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  • Archive for March, 2012

    Have You Seen This Person?

    Friday, March 23rd, 2012

    If you are a Caucasian woman, aged 35 or older, possibly married, very likely working full or part-time—then there is a good chance that you are also (or will soon be) serving as a caregiver for an aging parent or relative. At least this is what a recent report released by the National Alliance for Caregiving, AARP, and MetLife indicates.

    The entire report, entitled “Caregiving in the U.S., A Focused Look at Those Caring for Someone Aged 50 or Older” is 73 pages long, but you needn’t read the entire thing to get an insider’s peek at the state of caregiving today. And the report isn’t limited to caring for an aging relative; it includes statistics on those caring for special needs children, as well as family members of any age.

    Some of the more interesting statistics listed in the report are:

    * 40% of Caregivers are aged 50-64.

    * 63% of those receiving care are over the age of 75.

    * 67% of Caregivers are women.

    * 76% of Caregivers are Caucasian.

    * 89% are caring for a relative (36% of the time it is the caregiver’s mother.)

    * Over half of caregivers are employed while caregiving; and…

    * Caregivers provide an average of 19 hours of caregiving per week (in addition to their regular employment.)

    It is worthwhile to note that according to this study most of these caregivers are unpaid for the care they give, which makes sense if they are caring for a family member and are doing it voluntarily—but a full 43% said that they felt they did not have a choice to take on the role.

    Our office can’t prevent you from one day needing a caregiver (or one day having to serve as a caregiver) but we can help you plan for when that day may come. Thinking and planning ahead can keep you—and your loved ones—from ending up in a situation where you feel you have no choice.

    Will You Need a Probate Attorney?

    Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

    The subject of probate is one that nobody wants to learn about too early; in fact, most people would probably avoid it altogether if they could. Unfortunately, the probate process can be very confusing and frightening when you are forced to become intimately acquainted with it—especially if you have no prior experience with or knowledge of it.

    For a beneficiary, probate can be lengthy, expensive and frustrating; but if you have been named as executor, probate can suddenly become an overwhelming maze of deadlines, notifications and potential liabilities. This is why many executors choose to hire a probate lawyer to help them through the process.

    If you are the executor of a small estate with a straightforward will and one or two beneficiaries who are not contentious then you can probably do without an attorney. But you will want to think about hiring an attorney if you are serving as an executor under any of the following circumstances:

    * There are a number of beneficiaries who are not on friendly terms, or a number of beneficiaries receiving varying sizes of inheritance.

    * The decedent had large estate with many different assets, especially if the assets are not commonly held.

    * The decedent was a resident in a different state than your own home state.
    A large number of creditors are making claims on the estate.

    * There is a disagreement about the will, or if more than one will was found.

    * The will is challenged or contested.

    These are only a few of the reasons why you might want to consider hiring an attorney to help you through the probate process. If you aren’t sure whether you’ll need an attorney, don’t hesitate to call our office for a consultation. We can help walk you through the process and consider any obstacles that might arise. A little bit of foresight, and knowing you have an experienced professional on your side, can make all the difference in the probate process.

    The High Emotional—And Financial—Cost of Alzheimer’s Disease

    Monday, March 19th, 2012

    Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects everybody it touches—husbands, wives, children and grandchildren—they all bear witness to their loved one’s slow demise.

    Sadly, emotional stress is not the only stress that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease; those loved ones serving as caretakers may carry a huge amount of financial stress as well. The cost of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient can run anywhere from $64 a day to $77,380 a year, and because Alzheimer’s disease can be such a long-lasting disease (a person can suffer from Alzheimer’s for up to 20 years) the costs of care can end up being astronomical. It’s obvious that people can’t do it alone.

    Long-term care insurance can be very helpful in paying for the costs of care necessary for a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s… if your loved one has thought ahead and purchased the policy before they or their spouse began suffering from symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Some people may not have thought ahead and hope that government programs will be able to help with the high cost of care. Medicaid can be helpful … if you fall in the right category and know how to navigate the complex system. (Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of long-term care.)

