Estate Planning

Avoid the Pitfalls of Beneficiary Designations

It may seem simple to leave your property to your heirs. You make a will or a trust, you do a transfer-on-death deed for your real estate, you put your kids on your bank account, you designate beneficiaries for your life insurance and retirement accounts, and you’re done.

If only things were that simple. The result you wanted can be seriously foiled, if all the above elements are not carefully coordinated.

After you consider the following, we hope you’ll agree that it’s best to consult a qualified attorney. That’s the person you need to help you construct an estate plan that will do what you want it to do.

A pitfall: Conflict between deeds and wills or trusts

If your will or trust conflicts with a deed for real property, the law will resolve the conflict for you by following the deed, not the will or trust. This can produce unintended results.

Suppose Mary wanted to divide her property equally between her two children, John and Jane. She recorded a beneficiary deed for John so he could inherit the house. She wrote a will leaving money to her daughter Jane that was roughly the same value as the house.

Subsequently, however, Mary forgot about John’s deed. She made another will that split everything equally between John and Jane.

On Mary’s death, John ended up getting significantly more than Jane. The portion of the second will including the house would be invalidated because the earlier deed would supplant the will. So John got the house through the deed, plus half the money through the will. Jane got half the money only. That was not what Mary intended and the unfairness damaged John’s and Jane’s relationship.

A similar pitfall: Conflict between beneficiary designations and wills or trusts

Financial accounts can transfer automatically to people of your choice, avoiding probate, if you designate beneficiaries by means of “transfer on death” (TOD) through your broker. But you must not depend on your will to change TOD designations. The beneficiary designations establish a contract between the holder of the account and you. When you pass, the holder is legally obligated to transfer your account to the beneficiaries you designate, regardless of what your will says. The designations, like deeds, supplant wills.

So if you have named your spouse as a beneficiary of, say, a retirement account, and then you get divorced and forget to change the beneficiary designation, your ex-spouse – and neither your new spouse nor your children nor anybody else – will receive the account proceeds when you die, regardless what your will says.

Underage beneficiaries and guardianship proceedings

Suppose your financial advisor calls to alert you that you have not designated beneficiaries on your accounts and that if you don’t do so, your estate will have to go through probate when you pass. By making TOD designations, your beneficiary would simply present a death certificate and the assets would transfer to him or her without the need to go to court. That sounds good. So you follow your advisor’s suggestion and designate your beneficiaries.

In the meantime, your lawyer drafts a good will for you. This will, as good wills should, contain a subtrust providing for underage beneficiaries. Your lawyer, echoing your financial advisor, explains that the subtrust is intended to avoid the necessity of court proceedings.

Your efforts to avoid court will be defeated, however, if you choose an underage beneficiary to receive your financial account through TOD. Guardianship proceedings would still be necessary to administer the money until the beneficiary came of age.

It would have been better to route the gift to the underage beneficiary through a will or trust and not through TOD designation. If wills or trusts are properly drafted, they contain provisions to administer the underage beneficiary’s inheritance privately and thereby avoid the court guardianship proceedings.

Another pitfall: Disabled beneficiaries and government benefits

The pitfall here is similar to the one above. If your beneficiary is disabled and gets a TOD (or any other kind of) inheritance, the inherited money could jeopardize the beneficiary’s entitlement to government benefits. Most benefits programs are “means-tested.” To be eligible, recipients must own practically nothing. If your beneficiary were suddenly to inherit, he or she would lose benefits and end up having to pay for care until the inheritance was spent. That could involve a lot of money!

Rather, like for underage beneficiaries, the disabled beneficiary’s inheritance should be routed through a will or “supplemental needs trust” (SNT) that imposes restrictions on spending. With those restrictions in place, the benefits would keep coming, and the inheritance assets could be used to pay for “extras” that benefits don’t cover. These extras might include payment of real estate taxes, upkeep of a residence, or vacations, or a flat-screen television. The inherited money would be managed by a trusted person and the disabled beneficiary would still continue to receive the crucially important benefits.

Bank accounts and disabled or underage beneficiaries

The pitfall is the same as above. If you have designated underage or disabled beneficiaries by making your accounts “payable on death” (POD), court proceedings will be necessary in the case of the underage beneficiary, or the inheritance could jeopardize or eliminate the disabled beneficiary’s government benefits.

