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The federal estate tax is scheduled to disappear next year (in 2010); and although most people expect lawmakers to pass legislation keeping the estate tax alive, they also vaguely hope that the estate tax (also sometimes called the “death tax”) does disappear—at least for a little while. But this article in the Wall Street Journal asserts that for all the noise that is sometimes made about the estate tax, we may actually be better off with the estate tax than without it.
This assertion is not based on what is best for the government, but what is best for the tax-payer, and has to do with something called the “step-up in cost basis”:
“Step-up means that the property heirs receive is valued as of the date of death. So if Grandma leaves a grandchild stock selling for $75 a share that was bought in 1970 for $2 per share, the heir’s “cost basis” in the stock is $75. If the grandchild then sells the stock for $80, the taxable gain is $5 per share.”
If the estate tax disappears it is likely that the step-up in cost basis will as well. This means that the stock Grandma leaves you would be valued at the original $2 per share rather than the stepped up $75 per share, and when that same stock is sold for $80 per share the taxable gain would be $78 instead of $5!
The disappearance of the step-up in cost basis is just one of the concerns people have about the possible elimination of the estate tax and Congress’s failure to act. Other concerns mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article include:
With all of these possible changes on the horizon, the time to take advantage of tax saving techniques offered by your estate planning attorney is now, while they are still available.
The movies have given people certain expectations when it comes to a death in the family and probating a will; this Hollywood portrayal includes an attorney, a book-lined office, and the entire family assembled for a formal reading of the will which ends in shocked gasps as the entire fortune goes to an unknown and unlikely character. Inevitably, there is some intrigue surrounding a possible forgery of the will.
This Hollywood portrayal may be completely off base, but the basic premise is based on the very real feelings that come with the death of a loved one: helplessness, confusion, familial bonds, and sometimes even betrayal. Forged or secret wills may not be as common as the movies may have us believe, but as recent events and this article in the Wall Street Journal reveal, they aren’t completely unheard of either.
So what should you do if you suspect that the will of a loved one has been forged or tampered with? First of all, don’t try to deal with the situation alone. Dealing with the death of a loved one is stressful and emotional, and everyone—including you—is likely to be quicker than usual to react without thinking. Instead, seek the advice of a trusted third party, someone who can help you distance yourself and look at the situation objectively.
As mentioned in the article above, will forgeries are very rare, but incidents of testators (especially elderly testators) being unduly influenced are sadly not rare enough. If you suspect foul play was involved in the creation of a loved one’s will, make an appointment with an estate or probate specialist. We can help you work through your suspicions in a safe environment and explore your options should you feel the need to take action.
Many people think that there’s no need to update your estate plan documents if none of your beneficiaries or fiduciaries have changed, but that’s exactly the kind of thinking that can lead to disaster. Estate planning documents are based not only on your own wishes, but also on federal and state tax laws. When we draft your documents we take into account a number of different factors, which means that you get the best possible result and an estate plan that should work like a well-oiled machine when the time comes; but it also means that your estate plan needs periodic review, just as your car needs an occasional tune-up.
Our point is perfectly illustrated by an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Is There A Trap Lurking In The Language of Your Will? As this article points out, new tax laws—and your own changing financial situation—could mean that language originally meant to apportion assets in the most efficient manner could now result in leaving your surviving spouse without any assets at all.
The only way to ensure that this does not happen is to have your estate plan documents reviewed every few years. Luckily, depending on the extent of the update, the cost of a simple review and update is much less than the initial cost of creation. But the longer you wait between reviews the more likely it is that the changes needed to bring your plan up to date will be extensive—and thus more expensive.
Don’t let too much time pass between reviews of your plan. Call our office today to schedule your “tune-up” meeting.
In the estate planning business we help people plan for the future, not only for their children and heirs but for themselves as well; which is why we are pleased to share the news that it just got a little bit easier to plan for your own financial future, because according to this article on Emax Health the IRS has just approved higher tax deductions for long-term care insurance.
Advancements in health care and our standard of living mean that Americans are living longer than ever before, but that doesn’t mean they’re living better in their old age. Very few of us get to be healthy and hearty until our dying days; rather, most aging Americans will experience a slow decline in their mental and physical health, and require some kind of nursing care, either at home or in a nursing facility. Unfortunately, the cost of that care is prohibitively expensive, and once a patient’s own financial resources have been exhausted the burden then falls on their family, or they end up relying on government benefits.
