Surprising Ways Beneficiary Designations Can Damage an Estate Plan

Naming a beneficiary on a non-retirement account can result in an unintended consequence—it can even topple an entire estate plan—reports The National Law Review in the article “Overuse of Beneficiary Designations: How They Can Derail a Client’s Estate Plan.” How is that possible?

In most cases, retirement accounts and life insurance policies pass to beneficiaries as a result of the beneficiary designation form that is completed when someone opens a retirement account or purchases a life insurance plan. Most people don’t even think about those designations again, until they embark on the estate planning process, when they are reviewed.

The beneficiary designations are carefully tailored to allow the asset to pass through to the heir, often via trusts that have been created to achieve a variety of benefits. The use of beneficiary designations also allows the asset to remain outside of the estate, avoiding probate after death.

Apart from the beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and life insurance policies, beneficiary designations are also available through checking and savings accounts, CDs, U.S. Savings Bonds or investment accounts. The problem occurs when these assets are not considered during the estate planning process, potentially defeating the tax planning and distribution plans created.

The most common way this happens, is when a well-meaning bank employee or financial advisor asks if the person would like to name a beneficiary and explains to the account holder how it will help their heirs avoid probate. However, if the estate planning lawyer, whose goal is to plan for the entire estate, is not informed of these beneficiary designations, there could be repercussions. Some of the unintended consequences include:

Loss of tax saving strategies. If the estate plan uses funding formulas to optimize tax savings by way of a credit shelter trust, marital trust or generation-skipping trust, the assets are not available to fund the trusts and the tax planning strategy may not work as intended.

Unintentional beneficiary exclusion. If all or a large portion of the assets pass directly to the beneficiaries, there may not be enough assets to satisfy bequests to other individuals or trust funds created by the estate plan.

Loss of creditor protection/asset management. Many estate plans are created with trusts intended to protect assets against creditor claims or to provide asset management for a beneficiary. If the assets pass directly to heirs, any protection created by the estate plan is lost.

Estate administration issues. If a large portion of the assets pass to beneficiaries directly, the administration of the estate—that means taxes, debts, and expenses—may be complicated by a lack of funds under the control of the executor and/or the fiduciary. If estate tax is due, the beneficiary of an account may be held liable for paying the proportionate share of any taxes.

Before adding a beneficiary designation to a non-retirement account, or changing a bank account to a POD (Payable on Death), speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure that the plan you put into place will work if you make these changes. When you review your estate plan, review beneficiary designations. The wrong step here could have a major impact for your heirs.

Reference: The National Law Review (Feb. 28, 2020) “Overuse of Beneficiary Designations: How They Can Derail a Client’s Estate Plan”

What is the Difference between Guardianship and Power of Attorney?

Protecting yourself or a loved one can take many different forms, since aging takes a toll on the ability to handle financial and medical decisions. In most situations, guardianship or a power of attorney does the trick, says the article “Guardianships vs. Powers of Attorney” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  How to know which is the best one to use?

A guardianship is a court-authorized assignment of surrogate decision-making power for the benefit of a person who has lost the ability to make informed decisions on their own, often described as a person who has become incapacitated. The decisions that another person can make on their behalf can be very broad, or they can be very specific.

If a person becomes incapacitated, either through a slowly progressing illness like dementia or quickly, as the result of an accident, a judge will appoint a person or sometimes an organization to handle health care and financial decisions. The court-appointed guardian or organization could be a person or agency you have never heard of and would not know your family or anything about you.

Yes, that is scary. However, guardianship takes place when families do not plan in advance to appoint a surrogate decision maker, also known as an “agent.”

Here’s even more scary news: once the court has appointed a guardian, that relationship may continue for the rest of the incapacitated person’s life. That means annual accountings and involvement with the court, legal fees and other professional fees the guardian or court deems necessary.

There are some guardians who have made headlines for stealing money and making care decisions that the individual and their families did not want.

Meeting with an estate planning attorney to prepare for incapacity as part of an overall estate plan is a far better way. Why don’t more people do it?

  • They aren’t aware of the importance of power of attorney.
  • They don’t want to spend the money.
  • They don’t know who to choose as their power of attorney
  • They don’t want to think about incapacity or death.

