Act Quickly to Protect an Estate

For most families, the process of estate administration or the probate of a will starts weeks after the death of a loved one.  However, before that time, there are certain steps that need to be taken immediately after death, according to a recent article “Protecting an estate requires swift action” from The Record-Courier. It is not always easy to keep a clear head and stay on top of these tasks but pushing them aside could lead to serious losses and possible liability.

The first step is to secure the deceased’s home, cars and personal property. The residence needs to be locked to prevent unauthorized access. It may be wise to bring in a locksmith, so that anyone who had been given keys in the past will not be able to go into the house. Cars should be parked inside garages and any personal property needs to be securely stored in the home. Nothing should be moved until the trust administration or probate has been completed. Access to the deceased’s digital assets and devices also need to be secured.

Mail needs to be collected and retrieved to prevent the risk of unauthorized removal of mail and identity theft. If there is no easy access to the mailbox, the post office needs to be notified, so mail can be forwarded to an authorized person’s address.

Estate planning documents need to be located and kept in a safe place. The person who has been named as the executor in the will needs to have those documents. If there are no estate planning documents or if they cannot be located, the family will need to work with an estate planning attorney. The estate may be subjected to a probate proceeding.

One of the responsibilities that most executors don’t know about, is that when a person dies, their will needs to be admitted to the court, regardless whether they had trusts. If the deceased left a will, the executor or the person who has possession of the will must deliver it to the court clerk. Failing to do so could result in large civil liability.

At least five and as many as ten original death certificates should be obtained. The executor will need them when closing accounts. As soon as possible, banks, financial institutions, credit card companies, pension plans, insurance companies and others need to be notified of the person’s passing. The Social Security Administration needs to be notified, so direct deposits are not sent to the person’s bank account. Depending on the timing of the death, these deposits may need to be returned. The same is true if the deceased was a veteran—the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) need to be notified. There may be funeral benefits or survivor benefits available.

It is necessary, even in a time of grief, to protect a loved one’s estate in a timely and thorough manner. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help through this process.

Reference: The Record-Courier (Oct. 17, 2020) “Protecting an estate requires swift action”

Could a Polar Bear Plunge Help with Dementia?

A “cold-shock” protein has been discovered in the blood of regular winter swimmers at London’s Parliament Hill Lido. The protein has been shown to retard the onset of dementia and even repair some of the damage it causes in mice, according to a report in the BBC’s recent article entitled “Could cold water hold a clue to a dementia cure?”

Professor Giovanna Mallucci, who runs the United Kingdom Dementia Research Institute’s Centre at the University of Cambridge, says the discovery could help scientists with new drug treatments that may help hold dementia at bay. The research, while encouraging, is at an early stage and focuses on the hibernation ability that all mammals retain, which is prompted by exposure to cold.

The link with dementia lies in the destruction and creation of synapses, which are the connections between cells in the brain. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s and other neuro-degenerative diseases, these brain connections are lost. Mallucci saw that brain connections are lost when hibernating animals, like bears, bed down for their winter sleep, but that roughly 20-30% of their synapses are culled as their bodies preserve precious resources for winter. When they awake in the spring, those connections are reformed.

The shock of entering cold water results in a significant increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which can cause heart attacks and strokes in those with underlying illnesses. This also creates a gasp reflex and rapid breathing, which can lead to drowning, if water is inhaled.

Don’t try a plunge without consulting a doctor.

When researching this treatment in mice, scientists found that levels of a “cold-shock” protein called RBM3 soared in the ordinary mice, but not in the others. This suggested RBM3 could be the key to the formation of new connections. Mallucci proved the link in a separate experiment which showed brain cell deaths in Alzheimer’s and prion disease could be prevented by artificially boosting RBM3 levels in mice. This was a major breakthrough in dementia research, and their findings were published in the scientific journal Nature.

Professor Mallucci contends that a drug which prompted the production of RBM3 might help slow—and possibly even partially reverse—the progress of some neuro-degenerative diseases in people. RBM3 hadn’t been seen in human blood, so the obvious next step was to find out whether the protein is present in humans.

It’s hard to get people to become hypothermic by choice, but Martin Pate and his group of Londoners who swim throughout the winter at the unheated open-air London Parliament Hill Lido pool voluntarily made themselves hypothermic on a regular basis, so he thought they’d be ideal subjects of a study.

