Thursday, July 30, 2015

Child-Proofing Your Estate Plan

As a parent, you want to make sure your children are provided for no matter what; at Geyer & Associates, “child-proofing” your estate plan is often a big part of our work with clients who are in their 20s and 30s.
Particularly for parents, estate planning is about a lot more than money.  That’s because, as emphasizes, “You need to name someone to raise your child in the event both parents die before the child becomes an adult.”  While the likelihood of that happening is slim, the authors concede, the consequences of not naming a guardian are great.

As Indiana estate planning attorneys, we know that a solid planning needs to address more than just the “who” (naming a guardian), but also the “how” (how do you want your children raised?) suggests important questions to ask yourself – and the prospective guardians:
  • Are the people you selected willing to serve?
  • Do they have the time and energy?
  • If they are older (grandparents, for instance), are they healthy enough to raise children?
  • How far away do they live?
  • Are their values and religious beliefs similar to your own?
  • How comfortable are your children with those individuals now?
  • What about economics? Do those prospective guardians need to work full-time to support themselves? calls attention to a common misunderstanding – parents think that if they’ve named a guardian, that person will automatically be able to use the inheritance to take care of the children. But that’s not what happens (absent special advance planning) – the court, not the guardian, will control the assets until the child reaches majority (18 in most states) and then the child comes into the entire inheritance at once.

Here at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, we believe there’s another very important discussion that needs to take place – What happens if just one parent dies, leaving the survivor to bring up the children?  You may want to consider implementing a plan that will allow the surviving spouse to devote more attention to the children, without the burden of work obligations. You may also want to provide for special counseling and resources for a spouse who lacks the experience to handle financial and legal matters.

Does your estate plan need further child-proofing?

 - by Corinna of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Estate Planning and Compassion - You Can't Have One Without the Other!

There’s a reason that client testimonials for Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates make many of the same points in describing their experience:   “They made us feel so comfortable….”  “took time to explain..”  “easy to understand…”  “straightforward…”  “stress-free…”  “made an unpleasant necessity not so painful…”  “caring…”

The attorneys of Geyer & Associates, PC understand the challenges, fears, and family dynamics that often come into play with legal issues having to do with estate planning and elder law. We adopt an empathetic and compassionate approach to assist clients in addressing their particular goals and concerns because, frankly, to us, that goes with the territory.
In a recent article in the Indianapolis Star, Debra Auerbach talked about words that help or hurt a resume. It’s actually a turn off to employers when candidates use “fluffy” words that make it unclear what you actually accomplished, she says. Some of those useless self-descriptions include “go-getter, “team player”, “results-driven”, and “bottom line”. She quotes one director of human capital who put it this way:  Give me “I did” phrases, not “I am” phrases.  How did you bring value to your former employer?

OK, so just how do we put our compassion to work in bringing practical value to Geyer & Associates’ clients and their families?
  • Compassion means being timely and responsive.  That means responding to all client communications the day they are received.
  • Compassion means being accessible. While our office is easily reached for most, we offer house calls for those who find it difficult to come to us.
  •  Compassion means being flexible in scheduling appointment times that meet clients’ needs.
  • Compassion means doing twice as much listening as talking. We remind ourselves every day that your planning is about you and about accomplishing your goals in ways that are in keeping with your values and wishes.
We were amazed to learn that there’s a whole new body of literature focusing on teaching empathy and compassion in medical schools. At the same time, the American Bar Association writes about the dangers of  "compassion fatigue”, a form of secondary traumatic stress that affects those in the helping professions, including the legal profession.

We’ll willingly take that “compassion fatigue” risk.  After all, estate planning and compassion – (remember the old song “Love and marriage”? Well, you can’t have one without the other!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dealing With "Hot Potato" Topics

You’re getting ready to have a conversation on a really difficult topic.  The dilemma of all
difficult conversations, explain authors Stone, Patton, and Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project, is that if we avoid the problem, our feelings fester and we’ve lost an opportunity to improve things. If we confront the problem, things may get worse.
Try a paradigm shift, the authors suggest. Don’t think of yourself as delivering a message, proving a point, or getting your way, or persuading others to do or be what you want.  Switch to a “learning stance”, trying to understand what’s going on from the other person’s point of view.