In contrast to a court-supervised lifetime guardianship, a properly drafted power of attorney can provide for an agent to make a variety of financial and medical decisions. The person named as a power of attorney (the agent) can serve for the person’s lifetime, just like a guardian.

This is the most fundamental estate planning document, after the last will and testament. Once it’s prepared, you can always change your mind and you or your agent never need to go to court.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Feb. 24, 2020) “Guardianships vs. Powers of Attorney”

C19 UPDATE: Paying for Covid-19 Testing and Treatment if You Have a High Deductible Insurance Plan

What is a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)?

A HDHP is a health insurance plan with a higher deductible than traditional insurance plans. Many people choose this type of health insurance for the cost savings as the monthly premiums are usually lower than traditional insurance plans. A high deductible plan (HDHP) can be combined with a health savings account (HSA), allowing you to pay for certain medical expenses with pre-tax money.

For 2020, the IRS defines a high deductible health plan as any plan with a deductible of at least $1,400 for an individual or $2,800 for a family. An HDHP’s total yearly out-of-pocket expenses (including deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance) can’t be more than $6,900 for an individual or $13,800 for a family. (This limit doesn’t apply to out-of-network services.)

How Does This Apply to Covid-19 Testing & Treatment?

The IRS recognizes that people with HDHP plans, where in general, all costs are paid out-of-pocket before medical benefits kick in, may be reluctant to seek care or be tested when ill.

To respond to the current Covid-19 emergency, the IRS on March 11 issued guidance in Notice 2020-15 stating (emphasis added)

“a health plan that otherwise satisfies the requirements to be a high deductible health plan (HDHP) under section 223(c)(2)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) will not fail to be an HDHP under section 223(c)(2)(A) merely because the health plan provides health benefits associated with testing for and treatment of COVID-19 without a deductible, or with a deductible below the minimum deductible (self only or family) for an HDHP. Therefore, an individual covered by the HDHP will not be disqualified from being an eligible individual under section 223(c)(1) who may make tax-favored contributions to a health savings account (HSA).”

In short, the IRS said that health plans that otherwise qualify as HDHPs will not lose that status merely because they cover the cost of testing for or treatment of COVID-19 before plan deductibles have been met. This also means that an individual with an HDHP that covers these costs may continue to contribute to a health savings account (HSA).

The IRS noted that, as in the past, any vaccination costs continue to count as preventive care and can be paid for by an HDHP. Testing and treatment for the virus can be covered under the umbrella of “preventive services.”

This Applies Only to Covid-19 Emergencies

The IRS cautions that this new policy statement only applies to Covid-19 emergencies:

“This guidance does not modify previous guidance with respect to the requirements to be an HDHP in any manner other than with respect to the relief for testing for and treatment of COVID-19.”

Check with Your Provider

If you are currently enrolled in a HDHP health insurance, be sure to check with your provider for details about your specific benefits coverage.

Resources: IRS Notice 2020-15, “HIGH DEDUCTIBLE HEALTH PLANS AND EXPENSES RELATED TO COVID-19,” https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-20-15.pdf

 

C19 UPDATE: Bookmark this Page from the IRS for Ongoing Coronavirus Updates

The IRS has established a special section focused on steps to help taxpayers, businesses and others affected by the coronavirus. This page will be updated as new information is available. https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus

For health information about the COVID-19 virus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.coronavirus.gov

Other information about actions being taken by the U.S. government visit https://www.usa.gov/coronavirus and in Spanish at https://gobierno.usa.gov/coronavirus.

The Department of Treasury also has information available at Coronavirus: Resources, Updates, and What You Should Know https://home.treasury.gov/coronavirus

We will be posting updates on our blog and social media as more information is made available. You can visit our website here or Facebook page here.

How is a Guardianship Determined?

Because the courts call guardianship “a massive curtailment of liberty,” it’s important that guardianship be used only when necessary.

The Pauls Valley Democrat’s recent article asks, “Guardianship – What is sufficient incapacity?” As the article explains, courts must be certain that an individual is truly “incapacitated.”

For example, Oklahoma law defines an incapacitated person as a person 18 years or older, who is impaired by reason of:

  1. Mental illness;
  2. Intellectual or developmental disability;
  3. Physical illness or disability; or
  4. Drug or alcohol dependency.

In addition, an incapacitated person’s ability to receive and evaluate information or to communicate decisions is impaired to such a level that the person (i) lacks capacity to maintain health and safety; or (ii) is unable to manage financial resources.

