Elder Law, Estate Planning

Estate Planning for the LGBTQIA+ Community

To protect our loved ones and our assets, estate planning is important to any individual regardless of orientation. In the LGBTQIA+ community, estate planning can legally protect against discrimination even if others are reluctant to recognize your relationship and your desire to permit your partner to make decisions for your care should you become unable to. Estate planning can also create mechanisms that financially provide for your partner as well.

How Obergefell v. Hodges Impacted Same-Sex Couples

In 2015 the case of Obergefell v. Hodges made it a fundamental constitutional right to marry, including same-sex couples. The US Supreme Court’s decision to recognize same-sex marriages opens up many previously unavailable legal tools and tax savings that had only been available to “traditional” legally recognized marriages. The Supreme Court ruling further stated that a valid same-sex marriage in one state must be recognized in all states. Note that non-marriage alternatives will not result in the federal government’s recognition of the relationship.

These alternatives include adults in domestic partnerships and civil unions, which are federally not legally recognized as marriage. However, these couples can still receive partnership decision-making privileges and benefits. To do so requires a different type of planning. However, your partnership is characterized, creating a legal framework to protect yourself and your partner is possible.

A married same-sex couple with proper estate planning will receive all state and federal benefits of marriage. Federal benefits include the unlimited marital deduction for federal estate and gift taxes. An unmarried same-sex couple who cannot receive these marital tax benefits can still ensure their partner will receive the legal right to inherit each other’s assets with other legal mechanisms. They will also be able to make health care decisions for one another; however, the legal framework will differ from the legally married couple.

Revocable Living Trust for the LGBTQIA+ Community

In either marriage or a cohabitation arrangement, a revocable living trust permits the couple to nominate each other as trustees, allowing the spouse or partner to manage their loved one’s financial affairs if they become incapacitated. A durable financial power of attorney is another solution to manage the affairs of a loved one if they become incapacitated. The rules and requirements of a durable financial power of attorney vary from state to state, so it is necessary to review and reconfigure this document if you relocate.  In either an LGBTQIA+ marital or cohabitation living arrangement, a health care power of attorney allows you to appoint your partner to make health care decisions on your behalf should the need arise.

Advance Healthcare Directive for the LGBTQIA+ Community

It is imperative to include a HIPAA privacy authorization form for your health care power of attorney or trustee. The form permits medical and healthcare professionals to disclose pertinent health information and medical records to a partner. A durable health care power of attorney can prevent biological family attempts to interfere with a spouse or partner’s ability to make medical decisions for their loved one.  A legally binding durable health care power of attorney can prevent family interference, no matter how well-intentioned it might be.

The Importance of a Will for the  LGBTQIA+ Community with Minor Children

Should a same-sex couple have children, where at least one parent is non-biological, a will is a legal tool to address guardianship of minor children. Your will is the only place to define guardianship of children and name an executor. Many custody battles over LGBTQIA+ parents’ non-biological children occur among families after the biological parent’s death or incapacity.

It is essential to address any previous LGBTQIA+ committed relationship structures before finalizing your estate plan to tie up any loose ends. If you were in a legal union before marriage was an option, you are subject to the patchwork of prior state laws that can have unintended consequences for new estate planning. Before 2015 some same-sex couples married in states that recognized their marriage only to move to states that did not. Believing that their nuptials were non-binding in the states that did not recognize same-sex marriage, these couples may have split up without ever legally dissolving their marriage. Some states even automatically converted registered civil unions or domestic partnerships into legal marriages. The fallout is there are now LGBTQIA+ people who are married and unaware that they are open to the possibility of future claims against their estate from a previous marriage. All previous domestic partnerships, civil unions, or other legal arrangements must be untangled and resolved to protect against these possibilities.

In general, studies find that the LGBTQIA+ community tends to lag behind others in having a will and revocable living trust. These documents are significant for non-married LGBTQ+ people in a seriously committed relationship. State laws will default to granting rights to biological family members absent legal documents to the contrary.

Specific issues unique to the LGBTQIA+ community can potentially make planning more complex. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss how you can properly document your wishes regarding the inheritance of your property, who can make decisions for you if you’re unable to, and who would care for your children should the need arise.  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

How Does Estate Planning Work?

