What Life Insurance has to do with Estate Planning

In the estate planning process, life insurance does not appear to affect how assets are disposed of at first glance. However, life insurance can be an integral, indispensably important part of a well-thought-out estate plan. There are numerous other benefits to owning a life insurance policy aside from providing a large sum of money to beneficiaries.

  • Life insurance provides immediate cash upon death that can pay debts, final income taxes of the insured, and funeral expenses.
  • Life insurance cash can also pay estate taxes and avoid the forced sale of assets.
  • Mostly, the proceeds from life insurance will pass to the named beneficiary free of income tax.
  • Life insurance proceeds can transfer to a trust as part of a will the insured created for the benefit of minor children, special needs, or elderly relatives.
  • The proceeds of a life insurance policy can be payable to someone other than the insured’s estate and avoid passing through probate when owned by an irrevocable insurance trust. For example, the funds can pay marital settlement obligations for spousal or child support.
  • If the insured owns a closely-held business, a life insurance policy can fund a buy out of their interest.
  • Proper beneficiary designation forms of a life insurance policy prevent proceeds from going through probate.

Do not underestimate the importance of having cash funds immediately available in an uncomplicated way. Often the passing of a loved one or family member comes with a string of expenses that often exceed cost expectations. Much of what Americans have resides in investments like 401ks, IRAs, housing, and other illiquid assets with very little cash on hand. Life insurance proceeds protect families from having to force the sale of these assets at unfavorable tax rates. Some inheritable assets come with immediate payment requirements. Homes not fully paid off, cars, and the like can leave families with short-term liabilities requiring cash.

Understanding Estate Planning Strategies with a Life Insurance Policy

One of the more popular estate planning strategies that fit many situations is an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). Though a beneficiary or third party cannot rescind the trust, modified, or amended post creation, it still offers heirs several financial and legal advantages. These advantages include asset protection, favorable tax treatment, and assurance beneficiaries use the proceeds in a manner concurrent with the benefactor’s wishes. Typically, life insurance policies are the chief assets held in an ILIT.

Before purchasing a life insurance policy, particularly if you want to create an ILIT, speak with your estate planning attorney regarding potential income and estate tax consequences. If you have an estate large enough, it can be subject to federal and state estate taxes depending on the applicable laws in place at the time of your passing. Your ILIT should be in place before binding a life insurance policy to it. Remember that states have different laws regarding an ILIT; to avoid problems, your ILIT must follow your state’s rules.

Using a Gifting Strategy for your Life Insurance Plan

It is possible to gift an existing life insurance policy to your ILIT. Unfortunately, if you were to die within three years of making the gift, the policy amount can be included in your estate for tax purposes due to a rule known as a “lookback period.” In effect, this isn’t making the policy proceeds taxable, but it adds the policy proceeds amount to the total value of the estate, in turn making it part of your estate subject to taxes. As federal estate tax exemption amounts frequently change, it is prudent to fund your ILIT by purchasing a new policy. Doing so will avoid the possibility of a lookback period.

When using an ILIT, whether or not you are married, use the second to die, survivorship policy, or are single and have an individual policy must be considered. Choosing between variations of permanent life insurance for your ILIT, such as whole standard life, universal life, and variable life insurance, can be confusing, and your estate planning attorney can guide you to your best option.

If you own a business and one adult child will take over the business while the other adult children are not interested or involved in the enterprise, then the life insurance proceeds can provide the cash to buy out those heirs’ business interests while leaving the business intact. Blended family systems can also benefit from life insurance payouts to ensure that all children receive an inheritance, not just the children of the last surviving spouse.

Life insurance should be a part of your family estate plan. It can increase the wealth your heirs inherit and provide a ready source of cash for immediate financial obligations after your death. Which form of life insurance best suits your needs will depend on your age and situation. Speak with your estate planning attorney about how a life insurance policy can be an effective way to transfer wealth to your beneficiaries. Please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 to discuss your situation. We are here to help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why You Should Write a Letter of Intent

There are numerous issues that can be addressed by a letter of intent (LOI), both in the business arena and in more personal contexts. Your LOI is a valuable piece in your estate planning, and although it is an informal letter, it can more fully represent your intentions after you die. Everyone knows they need to make a will, but this lesser-known document can also be a crucial estate planning tool.

What is a Letter of Intent?

The letter itself has no legal standing, so it can’t supersede a will. Still, a letter of intent, also called a letter of instruction, can be of enormous practical and emotional value to your loved ones. A letter of intent conveys essential information about personal and financial matters in combination with your will. Since letters of intent are not legally binding and do not replace a will or trust, they are not a requirement; however, they are an excellent complement to those legal documents.

