Probate: Dissolving the Mystery
It is important to understand the probate process before deciding whether and how to avoid it.

Probate: Dissolving the Mystery

probate and estate planning
If you want to avoid probate, work with an experienced attorney to coordinate your plan and assets.

Probate avoidance is a common concern for our clients.  They frequently seek ways to pass their assets to their loved ones without going through probate.  Although it can be avoided with proper estate planning, probate avoidance should be done carefully and at the advice of an attorney as using piecemeal strategies usually don’t work, and sometimes create bigger problems.  For example, consider using trusts in your estate planning.  See this article for more information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-trusts-work-in-your-estate-plan/

Before considering whether you want to avoid probate, it is important to understand what the process is.  The Street’s recent article on this subject asks “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?” The article looks at the probate process and tries to put it in real-life terms.

Probate is the process by which an Executor (person put in charge of the Will) goes to court to prove the validity of the Will and their authority to be in charge of the estate.  I find it helpful to remember that the word probate is essentially Latin for “prove it.”

Every state’s process is different, but in Texas, the Executor starts by filing the Will and an application to probate along with other documents necessary to that case.  Next, there is a hearing before a probate judge.  The Executor and her attorney ask the judge to admit the Will to probate as the valid Will of the decedent and ask that the Executor be empowered to handle the decedent’s affairs as directed in the Will.

Once the Will is admitted to probate and the Executor agrees to serve, there are many tasks for them to complete.  They include the following:

  • Giving notice to the beneficiaries in the Will;
  • Giving notice to potential creditors of the estate;
  • Gathering, valuing and categorizing the decedent’s assets;
  • Prepare an inventory of those assets;
  • Paying off any of the deceased’s existing valid debts or fighting invalid ones;
  • Paying final taxes or expenses of the estate; and
  • Distributing the deceased’s property to those directed by the Will

The above are just the basic responsibilities of the Executor.  The probate process becomes more complicated when a creditor appears, the family disagrees, assets are entangled or cumbersome, such as land or business interests, or the Will was written without the aid of an attorney.  Even worse, it is hard for an Executor to locate assets in the first place!  This can make estates drag on months or even years.  I recently spoke with a client whose family is still going through a probate 10 years after the decedent has passed.

With all of that uncertainty, it is worth discussing your wishes with an experienced estate planning attorney who will be able to explain what strategies are used to avoid probate, how to remove certain assets from the process, or whether it needs to be avoided at all.  The key, as with all estate plans, is to find the option that fits your goals for you and your family.

Reference: The Street (July 29, 2019) “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?”

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What Should I Know About a Special Needs Trust?

Leaving assets to loved ones with disabilities in a special needs trust can provide support while preserving government benefits.

Your loved ones with disabilities may be eligible for a number of government programs. However, Pauls Valley (OK) Democrat’s recent article asks “Can your family benefit from a special needs trust?” The article reminds us that these programs don’t cover everything. You may need to close the gaps.

Many government programs have eligibility restrictions based on the amount and type of financial assets that are available to the recipient. This means the financial help you want to provide may do more harm than good, unless you establish a special needs trust.

A special needs trust, also known as a supplemental needs trust and by the acronym SNT, is a trust that provides assets for a disabled beneficiary in the discretion of the trustee.  The beneficiary typically can’t use the trust for basic support or to receive benefits that can be provided by the government. The special needs trust can be used to provide specialized therapy, special equipment, recreational outings and other expenses.  In short, for the needs not already served by the government benefits.

These types of trusts come up more often than people realize.  Often, clients consider making special needs trust for their children with disabilities.  But, it is also important to consider that elderly loved ones may utilize Medicaid for their long-term care.  If they do (or might) then it makes sense to set up a special needs trust for them as well.  This might be for elderly parents, siblings, or even spouses!  See our overview for more detail.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/practice-areas/elder-law/

When considering a special needs trust, you’ll need to look at several issues with your attorney.  First, whose assets will it hold?  If the disabled individual is creating or funding a trust with their own assets (called a First Party Special Needs Trust), you have a very different set of rules which I won’t address here.  If you are creating the special needs trust for someone else (called a Third Party Special Needs Trust) you need to consider who will be the trustee.

