choice for you, or a blend of both documents, depends on your assets and life circumstances. Begin by assessing your situation, goals, and needs, and understanding what wills and trusts do to guide your decision making. Then, along with an attorney, you will be able to identify the solution that best suits and protects your family.

At its most basic level, a will allows you to appoint an executor for your estate, name guardians for your children and pets, designate where your assets go, and specify final wishes and arrangements. A will is only enacted upon your death. It has some limitations regarding the distribution of assets, and wills are also subject to a probate process (which occurs in court and is overseen by a judge) and, as such, are part of public records.

Types of Wills for Your Estate Plan

The last will and testament designates a person’s final wishes about bank accounts, real estate, personal property, and who should inherit these items. A personal will outlines how to distribute possessions, whether to another person, a group, or donate them to charity. It also deems responsibility to others for custody of dependents and management of accounts and other interests. Accounts can include digital assets with a tangible or monetary value associated with it, such as funds in a PayPal account.

A pour-over will ensures an individual’s remaining assets will automatically transfer to a previously established trust upon their death. This type of will always accompanies a trust.

A living will or advance directive specifies the type of medical care that an individual prefers if they cannot communicate their wishes.

A joint will and mutual will is meant for a married couple to ensure that their property is disposed of in an identical manner. A mirror will is two separate but identical wills, which may or may not also be mutual wills.

A holographic or handwritten will is valid in about half of the states and must meet the specific state’s requirements. Authentication of this will type for acceptance to the probate process also varies by state. There is always the possibility that a court will not accept a holographic will. Even if you have limited assets, your best strategy is to have your will professionally documented by an attorney. A video of your final wishes does not create a valid will.

Trusts are somewhat more complicated than wills, and the many different trust types can greatly benefit your estate and beneficiaries. Generally, a trust provides for the distribution and management of your assets during your lifetime and after death. Trusts can apply to any asset you hold inside the trust and offer more control over when and how your assets are distributed. There are many different trust forms and types, far more than wills.

However, the creation of a trust is only the beginning of the process. You must fund your trust by legally transferring assets into it, making the trust the owner of those assets. This process makes creating a trust a bit more complicated to set up; however, a trust is often enacted to minimize or completely avoid probate, thus keeping personal records private. Avoiding probate is a huge advantage for some people and often justifies the additional complex legal work of setting up a trust. There are nearly as many types of trusts as issues to address in your estate planning, and each offers different protections. However, trusts generally fall into three basic categories.

Basic Trust Types For an Estate Plan

A revocable living trust is, by far, the most commonly implemented trust type. The person who creates and funds the trust is known as the grantor and will typically act as the directing trustee during their lifetime. The grantor may undo the trust, change its terms, and move property and assets in and out of the trust’s ownership as they deem desirable. Revocable living trusts are designed to switch to an irrevocable trust upon the death of the grantor.

An irrevocable living trust is legally binding on its date of designation and allows very few provisions for change. The trust grantor funds the irrevocable living trust with property and assets, and the trust property is then under the care and control of the individual the grantor names as trustee. The grantor cannot change their mind and “undo” the trust. There are unique tax implications and other benefits to an irrevocable trust, including protecting a person’s home and savings from the high costs of long term care. These benefits can make relinquishing control worthwhile.

A testamentary trust is a provision within a will, appointing a trustee to manage the deceased’s assets. This trust is often used when the beneficiaries are minor children or someone who is receiving public benefits. This trust type is also used to reduce estate tax liabilities and ensure professional asset management. A testamentary trust is not a living trust. It only exists upon the death of the testator (the writer of the will). The executor of the deceased’s estate would follow the terms of the trust (called administering the trust) as part of the probate process.

Things to put into a trust include but are not limited to:
·      Stocks, bonds, mutual funds
·      Money market accounts
·      Brokerage accounts
·      Patents, copyrights, and royalty contracts
·      House and other real estate
·      Business interests and notes payable to you
·      Jewelry and precious metals
·      Works of art or other valuable collections
Assets that are not affected by trusts include but are not limited to:
·      Life insurance proceeds
·      Payable on death bank accounts
·      Retirement accounts
·      Jointly owned assets
·      Real estate subject to transfer-on-death deed

The many benefits that proper estate planning with wills and trusts can provide to your family are worth some thoughtful contemplation, legal counsel, and properly drafted documents.  We would be happy to meet with you and discuss which options are best for your particular situation. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700 to learn more about your estate planning options.