A parent may write an LOI to express their hopes and dreams for their children in detail if both parents die, mainly when their children are still minors. An LOI often influences family court judge’s decision-making concerning children. Particularly, if you have a child with special needs, an LOI can outline how to help create a more stable world for your child’s future challenges. The letter may outline a child’s current needs and routines and any aspirations the parents have of their future employment, relationships, and independence of living under the oversight of a named guardian in the parents’ wills. It is crucial to have an estate planning attorney review any LOI in the circumstances of minor children to ensure it echoes the same structure and sentiments of your will.

Drafting a letter of intent is also for more general purposes, guiding your family to understand your intentions after you are gone. For instance, you may want to include funeral and burial arrangement information in your LOI. Outline whatever plans you have regarding the type of viewing and funeral service you prefer, if any. Include whether you desire cremation or burial. Your letter of intent may include who you want to officiate your funeral service and include special touches like seating arrangements for family, specific religious passages, and music selections. You can also request your family members inform people of your passing by providing their names and contact information in a list.

What Does a Letter of Intent Include?

A letter of intent is ideal for leaving information about bank accounts, personal assets, and any hidden stashes of cash or precious metals. For bank accounts and the like, please list the names and contact information of the professionals familiar with your accounts to help your family locate them. Remember to include the physical location of all relevant documents such as your will, trust documents, titles, deeds, insurance cards, driver’s license, birth certificate, marriage license, divorce documents, military paperwork, social security card, passport, mortgages, and outstanding debt. It is better to include too much information rather than too little. Your family needs as much data as possible to piece together the details of your estate.

Do not forget to include relevant digital information in your LOI. Much of our lives now reside online; therefore, leaving access information to your digital assets is very important. Include login URLs for digital accounts such as cryptocurrency, email, social media, income-producing storefronts, or influencer accounts, and the devices themselves such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops or PCs. Provide user names and passwords, PINS, and account numbers for each account. Make plans to gift these devices if you desire and list which individual receives which device.

Your personal items, particularly sentimental ones, may become a source of contention among your loved ones. Whether jewelry, artwork, fine china, or other valuable collectibles, it is best to sort out to whom these items will go and include that list in your letter of intent. You may also include wishes for the care of any surviving pets you might leave behind. Your letter is your final opportunity to include personal statements about your property division and your hopes and wishes for the future to individual family members.

Make sure that your letter of intent does not contradict your existing estate plan. Your LOI may be changed whenever you prefer throughout your lifetime, and it is good to revisit its contents as you accumulate more assets and should your feelings change as to who shall receive what. It is helpful to provide the most current copy of your LOI to your executor and your attorney. A thoughtful LOI can be an authentic source of comfort and peace to your family during their time of grief. If there is a disparity in your bequests, a letter of intent can help your family come to terms with your decision-making process and help loved ones move forward.

If you would like to discuss creating your estate plan or LOI, please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 We would be honored to assist you!

Inheritances can be Provided through Charitable Trusts

Inheritances can be Provided through Charitable Trusts

An irrevocable trust that provides income to heirs while benefiting you or a charity is a charitable trust. If you are philanthropically minded with nonessential assets like stocks or real estate, a charitable trust can offer many financial advantages for all those involved. Once in place, a charitable trust is irrevocable even if you experience a personal or business financial loss. There are two primary charitable trust types:

Charitable Lead Trust (CLT) – This trust is designed to distribute a portion of its proceeds to charity for which you receive a tax deduction equal to the payments. The remainder of the principal is distributed among your beneficiaries.

Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) – This trust grants income to a designated individual by distributing non-income-producing assets first placed in the trust. A charitable donations tax deduction applies to the remaining assets earmarked for the charity. The chosen charity receives the remaining assets at the end of the trust’s term or upon your death.

Each trust type comes with many options to consider and strategies for maximizing its benefits. Both trust types do not require you to choose your charity beneficiary. Instead, you create a donor-advised fund that directs payments from either trust type to your chosen charities. This tactic allows flexibility to change your mind about an existing charity or add a new one.

For income-producing purposes to heirs, a charitable remainder trust provides options from the sale of your non-income-producing assets. For example, purchasing a life insurance policy can have premiums paid by the charitable remainder trust while using residual funds to support philanthropic intentions.