“Spendthrift” beneficiaries

The problem is likewise similar here. If your beneficiary has a gambling habit or drug addiction, or if he or she needs bankruptcy protection from creditors, and if he or she inherits without trust protections, the inheritance could be lost to the beneficiary’s detriment.

Joint tenancy of real property

It may be tempting to avoid probate by putting real estate in your beneficiaries’ names as joint tenants. But if multiple people own real estate jointly, all must agree on what is to be done with the land and all should contribute equally to property maintenance expenses. This can create disputes. A better solution might be to subject the property to probate, to dispose of it in orderly court proceedings.

Joint bank accounts

The intent to avoid probate here is similar to a joint tenancy of land, but putting your bank account in your and your children’s names exposes the funds to risk that should be avoided. Once a person is named as a co-owner of a bank account, that person has immediate and unfettered access to the funds. The funds are thus exposed to misappropriation by the joint-tenant child, or they can go instead to the child’s creditors in bankruptcy, or to ex-spouses in divorce proceedings.

It would be better to create a power of attorney that allows a trusted agent access to bank-account funds for your benefit while you are alive. Then, for when you pass, you could name beneficiaries via a POD designation with the bank – but remember the warnings above regarding underage or disabled or spendthrift beneficiaries. Those beneficiaries’ access to funds should be protected by a trust.

A lot of moving parts

Each of the estate-planning strategies above could work well in and of themselves, but, taken together, may have an adverse impact. Crafting a plan that combines and coordinates the various strategies requires expertise and care. That care is worth taking, to safeguard the wealth you have built up over the years. Don’t risk a result you don’t want. Call on us to design a plan that harmonizes all the moving parts, so the gears will work together and you will leave the legacy you intended.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

Reassessment of an Estate Plan Is Necessary Following the Death of a Spouse

The passing of a spouse is not only a very emotional challenge but can be financially difficult as well. It is common for one spouse to handle family tax and estate plans, and a widow(er) may be looking at a complex financial situation with more questions than answers. It is a mistake to think that a complete estate plan needs no further action after a spouse’s passing. Many times there are decisions to make and act on within a set timeframe. Prioritizing the review and reassessment of your finances and estate plan is a must.

Start by taking an inventory of your current bills; making a plan that covers those expenses for the next six to twelve months. If your spouse’s social security monthly benefit is higher than yours and your marriage was ten years or more, petition to receive the higher dollar amount. Put off making big decisions if at all possible during this time. Adapting to the loss of a loved one can cloud good decision-making, and allowing for time to analyze decisions may even find you developing new financial goals. However, identify and act on those decisions with deadlines, particularly the portability election on the decedent’s estate tax return and any probate timelines. Be particularly careful during tax time and work closely with your tax preparer to understand both your deceased spouse and your taxes. It is not uncommon for a widow to discover previously unknown accounts.

If you have a solid relationship with your family attorney and financial advisor, reach out to them for guidance. These professionals are well versed in the processes that accompany the loss of a spouse. If you are not familiar with these individuals, make appointments to meet with and review your current situation. Ask for strategy options and see how they fit into what may become your forward plans. Re-evaluate your investments and match needs to risk tolerance. Many widows are happy with a lesser return if stability is the offset. Be sure you are content with your investment philosophy before making significant changes, carefully weighing professional input.

Keep your formal estate plan updated. Laws change, and so has your situation. Ensure that all beneficiaries on IRAs, life insurance, and some investment accounts reflect your current wishes. If necessary, update your power of attorney for both financial and medical directives. When outright gifting to your children, remember it may create problems if there were to be a later divorce. An ex-spouse can lay claim to the gifted property, which you can lose in a lawsuit. Speak with your estate planning attorney as trusts are a beneficial entity to manage and protect property of significant value. Trusts are also worth considering to protect substantial assets that do not have a beneficiary designation to bypass probate and protect your heirs.

