Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Contingency Estate Planning for Pets



Pet owners are turning to their financial advisors for guidance, Margarida Correla reports in financial-planning.com.  Most of the upswing, Correla notes, is coming from young, single individuals who have not yet settled down but who are committed to their pets and concerned about who would take care of the pet should they die. But for people of all ages who live alone, removed from family members, pets play an important role as companions, and the number of people planning for pet care is notable, with more than four in ten pet owners making financial arrangements for pet care. “They’re part of the family,” as one advisor puts it.  “If you care for them and want to make sure they’re taken care of, you have to have a contingency plan for them or else they end up at the Humane Society.”

At Geyer Law, estate planning steps and choices we recommend to pet owners include:
  • microchipping each pet’s unique ID number
  • designating  a pet caretaker
  • designating a trustee or representative to distribute the money to the caretaker over time
  • setting up an “animal care panel” (consisting of veterinarian and other professionals to check on the pet to make sure care is happening in the manner intended)
  • bequeathing pets to nonprofit pet sanctuaries where the pets can stay until a proper home is found for them
Important facts to consider in deciding how much money to transfer to a pet trust:
  • type of animal and what the life expectancy is for that type of animal
  • the standard of living you wish to provide
  • what is to happen when the caretaker is on vacation, out of town, or in the hospital
  • whether transferring an unreasonably large sum of money to a pet trust might encourage other heirs to contest the trust
Our work at Geyer Law is dedicated to helping clients provide for those who have been important in their lives.  Quite often, that list of heirs includes our clients’ beloved pets.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Seniors Can Move and Buy, Using a Reverse Mortgage

“The HECM is a safe plan that can give older Americans greater financial security,” is the way Ben Carson, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary puts it. Carson is referring to reverse mortgages, which allow seniors aged 62 and older to access some of the equity in their homes without having to move.

But, as Marcia Honz of Finance of America Reverse explained in a recent lecture to the Financial Planning Association, “reverse mortgage financing” can be used in a number of other creative ways to help seniors improve their own lifestyles while still fulfilling their planning goals. In fact, a reverse mortgage can be a tactic for seniors who want to move into a new home.

At Geyer Law, when we’re advising clients on their estate planning, we explain that a HECM transaction has the power to lower the value of their estate (since they themselves are using part of their assets during their lifetime). On the other hand, we find that seniors are often choosing to relocate in order to be closer to children and grandchildren. Using a HECM (Home Equity Conversion Mortgage) for Purchase allows them to buy a new home or condo without taking on a monthly mortgage payment.

Borrowers who qualify for a HECM for Purchase loan, bankrate.com explains, include those who:
  • are at least 62 years old
  • will be using the home as their primary residence
  • are able to pay the property taxes, insurance premiums, homeowners’ association dues, and maintenance costs
Does the reverse mortgage cover the entire cost of the home? No. The loan typically covers only 38-71% of the new home’s purchase price. The variation is dependent on several factors, including:
  • age of the borrower and his/her spouse
  • current interest rates
  • appraised value of the home
  • the mortgage insurance program

The buyer must come up with the rest of the purchase price from sale of a former home, retirement accounts, or savings.

What can be good for a senior about financing the purchase of a new home using a reverse mortgage? The HECM allows older Americans to buy a house or condo that better suits their needs without dumping all their retirement assets into it, and without dipping into their monthly fixed income.
  • seniors unable to navigate stairs may want to move to a one-story home
  • seniors may choose to move closer to their medical providers
  • seniors may choose to move closer to their family members
What can be not-so-good about a reverse mortgage home purchase?
The senior loses equity in the second home, rather than building equity, Kiplinger.com points out. When the owner moves or dies, whatever is left in equity after paying off the reverse mortgage - and there may well be only a small amount left, since the loan in accruing compound interest – is the part remaining in the estate.

As an Indiana estate planning and elder law firm, our goal is to offer a full range of options for families facing changing circumstances. Planning for seniors involves so much more than wills, trust, and other estate planning documents. Our work is all about is helping seniors improve their own lifestyles while still fulfilling their estate planning goals   

- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Roth Conversions Changed Under the New Tax Law

Roth IRAs can play an important role in estate planning, and, at Geyer Law, we think it’s important to remind our clients that the rules have changed under the new tax law. “Clients will require more advice,” retirement planning expert Ed Slott writes in Financial Planning, and he’s absolutely right.

Tax law changes that bode well for doing Roth IRA conversions include:
  • Tax rates are lower compared to last year, with a doubled standard deduction and lower rates, which makes a Roth conversion less onerous in terms of paying tax on the money when it is moved from a traditional IRA into a Roth account.
  • Roth IRAs will now be free of estate taxes for most clients, now that the law has increased estate tax exemptions to $11.2 million per person.
  • Since the gift tax exemption has also been increased to $11.2 million, it is easier to gift funds to younger family members to begin their own Roth IRA accounts, or to help the older generation pay the tax on their own Roth conversions.
  • The new tax law raised the bar for generation-skipping transfer taxes, freeing more Roth IRA funds to be passed tax free to younger relatives.
One change in the law about which we need to caution clients contemplating doing a Roth conversion is that, beginning this year, Roth conversions cannot be undone.  For that reason, Ed Slott actually advises waiting until after Thanksgiving to do a 2018 conversion, when you have a more precise estimate of your 2018 tax burden.