The law describes estate planning as a legal document summarizing the property a person owns and how to distribute these assets when deceased. Property ownership includes individual as well as jointly owned bank accounts, stocks and bonds, retirement accounts, real estate, jewelry, vehicles, your online digital footprint, and even pets. Short of being utterly destitute, you have an estate, and planning for it helps to protect yourself, your family, and your loved ones.

According to Caring.com, fewer Americans than ever are engaging in estate planning. The number of adults who have a will or other types of estate planning documents has fallen nearly 25 percent since 2017. Astonishingly, the demographic of older and middle-aged adults are less likely to have wills and estate plan documents at roughly the same 25 percent rate. Additionally, a growing number of Americans lack the resources and knowledge as to how to get a will. Overall, the prevalence of estate planning documents since 2017 has shown a decrease of almost 25 percent.

In their annual survey, Caring.com posed the question to its participants as to why they have put off having estate planning documents, and increasingly people cite a lack of education or the perceived cost of estate planning as the most significant reason. Yet 60 percent of the same respondents think planning their estate is either somewhat or very important. Data shows that as a person’s income increases, their likelihood of having estate planning documents like a will, living trust, or advanced health care directives also increases. Still, the number of people with said documents continues to decrease, even in higher-income groups.

In 2020, study participants in the highest income group show a decrease of 26 percent regarding estate planning documents. Even those Americans with the resources to create a will feel it is something they can put off until later in life, which has disastrous consequences for their loved ones in the case of unexpected death.

caring.com

Estate planning is the process of outlining specific instructions as to how you want your money, and other property dispersed upon your death. It includes decisions about your medical care and final arrangements as well. Wills, trusts, and advanced medical directives are the three primary estate planning documents you need to understand and put into place as soon as possible.

A will instructs how to divide up assets, debt, personal property, and more. A will can cover all of your estate planning needs, however; it does come with a few limitations. First, a court process called probate must be started upon death. During this sometimes lengthy process, a judge oversees the transfer of ownership of your property according to your will. Once a probate is opened, the will becomes public knowledge, as well as the property that the deceased owns. For those who wish to avoid court or who wish to keep their affairs private, a living trust may be the best option.

A living trust takes effect at the moment it is enacted while your will only become effective upon your death. Planning with a living trust can more expensive, but it provides the advantage of avoiding probate court and keeps all of your information (and your beneficiaries’ information) private. Further, a living trust can provide for the management of your assets should you become disabled.

An advanced health care directive, like a living trust, is designed to take effect during your lifetime. This directive stipulates your end of life wishes as well as what should happen if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions about your medical care.  

A durable power of attorney covers who will make financial decisions for you if you are unable to. You can specify more than one agent, and you can be very specific about what that agent can do on your behalf, including management of online accounts.

If you are ready to discuss your planning needs, we would be honored to help. If you have an existing plan, we would be happy to review that plan to make sure it still works for you given your current health and financial circumstances. We look forward to hearing from you! Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Estate Planning

The Probate Process Explained

The probate process involves authenticating the deceased individual’s will, assessing the assets, settling debts and taxes, and overseeing the allocation of the inheritance. After an asset-holder dies, the court will appoint a valid will’s executor to administer the probate process. In the absence of a will, the court will appoint a state administrator to handle probate. Probate law varies by state, but there are steps in the process that are common.

First, an executor is appointed and is normally the person named in the will. It is the executor’s responsibility to initiate the probate process. An executor can be a family member, a financial advisor, or any person the testator deemed capable of administering their estate. The executor files the will with the probate court, which initiates the probate process. A court officially appoints the executor as named in the will, giving the executor legal authority to act on the testator’s behalf.

The executor’s function is to locate and oversee all of the estate’s assets and to determine each asset’s value. The majority of the deceased’s assets are subject to the probate court, where the deceased lived at the time of their death. Real estate is an exception, and probate may extend to any county where the real estate is located.

