Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place

Business consultants call it the “clean desk policy”. By having all employees clear their desks at the end of each work day, including documents, notes, business cards, and flash drives, the organization reduces the risk of information theft, fraud, and security breaches.

The real benefit comes in the form of peace of mind.  According to one report, a typical 1,000 person corporation can lose millions of dollars each year from the inability to locate and retrieve information, asserts. “A clean and tidy workspace makes your organization look efficient and presentable to anyone who decides to visit, including the auditors!”

Here at Geyer & Associates, where our attorneys counsel and represent executors and personal representatives on the proper settlement of an estate, we try to minimize stress at an already difficult time. We know that nothing has the capacity to increase stress more than not being able to easily access a loved one’s estate planning documents just when they are needed
As important as it is to create estate planning documents, where you keep those documents is equally important.  No document, however expertly drafted, can fulfill its intended function if it’s missing.
Not only must you ensure your family has clear instructions on where your original will, living trust and other estate planning documents are located, upon your death, they must be able to find the following:

  • life insurance policies
  • tax documents
  • bank, brokerage, and  retirement account  statements
  • credit card statements
  • stock certificates
  • keys to safety deposit boxes
  • passwords and user names for online accounts

But even before there is an “estate” in terms of passing on assets after a death, family members need to be able to find

  • living wills  or healthcare directives
  • long term care insurance policies
  • powers of attorney
  • health insurance cards
  • prescription information
  • names of physicians and specialists you see

In fact. you might consider currently providing copies of healthcare directives, health insurance cards, prescription information, and a list of your physicians to the people who are authorized to make decisions on your behalf.

The compassionate client care offered by the attorneys at Geyer Law includes helping answer the crucially important question:  Where should your original estate planning documents be stored?

In a safety deposit box at the bank or other financial institution? In a home safe?  At your estate planning attorney’s office?  In a secure online file?

Watch for more estate planning blog posts later this month, in which we examine the pros and cons of each of these options….

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

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Help! I've Just Become an Executor!

“Just as you’re beginning the painful and exhausting process of grieving for your parent’s death, you learn that you’ve basically become secretary of his or her death,” observes Lucy Mueller of “Being the executor of a will involves a process that’s as administrative as it is emotional,” Mueller continues, describing the appointment as executor as “a daunting undertaking, but also an honor.”  As executor, she explains, you are in charge of
  • Carrying out your late parent’s wishes for his or her estate
  • Disbursing assets
  • Settling debts
  • Letting the government know about the death
Here at Geyer & Associates, where our attorneys counsel and represent executors and personal representatives on the proper settlement of an estate, we try to minimize stress at an already difficult time.

Lucy Mueller offers a useful multi-step plan for executors:

Order 10-15 copies of the death certificate.
You will need these to transfer ownership and operating names on accounts and for cashing in insurance policies. Death certificates are typically purchased through the funeral home, but are also available for purchase from the county or state medical examiner’s office.  In Indiana, death certificates can be obtained online at
Figure out if the estate needs to go through probate.Probate is the court process of re-titling assets from the decedent to the beneficiaries.  If your parent did not set up a properly funded living trust or the assets in your parent’s individual name not passing by title or beneficiary designation exceed $50,000, Indiana requires a probate estate to be opened to officially appoint the personal representative, advertise to seek heirs and creditors, and collect and distribute assets.

Gather documents.
Locate all bank and brokerage accounts, safe deposit boxes, insurance policies, wills (including amendments and codicils to the will), trust documents, deeds, notes, statements, keys, passwords, pension statements, credit cards and statements, and any other asset or creditor information.

Read everything.
Personal papers, diaries, notes and letters can all reveal the location of property, money, and heirlooms.

Locate and inventory assets and personal property.
Hire an appraiser to determine the value of all personal and real property, and submit an inventory.

Consolidate accounts.
Close smaller bank accounts and transfer assets into the estate account.

Pay debts and taxes.
The executor is responsible for paying debts and taxes. Old credit cards must be cancelled.  If your parent was collecting Social Security benefits or a pension, notify the Social Security Administration and any pension companies of the death of your parent.

