Downs Law Firm, P.C.

Living Trust

preparing for a health crisis

Growing Older-Don’t Avoid a Conversations

The talk may be difficult but may turn out to be necessary. When someone dies or becomes disabled, the people who support and love that person are often in the position of walking into the middle of a movie and trying to figure out “What is going on?” As we age, sharing information ahead of time can be a big help. It might not be the easiest conversation you have ever had. However, it is a good idea to have a talk with your loved ones about what steps to take as you go through the aging process, according to The Des Moines Register in “In 2019, resolve to have a difficult conversation.” The person who is contemplating needing help, may want to start the conversation but the person who may be called on to help may find it too difficult to consider. Who wants to think about their parents getting frail and needing help going to the bathroom? No one. The person who is starting to feel the impact of aging may already be aware of some limitations. However, talking with their children or potential caregivers may change the conversation from “someday” to “soon.” The loss of independence is one of the big milestones, just as gaining independence is a milestone earlier in life. That’s a hard thing to accept for both sides. Those who have lived through this process of needing to become caregivers say that it would have been easier if they would have known what their loved ones wanted. So, would have been knowing what kind of help their loved ones could afford. It’s better to have time to research available resources in advance, rather than operating in crisis mode. This is what your conversations need to address: Medications, physical health, emotional well-being and health care providers Their wishes, if their health declines slowly or rapidly. Do they want to stay at home? Who would they want to help with daily care? Finances: Can they afford to pay for care at home? Has any Medicaid planning been done? What government programs are they eligible for? Do they have a CPA or financial advisor? Estate plan: Where is their Last Will and Testament? Is there a Power of Attorney, Living Will or Medical Directive in place? Who is their estate planning attorney? Documents, including birth certificates, Social Security, insurance cards, safe deposit box keys, computer passwords, etc. Seven out of 10 people over age 65 will need help from others at some point. Most will need it for at least three years, so it might be wise to have the conversation before a difficult situation arises.Reference: The Des Moines Register (Dec. 19, 2018) “In 2019, resolve to have a difficult conversation”

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Guardian and conservator

Is a Guardian needed? Take a Look at All the Options

Some of the options are less intrusive than a guardianship or a conservatorship. Sometimes guardianships and conservatorships are necessary when some members of a family believe a loved one is becoming mentally or physically incapacitated. However, there are other options, according to On Common Ground News in the article “Alternatives to guardianship and conservatorship.” What is the difference between the two? These are legal proceedings that vary in name from State to State. In Maryland, these proceedings are guardianships and take two forms: Guardian of the person and guardian of the property. A Guardian of the person decides on living situation and most medical care: Guardian of the property handles the property and lets the appointed person their ward’s finances and assets, buy and sell businesses and enter into commercial transactions. Either process will involve a court proceeding, ordinarily with an attorney representing the family and a separate attorney representing the incapacitated person. Guardian of the person can sometimes be avoided by relying on the Maryland Health Care Surrogate law, that basically allows next of kin to make medical decisions for someone who does not sign a living will or health care power of attorney. This can be a good alternative to Court if the family is united in their decision making. It doesn’t work well if they are not. Alternative options to Guardian of the property include a Durable Power of Attorney (DPA), which permits a competent individual to name another person as their legal representative regarding finances and other matters. There can be specific instructions, and this also can include an agent who is named to make health care decisions. A DPA is broader in power than a living will and applies any time the individual becomes incapable of either making or communicating health care decisions on their own behalf. A second alternative is the creation and funding of a revocable living trust, where you can appoint a chain of command for the management of assets in the Trust. Many of our clients name a trustee child or other individual to be a Co-Trustee, to be in the wings to manage assets at disability. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference: On Common Ground News (Nov. 29, 2018) “Alternatives to guardianship and conservatorship”

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Prove you're an adult

Reviewing Your Estate Plan in January

Put away the estate plan when it is completed. However, take a good look at it frequently. There are many reasons why an estate plan needs changing, because your life changes as do your goals, according to the Times Herald-Record in “5 steps to securing your elder estate plan.” What might be some of those changes? It could include your divorce, your marriage or even the marriage or divorce of your children. It can also be that your financial situation has changed, and you need to make changes. A ten-minute review at the beginning of a New Year will be an annual reminder, and can verify that you are still on the right course. The process of review may seem challenging but here are some steps to consider: Step One: gather up all your documents, which may take some time. This includes your will, powers of attorney, health care proxies, living wills, any trusts and any other documents. For clarity, here are some definitions. A will is the document that states where you want your assets to go when you die. It is reviewed by the court in a proceeding called probate, but only after your death. Assets in a living trust (or other types of trusts, depending on your situation) do not go through this process. Creating a trust results in a legal entity that owns the assets it contains. The trust assets go to beneficiaries upon death, as directed by you to the trustee. In many instances, trusts save time, money and avoid litigation over inheritances. Powers of attorney name the person you appoint to make any legal, business or financial decisions for you, should you become incapacitated. A health-care proxy names the person to make your medical decisions, if you are unable to do so. Living wills are used to express your wishes for end-of-life care. Step Two: review your documents. Make sure that everything is signed. You would be surprised how many important documents aren’t signed. Read the documents to see who was named as the executor of your will and who is the trustee of your trusts. Are those people still able to undertake these responsibilities? Do you still want them making decisions for you? Step Three: make a list of all of your assets. Note how they are titled—what names are on the accounts—and what are the values of each. Include retirement accounts like IRAs, 401(k)s, insurance policies and annuities and check to see if you named a beneficiary. Do you still want that person to be the recipient of the asset? Make sure that you have also named a contingent beneficiary. Step Four: what information would your loved ones need should you become unable to communicate? They’ll need information about your medications, the name and contact information for your primary care physician, your estate planning attorney, your CPA and your financial advisor. You may want to arrange for a “family meeting” with your healthcare team and your legal and financial team (two separate