The executor will pay any taxes and debts owed by the deceased from the estate. A notice of death is published, and creditors are given a limited time to make claims against the estate for any money owed to them. If the executor rejects the claim, the creditor may take them to court, where a probate judge will determine the debt’s validity. The executor is responsible for filing the deceased’s final, personal income tax returns. The executor’s last task, via court authorization, is to distribute what remains of the estate to the beneficiaries.

Probate is required for any asset or account that does not have a joint owner or beneficiary named.  If a joint owner or beneficiary is named, then title changes automatically and probate becomes unnecessary.

If a person dies without a will, they are said to have died intestate. An estate can also be deemed instate if the will presented to the court is found to be invalid. The decedent’s assets of an intestate estate follow a similar probate process, beginning with the appointment of an administrator. An administrator functions like an executor, receiving all legal claims against the estate, paying outstanding debts, and the decedent’s taxes.

Administrators must also seek out legal heirs, including surviving spouses, parents, and children. The probate court will determine the distribution of the estate among its legal heirs. In the absence of any family or other heirs, remaining assets go to the state.

The more complex or contested an estate is, the longer the probate process can take to finalize. The longer the process, the higher the cost. Probate without a will typically costs more than probate with a valid will, but neither scenario is inexpensive. Probate court files an estate’s assets as a matter of public record, so if you want to keep your estate private, it is best to pursue other estate planning options such as a trust. 

As estate planning attorneys, we can help you determine what planning tools are best for you. Contact us to schedule time for a private conversation to further determine how we can help. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

The Functions of a Will

The legally binding directive declaring who will receive your assets upon death is called a will, and a will is a significant element of a complete estate plan. If you die without one (intestate), the state will distribute your assets and property via state law and quite possibly at odds with your wishes.  Having a will allows you to appoint a legal representative or executor to carry out your bequests and name a guardian for your children. There is no doubting the importance of having a will, however, there are some limitations you should be aware of.

Although a will can be the primary mechanism to transfer property on death, it does not cover all property situations. Some classes of property you are unable to distribute through a will are:

  • Property held in trust – A trust will have named beneficiaries who will receive the trust’s property according to the trust terms and not based on what is in your will (unless specifically stated in the trust).
  • Pay on death accounts – Informally known as PODs, the original account owner names a beneficiary(s) to whom the assets in the account pass automatically upon the owner’s death.
  • Life Insurance – Life insurance benefits pass to your named beneficiary(s) in the life insurance policy and are not affected by your will.
  • Jointly held property – Co-owned property is not distributed through your will. Joint tenants have an equal ownership interest in the property, and when one joint tenant dies, their interest ceases to exist. The other joint tenant now fully owns the entire property.
  • Retirement plans – In a similar manner to life insurance, money in an IRA or 401(k) passes to the named beneficiary(s). According to federal law, a surviving spouse is generally the automatic beneficiary of a 401(k); however, there are some exceptions. An IRA permits you to name a beneficiary(s).
  • Investments in transfer on death accounts – Some accounts holding stocks and bonds will transfer on death to the named beneficiary(s). Like POD accounts, transfer on death accounts bypass probate and go directly to the beneficiary(s).

A will does not allow you to avoid probate. By necessity, a will must go through the probate process in order to allow beneficiaries to inherit property. It can take months to get through probate, and it involves expenses like an attorney, executor, and court fees. Also, your will and everything associated with it (property you own, who your beneficiaries are, etc.) become part of the public record that anyone can access.

Keep funeral instructions outside of your will. The reality is your funeral may have already taken place before someone finds and reads your will, which can take days, even weeks. If your funeral or memorial service is important to you, the best way to help your family is to pre-plan, making arrangements with a funeral home. You can leave written instructions with the family as to your plans.

Your pets cannot inherit through your will. An animal is legally unable to inherit money or property from you. If you want your pets to be cared for after you die, leave money to a person willing to take care of your animals. The person you select can inherit your pets since a pet is considered property. You can also set up a pet trust or a pet protection agreement, either of which provides for your pet’s care.

Provisions for a child on government benefits are best in a trust. It is best to create a special needs trust to provide for a child with special needs or a child who is receiving government benefits. The trust can hold money for your child’s care without affecting those benefits.

