Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Charities and IRAs - a Match Made for Tax Savings

Contributing to our own retirement and contributing to charity - in our younger years our first thought would have been that these were two separate alternatives. We knew either course of action could offer tax reduction benefits; we simply needed to decide where and how much to divert in each of those two directions.
Fast forward to age 70½, and those two choices are slightly repositioned. Whether the funds are needed or not, our Geyer Law clients must take minimum withdrawals out of their IRA accounts. At the same time, many are now in a position to make substantial gifts to their charities of choice. The money they withdraw from their IRA accounts is fully taxable as ordinary income; money donated to charity, by contrast, will generate a tax deduction.

While our attorneys offer no tax advice, instead working in cooperation with clients’ tax advisors to coordinate tax saving and estate planning strategy, we found Journal of Financial Planning’s article “How to Use Qualified Charitable Distributions as a Tax Saving Tool” very interesting and instructive.

By way of background, in 2006, the IRS began to allow retirees to make what they termed QCDs, or Qualified Charitable Distributions. With a QCD, IRA owners who have reached age 70 ½ can move money directly from their IRA account to a charity of their choice.  No income is reported, and no charitable deduction is claimed. Originally a temporary benefit which, every two years, needed to receive a new “blessing” by Congress, the QCD was permanently added to the law beginning in 2016.

So why is this direct path from our clients’ IRA account into the charity’s account such a big deal?  Wouldn’t the same result be achieved by pulling out money from the IRA, paying the tax on it, and then contributing to the charity and deducting the contribution on the tax return accomplish precisely the same thing?

Not necessarily, authors Gardner and Daff explain, offering four reasons why QCDs beat the RMD-then-contribute route:

1. Financial institutions are not obligated to withhold taxes from a QCD. The entire distribution can thus go directly to the charity (up to $100,000 is allowed.)

2. The full amount of the QCD can be excluded from income (even when that contribution exceeds the percentage limit of adjusted gross income that normally applies to charitable contributions!)

3. QCDs are allowed for each individual.  If spouses filing jointly are eligible, up to $200,000 can be excluded from income.

4. When the money travels directly from IRA to charity, that avoids raising income above thresholds that affect marginal tax rates, whether Social Security is taxable, Medicare part B premiums, and limits itemized deductions.

Charities and IRA accounts, we agree, that’s a match made for tax savings!

by Rebecca W. Geyer 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Good News From the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

“On behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the nation’s veterans, I want to commend the leadership of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees on their agreement on legislation that will great benefit veterans.” So began Secretary David J. Shulkin’s  statement, just weeks ago, following the passing of legislation to provide $2.1 billion to avoid a disruption in the Veterans Choice program.”

The new funding will allow for several important improvements, Shulkin explained:
  • authorizing 28 major medical leases
  • bringing new healthcare facilities closer to where veterans live
  • attracting the most sought-after medical specialists
  • establishing innovative human resources programs to strengthen workforce management
(An April 17 decision had temporarily suspended certain parts of the program to allow those to be evaluated and necessary changes made.) “The VA is committed to listening to the voices of those who care for Veterans of all eras and to collaborating to improve services, outreach, and awareness,” the Department announced on July 28th.

At Geyer Law, where Veterans Benefits is a core aspect of our practice, we were particularly encouraged after seeing the beautifully redesigned caregiver program website page on Geriatrics and Extended Care. But, even more important, we applaud some of the benefits David Shulkin describes in the new Veterans’ Choice program. A veteran would first speak with a VA clinician, and, depending on the veteran’s proximity to the right provider, he or she might see either a VA specialist or a provider in the community.

The Veterans Administration remains the primary resource, Shulkin stressed in an recorded interview:
  • “We make sure community providers have all the information they need to treat the veteran.”
  • “We get the veteran’s record back.”
  • “We pay the veteran’s bill.”

- by Rebecca W. Geyer 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Pearl Harbor Victim Planned His Own Funeral

Raymond Haerry made a thoughtful decision about his own funeral – he left instructions for his body to be brought back to the sunken USS Arizona ship on which he had served more than 70 years ago. Haerry, only 19 when his ship was attacked at Pearl Harbor, lived in New Jersey, never returning to Hawaii.during his lifetime. But when Haerry died earlier this year at age 94, he left instructions saying he wanted his body interred on ”his ship”.

“To help relieve their families, an increasing number of people are planning their own funerals, designating their funeral preferences, and sometimes paying for them in advance. They see funeral planning as an extension of will and estate planning,” the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information page says”, encouraging citizens to make informed preplanning is such a good idea:
  • you can choose the specific items you want and need
  • you can compare prices offered by different funeral providers
  • you spare your survivors the stress of making decisions under pressure
  • you can decide where your remains will be buried, entombed or scattered
Don’t designate your preferences in your will, the FTC cautions (a will is often not found or read until after the funeral).  In Indiana, your designee under a Funeral Planning Declaration or your health care representative is actually charged with carrying out your funeral plans.  Also, avoid keeping a copy of your funeral plan in a safe deposit box (if arrangements need to be made on a weekend or holiday, the family will not be able to get into the box.

At Geyer & Associates, an important area of our practice is Veterans’ Benefits, and we were very touched by Raymond Haerry’s story. We found another Pearl harbor-related story to be very emotionally-laden in a different way:

A group of forensic scientists in Hawaii is still working to identify the remains of those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thanks to DNA technology, the remains of many of the hundreds of marines and sailors whose remains had been unidentifiable and who had been buried in common caskets, are now able to be identified. Now, 75 years after Navy Seaman 2nd class Raymond Piskuran died at Pearl Harbor, his family was able to bring his remains home to be buried next to his parents in Elyria, Ohio.

Two “lessons” to be learned from these two very different stories:

1. Veterans Benefits, we’ve found at Geyer Law, are the most misunderstood and underutilized resources available. Many veterans and their families are unaware that could be eligible for a wide range of services through the U.S. Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs – even if they did not directly retire from the military or suffer injuries in the line of duty.

2. While nobody wants to think about death, establishing an estate plan, including a funeral plan, is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Estate Planning for the New Millionaire Next Door

More than twenty years have passed since Tom Stanley and William Danko published their best-selling book The Millionaire Next Door, documenting how wealthy households tend to handle their personal finances, making the statement that wealth is not what you spend, but what you accumulate. In fact,” identifying the nuances of wealth accumulation at the household level has been the subject of research and discussion for nearly 100 years,” researchers Kruger, Grable, and Fallaw write in the Journal of Financial Planning.
At Geyer Law, our work often involves the protection and the passing on of wealth. We are always interested in reading materials about wealth accumulation – and about what makes wealth accumulators tick.
The study results reported in the Journal showed that, “overall, affluent households generally reported more frequently taking financial risk in their investment portfolios.” At the same time, the affluent were more likely to understand the nature of the risk in a particular investment and the likelihood of risk and return, and were more discerning about the appropriate level of risk to take for their own investment portfolios.

Interestingly, just two years ago, the CNBC Millionaire Survey came to a totally different conclusion, reporting that “more than one-third of high-net-worth families have not taken the most basic steps to protect and provide for their loved ones when they die.” (True, the researchers found, individuals with a $5 million or greater net worth or greater were more likely to have done planning.) One possible explanation offered for the general lack of estate planning preparedness is the higher federal estate tax exemption amount; $5.49 million for 2017.

But, whether you qualify for the “affluent household” category or not, life’s journey is fraught with change, and estate planning is about a lot more than estate tax avoidance. Life’s changes, including marriage, children, business, retirement, incapacity and death all require careful planning to protect the people most important to you and whatever level of assets you’ve worked for– and taken risks to achieve!