At Geyer Law we offer neither tax nor investment advice, but we believe Roth IRAs definitely deserve a place in estate planning discussions for a variety of important reasons:
  • Earnings in a Roth IRA are tax free.
  • You may be able to contribute to a Roth even if you have a 401(k) or 403(b) account.
  • Withdrawals are never required.
  • After age 59 ½, you do not pay tax on “qualified withdrawals” (the account was opened more than five years ago or the balance is being paid to a beneficiary after your death).
  • Having a Roth IRA allows you to offer some tax planning advantages to your beneficiaries as well as to benefit certain ones outside of your will and trust.
  • Your beneficiaries will not pay any income tax on the distributions.
  • Your beneficiaries have the choice of rolling over the money into an inherited Roth IRA, where the assets would continue to grow non-taxed (distributions are required based on the oldest beneficiary’s life expectancy).
Roth IRAs have quite an important role to play in estate planning, and under the new tax law, the benefits can be better than ever!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Encase, Don't Laminate Medicare Cards


The Social Security Administration advises against card lamination.  Why? Cards may have built-in security features that could be compromised in the process.  Instead of laminating your Medicare card, purchase a plastic ID card holder. Why is Social Security suddenly concerned with our cards?  New Medicare cards are set to be issued April 1, just a few days from now. The new cards will no longer display your Social Security number, a move designed to protect against fraud and identity theft.

Do safeguard your card, Medicare.com advises, just as you would an identity document or credit card.  Remember to take the card with you, though, when going on a doctor visit. What should you do if you lose the card? Contact Social Security by:
  • visiting the website: https://www.ssa.gov/
  • calling 1-800-772-1213  M-F, 7AM-7PM
  • visiting your local Social Security office  (locator is at https://secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp
  • https://medicare.com/administration/can-laminate-medicare-card/
AARP Fraud Watch Network ambassador Frank Abannale suggests keeping the real card at home, but making a copy, blacking out all but the last four digits of your Social Security number.

By way of background, this whole change in Medicare cards is coming about because of a law enacted in 2015 called the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, which requires that the Social Security numbers be removed from all cards by April 2019. In this transition period (now through April 2019), providers can continue to use MBIs (Medicare beneficiary identifier numbers).

There’s no need to take any action to get the new Medicare card, and the new card won’t change your Medicare coverage or benefits.  And, of course, there’s no charge for the new card. Super-important alert: Medicare will never ask you to give personal or private information to receive your new card.
At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, our attorneys are reminding everyone to encase, not laminate their new Medicare cards!

- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Per Stirpes or Per Capita - Know the Difference


“Make sure your life insurance policy correctly lists your beneficiaries and how you want the money divided because you won’t be around to fix any mistakes if it’s not,” Natasha Cornelius writes in Quotacy.

Primary, secondary, and tertiary beneficiaries
If 100% of the policy proceeds are set to go to one person, that’s your primary beneficiary. But in case the beneficiary is unable to receive the proceeds, you can name a secondary beneficiary. A tertiary (third in line) beneficiary would be the backup if both primary and secondary beneficiaries are unable to receive the death benefit.

A simple example Quotacy gives is this: John Smith has a $500,000 life insurance policy and names his wife as primary beneficiary.  In case John and his wife die at the same time, John names his brother as secondary beneficiary.  As tertiary beneficiary, John names his favorite charity.

Per stirpes beneficiaries and per capita beneficiaries
Stirpes means “branch”.  If you say you want the proceeds of your life insurance to go to Lilly Brown and Donald Brown, per stirpes, then if Lilly is not alive to receive the money, her two children would split only Lilly’s portion of the inheritance. Don Brown would still get his 50%.

If you use the words per capita (per head), and Lilly has died along with you, your life insurance proceeds would be split evenly among Don and Lilly’s two children, with each receiving one-third.

It’s not only life insurance where you choose beneficiaries.
“Beware the beneficiary form,” cautions Carolyn Geer in the Wall Street Journal. Why? Even if you’ve gone to the trouble of making a will (and carefully selecting the beneficiaries of your life insurance as described above), all your hard work can be undone with the stroke of a pen when you open a bank, brokerage or retirement account, Geer explains.

People often seem perfectly willing to have huge sums of insurance proceeds or retirement funds distributed to their beneficiaries without any structural protections, Geer warns.  Merely writing down someone’s name as beneficiary will not protect against predators, creditors, or potential ex-spouses. Naming minors, special needs individuals, or even financially irresponsible heirs as direct beneficiaries is never a good idea, she adds.