There are ways to circumvent the limitations of a will by creating trusts, setting up pay-on-death accounts, and ensuring a beneficiary is named on all accounts that permit them. Your will is an important component of a comprehensive estate plan, but it can’t do everything.

We would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of having a will and other options available to you as part of your overall estate plan. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

How Do You Contest a Will?

An executor oversees the settling of the estate according to the will after your death, laying out who the inheritors are and what property needs to be divided. For many reasons, beneficiaries can feel slighted by what they did or didn’t receive, and some individuals are entirely excluded from inheriting anything at all. The legal process of challenging the validity of a will is called a will contest (or “contesting the will”).

Once probate is underway, the named executor will take the necessary steps to complete probate and notify beneficiaries named in the will. This legal notice typically limits the time when a beneficiary can contest the validity of the will. Generally, a beneficiary (and even a person not named in the will) has thirty to ninety days to bring legal action against the decedent’s will.

Know that the vast majority of wills pass through probate without issue. The courts rightly view the will like the author’s (testator), last voice. Because the testator can no longer speak to their wishes, the courts try to adhere to the legally filed will stringently. Because of the narrow timeline for filing a will contest and the odds stacked against winning the legal challenge, most challengers will find it a fruitless and costly endeavor.

Under what circumstances then would you want to contest a will? Legally, only a person or entity with “standing” can contest a will. Standing is when the party involved in the will contest will be personally affected by the case’s outcome. Most often, this means an heir or beneficiary already named in the decedent’s last will or any preceding will. It may also include any person (usually a spouse or child) not named in the will, but because of state intestacy laws would be eligible to inherit in the absence of a will. Typically, four grounds are viable for contesting a will:

  • The will’s signing lacked the proper legal formalities
  • The mental capacity of the decedent to make a will is in question
  • Someone leveraging undue influence over the decedent into making or changing a will
  • The will’s procurement is fraudulent

Certain fact patterns may lead to a successful will contest. As an example, if a testator writes their own will, some legal formalities may be overlooked, rendering the will invalid. In particular, the “do it yourself” method for creating a will may not include all of the “what if” scenarios making the will incomplete. In another example, if the testator is experiencing isolation from family and friends, the primary beneficiary’s influence and motives regarding the estate may come into question. If the executor is trying to enforce an outdated will, the newer one should supersede the older one as long as no coercion was involved in writing the most recent version. Finally, some medical evidence may suggest the testator lacked the requisite mental ability to make a will. Occasionally the challenger to an existing will can negotiate a settlement with the estate instead of enduring a court proceeding.

Some wills include a no-contest clause, also called an “in terrorem” clause. This provision states that if anyone files a lawsuit challenging the will’s validity, they will receive nothing from the estate. While this may a powerful deterrent, it may not be allowed in the state where the will is probated.

To protect your will from being contested, even if you have limited assets, your best strategy is to have your will professionally drafted by an attorney well versed in estate planning. Using an attorney can help protect you and your estate from future legal challenges while helping you think through who you want to inherit your money and property, and how each person should receive what they inherit.

If you would like to discuss whether a will is appropriate for you or whether you should update an existing will, we would be happy to speak to you at your convenience. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

The Impact of the “For the 99.5% Act” on Estate Planning

On March 25th, 2021, a new bill named “For the 99.5% Act,” was presented to Congress by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Jimmy Gomez. The bill’s current form is only 18 pages long, but its potential impact on federal estate and gift tax laws significantly affects estate planning. While it is impossible to determine if the bill will pass into law, some of the act’s key elements may inspire Congress to increase the estate tax using other mechanisms should this bill fail. They might also seek to remove well-known tools like trusts to bypass taxation upon your death to generate revenue for federal programs.

In a letter to Congress, 51 national organizations supporting Senator Sanders and Representative Gomez estate tax reform urge Congressional members to adopt the legislation. The letter cites that the richest one percent of Americans own nearly 32 percent of the nation’s wealth, and the bottom 50 percent own just 2 percent. This stark inequality creates constraints and financial growth limitations for the majority of Americans.