At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, we know all about “difficult topics” We agree with Deborah Jacobs, writing in the New York Times, who says that for many people, estate planning is “both a private matter and a morbid topic – not something that parents and their adult children want to discuss.” We certainly agree with Jacobs’ conclusion that “Families that speak freely about estate planning can sometimes address awkward situations that might arise, like the choice of the executor — who is in charge of distributing assets after someone dies — or succession plans for a family business or the leaving of assets in trust.”

“There are many ways to broach ‘the talk’ with your aging parents about estate planning and the sooner you start, the better for all concerned,” begins an article in Huffington Post. (In keeping with the Harvard Negotiation “paradigm shift” model, Huffington advises “Ensure your parents feel loved and in control of the situation.  Don’t forget the discussion is about them and how they want you to fit it.”

“The talk you didn’t have with your parents could cost you,” cautions Tara Siegel Bernard in The New York Times. “There are many adult children who may eventually need to step in and handle their parents affairs for several months, or far longer, even during their lifetime.”

Having information readily at hand to assist parents makes everyone’s life easier.  Find out about your parents’ wishes for their future care, the prescriptions they currently take, the doctors they see, get copies of their health insurance cards, determine what income they receive, and if possible, find out where they hold accounts.

Requesting this information can be a difficult subject to broach.  Bernard suggests using “I” statements, such as “I’m concerned about doing the right thing when you pass,” rather than “you” statements such as “You are too disorganized and that will make things difficult for us children.”

At Geyer & Associates, where we practice Estate and Elder Law, we know that part of the difficulty in these conversations comes from all the technical aspects and legalities involved in estate planning. Our objective is to take the mystery out of the estate planning process so that individuals and families have peace of mind rather than confusion.

As estate planning lawyers, we aim to take some of the “heat” out of “hot potato” estate planning talks!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Is Probate the Dirty Word in Estate Planning?

“’Probate’ is one of the dirtiest words in all of estate planning,” quips Tom Nawrocki in LifeHealthPro. Many clients focus on setting up their estate and their will with the express purpose of avoiding probate, he explains.

The word “probate” refers to a court procedure in which the financial affairs and the property of a person who has died are legally settled. In fact, in Marion County, Indiana, the largest court system in the state, there is a separate court just for probate matters. As a general rule, property that you own when you die needs to go through probate, unless it qualifies to skip the probate process. There are generally four categories of property that qualify to avoid probate:
  • Property that is owned through a trust
  • Financial accounts that have named beneficiaries (retirement accounts, annuities, life insurance, bank or other accounts with beneficiaries
  • Property held in joint tenancy 
  • Very small estates (under $50,000 in Indiana)

Why do people think of “probate” as a dirty word in the first place?  Two reasons: delay and expense. 
 What causes delays during the probate process? Sometimes property can be tied up and inaccessible to heirs for months and even years. If proper planning hasn’t been done while the property owner is alive, there might be disputes as to who is the new owner of a property. Creditors’ claims and tax issues might create the need for legal research, document drafting, or court appearances by probate attorneys.  Waiting for real estate to sell can sometimes take months or years.

The average cost of probate in Indiana is 2 to 4 percent of the value of the estate. There are also court costs, publication and bond charges, property appraisal fees, and other expenses.
At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, our attorneys are often called upon to help heirs of family members who never took advantage of probate avoidance estate planning tools. Our goal is to minimize the emotional strain on those family members after the fact. Often individuals do not know where to begin when someone dies.

We provide full-service estate administration services to guide families through the probate process and take the “dirty” out of the word probate!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Elder Lawyers Help Clients Cope With the Loss of a Parent

For estate and elder law attorneys,  grief and mourning go with the territory. We work to help our clients protect the people most important to them and the assets they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve. We offer compassionate counsel and care. We must accept the simple fact, however: there exists no legal remedy for the pain of losing a loved one.

“Many people think of grief as a single instance or short time of pain or sadness in response to a loss…but grieving includes the entire emotional process of coping with a loss and it can last a long time.  Normal grieving allows us to let a loved one go and keep on living in a healthy way,” explains  an American Cancer Society white paper.