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

For Estate Planning, Structure Has to Suit the Situation

“Regardless of the form, federal tax rules are generally the same for all IRAs,” the American Institute of CPAs explains, “But the structure of the IRA agreement, the authors of 360 degrees of financial literacy add, “can have a significant impact on how your IRA is administered.”

At Geyer Law, we often discuss with clients the different options when setting up their IRA in coordination with their overall estate planning goals.
Stretch IRAs
Many find the “stretch IRA” to be useful, because, when the IRA owner dies, the beneficiary is eligible to re-title the account as an inherited IRA, taking Required Minimum Distributions based on his or her own age, thus continuing the tax deferral on the bulk of the money.

Attention must be paid to certain crucial details when setting up a “stretch”. 
  • The new account must be properly titled: “Jane Doe IRA (deceased Feb. 27, 2017) FBO Susan Doe”.
  • Jane Doe’s Required Minimum Distribution must be take out before the amount is transferred to the inherited IRA.
  • The funds must be transferred before the end of the year following the year of the original IRA owner’s death.
Trusteed IRAs
An increasingly popular option is a trusteed IRA. Under this arrangement, the IRA itself becomes a trust, with the financial organization acting as the trustee. In a recent article in Financial Planning Magazine, IRA expert Ed Slott explains that a trusteed IRA might be most suitable for clients whose IRA is their largest asset by far.

Advantages to a trusteed IRA arrangement include:
  1. greater control for the IRA owner and less control to the beneficiaries. (In the typical IRA, the beneficiary can take control of the IRA assets and there might be a concern that the assets might be squandered)
  2. greater control over the ultimate beneficiaries (A trusteed IRA lets you specify contingent beneficiaries that cannot be changed by the primary beneficiary.
At Geyer Law, our attorneys are dedicated to providing in-depth counseling to individuals and families. Recommending the appropriate structure for IRA assets is just one aspect of the work we do, helping our clients accomplish practical estate planning solutions.

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

In Indiana Estate Planning, the Times They Are A-Changing - Part Two

There are new realities to deal with in estate planning, as families become increasing varied in their dynamics. The Raymond James Point of View names several of those new realities, including the legalization of same-sex marriage, the general increase in non-married couples, and the steady divorce rate.

One modern family estate planning situation that has the potential to turn into a “dilemma” has to do with what Point of View calls “accounting for the kids”. “These days, children can become part of a family in seemingly endless ways” in addition to “traditional” situations; the Raymond James authors observe, including:
  • adoption (by both heterosexual couples and same sex adoptive parents)
  • remarriage
  • in vitro fertilization
  • implantation via surrogate
  • foster parenting
  • posthumous reproduction (father dies after a child is conceived but before it is born)
At our Indianapolis estate planning and elder law firm, we help clients create an individualized estate plan in every one of these “non-traditional” situations.  Fortunately, today a full range of legal options can be explored, options that were not available even a generation ago.

Adopted children, by law, are to be treated the same as biological children, but since that has not always been the case, at Geyer Law, we carefully review older estate planning documents to see if new language needs to be inserted.

Assisted Reproductive Technology
Contracts are usually put into place before such procedures are done; still, there is the potential for surrogate mothers or sperm donors to claim rights under the estate unless these issues have been properly addressed in parents’ estate planning documents.

Since Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates practices law in the state of Indiana, we should point out that there are certain important and detailed differences in the way our courts consider certain nontraditional family matters. Just two examples include: 
  1. Surrogacy arrangements have two separate aspects: contract enforceability and parentage establishment with the court, therefore there are two separate legal processes involved.
  2. LBGT individuals can adopt the child of their same-sex partner and can also be named on the birth certificate.
At Geyer Law, our goal is always to combine expertise in the law with highly individualized and compassionate recommendations. The times they are a-changing, and estate planning must accommodate those changes.

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

In Indiana Estate Planning, the Times They Are A-Changing

“As times change and social norms continue to evolve, families are becoming increasingly varied in their dynamics," observes the Raymond James Point of View, listing new realities, which include:
  • legalization of same-sex marriage
  • increase in non-married couples
  • reproductive technology (in vitro fertilization)
  • steady divorce rate
  • adoption
“Your estate plan should address your family in its entirety – however large or complicated it may be, Point of View concludes. “The key is to think through who should inherit what in a way that feels equitable.”

At our Indianapolis estate planning and elder law firm, Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, PC., we absolutely agree. A full range of options must be considered by families today; in fact, there are many legal options that were not in existence a generation ago.

Just one situation requiring special planning involves couples living together without getting married, sometimes to avoid the need for a prenuptial agreement.  In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the number of live-in couples in the U.S. rose 25% from the year 2000 to 2010.  At Geyer Law, we see many clients in that situation, and the goal of our work is to put certain safeguards in place to ensure that neither companion is left out of each other’s estate planning when it comes to:
  • staying in the house they shared but did not own together after one dies
  • tax savings
  • disposing of assets
  • end-of-life decisions
  • healthcare
  • financial security for heirs
Important possible steps include:
  1. naming each other as beneficiaries on pensions, retirement accounts, and insurance policies (one or both partners might have children to consider or divorce decrees that dictate otherwise)
  2. creating revocable transfer-on-death deeds to real property
  3. giving each other durable power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney
  4. creating a co-habitation agreement to determine who is responsible for what and who gets what in the event of a break-up
At Geyer Law, our aim is to be a resource for clients, combining clear and concise legal recommendations with responsiveness and compassion in times that most definitely are a-changing!

. by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Estate Planning for Couples with Step-Families

“Managing family finances is difficult to begin with, but when you add in stepfamilies and half siblings, family planning becomes increasingly complicated,” Jane King and Caroline Hedges write in Financial Planning. This is no limited problem, the authors note: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 50% of U.S. families are remarried or recoupled after a divorce, and the “blended family” is on track to become the predominant family structure in the U.S. At Geyer Law, we know that, from an estate planning point of view, blended families have many complex areas that need to be discussed and formalized in planning documents.

Start by knowing all your existing obligations, King and Hedges suggest, including:
  • alimony payments
  • child support
  • responsibility for college tuition payments
The next important step is drafting a prenuptial agreement.  That document makes it clear who owns what assets, King and Hedges emphasize. Then, even more important, each party’s intentions are in terms of not only current payments, but future bequests.

As estate planning attorneys, we remind our remarried couple clients that, if not waived in a prenuptial agreement, a surviving spouse has a legal claim against a portion of the spouse’s estate, and that claim has priority over the bequests made in the will (very much like the claims of a creditor).
Spouses automatically becomes the primary beneficiaries of each other’s spouse’s ERISA retirement account. Pre-retirement, neither spouse can choose otherwise without the other’s consent. In an annuity payout, the form of payment must be a joint and survivor annuity. If a spouse wishes to leave his or her qualified retirement plans to a beneficiary other than the spouse, the prenuptial agreement should address this issue and provide that the spouse agrees to execute a consent to allow a different beneficiary on the plan.
Estate planning needs to include powers of attorney. In the absence of a power of attorney appointing a different decision maker, the current spouse has the highest priority to serve as a guardian over the assets and over the person of an incapacitated spouse.

Prenuptial agreements must cover three possibilities:
  • Divorce
  • Incapacity
  • death
When there are minor children involved, the planning must be highly specific, taking into consideration divorce and child support agreements from former marriages. When one or both spouses has power of attorney for a parent, that consideration needs to be woven into the fabric of the overall plan.