You could name a family member or close friend as a trustee. While this works well for many, it has the potential to cause family conflicts and becomes a burden.  You could also name a trust company.  A trust company can provide professional management, expertise and continuity of administration, especially for younger beneficiaries who will outlive their care providers. A third option is to name an individual and a trust company as trustees.

The second critical issue with a special needs trust is funding the trust. You can fund the trust during your lifetime or have it activated when you die.  Note that you don’t have to be the sole donor. A special needs trust can be created so other family members can also contribute to it, as long as the person receiving benefits doesn’t contribute.  The trust can be funded with securities (stocks and bonds), IRA proceeds, insurance death benefits and other assets. 

You’ll need to understand the requirements of various federal, state and local benefit programs for people with disabilities, so that your loved one’s benefits are not at risk.

Speak with an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney about how you can to make life better for a family member with disabilities by using a special needs trust.

Reference:  Pauls Valley (OK) Democrat (August 1, 2019) “Can your family benefit from a special needs trust?”

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Why an Attorney Should Help with a Medicaid Application

Seniors should consider medicaid asset protection planning as part of their estate plan.
Hiring an attorney to prepare a Medicaid application may save money in the long run and get your loved one the care they need.

Elder law attorneys can be very helpful when it is time to complete a Medicaid application, and they can save money in the long run, ensuring that you (or a loved one) get the best care. Instead of waiting to see how wrong the process can get, says The Middletown Press, it’s best to “Use a lawyer for Medicaid planning” right from the start. Here’s why.

Conflict of interests. When a nursing home refers a family to people for preparing the Medicaid application or offers to complete it themselves, very often the person has dual loyalties: to the nursing home who refers them the work (or signs their checks), and to the family who will pay them a fee for help with applying for benefits. Whose interests comes first?

Everyone wants the Medicaid application to be successful, but let’s be realistic. It’s in the nursing home’s best interest that the resident pays privately for as long as possible, before going on Medicaid. It’s in the resident or family member’s best interest to protect the family’s assets for care for the resident’s spouse or family.

An attorney has a duty of loyalty only to his client. He also has an ethical and professional responsibility to put her client’s needs ahead of her own.

Saving money is possible. Nursing homes in some areas cost as much as $15,000 a month, in Texas they tend to be cheaper, but still in the several thousands.  While every market and every law practice is different, it would be unusual for legal fees to cost more than a month in the facility. With an experienced attorney’s help, you might save more than her fee in long-term care and related costs.

Further, attorneys can find ways to complete a Medicaid application and successfully obtain benefits without simply spending all of your assets before applying.  Many times nursing home staff will offer to do the Medicaid application after the assets are nearly entirely spent.  A quality elder law attorney will find ways to complete and file a successful Medicaid application while protecting your legacy.

The benefit of experience. It’s all well and good to read through pages of online information (Google, Esq.), but nothing beats the years of experience that an attorney who practices in this area can bring provide.  Any professional in any field develops knowledge of the ins and outs of an area and applying for Medicaid is no different. Without experience, it’s hard to know how it all works.  See Mary’s blog for more detail about how an attorney helps with this process.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/when-you-need-an-elder-law-attorney/

Peace of mind from a reliable, reputable source. Consulting with an experienced attorney about a Medicaid application will help you avoid years of wondering, if there was more you could have done to help yourself or your loved one.

There are multiple opportunities for nursing home residents to preserve assets for themselves and spouses, children and grandchildren, particularly when a family member has long term care needs. However, here’s a key fact: if you wait for the last minute, there will be far less options than if you begin planning long before there’s a need for a Medicaid application.

Reference: The Middletown Press (July 29, 2019) “Use a lawyer for Medicaid planning”

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