Elder Law, Elder Living, Estate Planning, Healthcare

Will the Cost of Long-Term Care lead to the Loss of My Home?

People work hard all their lives to own a home, and it is often their most valuable and significant possession. Homeownership is the American Dream. So, when health begins to fail and the need for long-term care arises, we often get this fear-filled question from our clients: will they take away my home?

The enormous and on-going costs of nursing-home care are astronomical, on average around $8,500.00 a month depending on location. The joint federal and state Medicaid program foots the bill for one in four of around 75 million recipients in this country. This is an enormous drain on government funds. To recoup some of those costs, then, the Medicaid rules permit states to take the value of a recipient’s home in some cases, to reimburse the program for funds it has expended.

Yet, because a home is such an essential family possession, the rules treat a primary residence as exempt – that is, its value is not counted as available to pay for nursing-home care from the home-owner’s pocket, before Medicaid kicks in. The home is protected, to a certain extent, for the benefit of Medicaid recipients and their close relatives.

That protection can be lost, however. The value of the house can be counted against a Medicaid applicant, and benefits denied or curtailed, when:

*     A home-owner has no living spouse or dependents, and

*     The owner moves into a facility permanently, with no intent to return home, or

*     The owner dies.

In other words, as long as the owner expresses the intent to return home, and the owner’s spouse or disabled or blind child live in the home, the home will not be counted against the owner for Medicaid-eligibility purposes.

Once the owner passes, however the state may place a lien on the home, to secure reimbursement of the value of the Medicaid services the owner received. This lien makes it impossible to sell the home or refinance a mortgage, without first paying the state what it may be owed.

As elder law attorneys we know a number of ways to protect homes from this kind of attachment. If you come to us at least five years before you anticipate needing nursing-home care, we can preserve your home or its value such that Medicaid will not count it, or lien against it, at all.

Or, if a child moves into the home and cares for an ailing parent for two years, permitting the parent to stay home and out of a nursing home, the house can then be given as a gift to that child without any Medicaid penalty or disqualification. Ordinarily, Medicaid heavily penalizes giving away property, but this is one exception.

There are other strategies available. The home can be given to a disabled child without penalty or disqualification. Or, you might keep the right to live in the house for your lifetime and deed the remainder interest to others, who will then own the house after you pass. However, each strategy comes with risks that must be fully explored before determining the correct one.

An overall plan that is tailored to suit each individual, and to meet as many contingencies as possible, requires juggling a number of puzzle-pieces. There is no one cookie-cutter solution. The key is to plan before you or your spouse may need nursing-home care.

As one piece in the overall picture of a balanced estate plan, we can help you save your home. We welcome the opportunity to work with you, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

The Importance of Family Values as Part of an Inheritance

Addressing and legally formalizing inheritance of family values and assets can be challenging, especially if parents wait too long to begin instilling family values.  Undoubtedly the best time to teach and empower your children as eventual inheritors of your family legacy is during childhood, then continuing throughout adulthood. Waiting until your later stages in life to discuss family values as a guide to handling inherited worth is often ill-received as grown adult children prefer not to feel parented anymore, particularly when they are raising children of their own. 

There is value in the spiritual, intellectual, and human capital of rising generations, and it is incumbent upon older generations to embrace this notion and work with their heirs rather than dictating to them their ideas about how to facilitate better outcomes. While the directions taken by newer generations will likely differ and can sometimes be downright frightening than that of their elders, there can still be a deep sense of service and responsibility to family values and stewardship of inherited wealth. Allow your children to exert their influence over the family enterprise early on in life and make adjustments that create synergy, connection, and like-mindedness.

If this description of a somewhat ideal family system does not resemble yours, take heart. Most families do not conform to perfect standards of interaction. The more affluent a family is, the higher the failure rate to disperse assets without severe fallout. The Williams Group conducted a 20-year study and determined there is a 70 percent failure rate that includes rapid asset depletion and disintegration of family relationships during and after inheritance. Establishing inheritable trusts can provide real benefits. Benefits include avoiding probate, reducing time to handle estate matters, privacy protection, the elimination or reduction of the estate tax, and can be effective pre-nuptial planning. A parent who wants to control outcomes should focus on these benefits of the trust instead of trying to legislate their future adult children’s behavior.