Planning for step-families is both highly complex and highly rewarding (for us as advisors, but also for the newly blended couple themselves. “Enable family members you trust to provide for future generations.  Think ahead,” advise King and Hedges.

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Reverse Mortgages for Now-and-Later Estate and Retirement Planning

Many times, lawyers are asked by clients about financial decisions before they are made, and sometimes we’re told about them after they’ve already occurred.  One example of such a decision concerns reverse mortgages.  Reverse mortgages are home loans also known as home equity conversion mortgages, or HECMs (pronounced Heck-ums). HECMs, as explains, allow seniors aged 62 and older to access some of the equity in their homes without having to move.  At Geyer Law, clients will often discuss the wisdom of using a reverse mortgage as part of their retirement planning.  Other times, new clients will inform us that they’ve already entered into a HECM arrangement.

“The HECM is a safe plan that can give older Americans greater financial security,” says Ben Carson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In answer to the consumer question “Will we have an estate that we can leave to heirs?”, the HUD website provides the following answer: “When the home is sold or no longer used as a primary residence, the cash, interest, and other HECM finance charges must be repaid.  All proceeds beyond the amount owed belong to your spouse or estate.  This means any remaining equity can be transferred to heirs.  No debt is passed along to the estate of heirs.”

At Geyer Law, we find it important to explain to those contemplating a reverse mortgage that of course a HECM transaction lowers the value of their estate, because they themselves are using part of their assets. The same would be true were they to tap any of their assets other than home equity.  Anything you cash in and spend reduces your estate.

Reverse mortgages provide financial solutions for homeowners, including:
  • paying off debt
  • settling unexpected expenses
  • funding long term care insurance
  • funding life insurance premiums
  • improving current lifestyle
  • helping adult children and grandchildren with current needs
In the course of discussing all these different needs and wants with clients who are thinking about entering into a HECM but have not yet done so, we encourage them to, wherever possible, involve the younger family members (their heirs) in the discussion. Why? A reverse mortgage doesn’t need to be repaid until the last surviving borrower no longer lives in the home, or the home is sold. However, both parents and adult children should consider the ramifications:
  1. If the borrower doesn’t meet the tax and insurance payments or doesn’t maintain the condition of the home, the loan might need to be repaid earlier, which might impact the heirs.
  2. Once the owner has died, the heirs have six months to pay off the loan or refinance the home with a conventional mortgage. (If the mortgage balance is less than the value of the home, the heirs will be able to keep that balance.)
A HECM represents one of many tools that can help older Americans plan for their own – and their heirs’ greater financial security,” but, as with all tools, a reverse mortgage needs to be used in the right way and for the right situation.

 by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Awkward Conversations Can Be a Great Gift of Love

Conversations with people you love about money concerns can get awkward and tense pretty fast, writes Tobie Stanger in Consumer Reports, offering the following example:

You and your two siblings inherited the lake house where your family spent many cherished summers. But now, arranging who gets July 4th weekend – and whether you, your banker sister, and your struggling artist brother should all pay the same amount for the new roof – makes you behave like nursery schoolers.
Stanger lists 15 of the toughest money talks in descending order, with the toughest being about:
  • a spouse who isn’t bringing in enough income
  • a parent giving more financial help to one sibling over another
  • one sibling asking another for financial help
  • spouses disagreeing over big purchases
Of those who’ve had these conversations, Consumer Reports reveals, 29% were uncomfortable telling their parents it’s time for someone to take over the managing of their finances. A 2014 Wells Fargo survey revealed similar results: Americans find discussing personal finances the most difficult to do, with death a close second in terms of awkward topics.

At Geyer Law, we understand the challenges, fears, and family dynamics that often come into play with legal issues. After all, estate planning involves broaching three on Stanger’s list of sensitive topics: finances, death, and family affairs. As advisors, we take an empathetic and compassionate approach, assisting clients, yet still allowing them to address in their own way their particular goals and concerns.

So that the cost of legal services does not serve as a deterrent to having those vital estate planning conversations, the attorneys at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, PC make every effort to offer legal guidance at a fixed fee, even, under certain circumstances, entering into payment plan arrangements. That way, concerns may be addressed without the ongoing stress of an increasing legal bill.

Yes, conversations with people you love about death, long term care, elder law and inheritance can certainly get awkward. At the same time, those very conversations represent a gift of great love for both older and younger family generations.
- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Individualizing Estate Planning Using Life Insurance

Life insurance has many uses in an estate plan, observes investopedia, listing several of those uses:
  • To provide liquidity in an estate (to pay expenses, provide access to cash for heirs while the estate is being settled)
  • To repay debts
  • To replace income that the deceased was providing to the household
  • To accumulate wealth
Married couples and business partners can make use of special types of insurance policies:

First-to-die (also called joint whole life insurance)
When one of the couple (or of the group) dies, benefits are paid out to the surviving 
insured. Typically this arrangement is used to insure spouses or a parent and child.
Survivorship life (also called second-to-die)
This policy pays out upon the last death of the couple or group instead of the first one. This type of insurance is also typically used for spouses, in parent-child or business  
partner situations.

There are some circumstances where it makes sense to continue to carry life insurance past retirement, investopedia goes on to explain:
  • You don’t have enough of a nest egg to provide for a surviving spouse
  • Disabled adult children or other relatives rely on you for lifelong care
  • You’re wealthy and need a tax advantaged savings vehicle (you’ve maxed out your savings in other tax-advantaged accounts)
Yet, failure to consider the estate and gift tax consequences of life insurance is a common mistake, Forbes points out. The decision as to how the policy should be owned and controlled can be complex and is highly individualized, the authors explain, with those decisions dependent on individual circumstances: family dynamics, net worth, financial position, personal preferences and even philosophy about transferring assets to future generations.

That part about estate planning being highly individualized is very much in tune with our approach at the law firm of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates. Our goal? To be a resource for clients, combining clear and concise legal recommendations with responsiveness and compassion, creating solutions to best meet each client’s needs.

- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Graduation - the Time to Put Documents in Place

The time is fast approaching when many young adults leave the nest and head for college. But, just as the famous American Express commercial cautions consumers not to “leave home without it”, referring to a credit card, at Geyer Law we caution students not to leave home
without first putting two important estate planning documents in place:

1. Durable power of attorney
This document relates to finances and property, and empowers the “agent” to access the child’s bank accounts and financial records, pay rent, utilities, and credit card bills, and manage loans and investments. If a child were to become even temporarily disabled, without this document, parents might need court approval to act on the child’s behalf.

2. Healthcare proxy
The formal name for this document is Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. The language should stipulate that HIPAA-protected private medical information can be released to the “agent”.  Without this document, parents don’t have the authority to make health care decisions for the young adult; doctors might even refuse to discuss their son or daughter’s condition with parents due to privacy laws.

“Accidents happen, and it’s important to realize that when they do, having the proper paperwork in place can greatly improve a parents or loved one’s ability to help,” says the Virtual Attorney, reminding readers that, upon reaching the age of 18, an individual is an adult in the eyes of the law, and a parent’s rights in controlling some affairs of that child become significantly diminished.

While these terrible situations are difficult for any parent to contemplate, it’s vital to be prepared. In the event a child is not only hospitalized, but unable to determine his own course of treatment, medical professionals’ hands will be tied without the intervention of the court. Meanwhile, the financial repercussions of failing to keep the bills paid can result in bad credit and even collections.