A person who is requesting to be appointed guardian by the court must show evidence to prove the person’s incapacity. This evidence is typically presented with the professional opinion of medical, psychological, or administrative bodies.

In some instances, a court may initiate its own investigation with known medical experts. In these cases, the type of professional chosen to provide an opinion should match the needs of the person (the “ward”), who will be subject to guardianship.

The court will receive this evidence and if it’s acceptable, in many cases, require that the experts provide a plan for the care and administration of the ward and his assets. This plan will become a control measure, as well as guidance for the guardian who’s appointed.

These controls will include regular monitoring and reports of performance back to the court.

If you are interested in more information about guardianship in Utah, visit our website here.

Reference: Pauls Valley Democrat (Jan. 23, 2020) “Guardianship – What is sufficient incapacity?”

Should Retirees Buy Vacation Homes?

It sounds like a great idea. After all, it’s an investment in real estate and it could be passed along to the next generation. It might be a rental property, too, generating income when the owners aren’t able to enjoy it. However, there are some things to be careful of, warns Barron’s in the article “What Retirees Should Know Before Buying a Vacation Home.”

Taxes, maintenance, insurance and possibly the cost of hiring a rental-management company are just a few things to consider. Above all, don’t think of it as an investment This is because with real estate, there are no guarantees. For one thing, it’s not liquid. You can’t count on selling it for a good price, when you need some ready cash.

The first and most important question: can you afford it? Retirees are usually living on a fixed income. The cost of a vacation home can be loaded with surprises, just like any other property. If there’s enough of a nest egg to live on and there won’t ever be a need to sell fast, then it may be a good move.

If there’s enough money to purchase the home, then investing in someone to manage the property is a good idea. Empty homes are targets for thieves, and if there’s a maintenance issue, an uninhabited home is vulnerable to damages.

Where taxes are concerned, the sale of a second home does not give the seller the same capital gains tax exemption as the sale of a primary residence. That exemption is only available for people who have lived in the home as a primary residence for at least two of the previous five years. The exemption is up to $500,000 for married couples.

There is one way around it, if it makes sense for owners. Let’s say that they plan on downsizing from their primary residence. They sell it and use the tax exemption. They then move to the vacation home, for at least two years, using that as their primary residence. At that point, they can sell the home that has now become a primary residence, enjoy the generous tax exemption and then move to a new primary residence.

As a rental property, owners are permitted to rent for up to 14 days without owing any taxes on the rental income. After the 14-day period, taxes must be paid, but some of the rental expenses are tax deductible.

If the intent is to keep the house for as long as the owners are living, it becomes part of the estate and must be included in an estate plan. Leaving it to the next generation may be feasible, if all of the children want to keep the house and can afford its upkeep. Have the conversation with the children first. Giving the house to children can be accomplished by putting it into a limited liability corporation with an operating agreement that defines it. Each child will have a stake in the entity that owns the home, rather than the house itself.

Talk with your estate planning lawyer about how the purchase and inheritance of a vacation home may impact your overall estate plan before making a purchase.

Reference: Barron’s (Jan. 18, 2020) “What Retirees Should Know Before Buying a Vacation Home”

Elder Financial Abuse Is Increasing

A September 2018 Forbes report said that elder financial abuse would only get worse as we age. With 10,000 people turning age 65 every day for the decade, the demographics include a growing pool of potentially fragile retirees and the elderly, many of whom are susceptible to financial exploitation.

alphabetastock.coms recent article entitled “Elder Financial Abuse Is Rising” says that, although the criminals are out there, a lot of elder financial abuse actually begins in the retirement system, because individuals must accumulate and handle a large amount of money designed to last an entire lifetime. With $14.5 trillion in self-directed retirement accounts in the U.S., it’s a big, enticing target for financial predators.

Elder financial abuse includes all of the frauds and scams targeting seniors and because it’s a hidden crime, many victims opt not to report it. Those that do report the crimes, frequently don’t prosecute.

However, when it comes to trying to promote real changes that will provide some material protections, the investment, insurance, and financial services industries directly or indirectly have been showing some reticence about the potential compliance expense. Some of these companies are lobbying to maintain a status quo—one that’s on a course to see a steady rise in elder financial exploitation.