Charitable Remainder Trusts are also known as a split-interest trust, making payments from income first to the beneficiary or beneficiaries in a set amount with the remaining income supporting the organization, which is the opposite of a Charitable Lead Trust. The two ways to receive trust payments in a Charitable Remainder Trust are either a fixed annuity or a percent of trust assets known as a unitrust.

In a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust, it is not permissible to change the annuity amount once the trust is created, so it is best to over-fund rather than not have enough. An annuity trust provides a fixed dollar amount each year even if the trust’s income is less than anticipated.

A Charitable Remainder Unitrust allows receipt of a fixed percentage of the trust’s assets each year. The trust’s value receives an annual appraisal which determines the dollar amount of the set percentage for distribution. This funding method ties income to the trust’s success, providing more in good years and less in years when assets are underperforming. If trust payments are not a significant source of income to beneficiaries, this can be a good option. The IRS requires a minimum five percent distribution of the trust valuation annually.

Work with an estate attorney to design a charitable trust. They can help you determine which charitable trust type is best for you and what assets to place in the trust. An estate planning attorney will help you identify beneficiaries and payment strategies, as well as the value of your tax deduction. Once you draw up the trust document, the assets will be moved to fund the charitable trust unless you create the trust as part of your will.

The charity you seek to benefit may have preferences about how and when to donate. Speak with the organization before creating an irrevocable charitable trust. This trust type can lessen your income, estate, and capital gains taxes by making 501(c)(3) donations to a charity and providing a steady income to heirs. Creating a charitable trust is a practical, multipronged approach to leaving your legacy, permitting the allocation of money for both a charity and your beneficiaries while realizing specific tax advantages.

For assistance, please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

 

 

Achieving Advanced Directives Requires Critical Conversations

It is among the most difficult challenges we will ever have to confront in life to consider our own death. Yet it is very important to think carefully about the medical treatment we would want for that challenging time. Medical technology can now keep us alive long after we have ceased to enjoy meaningful quality of life.

A series of legal rulings around thirty years ago established the rights of patients to decide when life support should be stopped. The fear of being kept alive indefinitely by artificial means led many to create legal documents known as advance directives.  An advance directive expresses our wishes about the kind of medical treatment we would prefer. It is called “advance,” meaning ahead of time; and “directive,” meaning our directions for whether we want medical providers to keep us alive at all costs, or whether we would prefer to pass naturally when life becomes no longer meaningful. It is wise to think about this, and to create such a document, well before we are facing the end.

After thirty years, concerns have now shifted to assess whether advance directives really do serve the purpose for which they are intended. Do advance directives really ensure that we receive the treatment we would like?

The short answer is “yes but.”

Yes because it is just as important now to create a legal document by which to appoint a person to help communicate our wishes. The “but” part comes in with the issues raised below.

The answer to these issues is the same as it has always been: to establish a close relationship with one or two people – called “agents” or “proxies” – whom patients appoint to step in when patients can no longer make health-care decisions for themselves. Patients must talk with their agents so the agents will know, in as much depth as possible, where the patient stands on end-of-life questions.

Over the years, we have learned that advance directives might not work as well as they could. Here are concerns that have emerged:

➢        It is unrealistic to micro-manage health care in advance. There are so many variables that depend on the particular situation. Treating a complicated illness has been likened to a jigsaw puzzle, where each puzzle piece could fit multiple other pieces; the right fit for each piece must be arrived-at, often by a team of various specialists who sort through the pieces and collaborate in assembling the picture. Under those circumstances, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to interpret a legal document that was intended to guide detailed medical treatment for as-yet-unknown conditions.

➢        The “check-the-boxes” approach taken by many “fill-in-the-blank” forms is too crude to be helpful in any but the most general of ways. Without additional detail, these documents don’t adequately address the nuances that almost always arise.

➢        Change is constant and humans are adaptable. It is one thing to imagine, when in good health, that life would not be worth living if, say, one became permanently bedridden. But when the patient is actually in that situation, new meaning in life could emerge. Choices made years in the past might look a lot different in the moment of truth.

➢        The prognosis can change with time. As reported in Kaiser Health News,

if a senior contracted COVID-19 early in the pandemic, and her advance directive stated that she did not want to be placed on a ventilator, doctors tended to assume that the virus was universally fatal to such seniors. Some never got the care that could have saved their lives.

➢        The documents must be readily available, both at patients’ homes and in agents’ hands too. They must not be hidden away and forgotten-about, so no one can locate them when they are needed.

The best alternative is to create an effective, current, and available legal document backed up by serious talk between the patient and the agent or proxy. A document that meets legal requirements is essential, but beyond that: conversation in advance is the crucial additional element.