At Geyer Law, our estate planning attorneys tell parents: Graduation is a time to celebrate, to congratulate your son or daughter – and yourselves! Graduation is also a time to put the proper estate planning documents in place!
- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Keeping Farmland in the Family

Over the next decade, a quarter of our nation’s agricultural land is expected to change hands, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The NRCS identifies four key goals for a strong estate plan for farm owners:
  • Transfer ownership and management of the agricultural operation, land, and other assets to a new operator
  • Avoid unnecessary transfer taxes, such as income, gift, and estate taxes
  • Provide for financial security and peace of mind for all generations
  • Foster the next generation’s management capacity
Further complicating the task of assisting farm owners with their estate planning, we’ve found at Geyer Law, is knowing that complete estate planning for farmland owners must involve the needs of all family members, even those who may not be actively involved in farming.
The Farm Journal Legacy Project outlines four possible strategies farm owners can use in estate planning:

First Right of Refusal: 
A landowner can give first right of refusal to a family member, friend, neighbor, or tenant.  The farm cannot be sold without first being offered to the holder of the first right on the outlined terms. That right to purchase can be effective immediately or set up to be in effect upon the death of the owner. A will or trust might leave the farm equally to all the children, requiring the non-farmer children to offer their interests for sale to the farming children using the appraised value as of the date of death.

Dynasty Trusts:
A dynasty trust gives the farm income to your heirs for their lifetime and can help keep the farm intact for distribution to your grandchildren without being included in your children’s taxable estates.

Limited Liability Company (LLC):
Parents and children contribute land to an LLC. Each receives proportionate ownership shares. An LLC may restrict the right of non-family members to acquire interests in the farm ground. An LLC may avoid probate administration upon death if used in conjunction with a revocable trust agreement.

Buy-Sell Agreements:
A buy-sell agreement is used when unrelated parties are in business together or when brothers or cousins farm together and want to set forth exactly how the business will transfer upon the death of one.

Often farm owners are so busy they don’t have time to address all these legal issues. At Geyer Law, we advise clients on proper organizational structure for preserving the farm interests or preparing to transfer the farmland with minimal disruption to operations. Such plans may also result in the reduction or elimination of costly taxes.

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Do Unequal Inheritances Mean There was Undue Influence?

Whenever there is a very uneven distribution of assets among heirs, state law carries a presumption of the exercise of undue influence, a 2014 article in the Indiana Lawyer points out. Whenever it appears that a dispute among rightful heirs might result in litigation, attorneys have a duty to ensure that their client hasn’t exercised undue influence over the estate owner. In other words, as an estate planning attorney in Indiana, if my clients make changes in their wills or estate plans that result in favoring one of their heirs over others, it’s up to me to determine they are competent and capable of handling their own affairs at the time they are making those changes.

Here is the case described in the Indiana Lawyer article:
In her new estate plan, Phyllis Hayes agreed to give her son Kenneth the right to purchase the family’s 200-acre farm for $500,000. When Kenneth was about to exercise the option agreement his mother had signed, sisters Jo Ann and Diane objected, since the value of the farmland had more than tripled since the contract was signed. The case went to court, which ruled in favor of Kenneth; the sisters appealed, claiming that undue influence over their mother had resulted in this “unfair” distribution of their mother’s assets.
  • The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Kenneth’s purchasing the farmland at the price agreed upon in the original contract. The reasoning:
  • The agreement had been based on fair-market value per acre of farmland at the time the contract was drawn.
  • The mother explained that her son had helped her out during hard times, and had helped run the farm after his father did.
  • A doctor’s statement said Phyllis was capable of making decisions regarding her estate.
  • The attorney had videotaped Phyllis talking about why she was changing her estate plan.
As a colleague of mine in the Indiana Section of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Claire Lewis expressed in the Indiana Lawyer article, “There are legitimate reasons….. why an older adult might choose to amend a will.  Perhaps one sibling has sacrificed to provide care, for example, and the parents decide a greater share of the estate is warranted.”

Still, whenever a client of ours treats one heir more or less favorably than others, it’s incumbent on us, the attorneys at Geyer Law, to understand why – and to be able, if the plan is challenged later on, to be certain of the grantor’s competence.

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Don't Wait for a Triggering Event - Do You Know Your Own Personal Property?

Insurance company claims adjusters refer to them as “triggering events”, which might include:
break-ins, tornados, hailstorms, fires or even divorces
(disputed items sometimes “disappear” in the process). In any event, it’s up to the insured to prove what items were lost. That means producing available receipts, photographs, and other evidence.  “It doesn’t matter where you live…the insurance claim process is the same, United Policyholders points out. “When it comes to collecting on your insurance policy to replace the contents of your home, it’s all about documentation, organization and negotiation.”

Sometimes, when inventory professional Greg Holton gets a call, it isn’t from an insured or an insurance agent. Instead, it’s an executor or trustee calling. One of the executor’s most important – and often most onerous – tasks is listing the estate’s assets for the court and for the heirs. To complete that inventory list, the executor must gather:
  • proof of ownership, including vehicle titles, property deeds, and financial statements
  • appraisals for heirlooms, jewelry, artwork, antiques, and vehicles
Once the executor has completed the inventory, it is filed with the court and copies are ‘served” to all the heirs at their proper addresses.

At Geyer Law, we counsel and represent executors, personal representatives, trustees and beneficiaries on the proper settlement of estates and administration of trusts to ensure prompt resolution and minimize stress at an already difficult time. Services we regularly provide include:
  • commencing probate proceedings
  • advising regarding valuation and taxation
  • paying of claims
  • funding trusts
  • preparing tax returns
  • closing the proceedings
 “People always seem to have their eye on their next purchase,” Holton observed in an interview.
“We’re not about keeping track of those purchases, at least not until a triggering event happens. Then you realize you don’t even know what you own.”  T

You need to think of both business and personal assets the same way you think of your money, Holton asserts. We turn to professional advisors such as accountants and financial planners to manage and “inventory” our money; we need to do the same with our physical assets, hiring a professional inventory specialist to create and then, as we add assets, updating our inventory list.

An executor is most often a sibling or an adult child. The duties and responsibilities he or she is required to complete are often overwhelming. While experiencing one of the most difficult times of their lives, executors are burdened with completing the emotional task of creating the estate inventory. Taking inventory of your assets is a must-do, not a mere “should do”. Don’t wait for the triggering event, Holton urges.

- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Digital Assets Deserve a Place in Your Estate Plan

With life increasingly being lived online, you may be overlooking an increasingly important kind of property – digital assets – in doing estate planning. “Amen!”, we say at Geyer Law, where, for years we’ve been cautioning clients to include online assets along with real estate and investment accounts in their estate planning.

“From a legal point of view,” Fidelity explains, “digital property is like other kinds of property because it can be passed on to designated parties through estate plans.” However, attorney James Lamm in Minneapolis, author of the Digital Passing blog, lists four obstacles that may be faced by family members in accessing information or property stores in the smart phone, computer, online accounts, or in the cloud for someone who has died:
  1. not knowing the passwords
  2. digitally stored data that is encrypted
  3. state and federal laws prohibiting unauthorized access to computer systems
  4. data privacy law that prevents online service providers from turning over electronic communication without the owner’s consent
Just a year ago, we were happy to report (in this blog) on the newly revised UFADAA (Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act), which reduced some of the roadblocks estate representatives have faced in dealing with digital assets in an estate.

Still, by taking a few relatively simple steps, you can save your heirs a great deal of expense and heartache, Fidelity assures readers. Start by making a list, so that your loved ones know what you have by way of online assets. Back up data stored in the Cloud to a local computer or storage device.