Many retirement investors think their professional financial advisors are fiduciaries who are legally bound to act in their best interests. However, that’s not always so. Many professional financial advisors need only adhere to a lower legal standard of behavior. They can’t outright tell you a lie—but they can make recommendations that don’t put the customer’s best interests as a top priority.

A GAO study found elder financial abuse to be a growing epidemic. Rather than being able to live out their golden years in safety and financial security, the lack of financial safeguards are leaving an entire (and growing) group of older Americans at risk. These seniors are often left on their own and confused as to how the advisors they entrusted with their financial security are permitted to make moves that are motivated by high commissions and self-interest. These so-called professionals aren’t required by the law to place interests of their clients ahead of their own.

Theft and illegal behavior is one small component of the elder financial exploitation. A bigger part comes from abusive financial practices, such as higher fees and complex and unsuitable advice and recommendations from professional financial advisors who aren’t fiduciaries.

Be sure that you are working with a financial professional who is a fiduciary. Ask your elder law attorney for recommendations.

Reference: alphabetastock.com (January 11, 2020) “Elder Financial Abuse Is Rising”

What Is an Advance Care Directive?

People start out with good intentions at the start of the year, and then fail to follow through.  This makes difficult situations even worse for their family. The process begins with discussions about your care wishes, explains the Chicago Tribune’s Daily Southdown in the article “Talk to your family now about advance care directives.”

That conversation should include who you would trust as a health care agent. This person would be named in the medical power of attorney, an advance directive legal document that gives that person the power to make medical and care decisions on your behalf if you are not able to.

That person needs to know, from you, what’s important to you when it comes to quality of life, or length of life.

This is a very important document, as the person has the power to make life and death decisions on your behalf.

It also covers whether you want to be an organ donor. If an unexpected accident occurred and your organs were still healthy and working, would you want to give them to someone who needs a kidney or a heart? If that would be your goal, you need to make your wishes known to your health care proxy and health care providers, as well as to your family.

A living will is also important to have in place. This is used in cases of incurable or irreversible injury, disease, or illness. It expresses your wishes for end-of life care. It gives you the ability to refuse any death-delaying treatment and allow you to die naturally.

These are family matters that should be discussed, but often are not. The topics are hard, as they are centered on our mortality, the mortality of those we love and the reality of death. However, when family members know what their loved one’s wishes are, it provides the family with a tremendous relief.

Without a medical power of attorney or living will, the family may end up fighting over what each member thinks their loved ones wanted. Without clear direction from the family and the correct legal documents, the health care provider must take steps to prolong life, even if that is not what the person wanted.

When naming a health care agent, think about someone who you trust completely. That person will have access to your medical records and be able to approve who else sees them. They may also authorize tests and treatment, decide where you will receive care, which physicians will provide care and whether to accept, withdraw or decline treatment.

Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney for more information about these important documents.

Reference: Chicago Tribune’s Daily Southdown (Dec. 30, 2019) “Talk to your family now about advance care directives”

Medications That Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

A recent study has found there is an entire classification of medications that can raise your risk of dementia. Doctors prescribe these drugs frequently for seniors. The patients do not have to take the medications long-term to be significantly more likely to develop dementia.

The research focused on nearly 300,000 people, age 55 and older, over a 12-year period. The scientists found an association between the drugs and dementia risk. If, indeed, these medicines cause dementia, the statistics indicate these drugs could be responsible for about 10 percent of the cases of dementia. Since so many older adults take the types of medications now associated with a higher risk of dementia, this information could impact the lives of millions of people and their loved ones.

Types of Drugs That Increase Your Risk of Dementia

The category of medications found to have an association with a higher likelihood of dementia is anticholinergic drugs. The medical community has known about a link between these substances and memory issues or confusion for quite some time. The new study took the matter a step further to exploring dementia risk.

The anticholinergic drugs with the strongest association with dementia include:

  • Antidepressants, for example, amitriptyline and paroxetine
  • Treatments for overactive bladder, using bladder antimuscarinics like tolterodine and oxybutynin
  • Anti-seizure medications for epilepsy, like carbamazepine and oxcarbazepine
  • Anti-psychotic drugs, such as olanzapine and chlorpromazine

Doctors prescribe anticholinergic medications to treat a wide range of maladies, including motion sickness, vertigo and the conditions named above.

