Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Estate Planning Basics Every Military Service Person Needs to Know

“Estate planning is not just for the wealthy,” Military One Source reminds servicemen and women. If something should happen to you:
  • What happens to your property?
  • Who cares for your children?
  • Who oversees your finances when you can’t?
  • Who oversees your health care options when you can’t?
Members of the military also need to know about these two special estate planning-related benefits:

Survivor benefit program
This Department of Defense sponsored and subsidized program provides up to 55% of a service member’s retired pay to an eligible beneficiary. The coverage is at no cost to members on active duty, to reservists who die of a service-connected cause.  Active duty members can purchase coverage upon retirement. Reservists can elect coverage when they have 20 years of qualifying service.

Burial benefits
For a service-related death, the Veterans’ Administration will pay up to $2,000 toward burial expenses for deaths. If the Veteran is buried in a VA national cemetery, some or all of the cost of transporting the deceased may be reimbursed. For a non-service-related death, The VA pays up to $780 toward burial and funeral expenses (this amount applies if the serviceman or woman was hospitalized by VA at time of death); if that is not true, the amount is $300.

Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates assists wartime veterans or their surviving spouses in obtaining VA non-service connected pension benefits as well. Besides the Basic Pension, there are two allowances that can create a larger benefit:

The veteran must be unable to leave the house without assistance for employment purposes.

Aid & Attendance
The veteran requires assistance in performing at least two activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, feeding, toileting, taking meds).

At Geyer Law, our focus is on the Veteran’s Benefits Administration, one of three areas in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, working to help veterans and surviving spouses obtain the cash benefits to which they are entitled.

There are estate planning basics every military service person - and every spouse of that military service person -  needs to know.

 - by Rebecca Geyer

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Under the New Tax Law, It Can Still Pay to be Generous

“The beginning of 2018 saw new major tax legislation, commonly known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which has had a significant effect on estate planning for many individuals,” the National Law Review reminds readers. Given that most of the new provisions related to estate planning "sunset" on January 1, 2026, the authors point out, “now is an ideal time to revisit estate plans to ensure they make full use of this opportunity.”

At Geyer law, some of the specific gifting aspects of the new law which we are emphasizing include:
  • The amount of the annual exclusion gifts (that may be transferred free of gift and estate tax) was increased. In 2019 that amount is $15,000 per gift per person.
  • Unlimited amounts of tax-free gifts may be made by paying tuition costs directly to the recipient’s school or paying their medical expenses directly to a health care provider (this includes paying health insurance premiums).
There are, of course, many non-tax related reasons to review your estate plan this year, the Review points out, specifically naming the following:
There has been much talk about the increase in the standard deduction under TCJA, relating to the decreased tax-planning value of charitable gifts. (In fact, a study by the National Council of Nonprofits estimated that the doubling of the standard deduction is going to lower charitable giving by $13 billion!)

As long-time estate planning advisors, we realize that tax savings is hardly the only motivation for gifts to charity - our clients want to make an impact in areas of society about which they care by leaving a legacy. True, tax deductibility has been part of the planning process, and at Geyer Law we work together with clients’ tax advisors to craft individualized tax and charitable gifting plans.

Whether under the pre-2018 tax law, current TCJA rules, or post-2026 rules, planned giving programs can be a win-win.  Besides benefiting causes meaningful to them, there is the potential for clients to reduce both capital gains and estate tax. In so many different ways, we maintain, it still pays to be generous!
 - by Rebecca Geyer

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Can a Client's Family Member Demand info About the Estate Plan?

The niece of one of my elderly clients called me recently to ask about her aunt’s account. She was concerned that her aunt’s caretaker was stealing money from her. Unfortunately, since she wasn’t listed as someone I could give information to I had to decline. She went on a tirade and made a huge stink about it…Was there anything I could have done differently to have avoided the confrontation with the niece?  (This question was posed by a financial advisor in the Financial Planning Magazine Dec. 2018 issue.)

Financial advisors are in a position of trust, and are expected to keep all information about their clients confidential.  But, just last year, a new Financial Industry Regulatory Authority rule went into effect, designed to protect seniors against fraud and exploitation. The rule basically has two parts:

1. When a client opens an account, (or when financial advisors are updating an account), the advisors are required to make reasonable efforts to obtain the name of and contact information for a trusted contact person. If the advisor suspects either that there is mental decline in the account owner, or that fraud is taking place, the advisor can get in touch with that contact person.

2. FINRA members are permitted to place temporary holds on disbursements of funds or securities if they believe exploitation or fraud is taking place.