As estate planning attorneys, we work with clients to update wills, trusts, and power of attorney documents, including language giving lawful consent to providers to divulge the contents of your electronic communications to the appropriate people.

Digital assets deserve a place in your estate plan!

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Between the Death and the Estate Sale are the "Feet"

In between the death and the estate sale are “the feet”. That’s the way Mary Ann Yates, president of Elder Moves, Inc., describes one of the special functions she and her team have performed in the estate settlement process over the past thirty years.

“An estate sale is a way of liquidating the belongings of a person who has died,” explains. “The public is invited into the home and given the opportunity to purchase any item priced for sale.”  More often than not, however, there is a lot of work that must be done before estate possessions can be put up for sale to the public, the Elder Moves founder cautions, and that is precisely why her team gets hired by any of the following:
  • The estate planning attorney
  • A trust officer
  • A court-appointed executor
  • An individual who has Power of Attorney for the diseased
Yates sorts the myriad tasks to be completed before the estate sale into two main categories: “finding” and ”cleaning”. Adult children who live out of town and even busy attorneys may have trouble handling either or both these aspects of the painstaking process and need the Elder Moves team to serve as their “feet”.

Certain items may have been designated in the person’s will or trust to go to specific heirs or specific charitable organizations, and those items need to be located. It’s not uncommon for elders suffering from dementia to hide cash or jewelry under a mattress, in a shoebox, or even in a crack in the wall, Yates explains. One “surprise find” for the Elder Moves team several years ago was 25 rolls of gold coins, each valued at $1,200. “Found” items sometimes include insurance policies or even property deeds of which even the attorney had been unaware.

The ElderMoves team remains on the property to clean and organize, Yates is quick to reassure clients, prepared for any contingency. Critter control or an exterminator may need to be called to rid the home of raccoons or insect infestation, and pets may have been left at home when the now deceased person was taken to the hospital. Once all these emergencies have been dealt with, scrubbing and polishing become part of the painstaking process preceding the sale of the furnishings or of the property itself.

“Some people sort through all the stuff and handle the sales themselves, a process made easier by the Internet," notes, referring to estate sales. As Indiana estate planning attorneys,  we encourage our clients to create specific instructions for the distribution ofpersonal property andto provide instructions for dealing with digital assets  and with pets.

Whoever does the work, there’s work to be done before estate possessions can be put up for sale to the public. It’s simply unavoidable - between the death and the estate sale are “the feet”!
by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Are We Wrong About Aging?

“Aging can be re-imagined as a vivid and enlivening process that presents us with extraordinary risks and rewards.” That was the concept behind last October’s national tour, Disrupt Dementia, hosted by the University of Indianapolis. The first-of-its-kind event featured a physician (Dr. Bill Thomas) and a musician (Nate Silas Richardson), presenting original music, storytelling, poetry, and lobby discussions, all focused on changing perceptions and engaging the community with a more rewarding vision of aging.

At the conference, people living with dementia and their allies were invited to experience a new vision for living with cognitive change, posing the following “What if?”: What if we all lived in a world that saw aging not as a process of decline, but rather as the entrĂ©e to life’s most dangerous game?
As elder law attorneys in Indiana, we’re dealing with the issues and opportunities surrounding the aging process on a daily basis. The very definition of elder law is planning for complex health, long term care, and other issues faced by elderly individuals and their families. While the Disrupt Dementia focuses on ways to preserve quality of life for the mentally incapacitated, by definition, people with dementia no longer have the ability to make legal decisions for themselves.

That is precisely why advance directives (written documents stating a person’s wishes regarding healthcare choices, plus the designation of another person to make healthcare decisions in the event you someday become impaired) is such crucial a part of estate planning, the Alzheimer’s Association explains..

Life's journey is fraught with change, and changes require careful planning to protect the people most important to you and the assets you worked a lifetime to achieve, we explain to Geyer Law estate planning clients. Loss of independence is one of the hardest issues facing older adults, to be sure. For aging to be re-imagined, in Dr. Thomas’ words, as a vivid and enlivening process,  legal preparedness is certainly one key realizing that vision.

- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pet Trusts - Comforting Those WHo Have Comforted Us

The love owners have for their pets transcends death, as the Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum points out. Studies reveal that between 12% and 27% of pet owners include their pets in their wills.

It’s possible to do a lot more than that through a pet trust, which is a legal document you use to be sure your pet receives proper care after you die or in the event of your disability. How does such a trust work? In a pet trust, you arrange to pay a trusted individual to take proper care of your pet according to your instructions. That beneficiary becomes the designated caregiver, who uses the money in the trust to pay for the pet’s expenses.

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 – animal sitter? Professional boarding business? Friend?
  • What is to happen when the caretaker is on vacation, out of town , or in the hospital?
  • You should avoid transferring an unreasonably large sum of money to a pet trust (that might encourage other heirs to contest the trust)
Are pet trusts legal everywhere in the U.S.? As of January 2017, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted pet trust laws. Minnesota, the last state, enacted its pet trust law in 2016. Indiana’s pet trust statute, Indiana Code § 30-4-2-18, was enacted in 2005.
At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, we particularly appreciate the way Professor Gerry W. Beyer of Texas Tech University School of Law describes pet trusts:

         Estate planning provides a method to provide for those whom we want to comfort after we die  

         and to those who have comforted us. It is not surprising that a pet owner often wants to
         often wants to assure that his or her trusted companion is well-cared for after the owner's

Our work at Geyer Law is dedicated to helping clients provide for those they want to comfort after they die and those who have comforted them!

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Estate Planning Flexibility More Important Than Ever

“We just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the estate tax.  It has already been repealed and reinstated four times. This would be the 5th.” observes Susan Rounds, JD, CPA in the Journal of Estate & Tax Planning., referring to the many proposed tax law changes under the new administration, including a possible repeal next year of the estate tax. “We must help clients plan for all contingencies – so no matter which turn is taken, the path is clear,” she adds.

No matter which path is chosen, repeal or no repeal, wealth in motion will be taxed, Rounds reminds readers. Even were the estate tax to be repealed, a capital gains tax increase would probably ensue. “For those clients who have not initiated the planning process, let's get started. For those who have a plan in place, let's review what they have,” Rounds tells fellow practitioners.

At Geyer Law, we certainly agree with that advice.  There are many estate planning pitfalls to avoid that have nothing to do with estate taxes. As we explain on our website, “Life's journey is fraught with change - marriage, children, a new business, retirement, incapacity, death. These changes require careful planning to protect the people most important to you and the assets you worked a lifetime to achieve.”

One example might be planning for jointly held property when there is a concern that the survivor might squander, give away, or lose the property to creditors, leaving the executor of the decedent with a lack of adequate cash to pay settlement expenses. A well drawn estate plan can ensure a better outcome for everyone involved.

 LifeHealthPRO offers a very good definition of estate planning, we believe: 

                Estate planning is the process of planning the accumulation, conservation,
                and distribution of an estate in the manner that most efficiently and effectively   

                accomplishes your personal tax and nontax objectives.”
Possible changes in estate tax law means there is a need for estate planning flexibility, and estate planning itself is more important than ever!

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Trump Delays Clients' Interests First Rule

There’s been a long, almost six year battle over  the U.S. Department of Labor’s planned fiduciary rule, originally slated to begin implementation on April 10. The news is – the rule is being delayed at least six months. The Fiduciary Rule would require financial advisors and brokers to act in the best interests of their clients when dealing with retirement accounts.
“Should the rule ever become effective,” CNBC reported, “all financial advisors will be required to recommend what is in the best interest of clients when they offer guidance on 401(K) plan assets, individual retirement accounts, or other qualified funds saved for retirement.”