The Dosage Required to Affect Your Dementia Risk

According to the study, you would only have to take one pill a day for three years to have a higher risk of dementia. The drugs studied can increase the likelihood of dementia by almost 50 percent at that dosage.

Drugs That Do Not Increase Your Risk of Dementia

Some types of anticholinergic medications do not appear to increase the risk of dementia. For example, the researchers found no association between dementia risk and these anticholinergics:

  • Anti-arrhythmic drugs
  • Antimuscarinic bronchodilators
  • Skeletal muscle relaxants
  • Antihistamines
  • Gastrointestinal antispasmodics

The study did not give an explanation for why some classifications of anticholinergic drugs have an association with a higher likelihood of dementia and other types do not. In response to the article that published the study results, some medical experts call for research to determine if a patient can reverse the increased risk factor by stopping the drugs.

What You Should Do If You Take Anticholinergic Drugs

There is a wide variety of increased dementia risk, depending on which type of anticholinergic medication you take. Medical experts warn you should not stop taking your medicine without talking with your doctor first. The type of drug you take might have a low association with dementia.

It can also be harmful to stop taking a medication suddenly. Drugs that prevent seizures, depression, or psychosis should never get discontinued, without medical intervention and monitoring. Work with your doctor to evaluate the risk of the specific medicine you take and consider switching to another drug that could treat your condition without as much chance of developing dementia.

Your state might have different regulations than the general law of this article. You should talk with an elder law attorney in your area.

References:

CNN. “Commonly prescribed drugs tied to nearly 50% higher dementia risk in older adults, study says.” (accessed December 19, 2019) https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/24/health/dementia-risk-drug-study/index.html

If You Plan to Retire This Year, Be Prepared

If you’re sure that you are going to leave the working world and start your retirement life in 2020, better not put in your notice at work until you’ve done your homework. The Motley Fool article “Retiring in 2020? 3 Things You Need to Know” covers three important steps.

If you were born in 1958, then this is the year you celebrate your 62nd birthday—which means you are eligible to collect Social Security. However, if you do, your benefits will be reduced as you have not yet reached your “Full Retirement Age” or FRA. People born in 1958 need to be 66 and eight months to reach that important milestone. At that point, you can collect your full benefit. Collect earlier, and your monthly benefit is reduced for the rest of your life.

Born in 1954 or earlier? Full retirement age for you is 66, if you were born between 1943 and 1954. If if you were born at the tail end of this range, then you can collect your full Social Security benefit this year. However, it still may pay to hold off on claiming benefits.

The longer you can delay tapping your Social Security benefits, the better. From the time you reach your FRA until age 70, your monthly benefit grows by about 8% each year. Few investments today have that kind of guaranteed yield. Some advisors recommend tapping retirement accounts first and delaying Social Security benefits as long as possible. It’s worth taking a closer look to see how this can be of benefit.

If you are planning to retire, but you’re not 65, you’ll need to find and pay for health insurance until you celebrate your 65th birthday. You can enroll in Medicare a few months before your 65th birthday, but if you’re 62, then you have a three-year health insurance gap. Private health insurance is extremely expensive, there’s no way around it. Before putting in that letter to HR that you’re retiring, get some real numbers on this cost. If your employer will consider having you work part-time so that you can maintain your employer-covered health insurance, it may be a good idea.

If you’re closer to age 65, then COBRA is a consideration, although it may still be expensive. Typically, COBRA allows you to retain your existing health coverage if you change jobs, or are fired, for a certain amount of time. However, you have to pay for the full cost of health coverage.

If your gap is only three months, then COBRA might make sense. However, if your gap is a year or more, then you need to be realistic about health coverage options. Pre-existing conditions and a limited marketplace for individual coverage may make this the reason you keep working until 65. You should also check the rules of going from COBRA to Medicare—they may not be the same as going from an employee plan to Medicare.

The more prepared you are for retirement, the more you’ll be able to relax and enjoy this new phase of your life. If these three points have made it clear that you’re not yet able to retire, understand that it is better to work a little longer to reach your eventual goal of retirement, then to find yourself struggling to pay bills and jeopardize a lifetime of savings because of unexpected expenses.

Reference: The Motley Fool (Dec. 28, 2019) “Retiring in 2020? 3 Things You Need to Know”