Take stock in your home, weighing your financial situation and your emotional connection to your home. Does it make sense to stay in your current residence? Is it financially possible to do so? Even if the home is mortgage-free, maintenance and upkeep of the home and property can become overwhelming and expensive. Alternatively, many widows prefer to remain in the home with longstanding memories of their spouse and children growing up in the environment. Even though it may make economic sense to move, the emotional ties to the property may be in the best interest of the widow to preserve.

census.gov

According to a Fidelity Investments survey, most Americans who find themselves widowed are female, and nearly seventy percent will retain a new financial advisor within the first year of the death of their spouse. Regardless of why this happens, it is clear that amending financial goals and revisiting the estate plan are likely to be the actions of a widow. Predictions are that women will inherit close to thirty trillion dollars of intergenerational wealth transfers over the next few decades. Becoming educated about family financial decisions for all widows(ers) is of the utmost importance, particularly for women who tend to outlive their husbands.

How a spouse passes, whether from a lengthy disease battle or taken quickly, matters not. The grief is still there. How long and deep the grief varies significantly among individuals. While it is essential to address time-sensitive decisions, it is best to make significant financial changes when a widow feels emotionally intense and clear-minded to avoid making regretful decisions. Professional guidance and advice are of the utmost importance to fully understand your situation and the decisions you need to make. While the process can be complex, even heartwrenching, it is of utmost importance to your future to handle what is before you competently. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning, Healthcare

Your Health Care Power of Attorney State Your Final Health Care Decisions

If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, you can give this legal authority to someone else through a Health Care Power of Attorney, also called a Health Care Proxy or Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This prevents the courts from getting involved if there is a disagreement between family members and/or the medical community as to what actions you would want to be taken.

Keep in mind that you will continue to make decisions about your care for as long as you are able. You are only naming someone as a successor, to step in and act for you when you cannot. This document can be valuable even for short periods of time, such as if you are recovering from surgery.

But it is more associated with end-of-life decisions. The person you name as your agent or proxy may make decisions that will extend your life for as long as possible or bring your earthly life to an end. These decisions may include whether or not you should have surgery if life support should be initiated, and/or if nutrition should be stopped. The legal document includes your wishes on these and other end-of-life issues.

This is a difficult subject for some people to even think about, but it is important that you do, and that you discuss these matters with your physician, family members, and friends. The more people who know about your preferences, the easier it will be for your agent/proxy to carry out your instructions. Of course, you might change your mind over time, so let others (especially your agent/proxy) know what you are thinking.

Whom should you name as your agent/proxy? Here are some considerations:

  • Most people name a family member, but you can also name a trusted friend.
  • It should be someone who knows you well, respects your wishes, and will follow your instructions.
  • It might bring you some comfort if this person shares your values about faith, life, and death.
  • You should name more than one person in case your first choice is unable to act. But list them in the order you want them to serve. This would give your agent/proxy others with whom to consult and discuss options, but you want one person (not a committee) making the final decisions.
  • Consider your candidates’ personalities and emotional makeup, and whether they would be able to handle the responsibility.

If you have been asked to be someone’s agent/proxy, consider carefully if you would be able to follow his/her wishes when that time comes. Most people consider it an honor to be asked, knowing this person has chosen you to have his or her life in your hands. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

Avoid These Mistakes When Planning for a Disabled Family Member

Did you know the largest single minority in this country are the 58 million Americans five years of age or older that are identified as special needs? The majority of federal and state benefits available to help persons with disabilities are needs-based, meaning income and assets are strictly limited and can often be misinterpreted, resulting in costly mistakes.

One of the most common mistakes a parent or loved one makes is disinheriting their family member with special needs. The reason is often that the family believes other siblings will step in and take care of the disabled family member. However, this can lead to numerous problems, especially if the non-disabled sibling gets sued, divorced, or otherwise loses the money left to them.

Another common mistake is failing to create a properly drafted trust to qualify the disabled family member for government benefits that can help pay for costly medical and/or living expenses. Qualifications for government benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid dictate that the disabled individual has no more than $2,000 in assets. If your disabled loved one has assets above this threshold, they will have to be “spent down” to qualify for government assistance or otherwise protected in a properly drafted trust.

Well-meaning friends and extended family may not understand the complexity of disability benefits and give a disabled loved one money or assets that would disqualify them for state and federal benefits. It is especially difficult if the disabled person already has benefits and becomes disqualified because the “needs-based” review discovered additional funding putting them over the $2,000 asset limit. It is best to avoid this situation as it is a big hassle to re-qualify your dependent for government assistance.