The tests showed that a significant number of the swimmers had markedly elevated levels of RBM3. All of them become hypothermic, with core temperatures as low as 93.2F. A control group of Tai Chi participants who practice beside the pool but never actually swim, showed no increase in RBM3 levels nor had they experienced very low body temperatures.

The risks associated with getting cold outweigh any potential benefits, so cold water immersion isn’t a potential dementia treatment. The key is to find a drug that stimulates the production of the protein in humans and to show that it really does help delay dementia.

There are some things that can add years to your life, click here.

Reference: BBC (Oct. 19, 2020) “Could cold water hold a clue to a dementia cure?”

Is My Estate Plan Set with a Power of Attorney?

A June 2020 Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies survey showed that a mere 28% of retirees have a financial power of attorney (POA)—and many people don’t understand that there are two types of these advance directives that serve different purposes.

MarketWatch recently published an article “Does your estate plan use the right type of Power of Attorney for you?” that says knowing how both types work is crucial in the pandemic, especially in the event that you get sick with coronavirus.

A Durable Power of Attorney for Finance can be either “springing” or “immediate.” “Durable” refers to the fact that this Power of Attorney will endure after you have lost mental or physical capacities, whether temporary or permanent. It lists when the powers would be granted to the person of your choosing and the powers end at your death.

An “immediate” Durable Power of Attorney for Finance is effective, as soon as you sign the document. In contrast, a “springing” POA for Finance means two physicians must first examine you and confirm in writing that you can no longer manage independently.

Therefore, to begin paying your bills, your agent must have those two physicians’ letters, and he or she doesn’t automatically have the authority to ask for them.

When issues, such as doctors’ letters, are required before the agent you chose can serve you, ask your estate planning attorney for guidance.

An obstacle for a Durable Power of Attorney for Finance can come upon you very fast and possibly include you and your spouse at the same time. For example, you both might get COVID-19.

The powers granted by a typical POA for Finance are often broad and permit selling and buying assets; managing your debt, car and Social Security payments; filing your tax returns; and caring for any assets not named in a trust you may have, such as your IRA.

If you recover your capacity, your agent must turn everything back over to you when you ask.

Remember that your advance directive documents are only as good as the people who implement them. You should also make certain anyone named knows that they’ll have the job, if needed. They must know where to find your POA and all other important information.

For more information about this or other topics, click here.

Reference: MarketWatch (Oct. 9, 2020) “Does your estate plan use the right type of Power of Attorney for you?”

Why Is an Art Dealer’s Family Contesting His Will?

Zarre didn’t have a wife or children. He is believed to have amassed a valuable art collection in the years since he opened the Andre Zarre Gallery on New York’s Upper East Side in 1974.

The gallery closed several years ago, because of Zarre’s health problems.

ArtNews’ recent article entitled “A New York Art Dealer Just Left His Multimillion-Dollar Estate to the Owner of a Deli in Queens—But His Family Is Crying Foul” explains that Yeje met Zarre in 2016. He  reportedly cared for Zarre over the last eight months of his life, including when the dealer contracted the coronavirus.

Zarre recovered but fell in his Park Avenue apartment in July. Yeje drove him to the hospital, where he reportedly died of a heart attack.

“I washed him, I bought his groceries and fed him. He trusted me and I took care of him,” Yeje, who is 50, told the New York Post. “He was an awesome person.”

Friends of the dealer say they questioned his actions, when he reportedly began investing in the Palermo Delicatessen in Glendale, Queens last fall.

“[Zarre] was really going blind and could barely put one foot in front of the other,” Nick Wolfson, a friend of Zarre and one his gallery’s artists, told the New York Post, wondering if failing health had made the elderly dealer vulnerable to a swindle.

Zarre’s first cousin Arkadiusz Tomasik, who lives in the United Kingdom, claims that Zarre always told him that he’d inherit the estate. He questions the validity of the will leaving everything to Yeje, especially since Zarre was legally blind.

Yeje has offered Zarre’s family $45,000 and land that the art dealer owned in his native Poland, in exchange for not challenging the will. Tomasik is reportedly thinking about legal action.

If Tomasik disputes the will, he will file a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the art dealer’s will. He will have to show that the will was signed under undue influence, by fraud, that Zarre didn’t have the capacity to sign the will or that the will wasn’t signed in accordance with New York law.

For more information about will contesting or other topics, click here.