That conversation should occur first between the patient and their agent or proxy, in which they discuss quality of life issues and what matters most to the patient. The talk should avoid excessive detail for hypothetical situations that may never arise. Rather, the aim should be to provide the agents or proxies with enough information to be able to respond flexibly to unforeseen circumstances.

These conversations can be challenging. Helpful resources to assist can be found at The Conversation Project (https://theconversationproject.org) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/acp-resources-public.pdf).

Then, if the time comes when the patient is unable to speak or make decisions, the agent will be best equipped to convey the patient’s wishes to medical providers. Knowing those wishes in advance, the agent can focus on ensuring that providers furnish as much information as possible to make the hard decisions on the facts as they presently exist.

What if you are alone and without a person whom you trust to be your agent? First, study the guidance resources provided in this article. Then call us to create a legally effective advance directive document that spells out your wishes. And the final step would be to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your wishes. Give him or her a copy of your document.

Again, all must make sure that doctors and agents have copies ready for use. And everyone should also carry a wallet card to inform health-care providers whom to call in case of an emergency. Print one here,

https://www.aha.org/system/files/2018-01/piiw-walletcard.pdf

provided by the American Hospital Association.

There are no assurances in this life, except that it will end for us all. The hope is that we will have delegated people whom we trust to step in when we need them – and that we will have talked with them about the kind of care we want to prepare for a passing that is as peaceful and merciful as it can be.

Contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 we are happy to help.

 

Having an Estate Plan Discussion with Your Spouse

To create an estate plan that meets your family’s needs, you need to speak to your spouse or life partner.  Before meeting with an estate planning attorney, it is best to discuss your ideas to present a united goal. This conversation can be challenging if you and your loved one have different points of view about your future and the legacy you will leave behind. Suppose you have a blended family; how do you choose to provide for them? There is a lot to process with many emotional topics regarding your mortality, being fair to children, and more.

First, you must decide what elements in an estate plan are most important to you. Once you have a clear idea, you can readily communicate your needs and identify avenues of compromise. At the start of your discussion, state some clear objectives to promote a positive and productive conversation.

Children in Blended Families

Some couples will agree on family beneficiaries, although a blended family with stepchildren may find it challenging. Looking at the big picture first and then fleshing out details can help minimize any tension. There will be back and forth as you craft your ideas and negotiate priorities. Even if you don’t agree on everything, you can discuss why certain elements are crucial to you and openly discuss your point of view until you reach a compromise.

A Partner’s Right of Survivorship

“Rights of survivorship” and “Joint Tenancy” do not apply in Louisiana. Thus, when you pass away, your property will not automatically go to your spouse, much less an unmarried partner. Because of this, it is critical to create an estate plan specifically addressing how to provide for your loved one.  Some payable on death accounts and other designated beneficiary accounts like IRAs or 401(k)s will pass outside probate and be paid to them directly; however, in the absence of a will and other estate plans, the surviving partner often has no legal rights to automatic inheritance. It can be contested. Children inherit before the spouse.

Setting the Stage for Your Talk

Choosing the right time and place for a serious conversation can lead to a positive discussion. The best circumstances for a talk are different for each couple. Be sure the environment isn’t full of unfinished chores or lots of activity that can sidetrack your estate planning intentions. If you meet resistance to future planning, talk about why you believe estate planning is important to protect yourselves and your family.

Take some general notes and stay open to your partner’s or spouse’s perspective. Avoid being judgmental. If the meeting begins to focus on how you disagree, take a break and give yourself some time to reflect on those issues and revisit the topics when frustration levels are lower. Your estate planning attorney, who understands the best way to structure your estate and is a neutral third party, may be able to help resolve some sticking points later. Continue to focus on the areas where you can agree.

Responsible Estate Planning Takes Time

You will need to craft a will, power of attorney, living will, and healthcare proxy. Some couples will require trusts and insurance policies as part of their estate plan. Your estate plan will cover asset preservation, management, and distribution after you die. It will identify those individuals who will act on your behalf to close your estate properly. If you become incapacitated, your properties, financial obligations, and medical wishes will be clear.

If you already have an estate plan in place, don’t forget the importance of reviewing your documents every couple of years or when family circumstances change surrounding births, deaths, marriage, and divorce. If there are substantial financial changes, it is also wise to review how you plan to address these ups and downs.