Leave peace of mind along with assets
When mistakes are made, you’re not creating problems for you,” Keith Friedman writes in NASDAQ. “You’re creating problems for the people you leave behind.” While nobody wants to think about death or disability, we explain to our Geyer Law clients, proper estate planning puts you in charge of your finances and spares the people dear to you the expense, delay, frustration – and confusion.


- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When It Comes to Nursing Home Care, Haave a healthy Respect for the Doctrine

You might be responsible for your spouse’s medical bills even if you didn’t sign a thing, writes Mark Cappel in bills.com.  It’s called the Doctrine of Necessaries Rule. In Indiana, a spouse can be obligated to pay for medical care received by the other spouse if the debtor spouse is unable to satisfy his or her own debt.

The whole “necessaries” thing started back when women had no independent legal right to procure food, shelter, or medical services on credit separate from their husbands, so the law counterbalanced that “legal disability” by creating a duty on the part of the husband to provide all necessities for his wife. In Indiana today, there is “secondary liability” for both spouses.  The liability extends only to amounts that don’t exceed the non-debtor spouse’s ability to pay at the time the debt was incurred.

When does the issue of “necessaries” commonly arise?  When someone dies in a nursing home, leaving a surviving spouse and unpaid medical care bills. If a medical provider has not been paid for its services, it can look to the other spouse for repayment of the debt.
In an actual Indiana court case dating back to 2013, the Court of Appeals held that a nursing home could not collect money from Ms. Comb’s husband to pay expenses incurred before her death. Why? The nursing home did not first work to collect from the patient or her estate. But had the nursing home first tried to collect from the estate, the nursing home could have gone after her husband.

What about the responsibility of children?  Could the nursing home have gone after Ms. Combs’ children to try and collect the money owed?  Indiana does, indeed, have a filial responsibility law, which says that adult children have a legal obligation to financial support their parents if the parents are physically and/or mentally unable to take care of themselves.

The Indiana Lawyer summarizes the situation as follows:
Indiana Code 31-16-17, “Liability for Support of Parents,” specifies that if a child is “financially able,” and a parent is “financially unable” to pay for medical care, the child shall contribute to the costs. “

As elder law attorneys in Indiana, we know that nursing home costs can wipe out the savings of all but the wealthiest families.  Meanwhile, achieving Medicaid eligibility is becoming more and more difficult, with regulations involving “look-back periods”, penalties, and waiting periods. Our law firm has the experience to help families avoid financial ruin – and avoid the sort of Doctrine of Necessaries and filial responsibility legal complications which can arise.

There are ways to avoid the estate settlement delays and legal costs such as the ones the Ms.Combs’ survivors needed to go through. Make it your “doctrine of necessaries” to update your estate plan now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

New Securities and Exchange Commission Rule to Protect Seniors

The same sheriff is in town, but there are some brand new rules. The Securities and Exchange Commission just last month approved - FINRA Rule 2165, officially called the Financial Exploitation of Specified Adults. What’s it all about?

Financial services companies are now allowed to place temporary holds on disbursements of funds or securities from a customer’s account when there is a reasonable belief of financial exploitation of these customers. In addition, an amendment to FINRA Rule 4512, which governs the way customer account information is collected and stored, now requires financial companies to make reasonable efforts to obtain the name and contact information for a trusted person for a customer’s account.

In explaining the reasoning behind the changes, the FINRA Regulatory Notice says: “With the aging of the U.S. population, financial exploitation of seniors is a serious and growing problem.”

For our attorneys at Geyer Law, this is hardly “new news”. As Indiana elder law attorneys, we join the Indiana Attorney General, the FBI, and now FINRA in constantly preaching the need for vigilance in fighting scams that target senior citizens.
“As an individual ages, his risk for financial exploitation increases dramatically,” financial planning certificant Tom McAllister reminds blog readers. The National Adult Protective Services Association defines “financial exploitation” as occurring when a person misuses or takes the assets of a senior or other vulnerable adult for his own person benefit.  Exploitation may involve:
  • deception
  • false pretenses
  • coercion
  • harassment
  • duress
  • threats
When it comes to investment accounts, the new FINRA Rule 2165 allows broker-dealers to place a temporary hold (for up to 25 business days) on disbursement of funds or securities from an account if the broker-dealer has reason to believe that financial exploitation of a client:
  • has occurred
  • is occurring
  • has been attempted
  • will be attempted
While disbursements out of the account are put on hold, the hold does not apply to transactions in securities. Meanwhile, investment advisers can encourage their clients to look at their entire estate plan to ensure that they have given durable power of attorney to trusted people.
As FINRA explains in the regulatory notice, if a financial advisor “suspects that a customer is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other forms of diminished capacity.” That advisor could reach out to the trusted contact person to address possible financial exploitation. At FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the new rules are all about protecting seniors.