Reference: ArtNews (Oct. 19, 2020) “A New York Art Dealer Just Left His Multimillion-Dollar Estate to the Owner of a Deli in Queens—But His Family Is Crying Foul”

Despite Pandemic, Many Still Don’t Have an Estate Plan

It’s true—many people still believe that they don’t have enough assets so they don’t need a will, or that their money will automatically go to a next of kin. Both of these beliefs are wrong. While the title of this CNBC article is “More people are creating wills amid the pandemic,” the story’s focus is on the fact that most Americans don’t have a will. If you belong to this group, here’s what happens when you die.

The state you live in has laws about who will receive your assets if you die without a will, known as intestacy. Let’s say you live in New York. Your surviving spouse and children will receive your assets. However, in Texas, your assets will be entered into the state’s intestacy probate process, and your relatives will divide up your assets. Want to be in charge of who inherits your property? Have a will created with an experienced estate attorney.

Young adults think they don’t need a will, but Covid-19 has taken the lives of many healthy, young people. Every adult over age 18 needs a will. If you don’t have one, your loved ones—even if it’s your parents—will inherit a legal mess that will take time and money to fix.

If you have children and no will, there’s no way to be sure who will raise your children. The court will decide. Choose your guardians, name them in your will and be sure to name additional choices just in case the first guardian can’t or won’t serve. You should also appoint someone to be in charge of your children’s money.

What if you had a will created 10 or twenty years ago? That’s another big mistake. Your life changes, the law changes, and so do relationships. Life insurance policies, retirement plans, and transfer-on-death instruments are all legally binding contracts. The last will you made will be used, and if you haven’t updated your will or other documents, then the old decisions will stand. Remember that contracts supersede wills, so no matter how much you don’t want your ex to receive your life insurance proceeds, failing to change that designation won’t help your second spouse. You should review and update all documents.

Doing it yourself is risky. You won’t know if your will is valid and enforceable, if you do it from an online template. Your heirs will have to fix things, which can be expensive. The cost of an estate plan depends on the complexity of your situation. You may only need a will, power of attorney and advance directive. You may also need trusts to pass property along with minimal taxes. An estate planning attorney will be able to give you an idea of how much your estate plan will cost.

Talking about death and planning for it is a difficult topic for everyone, but a well-planned estate plan is one of the most thoughtful gifts you can give to your loved ones.

Reference: CNBC (Oct. 5, 2020) “More people are creating wills amid the pandemic”

 

How Important Is Avoiding Probate?

Estate planning attorneys are often asked if one of the goals of an estate plan is to avoid probate, regardless of the cost. The answer to that question is no, but a better question is the more even-tempered “Should I try to avoid probate?” In that case, the answer is “It depends.” A closer look at this question is provided in the recent article from The Daily Sentinel, “Estate Planning: Is Probate Something to Avoid at All Costs?”

Probate is not always a nightmare, depending upon where a decedent lived. Probate is a court process conducted by judges, who usually understand the difficulty executors and families are facing, and their support staff who genuinely care about the families involved. This is not everywhere, but your estate planning attorney will know what your local probate court is like. With that in mind, there are certain pitfalls to probate and there are situations where avoiding probate does make sense for your family.

In the case where it makes sense to avoid probate, whatever planning strategy is being used to avoid probate must be carefully evaluated. Does it make sense, or does it create further issues? Here’s an example of how this can backfire. A person provided their estate planning attorney with a copy of a beneficiary deed, which is a deed that transfers property to a designated person (called a “grantee”) immediately upon the death of the person who signed the deed (called a “grantor”).

The deed had been signed and recorded properly with the recorder’s office, just as a typical deed would be during the sale of a home. Note that a beneficiary deed does not transfer the title of ownership, until the grantor dies.

Here’s where things went bad. No one knew about the beneficiary deed, except for the grantor and the grantee. The remainder of the estate plan did not mention anything about the beneficiary deed. When the grantor died, ownership of the property was transferred to the grantee. However, the will contained conflicting instructions about the property and who was to inherit it.

Instead of avoiding probate, the grantor’s estate was tied up in court for more than a year. The family was torn apart, and the costs to resolve the matter were substantial.

Had the deceased simply relied upon the probate process or coordinated the transfer of ownership with his estate planning attorney, the intended person would have received the property and the family would have been spared the cost and stress. Sticking with the use of a last will and testament and the probate process would have protected everyone involved.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help determine the best approach for the family, with or without probate.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (Oct. 3, 2020) “Estate Planning: Is Probate Something to Avoid at All Costs?”

What are Attorney’s Obligations after You Die?