While it can be uncomfortable for some couples to broach estate planning, it is a crucial step toward securing your future together and your family’s legacy after you are gone. Approach conversations with a positive attitude and problem-solving spirit. Let us review and guide your process to create an estate plan well-suited to your life and wishes. Contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

 

A Nursing Home can be Covered by Medicaid

Remember Medicaid planning doesn’t simply mean meeting strict income and asset limits to qualify for long-term care insurance. You will also need to demonstrate you need the level of care typically provided in a nursing home setting. These health eligibility rules are valid if you apply for nursing home coverage or a Medicaid waiver program for coverage in your home. Each state has a level of care requirement and its own criteria to determine if you meet the mandated level of care. It can get complicated because eligibility criteria are not always clear.

Determining the level of care necessity usually includes:

  • The need for two or more activities of daily living constitutes bathing, toileting, dressing, eating, and mobility.
  • You require frequent medical care, like IVs or other injections, medications, or other medical treatment.
  • You exhibit behavioral problems such as aggressiveness or wandering away from home.
  • Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia impairs your cognitive ability; making decisions on your own is problematic, or you cannot correctly process information.

The state evaluates the assessment of a Medicaid applicant and, in many cases, will require a doctor’s diagnosis. The assessment generally requires the applicant to answer a series of questions about their abilities to perform activities of daily living and any behavioral issues or cognitive problems. There are further questions regarding the applicant’s family and their ability to provide support.

Understanding Medical Services Covered by Medicare

Medicare still covers the medical services you may need beyond nursing care along with institutional Medicaid. If you need to see a specialist or go to a doctor’s office, Medicare pays first, and Medicaid will cover your remaining costs like copayments, coinsurances, and deductibles. When applying for institutional Medicaid, consider the following:

  • The program considers you and your spouse together when counting assets and income. Typically, you can set aside a certain amount of assets and income to protect your spouse’s standard of living. This spousal amount does not count when applying for Medicaid.
  • You will still be able to keep a small amount of income for your allowance even though you qualify. The amount varies by state, and your local Medicaid office can provide more information. The remainder of your income will pay the nursing home.
  • There is a look-back period of up to five years for institutional Medicaid in most states. When determining your eligibility, your state will count any assets you have transferred in the past five years. If Medicaid determines any transfers violate the Medicaid eligibility rules, you may be penalized. Medicaid may opt to pay only a portion of your nursing home stay or none at all.
  • Owning your own home affects Medicaid eligibility and coverage. An elder law attorney can characterize your specific circumstances and how the equity in your home may count as an asset. When long-term care is no longer necessary, or you are deceased, these assets may repay Medicaid for your care coverage.

Nursing home level of care, also known as nursing facility level of care (NFLOC), Is not an easily definable term as there is no formal federal definition. Each state has the task of defining the term, and rules are not always consistent from one state to the other. Generally, there are four areas of concern, though not every state considers all four; physical functional ability, medical needs/health issues, cognitive impairment, and behavioral problems.

For those families with a loved one who requires more care than they can provide at home but do not require a high enough level of care to qualify for nursing home admittance, there is an in-between care type typically provided in assisted living. However, Medicaid coverage of this type of assisted living is very limited in numbers.

Nursing homes are experiencing very limited capacity, and waitlists can be years. Medicaid is adapting to provide this coverage type in-home to those applicants who may meet NFLOC Medicaid eligibility requirements but not pose a danger to themselves or others in a home environment. Perhaps using this as a springboard as a potential nursing home residence is waitlisted for full-time care.

Before applying to become eligible for Medicaid nursing home coverage, there is much to consider. Applications that are insufficient or incorrectly filed can create delays, and with limited space available, it can be several years on a waiting list before admittance can take place.

The need is more significant than ever before for long-term care in a nursing home. Meeting your state’s eligibility requirements can be a long and complex series of providing documents, answering questionnaires, having assessments and reviews, and filling out and filing forms. The scope of the project can be overwhelming. To get to your best outcome, don’t wait. Contact our Ruston, LA office today at (318) 255-1760. Proactive planning with an elder law attorney will help you understand and address all criteria you need to act on to succeed.

 

The Importance of Hiring an Elder Law Attorney as Soon as Possible

Whether your loved ones are older adults, or you are concerned about your future health and financial well-being, an elder law attorney can help. Elder law is a highly specialized area of law focusing on the legal needs of older adults encompassing more significant issues like long-term health care needs, quality of life, and financial well-being. Specific planning may include estate planning and administration, asset protection planning, Medicaid planning and applications, wills and trusts, probate, advance directives, special needs planning, and guardianships.