Long-term care insurance is one way of planning ahead to pay for the nursing care that most of us will almost assuredly need. The higher tax deductions approved by the IRS offer one more reason to consider long-term care insurance: by planning for your future you can save on your taxes right now. But do your research and consult with a professional before you jump in, because the deductions are available only on “qualified” policies, and there are limits to how large a premium can be deducted depending on the age of the taxpayer at the end of the year.
The Ohio Supreme Court has recently taken strong action against two co-owners in a company participating in an illegal “trust mill” operation. According to this article from the Associated Press, the two owners, Jeffrey and Stanley Norman, have been permanently barred from marketing or selling their trust products in Ohio after they were found to have committed “more than 3,800 acts of unauthorized law practice.”
Unfortunately, Jeffrey and Stanley Norman are not the first unscrupulous characters to try to pull one over on the general public. Trust mills exist in every state, and although seniors are often the main targets, anyone can fall victim if they aren’t careful. These trust mills may offer inexpensive documents, but the cheap product is exactly that—cheap. At best these cheap documents are nothing but generic forms with your name slipped in, they do nothing to reflect your family’s needs or desires. At worst the documents delivered by trust mills won’t even adhere to the laws of your state.
So be wary of any will or trust that is offered at a price too good to be true. Be wary of anybody who tries to sell you a trust or estate plan at a “great price” and at the same time tries to sell you other “related” products such as life insurance or annuities. Be wary of anybody who will come to your home or meet you at a restaurant, but has no local office or local phone number. And be wary of anybody who will have you fill out a form and sell you a trust online.
A good trust should be drafted by an experienced attorney who specializes in estate planning and who practices (and usually lives) in your state of residence. A good trust is drafted after that attorney has met with you, interviewed you, and given you a chance to ask questions as well.
Don’t fall victim to con artists like Jeffrey and Stanley Norman. Be wary, be aware, and be willing to pay for an estate plan that will legally protect your assets and your family.
Alzheimer’s disease affects as many as 5.3 million people in the United States; which means it affects as many as 5.3 million families, because Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects everybody it touches—husbands, wives, children and grandchildren—they all bear witness to their loved one’s slow demise.
Sadly, emotional stress is not the only stress that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease; those loved ones serving as caretakers may carry a huge amount of financial stress as well. According to this article by Denise Bonilla the cost of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can run anywhere from $64 a day to $77,380 a year, and because Alzheimer’s disease can be such a long-lasting disease (a person can suffer from Alzheimer’s for up to 20 years) the costs of care can end up being astronomical. It’s obvious that people can’t do it alone.
Some of the options to help Alzheimer’s patients pay for medical expenses are long-term care insurance or Medicaid (Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of long-term care). Long-term care insurance can be very helpful… if you’ve thought ahead and purchased the policy before you or your spouse began suffering from symptoms of Alzheimer’s. As for the government programs, those also can be helpful… if you fall in the right category and know how to navigate the complex system.
Unfortunately, learning how to navigate the system is not something you can do in an hour or two. Because your experience will depend on a number of unique factors we can’t give you an easy set of instructions to follow. The best advice we can give is to say that right now, the best way to navigate the Medicaid/Medi-Cal system is to find someone who knows the system to assist you. Most estate planning and elder law attorneys help their clients with these issues on a regular basis. If you want to ensure that you and your loved ones will be cared for no matter what the future may bring, don’t be afraid to ask your attorney for help.
Parents of special needs children know that they need to plan ahead. Depending on what the child’s needs are, that child may live at home and require a caretaker for the rest of his life. What that means is that parents of special needs children need to plan not only for the immediate and long-term future—including retirement—but also to provide for the care of their special needs child after they (the parents) have passed away.
Such comprehensive planning, with no real end in sight, can be a huge challenge, as Larry and Patti Altman, parents of a son with spina bifida, well know. As this article by Kara McGuire portrays, the Altmans have been diligent about planning for their own future, the future of their special needs son Josh, and the futures of their other two sons Zach and Max. Although they have always had to take the initiative, the Altmans have not been without help; including the help of an attorney in creating a special needs trust to ensure that Josh’s ability to receive government assistance will never be jeopardized.