Be wary of crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to benefit your loved one with special needs. In the absence of qualified legal planning, these donations can disqualify SSI, Medicaid, food stamps, and section 8 housing. A well-meaning fund campaign could cut the benefits of a disabled person and make their living circumstances worse than before. 

What to do? Plan ahead! There are several ways to provide for your special needs dependent and stay within government guidelines for additional benefits. One of the best ways is to establish a special needs trust that has the specific purpose of supplementing federal and state assistance programs. By doing so, a disabled loved one can benefit from government programs and have additional money to supplement what those programs provide.

There are strict rules when it comes to creating special needs trusts for a disabled family member. There are also restrictions on what the money can be used for. We can help you determine what type of trust is best based on you and your loved one’s particular circumstances. Give us a call at your convenience to set up a time to discuss your situation further. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Estate Planning, Healthcare

The Importance of Clear End-of-Life Care Instructions

You would hope your living will is properly prepared and your resuscitation instructions or DNR (do not resuscitate) are in order. While your wishes in a living will may be appropriately documented, that does not guarantee the instructions will be carried out as you stated. The frightening truth is that mistakes about your end-of-life instructions are made while you are at your most vulnerable. Dr. Monica Williams-Murphy, medical director of advance-care planning and end-of-life education for Huntsville Hospital Health System in Alabama has said, “Unfortunately, misunderstandings involving documents meant to guide end-of-life decision-making are surprisingly common.”

The underlying problem is that doctors and nurses have little if any training at all in understanding and interpreting living wills, DNR orders, and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) forms. Couple the medical professionals’ lack of training with communication breakdowns in high-stress environments like a hospital emergency ward where life and death decisions are often made within minutes, and you have scenarios that can lead to disastrous consequences.

In some instances, mix-ups in end-of-life document interpretation have seen doctors resuscitate patients that do not wish to be. In other cases, medical personnel may not revive a patient when there is the instruction to do so resulting in their death. Still other cases of “near misses” occur where problems were identified and corrected before there was a chance to cause permanent harm. 

There are some frightening worst-case scenarios, yet you are still better off with legal end-of-life documents than without them. It is imperative to understand the differences between them and at what point in your life you may change your choices based on your age or overall health. To understand all of the options available it’s important to meet with trusted counsel for document preparation and to review your documented decisions often as you age. In particular, have discussions with your physician and your appointed medical decision-maker about your end-of-life documents and reiterate what your expectations are. These discussions bring about an understanding of your choices before you may have an unforeseen adverse health event, and provides you with the best advocates while you are unable to speak for yourself.

There are several documents that may be appropriate as part of your overall plan. Each of those is discussed below, and we are available to answer any questions you may have about them.

A living will is a document that allows you to express your wishes about your end-of-life care. For example, you can document whether you want to be given food and hydration to be kept comfortable, or whether you want to be kept alive by artificial means.

A living will is not a binding medical order and thus will allow medical staff to interpret the document based on the situation at hand. Input from your family and your designated living will appointee are also taken into account in your best decision-making strategy while you are incapacitated. A living will become activated when a person is terminally ill and unconscious or in a permanent vegetative state. Terminal illness is defined as an illness from which a person is not expected to recover even though they are receiving treatment. If your illness can be treated this would be regarded as a critical but not terminal illness and would not activate the terms of your living will.

Do not resuscitate orders (DNRs) are binding medical orders that are signed by a physician. This order has a specific application to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and directs medical professionals to either administer chest compression techniques or not in the event you stop breathing or your heart stops beating. While your living will may express a preference regarding CPR it is not the same thing as a DNR order. A DNR order is specifically for a person who has gone into cardiac arrest and has no application to other medical assistance such as mechanical ventilation, defibrillation, intubation, medical testing, intravenous antibiotic, or other medical treatments. Unfortunately, many DNR orders are wrongly interpreted by medical professionals to mean not to treat at all.

Physician orders for life-sustaining treatment forms (POLST forms) are specific sets of medical orders for a seriously ill or frail patient who may not survive a year. This form must be signed by a physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner to be legally binding. The form will vary from state to state and of the three instructive documents the POLST is the most detailed about a patient’s prognosis, goals, and values, as well as the potential benefits and risks various treatment options may bring about.