It is imperative not to allow your values and legacy to become weaponized within the family system. A sure-fire way to inspire conflict is via “dead hand control,” meaning trying to control lives from the grave. Most often, if you put excessive trust restraints on adult children, they will act accordingly to your perception that they are not adult enough to handle wealth. Instead, consider enrolling them in a few classes about managing wealth. Spark an interest in them to learn how you have created wealth, the mechanisms you used, and what their future endeavors may look like long after you are gone. Formally educate your children about finances, the earlier the better, and instead of talking about who gets what the conversation can shift to the mechanics of managing wealth. This tactic resets the context of the issue and aligns purpose and intended long term outcomes.

Estate planners try to encourage trust choices that lead to flexibility. If a beneficiary is genuinely incapable of making the right decisions, a trustee can be appointed to make distributions in the beneficiary’s best interest. This trustee discretionary power of money management can help a well-funded trust survive for generations.

You can also write a letter of wishes or provide a statement of intent to your children. Though these are not legally binding, it gives you a platform to remind them of family values and your desire for these values to be maintained for future family generations. This type of letter is an opportunity for you to convey your vision for how your wealth can bring growth and chance for fulfillment to beneficiaries.

Prosperity should positively shape lives. Family trust beneficiaries hopefully already have a self-driven life that includes purpose, responsible behavior, and a basic understanding of personal finance. If you worry your children may squander inheritable assets, create the opportunity for them to succeed through classes that teach them about managing legacy family values and wealth. Address your concerns legally and directly through a detailed trust that can help but not overly constrain them to achieve what you envision they can become. Start an honest conversation early on, but remember it is never too late to make good choices and create positive family value influences for the coming generations. A well-known Ann Landers quote sums it up neatly, “In the final analysis it is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings” – a worthy goal of any family value system.

If you are interested in establishing a trust to pass wealth on to your children, we can help. We can also guide families on how to pass on family values in a meaningful way. We look forward to hearing from you, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

The Power of a Personal Property Memorandum with a Will or Trust

Arguments can take place over things like a coffee mug, a piece of jewelry or a painting. Family members often end up arguing over mom or dad’s favorite items when that parent dies. These types of arguments can be eliminated by filling out a personal property memorandum and keeping it with your will or trust.

A personal property memorandum is designed to cover who should receive items owned that don’t have an official title record. Personal property includes furniture, jewelry, art, and other collections, as well as household items like china and silverware. Personal property memoranda may not include real estate or business interests, money and bank accounts, stocks or bonds, copyrights, and IOUs. 

When writing your memorandum, it is best to keep things simple. Personal property memoranda generally resemble a list of items with the attached names of the inheritors. It can be handwritten or typed but should always be signed and dated.

All items should contain sufficient detail so that argument and confusion can be avoided. Complete contact information including address, phone, email, and a backup contact if possible should be included. Do not include items that you have already explicitly left in your will or trust.

The beauty of a separate list of personal items and their planned distribution is that if you later decide to change who receives what, you simply update your current list, or replace the list altogether. You can destroy an old record or maintain signature and dates on each of your personal property memoranda so that it is easy to identify your most current set of wishes.

 A personal property memorandum for your tangible personal effects is a simple way to address how you want your personal property to be distributed. We would be happy to help you create a legal personal property memorandum along with any other estate planning documents you may need. We look forward to hearing from you, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

Steps to Discussing Finances and Estate Planning with Aging Parents

Sometimes these conversations can be difficult but it’s essential that as your parents’ age, you have conversations with them about their finances. To broach the topic, you might bring up current events like the coronavirus pandemic, its effect on economic conditions, and how it relates to the security of their financial future. The conversation should come from a calming place of love and concern. Speak to them respectfully about how the coronavirus pandemic has you thinking about the importance of their planning and preparedness.

Once you begin the conversation, move away from the pandemic as your introductory technique as you do not want to create a sense of panic or fear.  Instead, delve into legal and financial reviews, processes, and parameters. US News reports that your parents’ financial analysis should include essential legal documents, financial accounts, and associated vital contacts, long-term care decisions, and claims. If you live apart, lay the groundwork to help them with their finances remotely.