    Unfortunately, learning how to navigate the system is not something you can do in an hour or two. Because your experience will depend on a number of unique factors we can’t give you an easy set of instructions to follow. The best advice we can give is to say that right now, the best way to navigate the Medicaid/Medi-Cal system is to find someone who knows the system to assist you. Most estate planning and elder law attorneys help their clients with these issues on a regular basis. If you want to ensure that you and your loved ones will be cared for no matter what the future may bring, don’t be afraid to ask your attorney for help.

    How Do You Know If You Need An Estate Plan?

    Friday, March 16th, 2012

    Most people know that they should execute some kind of estate plan eventually, but don’t think that they actually need one right now. On our blog we spend a lot of time telling people that they do need an estate plan, and that they need one right now—or as soon as possible! But it’s not always easy for a layperson to know for sure if and when the time is right. Answering the following questions will help you determine when your family may need an estate plan, and if now is the time to take action.

    Do you own a house?

    Owning your own home means you have at least one significant asset, which affects your need for planning in a number of ways: First, a piece of property cannot be split between people, it will have to be sold (which can take months or even years) and the proceeds divided among your heirs—often at a loss, especially if the house was undervalued to sell quickly. Second, many people who feel they have “small estates and won’t have to worry about Probate or the estate tax” are surprised when they find that the value of their home does indeed push their estate over the line. Third, if you are married you may need to make provisions for your spouse if you would like them to be able to continue to live in your home.

    Do you have minor children?

    If you have minor children and have not made provisions for them in case of your death or incapacity the government will be in charge of their futures. This could mean your children are put in the care of foster parents or become wards of the state. That is not a chance you want to take.

    Do you want your heirs to receive their inheritance immediately and in full, instead of having to wait months (or years) before receiving what may be only a percentage of what you left them?

    Probate is a long and expensive process. Without a plan in place your assets will have to be probated before they can be distributed. Not only does this often take years, but the probate fees (which can be considerable) are taken out of your estate—leaving less for your heirs.

    Do you know how you want to spend your final moments?

    Most people don’t die quickly and quietly at the ripe old age of 98. Most people fall victim to accidents, illness or dementia—unable to make their own health care decisions. Without a healthcare directive or living will that specifically outlines your wishes and instructions for your health care and nominating an agent to carry out those wishes, you could end up in a Terri Schiavo situation—costing your loved ones both financially and emotionally.

    If you answered yes to any of these questions then NOW is the time to get started on your estate plan. You may need something small and simple, or you may need a plan that is more comprehensive. Not all plans are created equal, and our office can help you design the one that will be the right fit for your individual family needs. Contact us today.

    Advice for Executors: How to Manage Final Medical Expenses

    Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

    Most people die in a hospital; sometimes after a long and slow decline, sometimes after a quick and unexpected tragedy. If you are an executor of the deceased’s estate this is significant because it means that there are usually final medical bills to be paid. What most executors do not know is that these final medical bills are not necessarily just like all the other final expenses, especially when it comes to filing a final tax return for the estate; this article from SmartMoney.com explains why.

    “…When a person incurs medical expenses and dies before they are paid, the executor of the decedent’s estate can elect to treat those medical expenses as if they were paid when incurred – as long as the estate pays the expenses within one year after the date of death. In other words, this election allows those expenses to be deducted on the decedent’s final Form 1040, even though they were not paid by the date of death.”

    Many executors may not think of this because medical expenses can only be deducted if they exceed a certain percentage of the deceased’s adjusted gross income (7.5% to be exact); but health care being what it is, final medical expenses can quite often reach this point.

    This sounds easy, but be careful if the deceased’s estate exceeds the $3.5 million estate tax exemption—you may want to look into other options. The article suggests that in this case it might be beneficial to “forgo the election and count the unpaid medical expenses as liabilities on the estate tax return.”

    As the executor of an estate you may have more options than you are aware of when it comes to taxes, probate, and achieving the best results for the beneficiaries. If you are unsure about any of these—or other—issues, please contact our office, we can help advise you on all angles of the trustee or probate process.