As elder law attorneys at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, we are also in a position of trust with our clients.  “In fact, the most basic principle underlying the lawyer-client relationship is that lawyer-client communications are privileged, or confidential”, the Legal Encyclopedia explains. This means that lawyers cannot reveal clients’ oral or written statements (nor lawyers’ own statements to clients) to anyone, including prosecutors, employers, friends, or family members, without their clients’ consent”.

Specifically, our rule is called Rule 1.6: Confidentiality of Information, and it is part of Indiana’s Rules of Professional Conduct: In the absence of the client's informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation. Paragraph (a) of that rule requires a lawyer to act competently to safeguard information relating to the representation of a client against unauthorized access by third parties.

Elder Law involves planning for the complex health, long-term care, and other issues faced by elderly and disabled individuals and their families. With advocacy for families through estate planning and elder law representing my own career mission, I am particularly dedicated to protecting seniors against fraud and exploitation, while preserving the confidentiality of information given to me in trust.

 - by Geyer Law associate Jennifer Hammond

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Getting Ready for a Divorce? Look at Your Estate Plan!

“Divorce is not easy.  It’s not only a difficult time emotionally, but you also have a lot to do and many decisions to make,” writes Christine Fletcher in Forbes. While the divorce is ongoing, she explains, you want to make sure:
  • you meet your legal obligations to your spouse.
  • you retain as much control over your assets as possible.
  • you plan for the contingency of you dying or becoming incapacitated prior to the divorce being finalized.

Specific documents that will need to be changed include:
  • health care proxy
  • power of attorney
  • beneficiaries on life insurance policies and IRAs
  • will
  • trust

“Every divorce is different,” explains, since ”every couple enters and leaves a marriage under different circumstances and with different assets”.  

Knowing that premarital or prenuptial agreements entered into before marriage go a long, long way in reducing the pain and hassle of a divorce, the attorneys of Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates highly recommend those documents for every couple planning to marry, but particularly those entering into a second or third marriage.

During a pending divorce, reviewing your estate planning documents must move to the forefront of the to-do list. Some of the sobering what-if questions raised in the Forbes article are all too real, our attorneys find:
  • What if you’re in a car accident and end up in the ICU - do you want your soon-to-be-ex-spouse being the decision-maker?
  • Does your durable power of attorney documents give your soon-to-be-ex access to assets that are in your name alone?

No, divorce is not easy, and, yes, there are many decisions to be made. Our mission at Geyer Law: be responsive and compassionate, and offer a full range of options for individuals facing changing circumstances.

by Rebecca Geyer

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Add Estate Planning to Your New year's Resolutions

In addition to diet and exercise, we were happy to note, a Forbes article recommended adding estate, financial, insurance, and retirement planning to a list of New Year’s resolutions. Actually, contributor Marvin Shankman was giving a lecture to lawyers, CPAs and financial advisors, who he realized are like the proverbial shoemaker with the barefoot kids. His advice, however, can benefit everyone who has been putting off getting those all-important estate planning documents in place.

Shankman himself, he explains, plans to explore bringing his children into the estate planning meeting, and suggests “you should resolve to inform, or even involve heirs and others” in your planning process in the New Year.

Do you have copies of all key estate and financing planning documents accessible in an emergency, he asks? Resolve to have electronic copies of all key documents disseminated to appropriate advisers, family, and fiduciaries, he says.

As estate planning attorneys at Geyer Law, as we work with clients to update wills, trusts, and power of attorney documents, we include language giving designated agents the ability to access digital assets, an important consideration as people continue to shift more of their finances online.
“My trusts are getting old and creaky…and could use a facelift,” Shankman admits.  Laws change, and planning techniques get more sophisticated. He has a blended family, and therefore must balance the pros and cons of using institutional trustees, not only family members.
Everyone’s documents get ‘creaky” as life brings changes - more children, more assets, a falling-out with friends or relatives, new grandchildren, split-ups, businesses or real estate properties bought or sold. At Geyer Law, we know: life does not stand still, and neither does your estate plan.
Developments that are change-drivers include new treatments and therapies that open up possibilities for “aging in place”, changes in tax law, changes in health insurance and Medicaid. While the cost of legal services is a concern for every client, at Rebecca W. Geyer, P.C., we make every effort to offer legal guidance at a fixed fee.

“Accept that estate, financial, charitable, insurance, retirement, and other planning is a process, not an end game,” Shankman concludes.  Resolve to stick with it, revisit it, and periodically address and improve whatever your plan is, he advises.   Amen to that, and - Happy New year!

- by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team