At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, we’ve seen many different ways in which adult children cope with the loss of parents. In Indiana, with its many farm communities, often parents continued to live on the family farm while at least some of the adult children have moved away and lead urban lives. “Once a patriarch of matriarch of a family has given up control or passed away,” says professional mediator Jay Folberg, adult children are often left in a position of ambiguity or, worse, contrary beliefs about their rightful role.” Feelings of mourning and grief may be interwoven with resentment towards  siblings.
“Your parent is irreplaceable,” confirms the Our House Grief Support Center. “Whether you were on the best of terms or if you were experiencing challenges in your relationship, their death shakes up your family structure and profoundly affects your perception of yourself …No matter what your age, or how long you have been independent of them, you may catch yourself thinking, ‘No one will every love me or take care of me like my parent did.’”

Following the death of your parent, you may have an acute awareness about the fragility of life,” observes “You may decide to change your goals, make new choices, and evaluate your priorities.”

At Geyer Law, we found offering compassionate estate planning advice assists our clients in making those new choices as they cope with the loss of a parent.

Monday, July 20, 2015

For Certain Assets, Life Estates are Life Preservers

Bob and Susan, an older couple with an adult son, own a big farm, where they hope to live the rest of their lives. Bob’s estate plan includes leaving the farm to their son John, subject to a life estate for Susan; Susan’s plan includes the same life estate arrangement for Bob.

A life estate is a legal arrangement that allows one person to have possession of property during his or her lifetime.  The property then goes to another person or entity (such as a charity) following the death of the person who had possession during his or her lifetime.

At Geyer Law, the life estate arrangement is a useful tool in our estate planning “tool kit”.  While estate plans can be as different as the many estate planning clients we advise, there are basically three situations that might lead to us considering using the life estate tool:

* Couples who own real estate together, particularly farm land.  They wish to give someone the right to live on the farm and/or farm the land for that individual’s lifetime, but upon his or her death, they want someone else to receive the farm.

* Remarried couples where either the husband or wife has children from a former marriage. The goal is to have the real estate go to those children once both spouses have died.

* Couples (or siblings) who want their real property to go to a charity, but only after both of them have passed on.

Is the life estate a perfect tool for our estate planning attorneys to use with our clients? Not in every situation.  Careful consideration must be given to the use of life estates.  At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, we remind clients that one big disadvantage of a life estate is that it cannot be adjusted after-the-fact (meaning after the first spouse or partner has died or become mentally incapable of changing the plan).

For example, what if:

* the “life tenant” (Bob or Susan in our example) needs to move into a nursing home and can’t stay on the farm? 

* the “remainderman” (son John in our example) later decides he doesn’t want to own a farm and would rather inherit financial assets?

* Something changes about the charity and it no longer suits the intent of the life estate grantors?

Would a life estate be a useful planning tool in your situation? That’s a question best explored with the help of an estate planning attorney. A thorough discussion of your goals and concerns ensures that the right tools are utilized to accomplish your objectives.

- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates blog team

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How Often Should You Change the Oil in Your Estate Plan?

“Dirty oil just doesn’t do the job as well as fresh oil does,” explains Deanna Sciar in Auto Repair for
Dummies. “By changing your oil frequently, you may get twice the mileage out of an otherwise good engine,” Sciar adds.

How frequently should oil changes take place?  Some manufacturers suggest every 7,500 miles, but as Sciar points out, that’s based on “optimum” operating conditions.  Most of us do a lot of stop-and-go driving in city and rush-hour traffic, make short trips every day, and don’t often get up to high speeds on a highway.  Your car engine rarely gets hot enough to evaporate the crankcase water that builds up engine sludge.

Estate plans need updating, too, as the estate planning professionals at Geyer & Associates often remind clients.  How often?

“Regular” maintenance of an estate plan might take place every five years or so, according to a Forbes article about redoing wills. However, as is true of automobiles, that’s based on “no-situation-changes optimum operating conditions”, rarely a reality of family life.

There are two general reasons estate plans call for modification:

1. Changes in the income tax or gift and estate tax laws have taken place.  (In this Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates blog, we’ll be alerting you to news about proposed and actual law changes.)

