Five Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Five common estate planning mistakes are easy to avoid with the right information and support, as well as a little creativity.

While it’s true that no estate is completely bulletproof, there are mistakes that people make that are big enough to walk through, while others are more like a slow drip, making things harder in a slow but steady process. There are common estate planning mistakes that can be easily avoided, reports Comstock Magazine in the article “Five Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Estate.”

  1. Misunderstanding Estate Law. Some people are so thrown by the idea of an estate plan, that they can’t get past the word “estate.” You don’t need a mansion to have an estate. An “estate” does not mean extreme wealth.  The term is actually used to refer to any and all property that a person owns, regardless of debts. Even people with modest estates need a plan to help beneficiaries avoid unnecessary costs and stress, and typically estate planning is even more critical for such individuals. Talk with an estate planning attorney to learn what your needs are, from a will to trusts to incapacity planning. Make sure that this is the attorney’s key practice area.  A real estate attorney, family law attorney or the friend or family member who is a lawyer won’t have the same knowledge and experience.
  2. Getting Bad or Incomplete Advice. It takes a team to create a strong estate plan. That means an estate planning attorney, a financial advisor and an accountant. Look for a firm that will tailor an estate plan specifically to your goals. The is no one size fits all approach, and many tools are needed for a complete estate plan. Buying an insurance policy or an annuity is not an estate plan, but may helps achieve those goals.
  3. Naming Yourself as a Sole Trustee without a Back-up. Naming yourself as a sole trustee puts you and your estate in a precarious position. What if you develop Alzheimer’s or are injured in an accident? A trusted individual, a family member, a longstanding friend or even a professional trustee, needs to be named to protect your interests, if you should become incapacitated.  This is also why you should have Durable Financial Powers of Attorney and Healthcare Powers of Attorney, among other documents, to ensure someone you trust may act on your behalf if you cannot.
  4. Losing Track of Assets. Without a complete list of all assets, it’s nearly impossible for someone to know what you own and who your heirs may be. Some assets, including retirement funds, life insurance policies, or investment accounts, have named beneficiaries. Those people will inherit these assets, regardless of what is in your estate plan. If your heirs can’t find the assets, they may be lost or there may be a long delay in obtaining them. If you don’t update your beneficiaries, they may go to unintended heirs—like children of prior relationships, someone other than your spouse and so on.
  5. Deciding on Options Without Being Fully Informed. When it comes to estate planning, the natural tendency is to go with what we think is the right thing. For example, people often say “I just need a will,” but learn later that the will requires probate, or doesn’t address the disability of a child.  However, unless you are an estate planning attorney, chances are you don’t know what the right thing is. For tax reasons, for instance, it may make sense to transfer assets, while you are still living. However, that might also be a terrible idea, if you choose the wrong person to hold your assets or don’t put them in the right kind of trust.  It may also make sense to leave income taxable assets to charities, and non-income taxable assets such as life insurance, to individuals.  You don’t know what you don’t know, so it is important to work with an estate planning attorney to craft the plan that’s right for you.   See here for some estate planning frequently asked questions to get you started.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/estate-planning-questions/

Estate planning is still a highly personal process that depends upon every person’s unique experience. Your family situation is different than anyone else’s. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to create a plan and help you to avoid the big, most commonly made mistakes.  Please contact our office to discuss how your plan can avoid these estate planning mistakes.

Reference: Comstock Magazine (Dec. 2019) “Five Mistakes to Avoid When Planning Your Estate”

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Social Security Survivor Benefits for Spouses

Clients often think of Social Security for retirement planning, but Social Security survivor benefits, especially for spouses, should be considered as well.

Social Security is the main retirement income source for more than 60% of Americans, which is why it is usually the focus of news about retirement income. However, there’s more to Social Security survivor benefits, including how it helps surviving spouses. Social Security survivor benefits can be a critical part of retirement securities when families lose a loved one, says the article “Understanding the Basics Of Social Security Benefits for Surviving Spouses” from Forbes.

The rules about Social Security survivor benefits for spouses can be complicated. There are four basic categories of survivor benefits. Here’s a closer look:

Survivor benefits at age 60. At their full retirement age, the surviving spouse can receive full survivor benefits based on the deceased individual retirement benefit. The amount from the survivor benefit is based on the deceased spouse’s earnings. At full retirement age, the survivor receives 100% of the deceased individuals’ benefit or their projected benefit at full retirement age. If they collect benefits before full retirement age, you’ll get between 70% to 99% of the deceased spouse’s benefit.

You cannot receive both your benefit and your deceased spouse’s benefit. In most cases, it makes sense to defer whichever is the higher benefit, taking the lower benefit first while the larger benefit continues to increase.

Lump sum payment. This was originally intended to help survivors with certain funeral and end-of-life costs. However, the amount has never been indexed for inflation. Therefore, it won’t cover much. To get the payment, the surviving spouse must apply for it within the first two years of the deceased individual’s date of death.

