Share

Houston Estate Planning and Probate Blog

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Paying for Your Grandchildren’s Education

The bond between a grandparent and grandchild is a very special one based on respect, trust and unconditional love. When preparing one’s estate plan, it’s not at all uncommon to find grandparents who want to leave much or all of their fortune to their grandchildren. With college tuition costs on the rise, many seniors are looking to ways to help their grandchildren with these costs long before they pass away. Fortunately, there are ways to “gift” an education with minimal consequences for your estate and your loved ones.

The options for your financial support of your heirs’ education may vary depending upon the age of the grandchild and how close they are to actually entering college. If your grandchild is still quite young, one of the best methods to save for college may be to make a gift into a 529 college savings plan. This type of plan was approved by the IRS in Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code. It functions much like an IRA in that the appreciation of the investments grows tax deferred within the 529 account. In fact, it is likely to be "tax free" if the money is eventually used to pay for the college expenses. Another possible bonus is that you may get a tax deduction or tax credit on your state income tax return for making such an investment. You should consult your own tax advisor and your state's rules and restrictions.

If your granddaughter or grandson is already in college, the best way to cover their expenses would be to make a payment directly to the college or university that your grandchild attends. Such a "gift" would not be subject to the annual gift tax exemption limits (currently $14,000) which would otherwise apply if you gave the money directly to the grandchild. Thus, as long as the gift is for education expenses such as tuition, and if the payment is made directly to the college or university, the annual gift tax limits will not apply.

As with all financial gifts, it’s important to consult with your estate planning attorney who can help you look at the big picture and identify strategies which will best serve your loved ones now and well into the future.

 


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Advance Planning Can Help Relieve the Worries of Alzheimer’s Disease

The “ostrich syndrome” is part of human nature; it’s unpleasant to observe that which frightens us. However, pulling our heads from the sand and making preparations for frightening possibilities can provide significant emotional and psychological relief from fear.

When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, more Americans fear being unable to care for themselves and burdening others with their care than they fear the actual loss of memory. This data comes from an October 2012 study by Home Instead Senior Care, in which 68 percent of 1,200 survey respondents ranked fear of incapacity higher than the fear of lost memories (32 percent).

Advance planning for incapacity is a legal process that can lessen the fear that you may become a burden to your loved ones later in life.

What is advance planning for incapacity?

Under the American legal system, competent adults can make their own legally binding arrangements for future health care and financial decisions. Adults can also take steps to organize their finances to increase their likelihood of eligibility for federal aid programs in the event they become incapacitated due to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

The individual components of advance incapacity planning interconnect with one another, and most experts recommend seeking advice from a qualified estate planning or elder law attorney.

What are the steps of advance planning for incapacity?

Depending on your unique circumstances, planning for incapacity may include additional steps beyond those listed below. This is one of the reasons experts recommend consulting a knowledgeable elder law lawyer with experience in your state.

  1. Write a health care directive, sometimes called a directive to physicians and family or surrogates, or living will. Your living will describes your preferences regarding end of life care, resuscitation, and hospice care. After you have written and signed the directive, make sure to file copies with your health care providers.

  2. Write a health care or medical power of attorney. A health care or medical power of attorney form designates another person to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. You may be able to designate your health care power of attorney in your health care directive document, or you may need to complete a separate form. File copies of this form with your doctors and hospitals, and give a copy to the person or persons whom you have designated.

  3. Write a financial power of attorney. Like a health care or medical power of attorney, a financial power of attorney, sometimes called a general durable power of attorney, assigns another person the right to make financial, legal and property decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity. This power of attorney can be temporary or permanent, depending on your wishes and it can be effective upon your incapacity or immediately upon signing the document. File copies of this form with all your financial institutions and give copies to the people you designate to act on your behalf.

  4. Plan in advance for Medicaid eligibility. Long-term care payment assistance is among the most important Medicaid benefits. To qualify for Medicaid, you must have limited assets. To reduce the likelihood of ineligibility, you can use certain legal procedures, like trusts, to distribute your assets in a way that they will not interfere with your eligibility. The elder law attorney you consult with regarding Medicaid eligibility planning can also advise you on Medicaid copayment planning and Medicaid estate recovery planning.

 


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Refusing a Bequest

Most people develop an estate plan as a way to transfer wealth, property and their legacies on to loved ones upon their passing. This transfer, however, isn’t always as seamless as one may assume, even with all of the correct documents in place. What happens if your eldest son doesn’t want the family vacation home that you’ve gifted to him? Or your daughter decides that the classic car that was left to her isn’t worth the headache?