The Sanders-Gomez proposal wants to reverse this trend and increase the estate tax rate currently in place, topping out at 65 percent on estates over one billion dollars. In contrast, President Biden’s campaign estate tax plan would retain the 40 percent estate tax rate currently in place. Much is unknown, but one thing is clear; change is coming to the inheritable asset and gift tax classes.

The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) believes the Sanders bill can raise 430 billion dollars over ten years. Some of the bill’s main provisions that generate this revenue include:

  • Gift tax exemption reduction from 11.7 million dollars to 1 million dollars annually
  • Federal estate tax exemption reduction from 11.7 million dollars to 3.5 million dollars
  • Increase in gift and estate tax rates from 40 percent up to a top rate of 65 percent
  • Elimination of the short-term Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) with no “grandfather” exemption for existing trusts
  • Grantor trust inclusion in a decedent’s estate. Many irrevocable trusts are grantor trusts for income tax purposes, although trust assets are excluded from the grantor’s estate for federal tax purposes. Enacting “For the 99.5% Act” into law will end the Grantor Trust type of estate planning. Additionally, without very careful planning, Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts will no longer provide shelter for life insurance proceeds from estate taxation
  • Elimination of minority discounts on valuations for the transfers of non-business assets held in a business entity such as a partnership or limited liability company controlled by or majority-owned by members of the same family
  • Elimination of certain marketability discounts for passive assets not used in an active trade or business
  • The implementation of a federal 50-year rule against perpetuity will result in estate taxation at some point for Dynasty Trusts

The 99.5 Percent Act will provide beneficial valuation rules for small businesses and farms as well as land subject to qualified conservation easements. The Sanders-Gomez bill will give family farms extra protection by allowing lower assessed value on farmland up to three million dollars, exempting even more farms from tax.

There is overwhelming public support to raise taxes on Americas’ wealthiest. Still, some of these inheritance tax rate changes will affect the so-called “middle-class millionaires” who will need to restructure their current estate plans if the 99.5% Act is passed into law. The proposed tax rate of 45 percent on estates between 3.5 to 10 million dollars will affect family generational wealth more so than the top tax rates for mega multi-millionaires and billionaires.

If you have questions about this pending legislation and whether it could impact you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We would be happy to discuss planning options with you to minimize your tax liability. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

Retirement Planning and Saving

Many Americans are saving nothing or very little in their day to day lives for retirement. While the unemployment rate has previously been  low and wages are seeing an increase the American worker is not saving enough of their income which will inevitably lead to short falls of operational cash during an unexpected crisis and in their retirement years further down the road. (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/15/bankrate-65-percent-of-americans-save-little-or-nothing.html)

Bankrate maintains that half of all Americans will not be able to maintain their standard of living once they have stopped working. GoBankingRates corroborates these findings citing that over forty percent of Americans have less than $10,000 dollars saved for their retirement. These statistics point to a dismal retirement future for nearly half of all Americans.

This doesn’t have to be your future. It doesn’t matter how little you currently save. You don’t have to become the horror story of retiring and meeting financial ruin like so many do. What matters is that you change the trajectory of your retirement life by proactively examining how you are spending and saving. The sooner you begin the better your chances of success.

The first and most important strategy to implement is learning to live beneath your means. That translates into saving money: probably more than you currently do. Saving money is an underestimated survival skill. To save begin by tracking your spending habits for thirty days. Once you have the data create a realistic and doable budget. Fluid expenditures like groceries, eating out, clothing, gasoline and auto maintenance need to have a set monthly budget. Create a simple two columned sheet of paper with budgeted and actual expenditures to monitor your progress. Typical categories where you can reduce expenditures include; cable packages, phone plans, groceries, entertainment costs, gym memberships, clothing and dining out. Start asking yourself over and over “Is this a need or a want?” and if it is a need, how can you make the cost lower. The game is how much money you can save, not spend.

Consolidate your non essential debt and pay it off, completely. Make it a primary goal to get out of debt. Stop being a debt slave. In the credit card industry there is an insider term used for people who fully pay their credit cards off each month. Guess what it is? It is a deadbeat. Companies cannot make money off of you if you stop becoming a slave to debt. If you can’t afford it then find a way to live without it.