A power of attorney for a health care decision, sometimes referred to as a health care directive, allows you to name an agent to make decisions for you if you are unable to. Unlike a living will which only covers end-of-life decisions, a power of attorney for health care decisions allows the agent to act at any time that you cannot make decisions for yourself.

We can help you determine which documents best suit your current needs, and help you clearly state your wishes in those documents. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you with these important planning steps. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Estate Planning

Understanding the Role of an Elder Law Attorney 

As seniors grow older, the dependency on their family to handle financial and health matters rises. They often believe that their family members will be able to take care of any issues that arise. While consulting with loved ones about plans and wishes can be beneficial, relying solely on them can cause problems in the long run for both seniors and their families.

Instead, it is best to seek the advice of an elder law attorney when it comes to putting proper planning in place. The issues around retirement, wills, and estate planning are often complex. Working with a legal professional can help seniors navigate these details to ensure that decisions and plans are suited to their specific situation.

Having legal arrangements in place related to retirement benefits, assets, and determining who will be responsible for the welfare of an aging loved one can also help to avoid family disputes, and ensure that assets are preserved as intended. And although we’d like to assume family members always have seniors’ best interests at heart, legally binding arrangements also protect against abuse and financial exploitation.

But it isn’t just seniors that benefit from working with a legal professional. Elder law attorneys can also assist heirs and beneficiaries by ensuring that assets don’t fall into wrongful hands due to debts, divorces, or other extenuating circumstances. They can also help beneficiaries avoid the long and complicated probate process.

Elder law attorney expertise

Elder law attorneys have the expertise to help seniors and their loved ones navigate all of the legal issues impacting the elderly. They can help clients to better understand Medicare and Medicaid programs and laws, and assist clients and families with all of the legal aspects of planning, including drafting wills, estate plans, and trusts.

Below is a list of some of the services elder law attorneys provide:

  • Medicaid Eligibility, Applications, and Planning
  • Medicare Eligibility and Claims
  • Social security and disability claims and appeals
  • Long-term care planning
  • Financial planning for long-term care
  • Drafting wills and trusts
  • Medical Power of Attorney
  • Financial Power of Attorney
  • Elder abuse case management
  • Patient rights
  • Nursing home issues and disputes
  • Establishing and managing Estates and Trusts
  • Tax advice and planning strategies
  • Probate services
  • Asset protection

… and more

Seniors tend to procrastinate planning due to the unpleasant associations of illness and death. Elder law attorneys can alleviate that discomfort by facilitating family conversations and shifting the focus to the positive benefits of planning and preparedness. Cost can also deter seniors from seeking legal advice and services, however, failing to plan can ultimately end up being far more expensive.

No matter the issue at hand, seniors and their loved ones will benefit from working with a legal professional. If you’d like to learn more about how elder law services can help you or an aging loved one, contact our firm today. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning, Healthcare

Considerations for Choosing Co-Agents

I have to decide between my two children, who should be my power of attorney when I need help communicating with doctors and handling my financial matters. Can’t I just name them both?

You can, but please don’t. You risk creating conflict or chaos if you name more than one child to serve simultaneously. Instead, pick one child at a time.

What to Consider When Deciding Your Health Care Agent

Think about which child is better suited to the responsibilities. For health care decision-making, your agent should ideally be calm in stressful situations and be able to advocate courteously but firmly with doctors and nurses for the treatment you want. For financial management, your agent should be organized, careful, and good with numbers.

Your health care agent should live nearby, but if the child who lives locally is terrified of things like needles and blood, the other, sturdier child might be a better choice. On the other hand, who can manage finances from afar, but if that child didn’t cope with a checkbook, the other would be better. So if one child is good in one area and the other child is good in the other, the dilemma is solved. You can name the number-proficient daughter for the financial side and your son for the health care. Or, if just one child is altogether more capable than the other, name that one child for both health care and financial powers.

But you do not want to create a situation where children who share the job start arguing about what health care you would want. Busy physicians have little time or patience to mediate fights like that. Likewise, you do not want your children quarreling about how you would want your money to be spent.

That’s why it’s best to give one child decision-making authority at a time. You can name the other as a backup in case the first child becomes unavailable, but naming both to serve simultaneously is generally not a good idea. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Estate Planning

How Do I Know if I Need a Trust?