When a beneficiary rejects a bequest it is technically, or legally, referred to as a "disclaimer." This is the legal equivalent of simply saying "I don't want it." The person who rejects the bequest cannot direct where the bequest goes. Legally, it will pass as if the named beneficiary died before you. Thus, who it passes to depends upon what your estate planning documents, such as a Will or trust, say will happen if the primary named beneficiary is not living.

Now you may be thinking why on earth would someone reject a generous sum of money or piece of real estate? There could be several reasons why a beneficiary might not want to accept such a bequest. Perhaps the beneficiary has a large and valuable estate of their own and they do not need the money. By rejecting or disclaiming the bequest it will not increase the size of their estate and thus, it may lessen the estate taxes due upon their later death.

Another reason may be that the beneficiary would prefer that the asset that was bequeathed pass to the next named beneficiary. Perhaps that is their own child and they decide they do not really need the asset but their child could make better use of it. Another possible reason might be that the asset needs a lot of upkeep or maintenance, as with a vacation home or classic car, and the person may decide taking on that responsibility is simply not something they want to do. By rejecting or disclaiming the asset, the named beneficiary will not inherit the "headache" of caring for, and being liable for, the property.

To avoid this scenario, you might consider sitting down with each one of your beneficiaries and discussing what you have in mind. This gives your loved ones the chance to voice their concerns and allows you to plan your gifts accordingly.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

When to Involve Adult Children in the Estate Planning Process

Individuals who are beginning the estate planning process may assume it's best to have their adult child(ren) join them in the initial meeting with an estate planning attorney, but this may cause more harm than good.

This issue comes up often in the estate planning and elder law field, and it's a matter of client confidentiality. The attorney must determine who their client is- the individual looking to draft an estate plan or their adult children- and they owe confidentiality to that particular client.

The client is the person whose interests are most at stake. In this case, it is the parent. The attorney must be certain that they understand your wishes, goals and objectives. Having your child in the meeting could cause a problem if your child is joining in on the conversation, which may make it difficult for the attorney to determine if the wishes are those of your child, or are really your wishes.

Especially when representing elderly clients, there may be concerns that the wishes and desires of a child may be in conflict with the best interests of the parent. For example, in a Medicaid and long-term care estate planning context, the attorney may explain various options and one of those may involve transferring, or gifting, assets to children. The child's interest (purely from a financial aspect) would be to receive this gift. However, that may not be what the parent wants, or feels comfortable with. The parent may be reluctant to express those concerns to the attorney if the child is sitting right next to the parent in the meeting.

Also, the attorney will need to make a determination concerning the client's competency. Attorneys are usually able to assess a client's ability to make decisions during the initial meeting. Having a child in the room may make it more difficult for the attorney to determine competency because the child may be "guiding" the parent and finishing the parents thoughts in an attempt to help.

The American Bar Association has published a pamphlet on these issues titled "Why Am I Left in the Waiting Room?" that may be helpful for you and your child to read prior to meeting with an attorney.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Does the Term "Funding the Trust" Mean in Estate Planning?

If you are about to begin the estate planning process, and you are considering a revocable living trust as part of your plan, you have likely heard the term "funding the trust" thrown around a great deal. What does this mean? And what will happen if you fail to fund the trust?

The phrase, or term, "funding the trust" refers to the process of titling your non-retirement assets into the name of your revocable living trust. A revocable living trust is a common estate planning document and one which you may choose to incorporate into your own estate planning. Sometimes such a trust may be referred to as a "will substitute" because the dispositive terms of your estate plan will be contained within the trust instead of the Will. A properly funded revocable living trust will allow you to have your affairs bypass the probate court upon your death, and instead, be handled privately in your attorney’s office.

Upon your death, only assets titled in your name alone will have to pass through the court probate process. Therefore, if you create a revocable living trust, and if you take the steps necessary to title all of your non-retirement assets in the name of the trust, there would be no need for a court probate proceeding because no assets would remain in your name. This step is generally referred to as "funding the trust" and is often overlooked. Many people create the trust but yet they fail to take the step of re-titling assets in the trust name. If you do not title your non-retirement assets into the name of the trust, then your estate will still require a court probate proceeding upon your death.