Double check your insurance rates on your car, homeowner, and health. Do not purchase flight insurance, extended warranties, and disease insurance. Check this site for fifteen insurance policies you don’t need. (https://www.investopedia.com/insurance/insurance-policies-you-dont-need/). Get rid of the policy all together or find wiggle room for reduced premiums or get a more competitive provider to save money.

Get rid of automatic payments attached to your banking accounts. Most people can eliminate expenditures they forgot they are even locked into. This also forces you to take control of your bill/payment cycles. Being involved in the day to day of bill payment keeps you far more aware of your financial situation and keeps your mind active.

Consider downsizing your home. If you are in a two story house it is inevitable that one day you will not be able to climb those stairs. A one story home or a first floor condo or apartment can help you purge your life of ‘stuff’ you no longer need. Some of those things can be sold and the proceeds can be saved. Any profit left over from downsizing immediately goes into savings or a financial investment vehicle to provide and protect your senior years.

These are some but not all of the ways it is possible to change your savings habits. Guidance from a trusted professional is key to the pathway of success because there will always be roadblocks and setbacks that you must make adjustments for.  Structuring a legal plan in connection with a retirement plan can provide added protection and allow you to enjoy retirement more thoroughly.

Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law

The Benefit of an Elder Law Attorney

An elder law attorney specializes as a legal advocate for aging adults and their loved ones. Elder law encompasses a wide range of legal matters affecting an older or disabled person. Issues related to guardianship, retirement, health care including advance directives, long term care planning, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and other relevant matters to aging all fall under the umbrella of elder law.

An older family member who legally prepares for their aging process helps their family members by addressing day to day issues that affect their actual care through proper legal documentation should the senior become incapacitated. Seniors often falsely assume that a close family member, including a spouse, will automatically be able to make decisions on their behalf if something goes wrong with their finances or health. Postponing legal document preparation through an elder attorney generally winds up being more problematic and expensive to a senior’s estate and wellness.

Many seniors find making legal preparations uncomfortable at first, as the task forces them to confront and assess their mortality. Further into the process, many aging adults experience relief, having removed the fear of the unknown of aging to the best of their ability. Legal preparation can keep a senior from health or financial ruin if they become incapable of making informed decisions regarding these matters. In the absence of legal documents, their family is left with the expensive and time-consuming process of petitioning the courts for legal authority to act on their loved one’s behalf – referred to as establishing a guardianship. By planning early and making sure the correct legal documents are prepared stress on the senior and the senior’s loved ones is greatly reduced.

Personal choices regarding end of life care and the disposition of assets and property outlined in legal documentation guarantees that your wishes will be respected by law. This documentation is especially important for seniors when a family member might seek control over the process, whether moral or self-serving, to follow their whims when handling your wellbeing when you are most vulnerable. Besides adhering to your expressed wishes, having your choices documented relieves family members from guessing what you want.

When preparing for your aging process, seek out a well-regarded attorney who specializes in elder law. While many general practice attorneys may have some experience with elder law topics, regulations are ever-changing and complex. It is best to find an attorney who specializes in elder law so that you get the best and most up-to-date advice.

Proactively address your aging process with a qualified elder attorney to ensure your wishes are carried out now and in the future, regardless of what happens with your health. Both you and your loved ones will garner invaluable peace of mind knowing that your wishes are known and legally documented. We would be happy to help you with your planning, and we look forward to hearing from you. Please don’t hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law

Legal planning Related to Alzheimer’s Disease

Currently, there is no cure for the more than 5 million Americans who have Alzheimer’s disease. Projections by the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org) are that by 2050 more than 14 million Americans will suffer from this disease. What can you do if you are medically diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? Aside from following the advice of your medical doctor an important step in your overall estate plan is an advanced directive to ensure your future wishes are met when you are no longer able to think or communicate clearly because of your disease progression. Having an advanced directive that accurately and legally reflects your financial and health care wishes allows you to focus on enjoying your life knowing you are doing all that you can to address your future circumstances.