How would you answer the following questions:

  • Do you have a will, and has it been updated in the last five years?
  • Are your assets protected in the event you require home care or nursing home care?
  • Do you have a living will, including a health care proxy and durable power of attorney?
  • Is your home protected, perhaps in a trust?
  • Are you willing to spend half or even all of your assets on the cost of your elder care?

If your answers are no to any of these questions, it is time to consult with an elder law attorney.

The Importance of Medicaid Planning with an Elder Law Attorney

As you age, early planning is the key to enjoy a successful, secure, and less stressful lifestyle. Currently, the look-back period for Medicaid nursing home benefit qualifications is five years, and it is 2.5 years for Medicaid home care benefits. Early planning can protect many of your assets and still secure eligibility for government benefits.

The truth is, regardless of your age or wealth, you should have an estate plan. Your will sets forth instructions regarding which heirs will receive your property upon your death, name a guardian(s) for minor children, and protect assets in a special needs trust benefiting any disabled loved ones.  An estate plan will tackle tax planning, power of attorney, health care proxy, and a living will in the event of unforeseen incapacity.

Engaging in Medicaid planning and asset protection can ensure you or your loved one will receive the care they need and afford it. Medicaid planning can protect a healthy spouse who wishes to remain in your home with the financial resources to do so. Proper planning for Medicaid benefits can protect your assets from Medicaid’s estate recovery program, genuine estate liens.

How an Elder Care Attorney Can Help You or a Loved One?

Hiring an experienced elder care attorney can be the most significant financial safeguard a person can make for their life or the life of a loved one. Specific services of an elder care attorney include but are not limited to:

  • Planning and managing of long-term care services – Your elder law attorney will compile financial information, insurance, and assets, including medical and housing needs, in addition to evaluating and implementing estate planning. Geriatric care, veterans benefits, financial and tax planning, and preparation are part of the process.
  • Planning and qualifying for Medicaid eligibility – Elder law attorneys understand the differences between Medicare and Medicaid. They can show how income levels and current asset holdings may affect your future benefits.
  • Interdictions (Guardianships) – In this process, a judge will appoint a person to manage another’s financial affairs known as a Curator (guardian), particularly for those who can no longer care for themselves or have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Elder law attorneys can guide a family through the process of obtaining guardianship for their loved one’s benefit.
  • Administration of the estate, probate and trust(s) – This service benefits the estate holder and the designated trustees or executors. An elder law attorney can outline the rights and responsibilities of those with fiduciary appointments.
  • Estate and disability planning and preparedness – Many seniors have questions regarding the impact of their will on their family and other tax and legal issues. Your elder law attorney can explain these impacts and help guide choices that ensure your legacy and benefit your heirs.

A well-crafted estate plan is invaluable to you and your beneficiaries. Your elder law attorney will help guide you through the estate plan process, customizing it to meet your needs, and prepare the legal documents reflecting the laws of your state. Early proactive planning will yield the best results to protect your assets and your well-being. Contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 to establish or review your existing estate plan.

 

Choosing a Long-Term Care Option for 2022

It’s more crucial than ever to take stock of your life and your healthcare planning at the start of a new year. Americans continue responding to the ever-present threat of COVID-19 in its many iterations, and we are identifying that which is most important in our lives to preserve our health and financial future best.

For many, the mere mention of long-term care health insurance congers up images of twilight years seemingly far removed from our daily lives. However, the reality is that you may find yourself in need of long-term care due to a sudden disease or illness or as the result of an accident. The US Department of Health and Human Services statistics currently show that about seventy percent of individuals over the age of 65 will require some long-term care during their lives. Genworth’s latest statistics show that a full thirty-seven percent of these long-term care recipients are, in fact, under sixty-five years of age.

Regardless of your age or cause, when long-term care becomes a requirement, it is important to know and plan for your options regarding funding the care you need, where and how you prefer to receive it. Your planning today can make a huge difference in your financial solvency and those caregivers (mostly family) who participate in the financial burden of your care.

Naturally, the best scenario is having prepared for the future by having healthy balances saved in your retirement programs and health savings accounts. If the funding is available to cover long-term care costs for yourself or a loved one, it is prudent to do so. Perhaps you can only make part of the funding happen, in which case you may have to ask loved ones for help. They may have the financial where with all to finish covering premium costs. Paying some out-of-pocket for an aging parent early on means less of a toll emotionally, physically, and financially, should a family member have to assume becoming a full-time caregiver.