A proper revocable living trust-based estate plan would still include a Will that is sometimes referred to as a "pour-over" Will. The Will acts as a backstop to the trust so that any asset that is in your name upon your death (instead of the trust) will still get transferred into the trust, by naming the trust as the beneficiary in the Will. So the assets “pour over” into the trust. It is not as efficient to do this because your estate will still require probate, but all assets would eventually flow into the trust.

Another option: You can also name your trust as beneficiary of life insurance and retirement assets. However, retirement assets are special in that there is an "income" tax issue. Be sure to seek competent tax and legal advice before deciding who to name as beneficiary on those retirement assets.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Removal of a Trustee

In creating a trust, the trustmaker must name a trustee who has the legal obligation to administer it in accordance with the trustmaker’s wishes and intentions. In some cases, after the passing of the trustmaker, loved ones or beneficiaries may want to remove the designated trustee.

The process to remove a trustee largely depends on two factors: 1) language contained with the trust and 2) state law. When determining your options, there are a number of issues and key considerations to keep in mind.

First, it is possible that the trust language grants you the specific right to remove the named trustee. If it does, it likely will also outline how you must do so and whether you must provide a reason you want to remove them. Second, if the trust does not grant you the right to remove the trustee, it may grant another person the right to remove. Sometimes that other person may serve in the role of what is known as a "trust protector" or "trust advisor." If that is in the trust document you should speak to that person and let them know why you want the trustee removed. They would need to decide if they should do so or not. Finally, if neither of those is an option, your state law may have provisions that permit you to remove a trustee. However, it may be that you will have to file a petition with a court and seek a court order. You should hire an attorney to research this for you and advise you of the likelihood of success.

Another option may be to simply ask the named trustee to resign. They may do so voluntarily.

Assuming the trustee is removed, whether by you, a trust protector, or by court order, or if the trustee resigns, the next issue is who is to serve as the successor trustee. Again, looking at the terms of the trust should answer that question. Perhaps a successor is specifically named or perhaps the trust provides the procedure to appoint the successor. Before proceeding, you will want to make certain you know who will step-in as the new trustee.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

No Longer Spouses, But Still Partners

Workplace romances are never advisable, but sometimes co-workers and business partners fall in love and get married. Unfortunately, they also sometimes fall out of love and get divorced. What happens next?

For some couples, the end of the marriage parallels the end of their working relationship—and possibly the end of the business itself. There are a number of options in such cases. The couple can sell the business and split the proceeds as part of the divorce settlement, or one partner can buy out the interest of the ex-spouse. Or they can try to split the business, with each taking half. Speak with an experienced business lawyer about the pros and cons of these options for your situation.

However, some former spouses do figure out a way to maintain their business partnership after the divorce. The personal relationship may have hit a dead-end, but the investment involved in building and growing a successful company can make it hard to walk away—and unless the business is wildly successful, with plenty of prospective buyers waiting in the wings, it is feasible that neither party can afford to walk away.

Overcoming the Challenges

There are challenges in every business partnership, and ex-spouses can adopt some basic business strategies to cultivate and maintain a healthy working relationship:

  • Sign a partnership agreement. Be clear about your separate and joint responsibilities, and matters of liability. Make a contingency plan outlining how assets will be divided in case either partner decides to leave.
  • If necessary, divide up responsibilities or tasks you once did together so you each have more autonomy.
  • Establish a board of directors. Trustworthy business people may have valuable perspectives about the direction and goals of your company.
  • Keep the company finances transparent. Money is often one of the most difficult issues in a divorce. Get help if necessary to streamline your accounting processes.
  • Be professional around other staff members and employees. It is not fair to put employees in a position where they feel pressured to take sides or respond to inappropriate complaints about their other boss. A toxic work environment is never good for business.

Thinking Outside the Box

Even with the best intentions, a divorced couple may keep falling back into their old patterns at the workplace. If you still think that the business is viable and worth the effort to make a go of it, get professional help. A good marriage therapist is trained to help couples understand the point of view of the other person and gain insight into their dynamics, and this can be valuable information post-divorce, as well.

Most entrepreneurs have a knack for thinking outside the box. Maybe you and your ex- can alternate day and night shifts for a few months. Build a partition between your desks. It might take a while before you move from being unhappy exes to friendly partners - but it just might be worth it.

 


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Can I Get In Trouble With the IRS for Trying to Reduce the Amount of Estate Tax That I Owe?

