Creating an End of Life Checklist

Creating an end of life checklist including assets, personal information and locations of important documents will help your family act on your behalf.

Spend the energy, effort, and time now to consider your wishes, collect information and, most importantly, get everything down on paper, says In Maricopa’s recent article entitled “Make an end-of-life checklist.”

The article says that a list of all your assets and critical personal information in an end of life checklist is a guarantee that nothing is forgotten, missed, or lost. Estate planning attorneys can assist you and guide you through the process.  Our firm prepares Estate Planning Binders which include schedules to hold that exact information.  As described here https://www.galliganmanning.com/not-a-little-black-book-but-a-big-blue-estate-planning-binder/  Especially in the age of computers, it’s critical to leave this information for fiduciaries in a way they can find it.  They’ll be glad you did.

Admittedly, it’s an unpleasant subject and a topic that you don’t want to discuss, and it can be a final gift to your family and loved ones.

When you work with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can add any specific instructions you want to make that are not already a part of your will or other estate planning documentation. Make certain that you appoint an executor, one you trust, who will carry out your wishes.

This isn’t a complete list, but consider including the following personal information in your end of life checklist: your name, birthday, and Social Security number, as well as the location of key documents and items, birth certificate, Social Security card, military discharge paperwork (if applicable), medical directives, ID cards, medical insurance cards, house and car keys and details about your burial plot.  Your attorney will give you copies of your estate planning documents, such as your will, trust, documents relating to trust funding, powers of attorney, medical powers of attorney and so on.

In addition, you need to let your family know about the sources of your income. This type of information should include specifics about pensions, retirement accounts, 401(k), or you 403(b) plan.  Be sure to include company and contact, as well as the account number, date of payment, document location, and when/how received.

You also need to include all medicine and medical equipment used and the location of these items.

And then double check the locations of the following items: bank documents, titles and deeds, credit cards, tax returns, trust and power of attorney, mortgage and loan, personal documents, types of insurance – life, health, auto, home, etc. It’s wise to add account numbers and contact information.

Another area you may want to consider is creating a list of online passwords, in printed form, in a secure place for your family or loved ones to use to access and monitor accounts.

Be sure to keep your End of Life Checklist in a secure place, such as a safe or safety deposit box because it has sensitive and private information. Having it in one place will help your family when the time comes to act on your behalf.

Reference: In Maricopa (Feb. 14, 2020) “Make an end-of-life checklist”

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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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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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