The IRS considers long-term care insurance as a medical expense. As long as the policy is qualified, it is deductible. IRS rules state the policy must have been issued on or before January 1, 1997, and adhere to certain requirements. Policies purchased before this date may qualify to become grandfathered if the state’s insurance commissioner approves the selling of the policy. The IRS rules from 2021 to 2022 are little changed, most notably in age categories from sixty to seventy years old the IRS reduced the deduction by ten dollars.

Note these tax deductions are, for the most part, not available in hybrid policies. These policies combine life insurance and annuity policies with a long-term care benefit. Hybrid policies are becoming particularly popular because if long-term care is not a requirement, the individual’s heirs may receive a death benefit. Your medical expenses need not exceed a certain percentage of your income to be tax-deductible. As long as you earn a profit, you may take the amount of your long-term care insurance as a deductible.

Public programs are becoming more heavily leveraged for lower-income individuals to plan for long-term care services. There is nothing wrong with taking advantage of these programs; however, most Americans do not understand the differences between Medicare and Medicaid, what and who they fund, and for how long. The answers are complex as there are physical and financial thresholds to qualify for benefits, and these may vary from state to state. Here is a general overview of qualifications and limitations in coverage and choices of care facilities.

Sometimes referred to as Medicaid crisis planning, an elder law attorney can guide you through the process of sheltering some of your assets. Medicaid is a federal/state program helping low-income seniors with limited income and assets afford healthcare and long-term care. Many seniors believe their only option to qualify for the program is to “spend down” their assets. While this is true in some cases, proactive Medicaid planning can protect a substantial portion of your assets if done correctly.

The program’s eligibility rules are complicated, as is the application process, so it is best to navigate the process with a specialized Medicaid planning elder law attorney well before you need to tap the benefits. Always seek professional legal advice when creating your long-term care strategy using Medicaid. Applications are rarely successful as a do-it-yourself project, and mistakes can have devastating long-term consequences on a family and their finances.

Options for long-term care exist; however, finding the best solution for your financial circumstances is complex. As 2022 is before us, it behooves us all to look to the future of our healthcare and prioritize proactive planning, ensuring there will be a plan in place when we encounter the likelihood of a long-term care requirement. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

 

Estate Planning: Six Mistakes to Avoid

You can protect your assets, interests, and the people you love if you plan ahead. Sadly, many individuals make costly mistakes without proper advice and guidance from a qualified estate planning attorney. Beyond undermining your intent and diminishing your financial legacy, poor planning can create additional stress to your heirs in their time of grief.

Six common errors frequently happen during the estate planning process. These mistakes often occur because the complete financial picture was not fully considered. It is easiest to avoid estate planning mishaps by knowing what they are before you begin or looking for these errors when reviewing and updating your plan.

Financial procrastination causes problems. While examining your mortality and making end-of-life preparations is not a particularly fun activity, try viewing it as helping and enhancing your loved ones’ future lives while creating a sense of peace during your own.

The need to protect your finances using wills, trusts, and power of attorney (POA) documents is not solely the domain of the elderly. Putting off the drafting of legal documents necessary to protect yourself and your inheritors can lead to disastrous outcomes.

By far, failing to create an estate plan is the most common mistake. Even if you do not have a lot of money, you need a will to protect any minor children you have by naming their guardians. Your will also ensures your asset distribution to heirs is carried out according to your intentions when you die and names a representative to handle debt obligations, final taxes, and other estate administrative duties. Dying without a will or “intestate” can lead to dire consequences.

Outdated wills, forms, and POAs create problems. If you made a will twenty years ago and have not reviewed and updated its contents, chances are many of the details no longer reflect current assets or beneficiaries. Estate planning is not a “set it and forget it” proposition. Reviewing estate planning documents and beneficiary forms every two years is generally adequate, barring a major life change such as divorce, birth, death, remarriage, or relocation to another state.

Beneficiaries without coordination can create expensive oversight. Beneficiary forms for retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs, annuities, and life insurance policies may constitute a significant portion of your estate’s assets. These beneficiary forms are legally binding and will supersede the contents of your will. Failure to update beneficiary forms can lead to an ex-spouse receiving assets that preferably would go to your heirs. Routine checks of all beneficiary designations are best practices for estate planning.

Failing to title trust assets properly can lead to probate. While not everyone requires a trust, those who do must carefully retitle their assets into the name of the trust. Forgetting to add more recently purchased property or opening a new account requires you to title them into the trust to receive trust benefits. Whether real estate, cash, mutual funds, or stocks, if you fail to move the asset into the trust, they become subject to the probate court, possible tax consequences (depending on the trust type), and a public record of these assets.