The term “fiduciary”, by the way, is nothing new to us at Geyer Law. Lawyers are used to acting as fiduciaries for their clients, understanding the obligation to protect the confidences of clients and potential clients and to avoid conflicts of interest that may injure them,”  as explained in the William & Mary Law Review (vol.49 Issue 2). . CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals providing financial planning services also must abide by the fiduciary standard, as defined by CFP Board.

 So why the big debate, and why did the President believe it important to delay implementing the rule?
The Pros: DOL and some consumer groups say the rule is necessary to protect consumers’ retirement funds and that the rule will lead to consumers paying less in investment fees. A single standard should encompass the entirety of retirement savings world. The main goal of DoL’s proposed rule is to root out conflicted advice. As defined by the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), advice becomes conflicted when the adviser’s pay is contingent upon an action taken by the saver.

The Cons: The rule is so cumbersome that it will become more difficult for consumers to access advice altogether. Additionally, getting a company’s paperwork, internal processes and personnel “fiduciary ready” is very costly. This overly cumbersome and confusing rule might result in advisers exiting this market altogether, especially for advisers providing services to small businesses with fewer than 100 employees.The exemption requires new clients to sign a contract before any advice can be delivered. Critics feel this would have a chilling effect on an adviser’s ability to do business.

Several major companies have already left part of their brokerage business rather than deal with the expense of compliance with the Fiduciary Rule,  meaning that many consumers have lost valued financial counsel.  According to the American Action Forum, “The administration says there is good reason to scrutinize every aspect of the rule to determine its full effect on average Americans.”.

- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Fair Compensation for Power of Attorney Agents

Many people wonder if they are entitled to be paid for serving as an agent under a Power of Attorney.  Generally, an agent is entitled to reasonable compensation, but as clarifies, “Regardless of how much time and effort has been spent by the POA… the only way she is entitled to financial compensation is if it is written in the original POA document…No one has any right to make decisions to pay a salary to the POA except your mother.”

A durable power of attorney document appoints someone to act in your place if you are incapacitated.  The POA is allowed to take whatever investment and spending measures which he or she believes the principal (you) would take on your own behalf, including:
  • opening accounts
  • withdrawing funds from accounts
  • trading stock
  • paying bills
  • cashing checks
  • selling assets
  • buying assets
A person acting as a POA agent is a fiduciary, meaning he or she is held to the highest standards of good faith, fair dealing, and loyalty, always acting according to the goals and wishes of the person who appointed them in the first place.

In most cases, a POA agent is a family member who does not expect to be paid at all. But, if the principal agrees to pay the agent, that should be agreed upon ahead of time and put into the document itself.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has a special federal Office for Older Americans, published the very useful handbook “Help for Agents Under a Power of Attorney”.

On our Geyer Law website, we emphasize how central a role your General Durable Power of Attorney plays in your estate planning. “Without a Power of Attorney in place, your family’s only option is to obtain a legal guardianship over you to handle financial affairs in the event of your incapacity.”

You may or may not choose to provide “reasonable compensation” to your Power of Attorney Agent, but the Power of Attorney document itself – that’s a priceless piece of your estate plan!

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Gray Areas in Estate Planning for Gray Divorces

Whenever married individuals divorce, their estate plans likely need some updating. When it comes to “gray divorce”, there is a definite need-to-change. Americans over 50 are getting divorced at a record rate, ICLEF notes in its “Law Tips” website.  The special challenge for Indiana estate planning attorneys lies in the fact that in a “gray divorce”, each spouse is likely to leave the marriage with more assets than couples who divorce at a younger age.

Issues typical in gray divorces include:
  • The parties have little or few remaining years of earning potential.
  • The financial planning done for retirement is often jeopardized (two living separately definitely cannot live as cheaply as one).
  • When either the husband or wife has not yet retired and has a defined benefit pension plan, those assets require professional valuation.
  • The marital residence may be too expensive for either member of the couple to maintain.
  • Healthcare issues may complicate the divorce, particularly when one spouse had been relying on the other’s employer plan.
Steve Harnett of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys remarks that “It is no longer widowhood that dominates the landscape, as it once did. These days, it is more likely than not that a single senior is a product of divorce.” Besides a reduced income, there are other issues that a newly-divorced senior would need to address, Harnett points out, including:
  • revising their estate plan
  • examining beneficiary designations
  • revisiting health care directives
“Divorce is a life-changing event.  Sometimes it is a good thing and sometimes it isn’t,” writes Christopher Yugo in the New York Times.  In either case, it’s important to have a plan that addresses the change in your life.  At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, our attorneys know that in “gray divorce” situations, a plan for each of the parties can make all the difference in their respective situations going forward.

 By Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Estate Planning Attorney Explains the 4 Cs

“Now comes the hard part,” Liz Skinner wrote in Investment News last year, when the Labor Department came out with new fiduciary rules for financial service providers. The DOL fiduciary rule, set to take effect next month, basically states that all financial advisers will be required to recommend what is in the best interests of clients when they offer guidance on 401(k) plan assets, individual retirement accounts or other qualified monies saved for retirement.

The term “fiduciary” is nothing new to us at Geyer Law. Lawyers are used to acting as fiduciaries for their clients, understanding the obligation to protect the confidences of clients and
potential clients and to avoid conflicts of interest that may injure them,” as explained in the William & Mary Law Review (vol.49 Issue 2).

“Lawyers do not have the option of looking out for number one,” is the way Fraser Sherman puts it in an article in Chron about attorneys’ fiduciary duties to clients. The attorney-client relationship is one of trust, and our actions are governed by the 4 C’s:

1. Competence
This describes how attorneys use specialized legal knowledge and skill on behalf of clients, keeping up with changes in the law, and referring matters outside their own specialty areas to other professionals.

2. Conflict avoidance
Attorneys must avoid conflicts of interest. Not only must the client’s interests come first, but conflicts of interest between different clients of the same attorney must be avoided (think ex-spouses, siblings, business partners who might wish to engage the services of the same attorney).
3. Communication
Our attorneys at Geyer Law know we must provide our clients with enough information to make good decisions. We understand the challenges, fears, and family dynamics that often come into play with legal issues, and so we are committed to being responsive to client needs in a timely manner, even offering  house calls and flexible appointment time in order to ensure that good two-way communication is taking place.

4. Confidentiality
Our clients trust us with their confidential information, and we know how precious that trust is. Confidentiality is essential in any fiduciary relationship, and when it comes to the kind of sensitive estate planning decisions that affect different family members, confidentiality is particularly crucial.
All professionals have a relationship of trust with their clients. At Geyer Law, where we provide counsel on estate planning and elder law matters including Medicaid planning, facility placement and financing, probate and estate administration, special needs trusts, guardianship, and advanced directives,– it’s all the “hard part”, all built on a foundation of trust!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ultimate Life Insurance Trusts for Estate and Long Term Care Planning

“Your high-net-worth clients who self-fund LTC costs may face the unintended consequences of leaving less of a legacy to their children if out-of-pocket care expenses deplete their estates,” Pailip Herzberg and Jorge Padilla caution their fellow financial planning professionals in the February issue of the Journal of Financial Planning.

What’s more, the authors remind their colleagues, clients wanting to insure their long-term care risk may “seek more flexibility than what is typically offered with the features of traditional LTC policies.” A hybrid, or linked-benefit life insurance policy, the authors suggest, is one alternative solution.