2.  Changes have taken place in your life, including:
  • Marriage or divorce (you or your children or other heirs)
  • Changes in a non-marital committed relationship
  • Death of an heir
  • Changes in your financial situation
  • Health changes (for you or for an heir)
  • New charitable interests
  • Age milestones (particularly as relating to retirement plans and IRAs)
Just as you get more mileage out of a car engine by keeping up with oil changes, your estate plan can do its best job when you keep it updated!

 - by Corinna of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Why Your Estate Might Be Your Worst IRA Beneficiary Choice

“One of the easiest and most helpful estate planning tools to use is also the easiest to mess up,” cautions, referring to the naming of IRA beneficiaries.

At Geyer law, we agree. Often, we’ve found, the problem arises out of a simple failure to update the IRA beneficiary designation form after a life change.  Amidst all the stress of a divorce, a death in the family, or even the “positive stress” of a remarriage, IRA owners can simply forget to make the necessary adjustments to their paperwork.  Even folks who go through the process of regularly updating their wills sometimes forget – the IRA beneficiary form overrides the directives in the will!

It seems so simple to just name your estate as the beneficiary of your IRA.  That way, you assume, all your assets will go through one “funnel” and get divided as you’ve specified in your will. In fact, this is probably the most common flaw we uncover when reviewing estate planning clients’ plans.

Often, that very flaw comes about by default.  If you’ve named no beneficiary at all for your IRA, all the assets in the account are automatically considered to be part of your estate.  That may create long delays just when funds are needed by heirs, and even worse, make the assets subject to creditors’ claims.

As estate planning attorneys, when we encounter no-named-beneficiary situations, our first thought is “Oh, no! This person probably worked half a lifetime accumulating assets in a tax-deferred manner, and now they might lose one very amazing feature of IRAs, which is that those tax advantages don’t need to end when they die.” That’s because even non-spouse IRA beneficiaries can choose to pay the tax bill over a five year period, or even better, “stretch” the distributions over their own lifetimes. But…if the estate is the named beneficiary, all those planning options are gone! (We want to remind our blog readers that the rules are different for Roth IRAs.)

Beneficiary designations are all about you and the things you want to accomplish in your planning.  It may be that naming a trust or a charity would best accomplish your goals.  Each situation is different, but for us at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, the “takeaways” are these:

a) Your estate might be your worst IRA beneficiary choice.

b) Selecting the proper IRA beneficiary designations may not be a do-it-yourself affair!

- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates blog team

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On Top of the Sandwich - Serving as Caregiver for a Grandparent

Look around – no doubt you have friends and co-workers caught between caring for their parents and caring for their own children.  Those people are part of what’s come to be called the Sandwich Generation.  In fact, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) tells us, some 35% of Baby Boomers are responsible for the care of at least one elderly parent.

But what if it’s a grandparent dependent on a grandchild for care?  Many young people were raised by their grandparents, some become caregivers because they live closer to the grandparents than other family members, and sometimes, as suggests, it’s simply true that a particular grandchild feels close to the grandparent and has the “caregiver personality”. 

If you serve as a grandparent’s caregiver, we at Geyer & Associates salute you.  As elder law attorneys, we know what amazing dedication is required when you take on the responsibility of making the best health and financial planning decisions for an older member of your family.  At the same time, we want to help you avoid some of the legal and tax “traps” involved in such an arrangement.

  • While you may not consider your relationship with Nana a legal matter, it definitely is.  For one thing, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) won’t allow you to obtain needed medical information about her without the proper paperwork in place.  An Appointment of Health Care Representative or Medical Power of Attorney with HIPAA provisions ensures that you can receive medical information about Nana and make health care decisions on her behalf if she becomes unable to make those decisions herself.
  • It is also important that you have the authority to handle financial transactions should your grandparent need your assistance.  A Durable Power of Attorney grants you the authority to handle financial affairs for Nana should it become necessary to do so.  Without this document in place, a legal guardianship may be required to give you the authority to handle Nana’s financial affairs should she become unable to handle them herself.
  • Having your position as caretaker formalized in a document is important for financial reasons as well.  If you are being paid by Grandpa for helping him, but your caretaker status has not been formalized, the money you earn will be considered a gift from him to you, which can negatively impact his tax and estate planning.  What’s more, monetary gifts may impact his ability to qualify for Medicaid.
  • Even if there is a document in place, you may be considered a household employee of your grandparent under IRS guidelines if you receive wages of more than $1,900 per year for the services you provide.  The wages received are income to you, and your grandparent may need to withhold and pay social security and Medicare taxes, pay federal unemployment tax, or both.
The attorneys at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates understand the complexities and challenges which can arise in a caregiving relationship.  We take a compassionate and respectful approach to assisting our clients in addressing these issues.  Our goal is to take care of the legal aspects, so you can take care of Grandma or Grandpa!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Without Smart Medicaid Planning, Less Could Be More - More Problems!