Disburse assets.
Distribute the assets to the beneficiaries, getting signed and dated receipts from them.  In the case of stocks and bonds, have the assets properly re-titled to the beneficiary’s name, making sure that the basis is reset to the date of death value to minimize capital gains taxes for the beneficiary should he or she later decide to sell the asset.

Being an executor requires time, patience, and attention to detail.  At Geyer & Associates, we provide guidance to executors and personal representatives to make the estate administration process run as smoothly as possible.

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

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Take Care in Selecting a Caregiver

“Did you know,” asks the Media Policy Center, “that today we have more parents to care for than children?” Eldercare has replaced childcare, the Center points out, as a leading healthcare issue.

Healthcare issues for elders comprise a vitally important aspect of our practice at Geyer & Associates. Today we focus on one of the most important decisions in elder care - the selection of caregivers.

“Most people who need help with their daily activities rely on unpaid care provided to them by family members and friends.  More and more, however, seniors and their families are recognizing the benefits of hiring caregivers, to help loved ones stay in their homes longer in comfort and safety, giving their families peace of mind,” Tennessee elder law attorney TimothyTakacs points out.

The best time to discuss care options with your parents is long before care is needed, cautions  At the very least, making sure there are durable health care proxy documents in place will allow medical and caregiving decisions to be made even if a parent is incapacitated.

The process of selecting a caregiver begins with assessing the types of care needed. Those might include household help, medical care, and personal care. Then comes the important interview process. Referrals might come from a doctor, hospital, or be based on word of mouth from people who have used that company. It’s important to meet and interview candidates, preferably in the home where care is to be provided, advises.

The Five Cs are five important characteristics you want to find in a caregiver , according to the SouthCarolina Department of Disabilities:

  • Competence
  • Caring
  • Compatibility
  • Cooperation
  • Communication offers a very useful list of issues to be discussed when interviewing a caregiver:

Experience:  Have you ever cared for someone with these conditions - memory problems, wheelchair bound, diabetic -  before? If so, please elaborate.

Transportion:  Does the individual have a clean driving record and reliable transportation and insurance?  How far away do they live?

Scheduling flexibility: Do you have other jobs? Do you have responsibility for others whose schedules would be affected if you needed to stay later?  Could you work weekends? Are you able and willing to help find coverage for days you need to take off?

Caregiving certifications and training: Besides caregiving training, do you have CPR or first aid training?

Background check: Are you willing to submit to a background check?

The first two challenges facing children whose parents are in need of help include finding and hiring caregivers, then monitoring to be sure that the needed care is being provided, and in a kind, considerate way. 

The third challenge is the high cost of long term care. With proper advanced planning, the attorneys at Geyer & Associates can help provide your loved one with proper care while helping your family avoid financial ruin.

- By Rebecca W. Geyer of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Post-Death Estate Planning Documents for Same-Sex Couples

Due to the recent legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the United States, same-sex couples now, more than ever, should have proper estate planning in place.  While same-sex marriage is legal in every state, many same-sex couples prefer to remain unwed, and careful consideration should be given to the estate planning documentation of these individuals.  Unwed same-sex couples need to specifically name their partner in documentation so that such partner may make decisions in the event of disability and death.  Married same-sex couples also need their estate plans reviewed.

 Here are some practical suggestions for preparing and updating documentation for same-sex couples in light of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Windsor and Obergefell:

  • Review estate planning to ensure the plan accomplishes the couple’s goals.  A spouse may have children which he or she wishes to benefit from a prior marriage in addition to leaving assets for his or her spouse.  A surviving same-sex spouse is now entitled to election rights against his or her spouse’s will which would entitle him or her to 1/3 of the personal property in his or her spouse’s estate and 25% of the net fair market value of the real estate which the deceased spouse owned.  In addition, the surviving spouse is entitled to a survivor’s allowance of $25,000 upon his or her spouse’s death.  If the couple wishes to benefit children in addition to the spouse, updates may need to be made to planning to account for or prevent the election against a will in order to accomplish the client’s goals.
  • Review life insurance situations.  Many same-sex couples have life insurance policies in place which were purchased to provide estate or inheritance tax liquidity at the death of the first spouse.  With the abolishment of most state inheritance taxes and the increase in the federal estate tax exemption, these insurance policies may no longer be needed.  A review of the couple’s insurance policies should be performed.  If the proceeds are still desired for other beneficiaries, perhaps those policies could be converted to second-to-die policies.  Beneficiary designations should also be reviewed to ensure the policy proceeds pay to the intended beneficiaries.  Remember that the beneficiary designation controls who receives insurance proceeds; those funds do not pass by will or trust.
  • Review beneficiary designations on all retirement plans. If a person wishes to leave his or her account to a beneficiary other than his or her spouse, the beneficiary form may need to be redone to provide for a spousal waiver if the couple is lawfully wed.  As with life insurance policies, the beneficiary designation controls who receives retirement plan proceeds, not a person’s will or trust.
  • Consider spousal survivor rights on annuities and pension plans.  Elections may now need to be redone if the couple is legally married.
  • Consider portability for federal estate tax purposes.  If a same-sex couple has assets which exceed one federal estate tax exemption (currently $5.43 million), it is now possible to carry over a deceased spouse’s unused federal estate tax exemption at his or her death to eliminate the payment of federal estate tax.  Also consider estate equalization to account for state estate tax issues in those states which still impose an estate or inheritance tax.  Estate equalization involves transferring assets between spouses so that each spouse has approximately the same size estate.
  • Consider utilizing non-probate strategies such as jointly owned property or Indiana’s Transfer On Death Act.  This strategy works well for both married and unmarried same-sex couples, and allows for assets of almost any kind to pass by beneficiary designation resulting in the avoidance of probate when a spouse dies.
  • Many same-sex couples own real estate jointly with rights of survivorship.  The implementation of the Baskin and Obergefell decisions should allow for same-sex couples to own property as tenants by the entirety (TBE).  TBE is a type of joint ownership reserved for married couples which provides asset protection for the real estate.  If one spouse be sued, the real estate is protected if held as TBE because the creditors of one spouse cannot force a sale of the property to collect on a debt of the other spouse. 

With laws regarding same sex couples evolving so quickly,  it is more important than ever for couples to carefully develop, execute, and review their estate plans!          

- by Rebecca W. Geyer of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Lifetime Estate Planning Documents for Same-Sex Couples

Despite the recognition of same-sex marriage in Indiana, it is still important for both married and unmarried same-sex couples to have estate planning documents in place.  In her recent presentations for the Indiana State Bar Association on the topic of “Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples,” Rebecca Geyer discussed key estate issues for lesbian and gay couples, both married and unmarried.

At Geyer Law, our estate planning attorneys often explain that our document “tools” fall into two general categories: “Lifetime documents” govern events during life up until death, while “Post-life documents” govern what happens with our assets after death.  Here are some of the primary lifetime document “tools:

Durable Power of Attorney:
With this document, you – or your partner or spouse – are granting someone the ability to handle your financial affairs on your behalf should you become unable to handle transactions on your own. This document avoids the need to have the court appoint a guardian. 

Health Care Power of Attorney: If you become unable to make health care decisions for yourself, family members with differing viewpoints could give conflicting directions to health care providers.  Naming each other as health care representative means your wishes will be carried out in the way you’ve discussed.

Visitation Authorization: This document designates who is authorized to visit should you become hospitalized or institutionalized.  This is particularly important for non-married same-sex partners, especially if family members may not be supportive of your relationship and may try to keep your partner from visiting if you are hospitalized or in a medical facility.

Living Will: If you and your partner/spouse have specific preferences as to whether or not your life is artificially prolonged by tubes and machines, Indiana law gives you the right to set forth your specific wishes as to whether or not life-prolonging procedures should be withheld or withdrawn.  Along with the Health Care Power of Attorney, a Living Will is known as an Advanced Directive.

Funeral Planning Declaration: This document allows each of you to designate the other to carry out your instructions regarding the disposition of your remains, who you wish to provide funeral services, and what ceremonial arrangements you desire.

Domestic Partnership Agreement: If you are unmarried domestic partners, this document is a way to establish your joint intention about the relationship (similar to the pre-nuptial agreements used by traditional couples).  The agreement sets up a process for dividing your property in the event you decide to separate.