It is generally most comfortable to begin your conversation with legal documents that hopefully your parents already have in place like a will, trust, living will, and a health care proxy. If your parents do not have these documents, they must retain an attorney and create the ones that best suit their needs. If you need to help your parents manage their finances, you must have a durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney allows you to make financial decisions for your parents in the event they become incapacitated. This is an essential estate planning document. In the absence of a durable power of attorney, the courts become involved, and solving health or financial issues becomes a lengthy, expensive process over which you have little control. If your parents already have their legal documents drawn up, find out where they keep them and review them carefully. If any documents need to be amended, suggest that your parents meet with an attorney to make the relevant changes. Be sure their documents reflect the state law in which they reside.

Once you have assessed your parents’ legal documents, it is time for some financial discovery. Even if your parents do not currently need help, having an overview of their finances and a durable power of attorney to help them in the future is crucial to their aging success. Begin by listing all of their accounts, account numbers, usernames, and passwords as well as employee contact names. Include insurance policies, the agent’s name, and where the policy is, as well as how they pay their premiums. Include any online medical accounts or list their doctors’ names and office numbers. The idea is to create a comprehensive list of all of these accounts. Gather your parents’ Medicare and Social Security numbers and their drivers’ license numbers. Know where they keep this information so that in the future you will know where to look. Also, learn about any online bill paying or automated, re-occurring activity. These usually include monthly bills like electricity, natural gas, water, etc. but may also include quarterly payments or annual subscriptions.

If your parents still live in their long-time home, discuss if it is viable that they live out their days there, or if downsizing to a retirement community or moving closer to where you live appeals to them. Help them come to a decision that is best for their set of circumstances.  If they do not have long-term care insurance or some other mechanism to aid them in times of need, talk about the topic, and try to come up with a solution. If they do have long-term care, be sure you have a copy of the policy, contact information, and the name of the insurer and agent. Review the requirements for receiving benefits so you can help them when they need to file a claim as most policies have a waiting period of 30 to 90 days before benefits begin. Know what to expect.

Digital technology has made oversight of parents and their finances easier than ever as long as you have a durable power of attorney and access to their account information. If they do not yet pay their bills online, or use auto payment, help them set up this option for their monthly bills. Remind them you will provide oversight to ensure proper billing. Offer to help them with their annual tax filings. Your help relieves some pressure on them and provides you with information about the goings-on in your parents’ accounts. For your parents’ peace of mind, you can establish a monthly video chat to let them know their bill payments are progressing normally. Your involvement will allow you to identify any abnormalities in account activity, which may indicate scam attempts.

Having these financial and planning conversations with your parents today can help them live more securely and with less stress as they age. Most parents will try to avoid these discussions with their children because they may not be adequately prepared for what can lie ahead. Conversations that focus on proper legal documents and gathering financial account information will give you the data you need to help protect your parents.

We would be happy to help you and your parents with critical planning documents. We are open and taking new clients, and we hope to talk with you soon about your particular needs. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

During COVID-19 Americans of All Ages Are Creating Their Wills

Understandably, the coronavirus pandemic has created the scramble to set up wills and end-of-life-directives. There has been an explosion in the numbers of Americans rushing to make their will online. However, online do it yourself (DIY) wills are often deemed invalid as they do not comply with all of the legal requirements of your state. According to Caring.com, the prevalence of will and estate planning has been on the decline since 2017 but this trend is quickly reversing itself with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic.

So, who needs a will? Ask yourself if you care who gets your property or money if you die? If you have minor children, do you care who will act as their legal guardian? The answer is anyone married, anyone with children or anyone with assets needs a properly executed will. Wills are governed by state law. Your will should reflect your wishes in the language and format required by the state in which you live for it to be valid.

Many law offices are turning to teleconference with their clients to address social distancing protocols while still providing legal services such as writing a will. Businesses like Zoom are experiencing a quadrupling of daily users. Part of this significant increase includes hosting secure attorney/client meetings for will preparations. The importance of an attorney guiding you through the process of creating a will cannot be understated as they understand the nuances of how things need to be written. Once your will is complete, it must be correctly notarized as mistakes made in the will-signing process can potentially invalidate your will.  Your attorney will guide you through the signing process, and could involve signing during a video conference.

Beyond the creation of a will, many Americans are increasingly concerned about their powers of attorneys, health care surrogates, living wills, and end of life directives. These “life documents,” as they are active while you are alive, are equally as important as your will. Named executors, successors, beneficiaries, power of attorneys should have several back-up representatives as the mortality rate due to the coronavirus remains unknown.