The Altmans taken all of the right steps, but the planning and thinking ahead still continues, and may continue indefinitely. Says Altman, “Parents of special-needs children think about their mortality more than parents that don’t have a special-needs child because you do so much for that child and you wonder ‘Who would do this stuff if I’m not here?’ “
The recent verdict by a New York jury finding Anthony Marshall guilty of stealing from his aging mother Brooke Astor while she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease is a hopeful one for elder abuse experts. Elder abuse is an issue that is all too common in our society, but one that rarely gets much attention. And it isn’t only the very wealthy who fall victim to elder abuse. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse “between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection.”
Financial abuse of elders in particular goes under-reported in our culture, mainly because it leaves no visible scars to tip off friends and family. It is disheartening to discover that in most cases of financial exploitation of elders the perpetrator is a family member, often the victim’s own son or daughter.
When mom or dad begins to show signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the child who lives closest is often the one who ends up serving as caretaker—both physically and financially; but that may not be the child best suited to the purpose, and it may not be the child mom or dad would have chosen had they been able. One way to prevent this from happening is to make your own decisions about who your physical and financial caretakers will be by executing a nomination of conservator, health care directive, and durable power of attorney. These three simple documents can allow you to choose the best person to care for you when you are unable to care for yourself.
Don’t let someone you know become a victim of elder abuse. If you suspect a situation of elder abuse please call your local elder abuse hotline for help. If you want to do everything you can to prevent getting into a situation of financial elder abuse yourself, call our office.
Losing a spouse is one of the most difficult experiences life has to offer. Even continuing to take one day at a time seems almost impossible when you’ve lost your partner, your mate, the love of your life. Many people who have lost a spouse describe feeling as though the rug has been pulled out from under their feet; they feel like a child again, having to re-learn how to interact in the world without their other half.
The emotional loss is only part of this confusion, especially if—like most partnerships—you and your spouse ran your household and finances with a division of labor, each partner taking on the responsibilities that they most enjoyed and were most suited to perform… this includes the financial responsibility. The emotional impact of losing a spouse is hard enough, but in today’s complex financial world what do you do if the spouse you’ve lost was the family CFO?
The first and most important step, according to this article from the Chicago Tribune, is organization. Knowing what your balance is, what your expenses are, and where important documents are located is absolutely key to getting through the rough patches. The second step—and this one may be the hardest—is taking stock of your new financial situation and adjusting your lifestyle and spending. Losing a portion of your family’s income is a shock, and people often go through the motions of their previous lives because they simply can’t yet face the reality of their loss. In addition, death comes with its own set of expenses which can make a substantial dent in your savings.
If you feel you just don’t have the strength or focus to deal with financial issues immediately following the death of your spouse ask someone to help you temporarily. Eventually, when the grieving process has run its course, you will surface again; and when that happens you don’t want to find that the life you knew has been buried under debt.
The anticipated upcoming changes to estate tax laws have many people thinking that now is not the ideal time to create an estate plan; however, now is the best time to talk about estate planning with your family and loved ones. The winter holidays are coming up soon, a time for coming together and spending time with family. This also makes it the best time to bring up any issues that affect the whole family. Estate planning is one of these issues.
It is a common misconception that estate planning is a private and secretive business. While it is certainly true that the estate itself—the assets and property—is a private matter, the planning (or lack thereof) can have a huge impact on the rest of the family, and may require some knowledge and preparation on their part. As Suzie Moraco points out in her article, Estate Planning Can Be a Vital Dialogue, “Relying upon state governments to decide the management and distribution of our assets and property can be an unsettling experience. Probate costs and the time delays associated with municipal court systems may leave heirs financially unstable.”
The best way to protect your heirs is to prepare them. If you are the anticipated heir it is in your best interests to have a respectful conversation about the subject with your parents or grandparents. Because the subject of death and inheritance is not the most comfortable, Moraco has included in her article some suggestions on how to broach the topic with family.
Although a discussion about estate planning may not exactly be a topic of holiday cheer, the holidays are about appreciating family, and part of that appreciation is the understanding that we never know how much time we have left. Don’t put off the important conversations—make the most of the time you have.