One of the hardest parts of an estate planning attorney’s jobs is managing the death of a client. Estate planning attorneys are highly skilled at creating plans, while clients are living and at administering the plans after their client passes. However, most attorneys become friendly with their clients, and they do grieve when clients pass.

Attorneys can provide the best counsel to their clients, when they are completely honest and upfront with them, explains the article “Attorney-client privilege after a client dies” from LimaOhio.com. While there are some things the attorney doesn’t need to know—like the client’s neighbor’s recent divorce—the more information a client provides their attorney, the better the attorney can help the client and their family.

To encourage a high degree of honesty, there are ethics rules that attorneys are required to follow, including the well-known doctrine of attorney-client privilege.

The attorney-client privilege requires that attorneys keep any confidences and secrets from their clients to themselves. This includes sensitive topics about the clients which the attorney learns from someone other than their client. In other words, the attorney may not share any secrets from the client and about the client.

The attorney-client privilege is designed to protect all aspects of the client’s life, even those parts they may not be proud of.

In some cases, the client’s very identity needs to be kept confidential. If a client wishes to pass an asset on to another person but does not want that person to know who their benefactor was, that secret must not be revealed. If a client has won a multimillion-dollar lottery and wishes to remain private, the attorney is required to keep their identity secret.

This attorney-client privilege applies to the staff in the attorney’s practice also. Something shared with an attorney’s paralegal or secretary must remain confidential, as something that was told directly to the attorney.

To strengthen this privilege further, the attorney-client privilege survives the client’s death. When a client passes, the attorney may not share those secrets.

There are a few exceptions to the rule of the attorney-client privilege that survive a client’s death. Attorneys may discuss their client’s competency to sign documents. The executor of a deceased client’s estate or the spouse of a deceased client has the right to waive this privilege. However, if the client’s secret concerns their spouse or the executor, the attorney may not share that secret in order to allow the executor or spouse to waive that privilege.

For more information about this or other topics, click here.

Reference: LimaOhio.com (Oct. 3, 2020) “Attorney-client privilege after a client dies”

 

Caring for a Loved One from a Distance

Trying to coordinate care from a distance becomes a challenge for many, especially since as many as 80% of caregivers are working. Add COVID-19 into the mix, and the situation becomes even more difficult, reports the article “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The starting point is to have the person you are caring for give you legal authorization to act on their behalf with a Power of Attorney for financial affairs and a Health Care Directive that gives you authority to receive health information under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). It is HIPAA that addresses the use, disclosure and protection of sensitive patient information.

Next, have a conversation about their finances. Find out where all of their important documents are, including insurance policies (long-term care, health, life, auto, home), Social Security and Medicare cards. You’ll want to know where their tax documents are, which will provide you with information on retirement accounts, bank accounts and investments.

Gather up family documents, including birth, death, and marriage certificates. Make sure your loved one has completed their estate planning, including a last will and testament.

Put all of this information into a binder, so you have access to it easily.

Because you are far from your loved one, you may want to set up a care plan. What kind of care do they have in place right now, and what do you anticipate they may need in the near future? There should also be a contingency plan for emergencies, which seem to occur when they are least expected.

Find a geriatric care manager or a social worker who can do a needs assessment and help coordinate services, including shopping for groceries, medication administration and help with basic activities of daily living, including bathing, toileting, getting in and out of bed, eating and dressing.

If possible, develop a list of neighbors, friends or fellow worshippers who might create a local support system. If you are not able to visit with any degree of frequency, find a way to see your loved ones on a regular basis through video calls. It is impossible to accurately assess a person’s well-being, without being able to see them. In the past, dramatic changes weren’t revealed until family members made a trip. Today, you’ll be able to see your loved one using technology.

You may need to purchase a smartphone or a tablet, but it will be worth the investment. A medical alert system will provide further peace of mind for all concerned. Regular conference calls with caregivers and your loved one will keep everyone in touch.

Caring from a distance is difficult, but a well-thought out plan and preparing for all situations will make your loved one safer.

For more information about this or other topics, click here.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sep. 28, 2020) “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them”

 

Protect Your Estate with Five Facts

It is true that a single person who dies in 2020 could have up to $11.58 million in personal assets and their heirs would not have to pay any federal estate tax. However, that doesn’t mean that regular people don’t need to worry about estate taxes—their heirs might have to pay state estate taxes, inheritance taxes or the estate may shrink because of other tax issues. That’s why U.S. News & World Report’s recent article “5 Estate Planning Tips to Keep Your Money in the Family” is worth reading.