This article will help you decide if a trust fits your particular circumstances. For example, maybe you have a disabled child and you want a trust to permit that child to inherit without losing government benefits. Maybe your own or your spouse’s health is heading into difficulties, and you can foresee eventually needing long-term care benefits. Trusts can avoid an expensive, public, and lengthy probate process before your beneficiaries can inherit after you pass. Or, you might be in the classic “trust fund” situation, where you’re concerned that your children won’t be able to manage money wisely.

All these are excellent reasons to consider a trust. But what kind of trust? A quick count shows there are at least thirteen different varieties. Which one is best suited to your needs? Call us.

Here’s the basic idea behind trusts, to help you understand why you might or might not need one.

What is a Trust?

Think of a trust like a treasure chest. You originally bought property or earned money in your own name. You then transfer those assets into the trust’s name – into your treasure chest, in other words. The trust treasure chest becomes a legal entity separate from you, which now holds your property in its, and no longer in your, name.

Then you identify people who will occupy the three roles involved in managing trust property. First, you are the grantor, or settlor, or trustmaker – all those words mean the same thing, the “you” in this case. Second, you appoint a trustee. That person or entity is responsible for managing trust assets and following directions contained in the trust document. Third, you decide whom you want to receive trust assets – your beneficiary or beneficiaries, in other words.

In legal terms, a trust is a fiduciary agreement among you the original property owner, your trustee, and your beneficiary. The trust document contains instructions for what you want to be done with trust property, both for how you want it invested and, also, for how you want trust assets to be distributed when you pass. Trusts are, thus, a highly efficient hybrid between a power of attorney, an asset-management vehicle, and a last will and testament, all rolled into one legal entity and document.

There are two basic kinds of trusts to understand before they split off into their thirteen-or-more different flavors: revocable or irrevocable trusts.

The Revocable Trust

A revocable trust can be thought of like a treasure chest with an open lid. As grantor/settlor/trustmaker of a revocable trust, you can get at trust assets freely.

You yourself can also occupy all three roles in a revocable trust – grantor, trustee, and beneficiary. If need be, you can also tinker with trust terms, by freely amending them to change the directions, beneficiaries, or trustees. Or, you can revoke the whole thing. Before that point, though, the trust document will be there to take care of everything you want it to.

If you should meet with an accident and lose capacity, the terms of your trust will designate a person to step in on your behalf and, thus, avoid the need to go to court to get a guardian for you. The trust will also direct who inherits, thus keeping your affairs private and out of probate court. This feature is especially important if you (formerly) and then the trust (after you created it) own real property in various states. The savings in court costs in that situation could be significant.

The Irrevocable Trust

This is the trust for you if you’re seeing the need for Medicaid long-term care benefits in your future, or you work in a field where suits are common, such as owning a small business or in the construction industry.

The disadvantage to an irrevocable trust, however, is that you will be sacrificing all or almost all control over trust assets, unlike in the revocable-trust situation. Once an irrevocable trust is established, you as grantor/settlor/trustmaker cannot directly alter the terms and, generally speaking, your access to trust money is restricted or entirely precluded – as is required in order to enjoy the potent benefits of this kind of trust.

Think of an irrevocable trust as being like the treasure chest with the locked lid. Your trustee – who generally cannot be you – is the one with the key. You yourself can no longer reach your assets. This relinquishment of control is necessary to shelter your assets from creditors or to protect your assets when entitlement to government benefits would otherwise require you to spend almost all you own first.

There are ways to draft an irrevocable trust carefully, so you can still exert your will over how assets are to be used. Just as in the revocable situation, you can impose conditions that must be met before a beneficiary can receive funds. You can designate how trust income is to be used for specific purposes like college tuition, business start-up, or travel. You can also authorize a person or entity as a “trust protector,” who can alter trust language, correct drafting errors, or create a new similar trust if the law changes.

And there you have the basics. Now you’re ready to decide whether you need a credit shelter trust, or a charitable trust, or a qualified terminable interest trust, or a blind trust, or – just come see us to figure out all the rest!

