Effect of Adding Someone to Your Bank Account

Clients constantly, often at the suggestion of their bank, add someone to their bank accounts.  This could be an elderly parent adding a child so they can write checks for them, or perhaps adding the names of beneficiaries so they own the account at death or can use that money to help someone else.  Regardless of the reason, it is critical to understand that adding another person to your bank account provides both of you with complete access to the account and has a big impact on your estate plan, as well as other issues such as taxes or Medicaid.  It is critical to understand these implications and the different ways you can do this, explains the article “What are my rights when someone adds me to a bank account?” from Lehigh Valley Live.

A joint account is a bank or investment account shared by two individuals, although more than two people may be on an account. They have equal access to funds, as well as equal responsibilities for any fees or expenses associated with the account. If there are transactions, depending upon the rules of the institution, all owners may be required to sign documents. The key is how the account is titled. That’s the controlling factor in determining how the assets in the account are divided, if one of the owners dies. There are several different types of joint ownership.

One is “Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship,” or JTWROS. If one of the account owners should die, the assets in the account go directly to the surviving account holder. These assets do not go through probate.  Often people assume this is what they have on their bank accounts, but in most cases this is not the default setting.

Then there’s “Tenants in Common,” or TIC. With TIC, each individual account owner has the right to designate a beneficiary for their portion of the assets upon their death. The assets might not be split 50/50. How the account is titled lets the account owners divide ownership however they want.  This is important because in an estate situation, the decedent owns 50% of the account.  So, if client leaves a Will giving everything to their neighbor, instead of their spouse

Another one: “Joint Tenants by the Entirety.” This describes a married couple who own real estate or a financial account as a legal entity with equal ownership. Neither person may transfer their half of the property during their lifetime or through a will or a trust. When one spouse dies, the entire account goes to the surviving spouse and it transfers without passing through probate.  As an aside, this isn’t applicable in all states.  From my knowledge, it exists in Pennsylvania, but not Texas or New York.

I should note as well that Texas includes the ability to add a check signer to bank accounts.  In theory this means a person, such as an adult child, who is given express authority to sign checks on your behalf.  For what it’s worth, clients frequently believe what they are doing is adding a name to an account “just to write checks.”  However, I have found that banks always create one of the joint account options listed above.  Simply put, it is easier and cleaner for them, and so that’s how they do it.

Power of Attorney or POA is a completely different thing. A POA is a legal document giving a person the authority to act on behalf of another person for a specific transaction or general legal and financial matters. Just as there are numerous types of joint ownership, there are numerous types of POA.

A general POA gives a person the power to act on behalf of the principal for all legal, property and financial matters, as long as the principal’s mental capacity is sound. The Durable POA gives authority to a person to act on behalf of the principal, even after the principal becomes mentally incapacitated. Special or limited power of attorney gives authority to act only for specific matters or transactions. A Springing Durable POA provides authority to act only under certain events or levels of incapacitation, which is defined in detail in the document.

You can be both a joint owner of an account and a power of attorney. These are two different ways to help a parent with financial and legal activities. An estate planning attorney can help create the POA that best fits the situation.

Reference: Lehigh Valley Live (June 10, 2021) “What are my rights when someone adds me to a bank account?”

Continue Reading Effect of Adding Someone to Your Bank Account

Health Mistakes to Avoid after 50

Everyone can improve their health as they age by avoiding key health mistakes people make after age 50.

Many of our clients are concerned with their health as they age.  All of us can improve the odds of a longer, more healthful life simply by avoiding the health mistakes that people tend to make after age 50, published in Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “7 Deadly Health Mistakes People Make After Age 50.”

  1. Loss of Social Connection. COVID-19 taught us many things, among them, people shouldn’t be alone. A 2018 study found that isolation may double a person’s risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. What’s more, social isolation is linked to increased risk of depression, cognitive decline, obesity and a weakened immune system. Men are at greater risk of suffering from social isolation, as a recent survey found just 48% of retired men living alone were very satisfied with the number of friends they had. However, about 71% of retired women living alone were very satisfied with their number of social connections.
  2. High-sodium foods. A very common health mistake is eating too many high-sodium foods.  About 90% of the sodium that we consume comes from salt. 90% of Americans over age two also consume too much sodium, so reduce your sodium intake. Do that and your blood pressure should fall within a couple of weeks, helping to lower your risk of deadly heart disease and stroke, the CDC says.  Several online sources list common high-sodium foods in our diets.
  3. Postponing colorectal cancer screening. Medical experts say that all adults 50 to 75 should have colorectal cancer screening. This test can find precancerous polyps, which are the main source of colorectal cancer, which is treatable when found in its early stages. With the Affordable Care Act of 2010, colorectal screening is among a list of preventive services that generally are free for people who have health insurance and are between the ages of 50 and 75.
  4. Not taking a daily aspirin. Not everyone over 50 should take an aspirin every day, but it can be good for those with certain potentially life-threatening health conditions. The Mayo Clinic says, “The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends daily aspirin therapy if you’re age 50 to 59, you’re not at increased bleeding risk and you have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke of 10 percent or greater over the next 10 years.”