Linked-benefit policies pair the benefits of a life insurance with those of long term care insurance.  Advantages include:

1. Linked-benefit eliminates the risk of clients paying premiums for coverage they hope to never – and in fact may never – actually use.

2. Clients who already have ample savings to cover potential long term care needs (but who have no LTC insurance) can use life insurance to create a “tax-free bucket.”

3. The life insurance can lock in a payout for clients’ spouses, kids, or other designated heirs, even if the long term care benefits are never used.

Herzberg and Padilla issue a caveat concerning these hybrid policies – for high net worth clients close to or above the estate tax exclusion amount (currently $5.49 million), the death benefit proceeds from the life insurance may be subject to inclusion in the estate for tax calculations. The solution? An ultimate life insurance trust.

At Geyer Law, where our attorneys are accustomed to creating sophisticated strategies for our high-net worth clients, we were happy to note the cautions about avoiding the triggering of estate tax which these two authors were careful to insert in this article even while explaining the many potential benefits of ULITS:

How does a ULIT work?
Technically, an ultimate life insurance trust is a “defective trust” that allows the insured to access funds from the trust using collateralized loans that are charged an interest rate. The incurred interest charges may be allowed to accumulate or set to be paid back prior to the death of the insured. Any remaining life insurance death benefit would be paid into the trust, with the estate repaying the loan outstanding before estate tax is calculated. Then, any remaining trust assets could be distributed income tax free to trust beneficiaries or used to pay estate taxes.

No money is ever received by the insured directly, so the clients avoid triggering “incidents of ownership”. The trustees create fully collateralized loans to the insured to help him/her pay long term care expenses, but the insured never actually directs the trustees to do any specific thing. What’s more, the trustee is fully subject to being removed by the grantor. Any LTC benefits are indemnity-based (providers are reimbursed directly with no money going to the insured).

“Handle with care” might be the warning label on every ULIT, so we were relieved to see the following warning included in the article for financial planning professionals: “Engage experienced and qualified estate planning attorneys to draft your clients’ legal documents,” Herzberg and Padilla caution, “and specify provisions in accordance with these relatively new insurance solutions.”

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

First Comes Divorce, Then Come New Estate Planning Documents

“Married individuals who are considering divorce should review their estate plans to determine if they remain appropriate,” says, reminding readers that
the law considers you legally married until the judge signs the final dissolution decree ending the marriage. If you were to die or become disabled prior to the divorce becoming final, your spouse might have legal control over you and your estate, and may be entitled to most, if not all, of your assets.

In the months leading up to a divorce, we realize you have a lot on your mind. Still, at Geyer Law, we recommend you pay immediate attention to several areas of your estate plan. Later, once the divorce is final, our attorneys can help you formulate a longer term plan.

Your will: 
If you don’t have a will, you need to create one right away.  If you don’t yet have a will, you will want to name a new executor.  The same holds true for changing the trustee of a trust.

Beneficiary designations:
You may wish to make an immediate change to the beneficiary designations on your life insurance policies and retirement plans. (To change the beneficiary on a qualified retirement plan to someone other than your spouse will require your spouse’s consent until the divorce is final.)

Powers of attorney:
If your spouse was given your Durable Power of Attorney and Healthcare Power of Attorney, you will perhaps want to change that designation to a relative or friend.

Premarital agreements:
Were any premarital or prenuptial agreements put into place before you married?  Time to review those agreements and determine how your future decisions might be impacted by their terms.

Naming a new executor:
If your spouse has been the executor, you’ll need to choose someone else.

Naming a guardian for your minor children.
It is hard to prevent your ex-spouse from becoming guardian of your children f you don’t in the event of your death. Discussions about your concerns should be held with your attorney, and proper planning done after the divorce is final.

Joint bank and brokerage accounts.
One of the biggest questions for a divorcing couple is how to divide and protect assets after separating. With a divorce filing in progress, it’s probably best not to touch the accounts until the settlement is final.

There’s a lot on your mind when you’re involved in a divorce, but at Geyer & Associates, we advise going over all these important matters step by step.

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What's a Medicaid Block Grant? Why Are Some Opposed to Block Grants?

Since the attorneys of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, PC assist clients with estate planning and elder law needs, including Medicaid, the debate centering around the proposal to give states block grants is very important to us and to our clients.
Medicaid, the nation’s largest health insurer, is a program that covers health benefits for more than 73 million low-income Americans. The money is jointly funded by federal and state tax dollars. Each state determines how it runs its own Medicaid program as long as the state’s rules are not more restrictive than federal Medicaid rules.  For example, states decide:
  • what services will be covered
  • the way health care providers are paid for those services
  • whether a managed care system will be used
  • who qualifies for Medicaid
The term “block grant” refers to a fixed amount of money that the federal government would give each state based on its (the federal government’s) estimate of Medicaid costs. In other words, the federal government would set each state’s Medicaid spending amount in advance.  If, for example, Indiana’s costs exceeded the amount of the block grant, our state would need to use its own funds to make up the difference – OR cut services for low-income residents.

The prospect of funding cuts is of grave concern to us as elder law attorneys, for two crucially important reasons:
  1. the Medicaid program provides medical assistance to low-income individuals, including those who are 65 or older, disabled or blind.
  2. Medicaid is the single largest payer of nursing home bills in America, and serves as the option of last resort for people who have no other way to finance their long term care
The most common Medicaid concern is whether an individual must spend down all of his or her  assets in order to qualify for Medicaid. People have grave fears of losing their homes and their life savings paying for the costs of long-term care.  Medicaid planning, the process of obtaining Medicaid eligibility while preserving assets within the bounds of the law is an important part of the services we offer to Geyer Law clients.

Hopefully, the amount of money Indiana will have to invest in healthcare services will not be reduced due to block grants.
- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wills - For Both Now and Beyond the Grave

“Wills are serious business.  They are supposed to spell out how one would like their assets distributed after their death.  But in some cases they are used to send messages – or settle scores – from beyond the grave,” says Yagana Shah in the Huffington Post.
  • Under a provision in comedian Jack Benny’s will, a single long-stemmed rose was delivered to his widow Mary after his death in 1974.  This continued for nine years until Mary herself died in 1983.
  • Businesswoman Leona Helmsley left the bulk of her $12 million fortune to her dog “Trouble”.
  • German poet Henrich Heine left his assets to his wife with the stipulation that she must remarry.
  • Toronto lawyer and businessman Charles Millar’s will dictated that a cash sum should be given to the Toronto woman who birthed the most children in the decade following his death.  (Four women tied for the award with nine children each.)
  • Just two years ago, property owner Maurice Laboz left his $40 million estate to his two daughters with the stipulation that they would receive the money at age 35.  The only way they could request money earlier is by reaching certain milestones, including graduating from an accredited university, marrying mates who agreed not to touch the inheritance, and haviing had no children out of wedlock.
The Laboz will is an example of a “conditional will”, which depends on the occurrence or nonoccurrence of some uncertain event. Laboz’ will designated the person to be in charge of carrying out his wishes after his death.  A will may also be used to designate guardians for minor children.

Of course, your will is not the only tool with which to accomplish your estate planning goals.  Your plan may include trusts, powers of attorney, living wills, and healthcare powers of attorney.
Whichever tools turn out to be most appropriate in protecting you, your assets, and your loved ones, proper estate planning puts you in charge of your finances and spares your loved ones:
  • expense
  • delay
  • frustration
At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associated, we agree - wills are serious business.  But estate planning is also a way to think about the messages you wish to convey, perhaps both now and beyond the grave.

- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Joint Ownership May Not Turn Out Like "Going Halfsies"

Nice idea, this “going halfsies” for married couples, with each spouse putting money into a jointly held savings or investment account which either spouse may access. However, as an estate planning attorney in Indiana, I sometimes need to break the news to clients that those very convenient jointly held accounts may end up creating problems for them when it comes to collecting eldercare benefits from the government.

Many people believe that joint accounts are a good way to avoid probate while transferring money to loved ones, and that’s true. Of course, joint accounts held with children as co-owners can make those accounts vulnerable to a child’s creditors.  When it comes to elder law, there’s another even more important issue with jointly held accounts:
According to Indiana rules, when any type of account held in a financial institution is jointly owned, it is presumed that all of the funds belong to each owner. When a person applies for Medicaid to cover nursing home costs, the state looks as the applicant’s assets to see if he or she qualifies for assistance.  This includes joint accounts, even if only spouse needs care and he or she did not contribute to the funds in that account.

When the state determines your financial eligibility for Medicaid, some assets are counted, while others are excluded, explains Assets usually counted include:
  • checking and savings accounts
  • stocks and bonds
  • CDs
  • real estate other than primary residence
  • motor vehicles (if you have more than one)
Assets usually not counted for eligibility include:
  • primary residence (there are equity interest limits)
  • personal property and household belongings
  • retirement plans of the spouse not in need of care
  •  term life insurance
  • up to $10,000 in burial funds
  • assets held in certain trusts

At Geyer Law, we are acutely conscious of the fact that individuals and families facing the prospect of an extended nursing home stay deal with more than emotional difficulties; they must grapple with paying for nursing home care.  Few can afford to privately pay for nursing home care for any extended period of time and Medicaid will not pay unless assets are depleted.

The more – and the sooner -  Medicaid planning is undertaken, the more assets can be preserved for the family.  “Going halfsies” is hardly enough to solve the problem!
- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Don't Forget Social Security When Planning Your Estate

 When clients turn to Geyer Law for help in creating an estate plan, it’s very typical for Social Security benefits to be the last thing on their minds. Surprise! Social Security is interwoven in just about every decision seniors make when it comes to their own retirement and how they wish to benefit those they may someday leave behind.

 Social Security Spousal benefits:
“A key question for you and your spouse to discuss is how long either of you expect to live,” cautions Fidelity Vice President and CFP® professional Ann Dowd. When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse can claim the benefits of the spouse with the higher Social Security benefit  for the rest of his or her life. Because of this, for any couple with at least one member who expects to live into his or her late 80s or 90s, deferring the higher earner’s benefit at the outset of retirement might may sense.  On the other hand, if both spouses have health issues, claiming their benefits early may make the most sense.

Social Security benefits for survivors:
Many people think of Social Security only as a retirement program, but some of the Social Security taxes you pay go towards survivors benefits for workers and their family.  In fact, these benefits include:
  • widows and widowers
  • divorced widows and widowers
  • children
  • dependent parents
Important things to know about these survivor benefits:
  • A widow or widower can get Social Security benefits at any age if they take care of a child younger than age 16 or disabled.
  • Unmarried children younger than age 18 (up to age 19 if they’re attending elementary or secondary school full time) can get benefits.
  • Under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren, stepgrandchildren, and adopted children.
Two startling statistics:
  1. For many Americans, these survivor benefits exceed the amounts of  life insurance coverage they have purchased!
  2. 50% of women collecting Social Security today are receiving part or all of their benefits based on their husband’s earning history and the decisions made around it.
Medicare considerations:
While you are thinking about your Social Security, and your timing in terms of beginning benefits, don’t forget to consider Medicare.  You can sign up for Medicare at age 65 regardless of when you choose to begin receiving Social Security benefits.  In fact, Medicare recommends you sign up three months before age 65.  If you don’t enroll when first eligible, that could affect your benefits, warn California tax advisors Gumbiner and Savett.

“While self-sufficiency is certainly an important part of our culture, decisions regarding retirement and estate planning are some that really should be informed by a knowledgeable professional,” is the message from one Pennsylvania law firm.

At Geyer Law, we couldn’t agree more.  Our attorneys take a lifetime planning approach to take the mystery out of the estate planning process. Social Security is definitely part of that estate planning process.
- by Rebecca W. Geyer

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

There's No Place Like Domicile

Domicile in Indiana is defined as ‘the place where a person has his true, fixed, permanent home and principal establishment, and to which place he has, whenever he is absent, the intention of returning,” an information bulletin from the State of Indiana explains. “Domicile is not determined by the location of the person's body,” the bulletin adds, and “once established, a person's domicile is presumed to continue until the person's actions provide adequate evidence that, along with moving to another jurisdiction, the person intends to establish a domicile in the new residence.”

Each state has its own estate planning and eldercare laws, and each state has its own system of taxation. Indiana, for example, repealed its inheritance tax effective January 1, 2013. However, if you inherit assets from someone who lived in a state that does have an inheritance tax, you could be facing a tax bill from that state.

Probate in Indiana
Marion County has its own probate court, while other Indiana counties handle probate matters at the local county district or superior court.

What kinds of assets avoid probate and go directly to the co-owner or designated beneficiary?
  1. Bank or credit union accounts set up as POD (Payable on Death)
  2. Assets owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship
  3. Life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries
  4. Retirement plan accounts with named beneficiaries
  5. Property in revocable trusts

What kinds of assets DO have to go through probate in Indiana?
  1. Bank, credit union, and investment accounts held in the single name of the person who died
  2. Tangible assets such as clothes, jewelry, furniture and vehicles registered in single name of the person who has died
It’s become more and more common for people to cross state lines because of their work or family situations, and it’s quite common for people to own property in more than one state. Your domicile, however, is the state where you maintain your permanent residence and where you intend to return for prolonged periods.

When it comes to estate planning in Indiana, there’s no place like domicile!

- by Ronnie of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What's a Waiver, and What's a Waiver For?

A waiver, according to, is an intentional relinquishment of a right or interest. A mom, for example, might sign a waiver saying the school is not responsible if her child is hurt while on the school trip.  When it comes to estate planning, there are several important uses of waiver.

HIPAA waivers
Every doctor and hospital has you sign a notice ensuring that health care providers will keep information about your treatment and your health history private. But what happens if you’ve given healthcare power of attorney to a family member or friend in case an accident or illness prevents you from making decisions? What if your estate includes a living will, perhaps including a “Do Not Resuscitate” order? The HIPAA waiver can ensure that health care providers will be allowed to “violate” your privacy and talk about your condition with those specific people you’ve named as your representatives.

Waivers of inheritance
Estate law allows heirs named in a will to disclaim their inheritance by notifying the executor of the estate and filing a written waiver with the court. Why would anyone choose to do that?
  • To avoid taxes
  • To avoid having to look after property
  • To help someone else who needs the money more
  • To protect the property from seizure by creditors (if the person is involved in a lawsuit or has filed bankruptcy)
Prenuptial agreements
With more people getting married for the second or third time and wanting to preserve assets for children from prior marriages, prenuptial agreements typically have one spouse waiving his or her claim to the other’s estate (usually in return for other considerations).

401(k) beneficiary waivers
According to the law, the automatic beneficiary of 401(k) plan assets in the owner’s spouse’s . However, the spouse can sign a waiver allowing the employee to name a different beneficiary.

What’s a waiver, we’re asked at Geyer Law? Answer: The opposite of cookie-cutter estate planning. What’s a waiver for? To allow us as estate planning attorneys to tailor your estate plan to fit your own needs and individual situation.
- by Rebecca W. Geyer