You may already have advanced directives. It is a general term for various documents like a living will, instruction directive, health care power of attorney, and health care proxy. Now that Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the US, a newer advance directive specifically addressing dementia is becoming more common and is called the Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Mental Health Advance Directive.

An advanced dementia directive takes a comprehensive look at living with Alzheimer’s. Issues like where you will live, coping with profound changes in intimate relationships, how to finance your care, your preferred caregiver and healthcare agent, care of your pets, when you stop driving, and more. The essence of a dementia directive is to make life decisions that will span the course of time you survive with the disease. Life expectancy after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can range from as short as three years, with an average of eight to ten years, and as long as twenty years. Your advanced dementia directive provides you a measure of control and a sense of relief that your intentions are known when the time comes when you can no longer communicate them effectively. This document also serves as a detailed guideline for your loved ones to follow.

Some advanced dementia directives may even include an end of life strategy known as “voluntarily stopping eating and drinking” or VSED.  A VSED is considered a legitimate way to hasten death and is used in cases of terminally ill patients. Originally a VSED addressed a patient experiencing physical decline while maintaining cognitive function. In the case of Alzheimer’s, a VSED addresses the opposite issue of cognitive decline. Most people, when faced with a future of being mentally unfit in a body that will not quit, prefer to find an exit strategy they consider has a modicum of dignity. A VSED can prevent distressing situations for yourself and your family system.

Though requests for VSED are currently uncommon there is a groundswell of patient-driven need. This need says that if incapacitated through dementia, their choice is not to endure what can be a long physical decline while cognitively absent. Most people do not want life prolonged beyond the point where they are participating in it. Still, state and federal laws have to catch up to VSED as, by law, long term care facilities are required to offer daily meals with feeding assistance if necessary.

A directive that addresses Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia does not replace the more standard advance health care directive. Most conventional health care directives address cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the use of ventilators, artificial hydration (intravenous fluids) and nutrition (feeding tube), participation in research and clinical trials, organ donation, comfort care, and pain relief services. Having both advanced medical and dementia directives in place not only assures you but also provides relief to your family. Your clearly defined choices can lighten the suffering your own family will feel when you can no longer communicate with or recognize them. Reconciling end of life scenarios is always challenging, but once handled, it frees you up to get on with the joy of living. 

We would be happy to help you determine the correct advanced directives for your needs and desires. Please contact us if you would like to discuss this matter further. Please don’t hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning

Dangers of Adding Others to your Accounts

I want to leave my bank accounts to my children when I’m gone. Can’t I just make the children joint owners?

That idea sounds better than it actually is. Yes, you would avoid court proceedings when you pass. But you’d put yourself at risk, at a time when you might need your money yourself. Your accounts would be exposed to your children’s divorcing spouses, bankruptcy, liability for legal actions, or, last and doubtless most uncomfortable to think about, your children could simply spend your money without your permission.

The best way to resist temptation is to avoid the opportunity in the first place.

Plan for the Future of Your Finances

While you are alive, it is essential to designate a person you trust to pay your bills when you can’t. With our comprehensive power of attorney document, your trusted person can take care of your finances when you aren’t able. Avoid downloadable internet versions. Come see us instead. You don’t want banks and insurance companies rejecting your document as insufficient when you most need it!

Then, for when you pass, make your bank account “payable on death” (POD). You remain sole owner of your account during your lifetime. Then, when the time comes, the POD designation is a simple and no-cost way to leave your money to your heirs.

Just gather your heirs’ contact information, Social Security numbers, and birth dates. Then visit the bank, ask for their POD forms, and fill them in with the people or charities to whom you would like to leave your money. Tell your heirs what you are doing, and where your accounts are located, so they will know to come forward to claim the money at the appropriate time.

Power of Attorney

If your power of attorney is powerful and detailed enough, you can be confident that your trusted person will take care of your finances if you become disabled. For when you pass, you will have your POD in place to transfer your money to your heirs at that time. No fees, no court costs, and your accounts are covered. That’s a much better plan than a joint account.

For help with your planning needs, please give us a call. We’d be honored to help make sure your plan is what you want and that it is properly documented.

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.