Taking aspirin makes blood platelets less “sticky,” helping to prevent the clots that lead to heart attacks and strokes, explains Harvard Medical School. Talk to your doctor before starting a daily aspirin regimen.

  1. Failing to lift weights. As we get older, the risk of the bone disease osteoporosis increases. About 10 million people have osteoporosis, and 44 million more have low bone density, which puts them at risk for the disease, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Women are especially at risk for osteoporosis, since one in two women will break a bone due to osteoporosis. This happens more often in women than a heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined. Getting sufficient calcium and vitamin D is critical to preventing osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise is also a great way to strengthen bones.
  2. Not drinking enough water. Anytime my kids tell me they have an upset stomach, don’t feel well or have a headache,  I respond the same way.  Drink some water.  Hydration is key for health, and the Mayo Clinic says that older adults carry a lower volume of water in their bodies. In addition, they are more likely to take medications that boost the risk of dehydration. Their sense of thirst is less acute, making it easy for them to forget the need to drink. Severe dehydration can lead to:
  • Seizures
  • Life-threatening heatstroke
  • Urinary and kidney issues; and
  • Hypovolemic shock (low blood volume shock).

As a general rule, men should drink 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. 20% of daily fluid intake also typically comes from food.

  1. Continuing to smoke. Quitting smoker is easier said then done, but kicking the nicotine habit pays dividends at any age. The improvements accumulate over the next nine months, and by one year after quitting, your heart attack risk drops dramatically. However, improvements can be fast. For example:
  • Your heart rate and blood pressure drop 20 minutes after quitting:
  • The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal a few days after quitting; and
  • Circulation improves and your lung function increases two weeks to three months after quitting.

Reference: Money Talks News (May 24, 2021) “7 Deadly Health Mistakes People Make After Age 50”

Continue Reading Health Mistakes to Avoid after 50

How Do Special Needs Trusts Work?

Special needs trusts (SNT) are critical tools for protecting a beneficiary with disabilities’ benefits while providing for their needs.

Special needs trusts (or supplemental needs trusts) have been used for many years. However, there are two factors that are changing and clients need to be aware of them, says the article “Special-Needs Trusts: How They Work and What Has Changed” from The Wall Street Journal. For one thing, many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses are leading much longer lives because of medical advances. As a result, they are often outliving their  primary caregivers. This makes planning for the long term more critical, and the use of special needs trusts more critical.

Second, there have been significant changes in tax laws, specifically laws concerning inherited retirement accounts.

Special needs planning has never been easy because of the many unknowns. How much care will be needed? How much will it cost? How long will the person with disabilities need them? Tax rules are complex and coordinating special needs planning with estate planning can be a challenge. A 2018 study from the University of Illinois found that less than 50% of parents of children with disabilities had planned for their children’s future. Parents who had not done any planning told researchers they were just overwhelmed.

Here are some of the basics:

A special needs trust, or SNT, is created to protect the assets of a person with a disability, including mental or physical conditions. The trust may be used to pay for various goods and services, including medical equipment, education, home furnishings, etc.

A trustee is appointed to manage all and any spending. The beneficiary has no control over assets inside the trust. The assets are not owned by the beneficiary, so the beneficiary should continue to be eligible for government programs that limit assets, including Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid.

There are different types of Special Needs Trusts: pooled, first party and third party. They are not simple entities to create, so it’s important to work with an experienced estate elder law attorney who is familiar with these trusts.

To fund the trust after parents have passed, they could name the Special Needs Trust as the beneficiary of their IRA, so withdrawals from the account would be paid to the trust to benefit their child. There will be required minimum distributions (RMDs), because the IRA would become an Inherited IRA and the trust would need to take distributions.

The SECURE Act from 2019 ended the ability to stretch out RMDs for inherited traditional IRAs from lifetime to ten years. However, the SECURE Act created exceptions: individuals who are disabled or chronically ill are still permitted to take distributions over their lifetimes. This has to be done correctly, or it won’t work. However, done correctly, it could provide income over the special needs individual’s lifetime.

The strategy assumes that the SNT beneficiary is disabled or chronically ill, according to the terms of the tax code. The terms are defined very strictly and may not be the same as the requirements for SSI or Medicaid.

The traditional IRA may or may not be the best way to fund an SNT. It may create larger distributions than are permitted by the SNT or create large tax bills. Roth IRAs or life insurance may be the better options.

The goal is to exchange assets, like traditional IRAs, for more tax-efficient assets to reach post-death planning solutions for the special needs individual, long after their parents and caregivers have passed.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (June 3, 2021) “Special-Needs Trusts: How They Work and What Has Changed”

Continue Reading How Do Special Needs Trusts Work?