Trust Caveats

Some sophisticated trusts do convey tax benefits, but, for the most part, IRS considers revocable trusts to be invisible. You as grantor/settlor/trustmaker will still pay tax on the revocable-trust income, albeit at your individual rate and not at the prohibitive trust rate.

As for estate taxes, trusts have no effect – but, at least regarding federal estate taxes, those are currently moot for most people. They are not incurred until the value of the estate exceeds $11.4 million as of 2019. Some states do impose estate and/or inheritance taxes; for those states, please consult this website:

Also, keep in mind that revocable trusts provide no protection against creditors. If you lose a legal action, a judge can force you to change the beneficiary of your trust to the winner. Irrevocable trusts are free from that kind of interference.

Still, irrevocable trusts must be established long before you run into that kind of trouble. If you create such a trust while credit problems are looming or have already arrived, you risk that your trust will be undone as a fraudulent conveyance.

Trust Your Attorney

Consult lawyers like us, who have experience and expertise in the trusts and estates area. Custom-constructing a treasure chest to fit your specific needs is a job for our specific skills.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

Why Estate Planning Is Important to Younger Adults

Most young adults don’t consider estate planning a priority. Young adults in their twenties and thirties often think they don’t own enough to constitute an estate. However, an estate is the total of all you own – money, investments, real estate, vehicles, business interests, digital assets (including cryptocurrency), and other personal belongings. No matter how much or minor, you own your possessions need to go somewhere after you die. You may not think you will die young, but if the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is that life is uncertain. It is a myth that estate planning is just for the rich and the old.

What legal documents constitute an estate plan?

Some documents may vary depending on your wealth or financial structure; however, everyone should have a will. At the time of your death, everything you own becomes your estate. Your estate will go through a probate process where the court will determine what happens to you everything you own that doesn’t have a co-owner or beneficiary. Because the probate court will inventory your assets and notify and pay creditors, your will is a public record. If you have a will, the probate court will use it as a guide. In the absence of a will (dying intestate), the court will use state intestacy laws to determine who inherits your assets.

What does a will establish in an estate plan?

A will designates two critical things. The first is the naming of your executor. An executor is responsible for carrying out the instructions in your will, making payments on any outstanding debts, distributing assets to named heirs, and filing your final taxes. Second, if you have dependents, your will names the guardian and backup guardian to provide care for them. The naming of an executor and guardian for a dependent can only happen in a will.

The value of establishing an advance healthcare directive for young adults

All young adults should have an advance healthcare directive, also known as a medical directive or living will, which includes a durable healthcare power of attorney. These legal documents specify your healthcare wishes if you are permanently incapacitated or for end-of-life healthcare and designate who will make those decisions on your behalf according to your instructions. In addition, it is imperative to include a HIPAA privacy authorization form for your durable healthcare power of attorney or trustee. The form permits medical and healthcare professionals to disclose pertinent health information and medical records to your healthcare proxy.

While it may be uncomfortable to contemplate being unable to make decisions for yourself as a young adult, accidental injuries, heart disease, cancer, and strokes, to name a few, are becoming all too prevalent in young American adults. Making plans while you are competent and able is a prudent course of action and can bring you a sense of calm, knowing you have confronted the possibility and have a plan in place.

The value of a revocable living trust for young adults

Some young adults will have enough assets, real estate, or business interests to make a revocable living trust worthwhile. This trust type avoids the probate process, ensuring privacy. There is no limit to the number of times you can amend a living trust. You may change asset distribution or add assets as you acquire more throughout your life. An estate planning attorney can help you determine if your financial situation and age warrant the setting up of this type of trust.

You probably have more assets than you realize. To assess your situation, inventory all of your belongings which typically includes but is not limited to:

  • All bank accounts in your name and their approximate balances
  • All investments you own
  • Any property or real estate you own
  • Any retirement plans you have, including pensions
  • Any insurance policies you carry
  • Any retirement plans, including pensions, you own
  • Businesses you own, whether in part or whole
  • Valuable personal property such as your grandmother’s wedding ring, a collection of trading cards, or a grandfather clock
  • Digital assets such as cryptocurrency, income-generating online storefronts, influencer accounts, or income-producing subscription accounts like TwitchTV
  • Include all email accounts, login URL’s including user names and passwords where you receive critical communications
  • All outstanding debts

Once you realize the scope of your belongings and assets, you can begin formulating your estate plan. First, consider who you want to receive your possessions and think about secondary beneficiaries, especially over time, as early estate planning requires frequent reviews and updates in the event of deaths, marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child.