You’ve likely heard that one of the many benefits of estate planning is reducing the amount of federal and state taxes owed upon your passing. While it may seem like estate tax planning must run afoul of IRS rules, with the proper strategies, this is far from the case.

It is very common for an individual to take steps to try to reduce the amount of federal estate taxes that his or her "estate" will be responsible for after the person's death. As you may know, you may pass an unlimited amount of assets to your spouse without incurring any federal estate taxes. In 2014, you may pass $5.34 million to non-spouse beneficiaries without incurring federal estate tax and if your spouse died before you, and if you have taken certain steps to add your spouse's $5.34 million exemption (or whatever it was at time of death) to your own, you may have $10.68 million that you can pass tax free to non-spouse beneficiaries.

If your estate is still larger than these exemption amounts you should seek a qualified estate planning attorney. There may be other legal, legitimate planning techniques that will help reduce the taxable value of your estate in order to pass more assets to your loved ones upon your death and lessen the impact of the estate taxes. After your death, the duty normally falls on your executor (or perhaps a successor trustee) to file the appropriate tax returns and pay the necessary taxes. Failure to properly plan for potential estate taxes will significantly limit what your executor/trustee will be able to accomplish after your passing.

 


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Turning Over the Keys: Helping older drivers make the tough decision

We all want to be in control, to go where we want at our leisure. As we age, however, our senses and reaction times begin to slow which can make getting behind the wheel increasingly hazardous. It is important to be realistic about the driving abilities of loved ones as they reach a certain stage and to prepare accordingly. Not only will it keep seniors safe, but planning ahead will help them financially as they make other arrangements for transportation.

The first step is to reduce the need to drive. Find ways to bring the things they need right to them, like ordering groceries online for delivery and encouraging in-home appointments. Suggest that they invite friends and family over for regular visits instead of going out. They may be surprised by how many things are possible from the comfort of their own home.

For the times your loved ones need to, or want to, venture elsewhere, look into other transportation options. Although there is usually no need to quit driving all at once, look to family, friends, taxis, and public transportation when you can, especially for longer trips. Use the money you’ve been saving, along with what would have been spent on gas, on alternate modes of transportation. Their town may even have designated senior transportation services.

The time to start making this transition may be sooner than you or your loved ones think. Don’t wait until an accident leaves them with no alternative. It may be time to start talking about limiting driving if they report noticing subtle difficulties, like trouble reading traffic signs or delayed breaking. Keep an eye out for small dings in your loved one’s car or surrounding items, like the mailbox or garage door, along with slower response time or difficulty finding their way around familiar territory. Ask them to watch for these things as well.

Asking a loved one to turn over their keys can be tough but with an open dialogue, the right support system and reasonable alternatives in place to ensure that they can continue to live an active lifestyle, a smooth transition is feasible.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Young and Ill, without Advance Directives

When you are a child, your parents serve as your decision makers. They have ultimate say in where you go to school, what extracurricular activities you partake in and where, and how, you should be treated in the event of a medical emergency. While most parents continue to play a huge role in their children’s lives long after they reach adulthood, they lose legal decision-making authority on that 18th birthday. Most young adults don't contemplate who can act on their behalf once this transfer of power occurs, and consequently they fail to prepare advance directives.

In the event of a medical emergency, if a young adult is conscious and competent to make decisions, the doctors will ask the patient about his or her preferred course of treatment. Even if the individual is unable to speak, he or she may still be able to communicate by using hand signals or even blinking one’s eyes in response to questions.

But what happens in instances where the young adult is incapacitated and unable to make decisions? Who will decide on the best course of treatment? Without advance directives, the answer to this question can be unclear, often causing the family of the incapacitated person emotional stress and financial hardship.

In instances of life threatening injury or an illness that requires immediate care, the doctors will likely do all they can to treat the patient as aggressively as possible, relying on the standards of care to decide on the best course of treatment. However, if there is no "urgent" need to treat they will look to someone else who has authority to make those decisions on behalf of the young individual. Most states have specific statutes that list who has priority to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual, when there are no advance directives in place. Many states favor a spouse, adult children, and parents in a list of priority. Doctors will generally try to get in touch with the patient’s "next of kin" to provide the direction necessary for treatment.

A number of recent high-profile court cases remind us of the dangers of relying on state statues to determine who has the authority to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the ill. What happens if the parents of the incapacitated disagree on the best course of treatment? Or what happens if the patient is estranged from her spouse but technically still married- will he have ultimate say? For most, the thought is unsettling.