Disabled benefit. If you qualify as disabled, you can receive survivor benefits as early as age 50. Divorced spouses can also receive survivor benefits, if the marriage lasted for at least ten years. If you remarry, you cannot receive survivor benefits. However, if you remarry after age 60, or age 50 if disabled, you can continue to receive survivor benefits based on your deceased spouse’s benefit, if you were married for at least ten years. You can even switch over to a spousal benefit based on the new spouses’ work history at age 62, if the new benefit would be higher.

Caring for children under age 16. A surviving spouse of any age caring for a child who is under age 16 may receive 75% of the worker’s benefit amount. The child is also eligible for a survivor benefit of 75% of the deceased parent’s benefits. A divorced spouse taking care of the deceased ex’s child younger than 16 is also entitled to 75% of the deceased spouse’s benefit. In this case, the ex does not need to meet the ten-year marriage rule, and they can be any age to collect benefits.

You can also see this article from Mary Galligan that discusses the timing of these benefits.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/social-security-benefits-what-happens-when-a-spouse-dies/

One thing to consider: the rules surrounding Social Security benefits are complex, especially when it comes to coordinating benefits with an overall financial plan. Contact our office and your financial planner to learn how these rules may help protect your family and children.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 30, 2019) “Understanding the Basics Of Social Security Benefits for Surviving Spouses”

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Choosing a Nursing Home

Choosing a nursing home is more than looking at the website and brochure, examine the data on the homes before you need them to find the right place for you.

Choosing a nursing home may be a daunting task, but the best time to shop for a nursing home is when you do not need one. If you wait until you can no longer safely or comfortably live on your own, you probably will not be in a position to do a lot of legwork to investigate facilities. Do your research well ahead of time, so you know the nursing homes in your area that provide high-quality care and, more importantly, the ones that have significant problems.

As AARP suggested in a recent article, you need to know how to spot problems at nursing homes when comparing and choosing a nursing home.  The marketing brochure, website and lobby might be lovely, but you should base your decision about a long term care facility on much more data than those things.  My article on what to look for at assisted living facilities may also be helpful: https://www.galliganmanning.com/checklist-when-visiting-assisted-living-facilities/ Here are some tips on how to dig for possible issues and resources to review when choosing a nursing home.

  • Online search. Check out the facility’s website to get an overview of the services it offers and the industry affiliations or certifications it has. Look at the daily menus to see if the meals are nutritious and have enough variety. Most people would not enjoy eating the same main course two or three times a week. Look at the activities calendar to see if you would be happy with the planned social events. On some websites, you can view the floor plans of the resident rooms.
  • Ask your primary care doctor to name a few facilities he would recommend for his parents, and those where he would not want them to live.
  • Local Office on Aging location. Every state has an Office on Aging. Contact them to get as much information as you can about safety records, injuries, deaths, regulation violations and complaints about local facilities.
  • Your state’s Long-term Care Ombudsman (LCO). Every state also has an Ombudsman who investigates allegations against nursing homes and advocates for the residents. Your state LCO should have a wealth of information about the facilities in your area.
  • State Online Database or Reporting System. Some states have online databases or collect reports about nursing homes.
  • Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website. Medicare maintains an online tool, Nursing Home Compare, that provides detailed information on nursing homes. Every nursing home that gets any funding from Medicare or Medicaid is in this database. You can enter the name of a specific nursing home or search for all the facilities in a city or zip code. The tool includes information about abuse at long-term care facilities. On the webpage, you can explore the Special Focus Facility section to find nursing homes with a history of problems.
  • Word of mouth. Ask your friends, relatives and neighbors to recommend a quality nursing home. Personal experience can be extremely valuable in this context.
  • Make a short list of the top candidates. After you collect as much information as you reasonably can, narrow your options down to four or five facilities that best meet your needs and preferences.
  • Visit your top choices. There is no substitute for going to a nursing home and checking it out in person. Pay attention to the cleanliness of the place throughout, not just in the lobby. Give the facility the “sniff” test. Determine whether they use products to mask unpleasant odors, instead of cleaning thoroughly. See whether the residents are well-groomed and wearing fresh, clean clothes. Observe the interaction of the staff with the residents. Notice whether people who need assistance at mealtime, get the help they need without having to wait.
  • Take online reviews with a grain of salt. Fake reviews are all over the internet. If you see a nursing home with only a few reviews, and they are all five stars, be skeptical.  But, hundreds of excellent reviews is a great sign.

Once you gather this information, you will be ready in the event you need to stay in a nursing home for a short recuperation from surgery or longer term.

References:

AARP. “Finding a Nursing Home: Don’t Wait Until You Need One to Do the Research.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2019/finding-a-nursing-home.html

CMS. “Find a nursing home.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html

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