    Estate Plan Forgery: How to Tell and What to Do

    Monday, March 12th, 2012

    The question of will forgery or undue influence of a testator is not a common question, but one that does come up periodically in an estate planner’s office. The movies have given people certain expectations when it comes to a death in the family and probating a will: a book-lined office, the entire family assembled for a formal reading of the will, shocked and angry reactions as a loved one’s fortune goes to an unknown and unlikely character…

    This Hollywood portrayal may be generally off base, but the basic premise is based on the very real feelings that come with the death of a loved one: helplessness, confusion, familial bonds, and sometimes even betrayal. A will doesn’t have to be forged for there to be strong feelings of anger or suspicion when the contents end up being different than the family was led to expect. And while forged or secret wills may not be as common as the movies would have us believe, they aren’t completely unheard of either.

    So what should you do if you suspect that the will of a loved one has been forged or tampered with? First of all, don’t try to deal with the situation alone. Dealing with the death of a loved one is stressful and emotional, and everyone—including you—is likely to be quicker than usual to react without thinking. Instead, seek the advice of a trusted third party (an estate or probate lawyer is ideal,) someone who can help you distance yourself and look at the situation objectively.

    Will forgeries are very rare, but incidents of testators (especially elderly testators) being unduly influenced by a selfishly motivated caregiver or family member are much more common. If you suspect foul play was involved in the creation of a loved one’s will, make an appointment with an estate or probate specialist. We can help you work through your suspicions in a safe environment and explore your options should you feel the need to take action.

    Providing Care for Divorced or Remarried Parents

    Friday, March 9th, 2012

    Divorce is difficult on a family no matter what the circumstances. Even when a divorce is best for all involved, there is always an amount of stress and emotional trauma involved. In fact, it has recently become apparent that the effects of divorce—stress, family upheaval, and tighter finances—can last years into the future. Our firm works frequently to help divorced or remarrying couples update their estate plans to protect their new blended families, and we often see how the effects divorce can continue to have even as much as 20 or 30 years down the road—not just on the couple but on their grown children now acting as caregivers.

    Adult children of aging parents often find themselves caring not only for mom and dad but also for stepmom, stepdad and sometimes even another stepparent from yet a third (and current) marriage. Dividing time (and often finances) between so many parents with new and special needs can quickly take its toll, as can the family politics that come with adult siblings, half siblings, and step siblings.

    With all of this complexity and intermingling family ties, it is more important than ever to have conversations about estate planning and long-term care with parents and siblings before mom and dad (and stepmom and stepdad) get to an age where they need in-home or around the clock nursing care. A good estate plan can eliminate much potential fighting and confusion by clearly defining who will be making financial decisions and who should be making health care decisions when mom or dad become incapacitated. A caregiver agreement can provide financial assistance to the one sibling who inevitably ends up shouldering most of the care giving burden.

    If you are a part of a blended family don’t wait for time to take its toll; talk to your parents and siblings now about any challenges the future may bring—and how to meet those challenges together.

    Elderly Daycare Can Help Prevent Caregiver Burnout

    Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

    Many of our clients provide care for elderly loved ones; some even providing constant, around the clock care. Care giving is a demanding, overwhelming, and often grossly underappreciated job. In addition to giving up their own time and interests, caregivers have to watch someone they love slowly regress and lose the ability to do even the most basic of tasks. Often, the senior being cared for eventually loses their ability to even recognize the people around them… including the person giving constant loving care. For all of these reasons, it’s very common for caregivers to experience depression and fatigue… caregiver burnout.

    Depression and burnout does not have to be the plight of all caregivers, especially if you know the symptoms and how to combat them. The good news is that there are many preventative strategies which are readily available… the hard part for caregivers is valuing their own time and mental health enough to take advantage of them.

    One of the best ways to avoid caregiver burnout is by making time for yourself periodically. Adult day service centers provide personal care, social activities, therapy and meals during the day while caregivers need to be away at work or even taking a much-needed break. If you have a parent who can no longer care for themselves during the day, adult day services might be a good solution for everybody involved.