Life insurance can trigger estate tax. Life insurance can provide heirs with liquidity without the sale of assets and tax consequences when handled correctly. However, if a wealthy individual dies while maintaining ownership of their life insurance policy, they may inadvertently create a tax event for their heirs. Although life insurance death benefits are not subject to state or federal income taxes, any “incident” of ownership by the decedent can create an inheritance tax.

An estate planning attorney can help shelter life insurance proceeds from high-value estates by gifting the policy to an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) or draft a new trust to purchase a new policy where the trust is the owner and beneficiary. A policy owned by the trust does not create a taxable situation to death benefits. Your attorney’s careful structuring of this trust type is complex but can provide proper protection.

Joint ownership of assets with your children can lead to disastrous consequences. Naming your children as co-owners of assets, even digital, permits their creditors to access your money. The better way to address the situation is to give your adult child power of attorney and assign them as a beneficiary to a payable on death bank or brokerage account. This tactic permits them to access your funds if required during your lifetime. However, it keeps your assets from your child’s estate and away from their potential creditors.

Ultimately the biggest error you can make is not finding the right estate planning attorney to guide you. This specialized attorney receives training on avoiding probate, tax implications, and asset protection if you require long-term care. Proper planning with the right guidance will help you avoid costly estate planning mistakes and protect your family’s future financial well-being. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

 

The Great Transfer of Generational Wealth

This financial time is unprecedented in human history. Baby boomers preparing to pass on their legacies through estate plans put America at the brink of the largest ever transfer of wealth. Over the next 25 years, projections estimate 68.4 trillion dollars will be in motion to create an unprecedented transfer of generational wealth.

The post-WWII economic environment allowed the growth of assets during decades of economic prosperity. Rising real estate values, stock markets, and favorable tax policies contributed to the baby boomers’ ability to aggregate significant wealth. These 45 million households will see their generational wealth pass to Generation X and millennial inheritors, dramatically shifting the landscape of American wealth management.

Baby boomers collectively hold thirty to forty trillion in assets, controlling roughly seventy percent of all disposable income. While families of already established generational wealth may have plans in place, much of the upcoming wealth transfer hails from self-made men and women who have avoided discussing estate plans and family fortunes with their heirs. Predictions are that Gen X will inherit about 57 percent of these assets, with millennials inheriting the rest. Yet the mechanisms for inheritance through sound estate planning are missing in many of these family systems.

Wealth management groups and estate planning attorneys posit that inheritors will needlessly lose much of their wealth due to parents who failed to develop comprehensive end-of-life plans. On the other side of the equation, younger generation inheritors must ramp up their knowledge about asset management to grow their inheritance for future generations.

Generation X and millennials have vastly different financial experiences and attitudes towards money than their parents. On average, while millennials are the highest-earning generation, they have significantly less money, controlling just 4.6 percent of US wealth in 2021. They have lower levels of financial literacy, are less likely to own a home, and have less interest in investing in the stock market. They also tend to have higher debt after experiencing two recessions before the age of 40, cost of living increases that outpaced wages, and increasing college tuition and vehicle loans.

These younger generations will also change the landscape of financial planning and management. Financial firms will have to bridge the gap of immediate expectation with a generation raised in an era of enormous technological transformation. Smart technology can provide an incrementally higher return on investment through transaction speed alone. Digital financial tools and apps will be the norm, including robot-advisors as a convenience for investing.

Are these younger generations ready to be stewards of generational wealth? Will they see the need to protect this wealth through comprehensive estate planning? To better protect their inheritors’ interests, baby boomer parents can include their children in estate planning goals. The older generation can implement or update an existing plan and guide their inheritors to protect from squandering assets.

Some family systems may find the surest and safest way to protect generational wealth is via trusts. Both revocable and irrevocable trusts can create structure and limit new inheritors’ access to assets. A trust can grow wealth and also save on taxes. The objectives and conditions of a family trust are wide-ranging and easily tailored to a family’s specific needs.

Charitable trusts and charitable remainder trusts can generate income for heirs while protecting assets and favorable tax consequences. There are also asset-protection trusts, testamentary trusts, and special needs trusts. A qualified estate planning attorney will assess the best trust type(s) for you and your family based on your unique set of parameters. With trillions of inheritable dollars in motion over the next twenty-five years in America, proactive estate planning is key to securing generational wealth for your family. If you would like to discuss your personal situation, please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.