According to research in a recent New York Times report, health care workers are more likely to contract COVID 19 than the average person. During this pandemic, many doctors and other medical professionals are rushing to have their wills drawn up. In addition to doctors, anyone on the front lines in the fight against COVID 19, from hospital custodians to nurses to EMS responders, should either make a will or review and possibly update their existing one. However, the truth is no matter what your profession or likelihood of contracting this virus, you should have a properly executed will during this time of considerable uncertainty.

There are few things you can act on during the COVID 19 pandemic that can bring you assurance and a sense of relief. The legal creation of your will and life-directives is an action you can take that protects you and your family. We can help. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700 to schedule an appointment.

Estate Planning

As your digital footprint grows, have you planned?

Do you know how your digital footprint plays a part of your estate plan? From social networks like Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Twitch.tv and Twitter, blogs and licensed domain names, email, music, photos, seller accounts on eBay, Amazon, or Itsy, gaming accounts, even your financial, utility, and medical accounts are all part of your digital footprint. When most of us created these accounts, we blithely accepted the End User License Agreement (EULA) without much thought to when we would no longer be around to manage their content and activity. However, a EULA designates in detail the rights and restrictions that apply when using the software known as terms of service (TOS). Most EULA’s are a standard form of contract, a contract of adhesion, which is known to exploit unequal power relationships. A user has no option to negotiate the terms of a EULA if they want to use the software.

A Power of Attorney

When you create your will and its associated documents like a durable power of attorney (in the event you become incapacitated) it is prudent to include digital assets and a designation for someone to access your online accounts and manage their activity. Without specific instructions, most of your online accounts will not pass through the typical estate planning devices like trusts and wills because they are not your property. Still, they are very representative of your being. Since most TOS are non-transferable, you will likely be unable to transfer the “ownership” of your online accounts legally. However, you can still plan for how they should be handled when you die.

Understand Digital Platform Policy

In terms of Facebook and other social network platforms, each company has its policy regarding the account of the deceased. Facebook, for example, will permit your account to be placed in a “memorial” status so that it can be viewed, and loved ones can leave memorial messages. Other social networking sites will delete or deactivate your account. If the social network is not appraised of your death, the company won’t know for a while, allowing someone to make changes to your account after your death, perhaps even posting a final status or update of your choosing. Though this is in opposition to most social networking platform policies, it is difficult for online companies to know about and monitor user activity in the event of death.

Your executor should inform readers of a blog or other licensed domain names you maintained while alive. A licensed domain name should be transferred or ended as continued licensing payment makes no sense. The content of these sites should be removed or archived. If you belong to online communities such as a book group or community list serve, you may also choose to leave a final message or have your executor notify the group of your passing.

Digital Storage Plan

If you store movies, music, photos, eBooks, or other digital online files, your executor should have access to the files and carry out your wishes as to what to do with them. If you do not leave access to your online accounts, they will eventually become disabled due to inactivity, and no one will have access to the files. In the event you own the data, i.e., personal photos, you can use your will or living trust to leave them to a loved one or a friend. You will have to leave detailed descriptions (My trip to Paris) for photos. As far as purchased online music or eBooks it is not the same as owning a physical CD or book. Software or digital content does not permit acquisition of ownership rights. This means the money you paid for the online content was more of a subscription service solely for your use and not transferable upon your death. Your virtual music and film library will die with you.

Online Store Access

If you are an online seller on eBay, Amazon, Itsy, or the like, leave specific instructions about what to do with your online store. You may leave all profits that continue to come in and the stock items you sell through your will or living trust. When the company knows of your death, your executor will have no power over the account itself, but you can make provisions for the profit and stock items to be bequeathed. If you want someone to take over your online store after you die, you will need to reference the TOS of the company. Most do not allow accounts to transfer; however, the new “owner” can open a new account and reimagine your storefront.

Important digital account access

Financial, utility, and medical accounts should all be addressed very clearly in your digital will. Leave instructions as to what website, username, and password are for each account. Also, leave written instructions about what to do with each of them. Regarding your financial accounts, their contents will be addressed in your will or trust, but your executor will have to access these accounts to wrap up your estate. These accounts include checking and savings accounts, mortgage, life insurance, and retirement accounts, as well as phone, cable, gas, and electric bills, tax preparation services, medical accounts, and more.

Your online presence requires digital legacy planning. Take a good look at all of your online accounts and be sure to leave reliable access to them and instructions for your executor. We can help you with this process, and with drafting appropriate planning documents to deal with these assets. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.