Once you have an inventory and have begun thinking about who should handle things upon your passing and who you want as beneficiaries, it’s time to sit down with an estate planning attorney. Working with an estate planning attorney is easier than ever now, as COVID-19 increases the use of video and smartphone conferencing that streamlines legal planning. Estate planning attorneys like us can create a plan that best suits your situation, even if you aren’t sure what to do. Proper legal documents can save your loved ones from an expensive probate trial should someone contest your will. Even as a young adult, it is best to start planning now, even if it is just with some primary documents.

We would be happy to discuss your needs in a confidential setting that you are comfortable with – by video, over the phone, or in person. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

A Guide for Completing Your Estate Plan

As you may expect, the older population far outpace the younger counterparts in estate planning, however, 19 percent of those over age 72 and 42 percent of those between 53 and 71, according to survey data — lack any type of estate plan.

Although managing these details can seem daunting, and even depressing, the task becomes far less unpleasant with proper understanding and planning. Estate planning is essential for seniors and for their family members to be prepared in the event of a loved one’s illness or passing.

If you or an aging loved one have been putting off estate planning, start with the basics and learn why it’s important take the focus off of the negative and shift it to the positive benefits.

Understanding the meaning of “estate”

In addition to the fear factor of planning for illness and death, many seniors dismiss its importance because they don’t understand what “estate” means, or they believe it applies only to those with significant wealth. In reality, an estate includes anything a person owns — homes or other properties, bank accounts, automobiles and additional assets, and ownership of any licenses or patents. 

A person’s estate also includes any liabilities such as mortgages. These debts will need to be settled before loved ones or beneficiaries receive any compensation or death benefits. An estate plan encompasses more than distributing assets and settling debts, however. It also outlines decisions about healthcare and other key things.

The estate plan’s role in self-advocacy

Estate plans help seniors establish important guidelines that allow them to advocate for themselves. This is essential for seniors who wish to retain their independence and protect their assets. In addition to creating wills and other important documents, an estate plan allows seniors to have a say in the quality of their long-term care — whether at home or in an assisted living facility — and to qualify for associated government benefits to help pay for that care. It also helps them to protect their life savings and outline their wishes should they become incapacitated. 

Elder law attorneys can help clients develop strategies to enable seniors to better advocate for themselves in these scenarios.

What’s included in an estate plan?

A properly executed estate plan typically includes a Last Will and Testament, Living Will, and Medical and Financial Powers of Attorney. Let’s take a look at what each of these things is and the purposes they serve:

  • Last Will and Testament: Allows a person to determine who will inherit assets and appoint an executor who will make sure wishes are carried out.
  • Living Will: Allows a person to choose the type of care he or she wants should they become hospitalized and/or incapable of making decisions independently. A Living Will would, for example, outline a person’s wishes about certain medical treatments, such as blood transfusions, or whether or not they wish to be resuscitated.
  • Medical Power of Attorney: Appoints someone — generally a spouse or family member — to make decisions on a person’s behalf about medical care and treatment.
  • Financial Power of Attorney: Appoints someone — also typically a spouse or family member — who can make financial decisions on a person’s behalf. This includes allowing access to bank accounts to ensure bills and mortgages continue to get paid in the event of illness or incapacitation.

Establishing Trusts

Estate planning also includes provisions for developing Trusts. Trusts allow seniors to set aside money for specific people or charities while avoiding the long, drawn-out process of probate. This allows heirs and beneficiaries to receive intended inheritances much more quickly.

While many trusts are revocable, meaning the senior can change or terminate the trust at any time, irrevocable trusts are often used to protect the assets of a senior. Whether an irrevocable trust is right for your situation depends on a number of factors, including your health, what type of care you wish to receive and how you will pay for any care you may need in the future.

If you or your loved one has been avoiding this important planning measure, now is the time to begin. Being proactive increases options and makes the process far less stressful than trying to initiate planning or make important decisions during a health crisis or death. 

Cost is another reason seniors often cite for avoiding planning. However, elder law attorneys can tailor plans to specific needs, making them more affordable. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.