Without proper planning, any number of factors could take a bite out of your children’s inheritance. They may be responsible for paying federal income taxes on retirement accounts, for instance. You want to be sure that a lifetime of hard work and savings doesn’t end up going to the wrong people.

The best way to protect your family and your legacy, is by meeting with an estate planning attorney and sorting through all of the complex issues of estate planning. Here are five areas you definitely need to address:

  1. Creating a last will and testament
  2. Checking that beneficiaries are correct
  3. Creating a trust
  4. Converting traditional IRA accounts to Roth accounts
  5. Giving assets while you are living

A last will and testament. Only 32% of Americans have a will, according to a survey that asked 2,400 Americans that question. Of those who don’t have a will, 30% says they don’t think they have enough assets to warrant having a will. However, not having a will means that your entire estate goes through probate, which could become very expensive for your heirs. Having no will also makes it more likely that your family will challenge the distribution of assets. As a result, someone you may have never met could inherit your money and your home. It happens more often than you can imagine.

Checking beneficiaries. Once you die, beneficiaries cannot be changed. That could mean an ex-spouse gets the proceeds of your life insurance policy, retirement funds or any other account that has a named beneficiary. Over time, relationships change—make sure to check the beneficiaries named on any of your documents to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled. Your will does not control this distribution and is superseded by the named beneficiaries.

Set up a trust. Trusts are used to accomplish different goals. If a child is unable to manage money, for instance, a trust can be created, a trustee named and the account funded. The trust will include specific directions as to when the child receives funds or if any benchmarks need to be met, like completing college or staying sober. With an irrevocable trust, the money is taken out of your estate and cannot be subject to estate taxes. Money in a trust does not pass through probate, which is another benefit.

Convert traditional IRAs to Roth retirement accounts. When children inherit traditional IRAs, they come with many restrictions and heirs get the income tax liability of the IRA. Regular income tax must be paid on all distributions, and the account has to be emptied within ten years of the owner’s death, with limited exceptions. If the account balance is large, it could be consumed by taxes. By gradually converting traditional retirement accounts to Roth accounts, you pay the taxes as the accounts are converted. You want to do this in a controlled fashion, so as not to burden yourself. However, this means your heirs receive the accounts tax-free.

Gift with warm hands, wisely. Perhaps the best way to ensure that money stays in the family, is to give it to heirs while you are living. As of 2020, you may gift up to $15,000 per person, per year in gifts. The money is tax free for recipients. Just be careful when gifting assets that appreciate in value, like stocks or a house. When appreciating assets are inherited, the heirs receive a step-up in basis, meaning that the taxable amount of the assets are adjusted upon death, so some assets should only be passed down after you pass.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Sep. 30, 2020) “5 Estate Planning Tips to Keep Your Money in the Family”

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Little Things Add Years to Your Life

Get moving, says a 20-year study conducted with nearly 15,000 residents of the United Kingdom age 40 to 79. Considerable’s recent article entitled “This small lifestyle change can add years to your life” explains that the subjects who kept or increased to a medium level of activity were 28% less likely to die than those who stayed at a low level of activity.

The research was conducted by the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, and the results were published in The British Medical Journal.

The researchers split the sample into three groups who engaged in low, medium, and high levels of activity. They monitored changes to their activity for about eight years. Then they looked at the health effects over the next 12½ years.

The researchers found that those who stayed or increased their level of activity from low to medium were 28% less likely to die during that second phase than those who kept a low level of activity.

Moreover, those subjects who’d been moderately active but raised their activity level achieved a significant 42% increase in survival, compared to the low-activity subjects.

This impact was present even for those respondents who ate an unhealthy diet or had experienced a health condition, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or obesity.

So, the big question is just how much activity is required?

The study defined the activity levels according to the following guidelines:

  • Low: Less than the guideline of 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity
  • Medium: achieving the guideline of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week; and
  • High: The guideline of 300 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly activity.

The high level also allowed for an equivalent, like 75 weekly minutes of high-intensity activity, or 60 minutes of high-intensity activity and 30 minutes of medium-intensity activity per week.

The researchers think that their study will motivate more people to take it up a notch, regardless of their age.

“These results are encouraging, not least for middle aged and older adults with existing cardiovascular disease and cancer, who can still gain substantial longevity benefits by becoming more active, lending further support to the broad public health benefits of physical activity,” the authors commented.

Reference: Considerable (Sep. 22, 2020) “This small lifestyle change can add years to your life”

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