To avoid the unknown, it’s highly recommended that all adults, regardless of age, work with an estate planning attorney to prepare advance directives including a health care/medical power of attorney as well as a Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates/Living Will which outline their wishes and ensure compliance with all applicable state statutes.


Monday, February 17, 2014

8 Things to Consider When Selecting a Caregiver for Your Senior Parent

As a child of a senior citizen, you are faced with many choices in helping to care for your parent. You want the very best care for your mother or father, but you also have to take your personal needs, family obligations and finances into consideration.

When choosing a caregiver for a loved one, there are a number of things to keep in mind during the selection process:

  1. Time. Do you require part- or full-time care for your parent? Are you looking for a caregiver to come into your home? Will your parent live with the caregiver or will your parent live in a senior care facility? According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, 58 percent of care recipients live in their own home and 20 percent live with the caregiver. You should consider your current arrangement but also take time to identify some alternatives in the event that the requirements of care should change in the future.
  2. Family ties. If you have siblings, they probably want to be involved in the decision of your parent’s care. If you have a sibling who lives far away, sharing in the care responsibilities or decision-making process may prove to be a challenge. It’s important that you open up the lines of communication with your parents and your siblings so everyone is aware and in agreement about the best course of care.
  3. Specialized care. Some caregivers and care facilities specialize in specific conditions or treatments. For instance, there are special residences for those with Alzheimer’s and others for those suffering from various types of cancer. If your parent suffers from a disease or physical ailment, you may want to take this into consideration during the selection process
  4. Social interaction. Many seniors fear that caregivers or care facilities will be isolating, limiting their social interaction with friends and loved ones. It’s important to keep this in mind throughout the process and identify the activities that he or she may enjoy such as playing games, exercising or cooking. Make sure to inquire about the caregiver’s ability to allow social interaction. Someone who is able to accommodate your parent’s individual preferences or cultural activities will likely be a better fit for your mother or father.
  5. Credentials. Obviously, it is important to make sure that the person or team who cares for your parent has the required credentials. Run background checks and look at facility reviews to ensure you are dealing with licensed, accredited individuals. You may choose to run an independent background check or check references for added peace of mind.
  6. Scope of care. If you are looking for a live-in caregiver, that person is responsible for more than just keeping an eye on your mother or father—he or she may be responsible for preparing meals, dispensing medication, transporting your parent, or managing the home. Facilities typically have multidisciplinary personnel to care for residents, but an individual will likely need to complete a variety of tasks and have a broad skill set to do it all.
  7. Money. Talk to your parent about the financial arrangements that he or she may have in place. If this isn’t an option, you will likely need to discuss the options with your siblings or your parent’s lawyer—or check your mother’s or father’s estate plan—to find out more about available assets and how to make financial choices pertaining to your parent’s care.
  8. Prepare. Upon meeting the prospective caregiver or visiting a facility, it is important to have questions prepared ahead of time so you can gather all of the information necessary to make an informed choice. Finally, be prepared to listen to your parent’s concerns or observations so you can consider their input in the decision. If he or she is able, they will likely want to make the choice themselves.

Choosing a caregiver for your parent is an important decision that weighs heavily on most adult children but with the right planning and guidance, you can make the best choice for your family. Once you find the right person, make sure to follow up as care continues and to check in with your mother or father to ensure the caregiver is the perfect fit.


Archived Posts

2017
2016
2015
2014
2013


Schnurr Law Firm, PLLC serves clients throughout the greater Houston area, including, but not limited to Houston, Bellaire, West University, Sugar Land, Missouri City, Richmond, Rosenberg, Katy, Cypress, The Woodlands, Kingwood, League City, Webster, Clear Lake, Pearland, Angleton, and throughout Harris County, Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, Brazoria County and Galveston County.



© 2017 Schnurr Law Firm, PLLC | Disclaimer
1111 North Loop West, Suite 1115, Houston, TX 77008
| Phone: 713-662-2889

Estate Planning | Family Limited Partnerships | Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) | Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) | Advanced Estate Planning | Probate / Estate Administration | Special Needs Planning | Elder Law | Pet Trusts | Business Law-Entity Formation | Uncontested Divorces | Mediation | Planning for Same Sex Partners & Unmarried Couples | Resources

Lawyer Website Design by
Zola Creative