Gifting assets sounds like a great healthcare cost planning tactic. After all, if at some future point you need help paying for assisted living, nursing home care, or pharmaceuticals, having fewer assets might help you qualify for benefits from Medicaid. And the smaller your estate, the less likely estate tax is to present a challenge for your heirs, you figure.

Here at Geyer Law, we appreciate the fact that you’re thinking ahead and trying to plan for future healthcare costs.  As elder law attorneys, though, we know there’s one problem with choosing a direct give-away tactic for dealing with potential healthcare needs, and that problem is potentially huge. It boils down to this: outright gifting means giving away all control over the property. 
The moment the transaction is complete, recipients of your generosity will have sole control. They’ll be able to sell the property, use it as collateral for a loan, or use the income or the proceeds for their own needs. If what you’ve gifted is a residence, your “donees” may decide not to allow you to live there, or may not give you any of the income from the property, no matter how much you might need financial backup at that time.

Even assuming you choose only the most loyal and trustworthy family members or friends to whom to transfer property, individuals who truly have your best interests at heart, there’s no guarantee that they will be able to keep their promises years into the future. What if he is in an auto accident and doesn’t have enough liability insurance to cover all the damage costs? What if she dies and control of what used to be your property passes to other people through her estate? What if your recipients – or their children – were to encounter large unexpected medical costs of their own?
You thought gifting property might reduce taxes, but often the precise opposite can result. First of all, your cost basis transfers to the recipient of your gift (which might well be property you purchased years ago for a small amount of money), so, if the property is sold by the donee, the capital gains tax might be substantial, leaving fewer resources that might be devoted to your needs. Perhaps most important, gifts that exceed $1,200 during a calendar year can result in you later being ineligible to receive Medicaid benefits.

Property-gifting tactics, we think, ought to come with a big warning label reading “Handle with care - gifting of property involves a complex set of tax laws and healthcare regulations!” That’s why at the Geyer elder law firm, we’re dedicated to offering compassionate guidance. We know that, without some well-thought-out and professionally guided Medicaid planning, too often less (downsizing assets through giving) ends up causing more (problems)!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Why We're Beefing Up Our Blog Series on Estate Planning and Elder Law

“A lawyer can explain complicated laws, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and pensions, explain the authors of the Indiana Laws of Aging handbook. “A lawyer can help with problems of divorce, child custody, landlord-tenant relations, credit sales, property transactions, and represent you in negotiations with persons with whom you have a dispute,” they add.

All these things are certainly true. Yet here at Rebecca W. Geyer and Associates, our years of experience working with people facing transitions in their lives or in the lives of loved ones have taught us another truth:

The more people who come to us for help have asked themselves certain estate planning questions, and the more they understand some of the planning issues at stake, the better job we as attorneys are able to do helping them accomplish their goals.

That’s why, every few days, we’re going to be offering news stories, updates, and explanations in this new blog series. We might be describing situations that make you chuckle. We’ll be raising legal issues that make you think; we might even be raising questions that make you squirm.

And, whether we discuss blended families, protecting children, retirement decisions, healthcare decisions, social security issues or long term care choices, our goal is to keep you in the know.

It’s interesting that, in a 2014 Intra-Family Generational Finance Study by Fidelity Investments,
64% of parents and their adult children “aren’t on the same page about when the right time is to have conversations about estate planning.”

At Geyer & Associates, we hoping that, by way of sharing some of our blog posts, you'll help start some of those very crucial conversations…

- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates blog team