Even if you previously had estate planning documents drafted, make sure you have your documents reviewed in light of recent law changes.  Now that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States, your spouse may be entitled to a survivor’s allowance, the right to elect against your will, and may even be required to sign a waiver in order for you to leave benefits to someone other than your spouse.  It is a good idea to have your documentation reviewed to ensure that it still accomplishes your goals and that no changes are needed to make them current.

In serving many same-sex couples at Geyer, what we’ve found is that putting “lifetime documents in place is a path towards peace of mind.  This aspect of estate planning is about expressing what you want while you’re alive, both as individuals and as a couple.
- by Rebecca W. Geyer of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates

Sunday, September 13, 2015

In Light of Obergefell, Same-Sex Couples Should Review Their Employment and Retirement Benefits

As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States, same-sex couples should consider reviewing their retirement benefits to ensure that their elections and beneficiary designations match their goals.  Implications of this landmark decision include the following for you and your spouse:

  • If either of you is in a qualified pension plan, the plan must now provide survivor benefits to your surviving same-sex spouse. Assuming the spouse who dies is vested in the retirement plan, the surviving spouse will receive a life annuity if the participating spouse elects for survivor benefits.
  • If you wish to designate someone other than your same-sex spouse as the beneficiary of your retirement plan, your spouse will now need to sign a written, notarized consent allowing you to name a non-spouse beneficiary.   
  • In the event of a divorce, you are now eligible to receive a portion of the other spouse’s retirement plan through a QDRO (qualified domestic relations order), and the assets remain tax-deferred for your spouse until distribution.
  • If you name your spouse as beneficiary of your IRA account, upon death, he or she will be able to assume the account—that is, treat it as his or her own. Until the legalization of gay marriage, a surviving same-sex partner could only establish a beneficial inherited IRA when he or she was named as a beneficiary, and he or she had to begin taking distributions the year after his or her partner died.  Under current law, a surviving same-sex spouse may roll over an inherited IRA into his or her existing IRA account or into a new account in his or her name, and he or she is not required to take a distribution until he or she reaches the age of 701/2.
  • Qualifying hardship distributions from a 401(k) plan will include distributions to pay for medical care, tuition, and burial costs for a same-sex spouse.

All of these changes mean that married same-sex couples should consult with their tax and legal advisors.  At Geyer Law, we know that tax planning and estate planning are intertwined and that nowhere is this truer than with same sex couples.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Same-Sex and Heterosex Spouses Now Equal in the Eyes of the IRS

Recent presentations by Rebecca W. Geyer at the Elder Law Institute and the Family Law Institute included “Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples”.
With the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States, lawfully married same-sex couples have been given full spousal rights in the United States.  Among those rights are many federal tax benefits which heterosexual married couples have long been able to use to their advantage.  Legally married same-sex couples received full marital rights under federal tax law in 2013 when the IRS released Revenue Ruling 2013-17 in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor v. United States.  Now is a great time to review the tax implications of these landmark rulings which include the following for married same-sex couples:

  • You may file your federal income taxes as “married filing jointly” or as “married filing separately”. 
  • You may exclude up to $500,000 of gain on the sale of your home (it must have been your primary residence for at least two of the five years prior to the sale).
  • There are no gift tax consequences when you transfer assets to your spouse or your spouse to you.
  • Upon your death, you may transfer unlimited assets to your surviving spouse without estate or gift tax liability.
  • You may make “split gifts” to a third party. That means a) you can double the annual gift tax exclusion amount, and b) no matter whose asset is gifted, the gift can be considered as made one-half by each of you.
  • After either of you dies, the survivor will be allowed to roll over the other’s IRA funds into his or her IRA, preserving the tax-exempt status. 
  • Either of you may add your spouse to an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, health care flexible spending account, health savings or health reimbursement account and no income will be imputed to the employee for federal income tax purposes.

All of these changes mean that married same-sex couples should consult with their tax advisors.  Previously filed income tax or estate tax returns might need to be amended, and in some cases, tax refunds might result. At Geyer Law, we know that tax planning and estate planning are intertwined; nowhere is this truer than with same sex couples.