    There is a saying that hardships shared are halved, and joys shared are doubled; this is as true of care giving as it is for anything else. Many caregivers are reluctant to ask for help, but sharing the burden could save you from caregiver burnout. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

    Pre-Planning Your Funeral Can Remove the Burden from Your Loved Ones

    Monday, March 5th, 2012

    A funeral comes at a time when the death of a loved one is recent and close, and many people are still in shock and in some cases struggling with the reality of loss. Funerals help grieving loved ones come to terms with death and say their final goodbyes… but for the person planning the funeral the experience can sometimes be a frustrating, painful, and expensive experience. Planning ahead for your own funeral—discussing it with your loved ones and even including your wishes in your estate plan—can remove this burden from their shoulders when the time comes.

    Although pre-planning a funeral is essential, pre-paying for a funeral can actually be detrimental. According to The Funeral Consumers Alliance there are just too many things that can go wrong, “[prepaying for] funerals may not cover every item of service you and your family expect, and there’s often no guarantee the money you pay today will keep up with inflation to pay the cost of the service you’ve picked out.” In addition, “many state laws don’t offer much protection for your prepaid funeral money.” If you change your mind or move out of the area there’s no assurance that you’ll get your money refunded. That being said, although pre-paying may be a no-no, setting aside funds for a funeral—in an account, CDs, or a specially designated insurance policy—is always a good idea.

    In just about every will or trust you will find something about the estate “paying the deceased’s final expenses,” otherwise known as funeral and/or memorial costs. As a small portion of what can sometimes be a very large and intricate document, this “final expense” clause can seem unimportant—but our firm knows better.

    Talking about your wishes for “final disposition of your remains” is something that should always be discussed with your estate planning attorney. Whether you choose to pre-plan your funeral or not, having some basic instructions in your will or health care directive for your preferences regarding burial, cremation, organ donation and so on will be a huge help to your loved ones during a difficult and emotional time.

    What To Do After A Death In The Family

    Friday, March 2nd, 2012

    Anyone who has lost a close friend or family member knows that what a difficult, painful, and overwhelming time it can be. We are often asked to help our clients through probate process when a loved one dies, but probate isn’t the only thing you’ll have to think about; in fact, it may not even be the first thing you should think about. We know that nothing can make this process easy, but we hope this brief guide can help make the process of dealing with the death of a loved one somewhat less overwhelming.

    1. The first thing you’ll want to do is call close friends and family. They will share in your grief, and they can also share the responsibility of notifying others.

    2. Contact a funeral director. This person can help walk you through the process of planning a memorial, making burial arrangements, and even writing an obituary. This can often be the most overwhelming task, not because it is particularly difficult, but because it has to be done so quickly; sometimes before the reality of death has had a chance to sink in with the survivors.

    3. Find out if your loved one had a will. Contact their attorney (if they had one) and make sure you have the original for the probate court. If you aren’t sure how to file with will with the probate court you can contact an attorney, or check the website of the local probate office for the deceased.

    4. Order multiple copies of the death certificate. You will need these for the insurance company, as well as for some of the steps below.

    5. Collect the mail and contact all utility companies, credit card companies, debt collectors, etc.; call to notify them of the death and stop services.

    6. Go through the deceased’s files and paperwork. This can be tedious, time-consuming, and confusing, depending on how organized your loved one was. This is important information you (or the executor or trustee) will need to file final tax returns and pass on to the probate court, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

    Dealing with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult and overwhelming things you may ever have to do. If you are having a particularly hard time with the grieving process don’t be afraid to ask others to help with the more difficult items, or to hand the list over entirely to someone else if you feel unable to cope. This is when your own probate or estate planning attorney (or the deceased’s attorney, if they had one) can be especially helpful.

    Although it sometimes feels as if time should stand still when someone we love passes away, life does go on, for better or worse. But the world is full of caring and knowledgeable people to help you through the process… if you only know where to look.