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Money in Trust

Put Not Your Trust in Money, Put Your Money in Trust

“Put not your trust in money, put your money in trust”, per Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. is embraced by estate planning lawyers and shows that trusts are not a passing fad. Everyone needs an estate plan, and when you understand what a trust does, your plan should probably include one, at least conditionally. According to The New York Times in “Life After Death? Here’s Why You Should Have a Trust.” It turns out that many people who are not wealthy can also benefit from having a trust. I consider a trust essentially a box to manage assets. There are many different kinds of trusts which serve different purposes and can be effective now or at death. One is a revocable trust, which the owner can change. They are considered by many to be the “work horse” of modern estate planning. A revocable trust can avoid the need for a public probate court proceeding after the person dies, saving time and keeping money from being immediately available to heirs and executors alike. Such a trust is created and holds assets during your lifetime. Other considerations regarding revocable trusts: You should have any type of trust set up by an estate and trust attorney. A house, real property, bank or investment accounts can be placed into a trust. A revocable trust does not always end at the death of the original owner. However, just how long it may last, depends upon the laws of your state. People also use trusts to protect their assets from others or to assure the long-term care of someone who is disabled. You can have a professional manager, family member or friend as a trustee or co-trustee of a trust. Sometimes having a licensed professional who has federal reporting requirements can provide an extra layer of protection. They are not a public record, unlike your will. Trusts are also useful for times when people become incapacitated and need someone else to take care of their finances. Because many more people are living longer and the number of people with dementia is increasing, there are more situations where trusts are useful to the family and caregivers. A trust can also be created in your Last Will and Testament.  We rarely create a will without a trust. A trust created in a will is a “Testamentary Trusts” because it is within your Last Will and Testament, but it can manage assets in much the same way as a revocable trust would. The difference is mechanical: the Testamentary Trust receives asset often through a probate process, because wills work through probate. A Testamentary Trust can be a designated beneficiary of life insurance, retirement plans and annuities. Care should be taken in drafting and when doing so because of issues like stretching out IRA withdrawals. An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and may include taking a close look at trusts. Reference: The New York Times (March 22, 2018) “Life After Death? Here’s

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Young Family Estate Plan

Young Family- Consider an Estate Plan

For a young family, when is the right time to put together an estate plan? Right before you die is the correct, but not realistic, answer. Estate planning is especially important for families with young children, and to be updated to pass on assets in later years, according to the Lodi News Sentinel in “Planning for what comes last.” Think of an estate plan as a gift for the next generation, as is making funeral plans in advance. I used to avoid doctor visits, until a friend pointed out, the visit is not just for me, but the whole family. Doing what you should is for them. You can’t assume that your adult children will know what you want for your funeral and you don’t want them to have to make decisions during a time of great sadness. These are gifts, that parents who love their children can give: taking care of the business side of their lives and their deaths, so that a difficult time is manageable. Once you have worked with an estate planning attorney to prepare all the necessary documents and made funeral plans, the next step is to share that information with your heirs. It’s not an easy conversation to have. Most of us tend to keep that side of our lives private from our kids, no matter how old we become. However, sharing this information can keep families from fighting in the future. It is not easy to know how much different members of the family can handle and who can be trusted with what information while you are living. There are times when people who appear completely selfless suddenly become greedy when an inheritance is being probated. It’s hard to anticipate this. However, there are several things that you can do now to make it easier for those you love. Have a will and if appropriate, a trust, created with an estate planning attorney. Don’t neglect a power of attorney for health and for finances. Make funeral plans and tell your family about those plans. Make an end-of-life plan. Don’t leave it to others to make these difficult decisions, if you know what you want to have done. Plan for your pets, in case they outlive you. Protect your digital assets by obtaining the correct information for all your social platforms, so your loved ones are empowered to access and close accounts after your death. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference: Lodi News-Sentinel (July 1, 2018) “Planning for what comes last”

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Your Estate Plan’s Right Documents

There are some important documents that should always be in your estate plan to protect your family. However, some people still leave them out, according to Consumer Reports in “8 Essential Steps for Estate Planning.” A survey from Caring.com showed that as many as 60% of adults don’t have estate planning documents. When they asked families with young children, fewer than one in ten have even designated a guardian to take care of their children, if both parents should die. Worse yet, we have worked with numerous cases where people thought they had documents in place, but due to their own misunderstanding of the law or requirements, their plans were agonizing disappointments of what should, and could have been… What happens when there’s no planning in place? Even the simplest things become more complicated, and complicated things become financial and legal nightmares. When there’s an emergency and decisions need to be made, the entire family is subjected to more stress and costs than would otherwise be necessary. Here are the eight steps you need to take, right now, to protect your family: Get the professional help you need. The change to the tax law may or may not impact your family and your estate plan, but you won’t know until you sit down with an estate planning attorney. Trying to do this online, may seem like a simpler way, but you will not have the same peace of mind as when you sit down with an experienced attorney—and one who knows your state’s laws. Create a will. This is a legal document that explains how you want your assets to be distributed after you die. It names an executor to carry out your instructions. If you have minor children, this is an especially important document, since it is used to name their guardian. If you have no will when you die (called dying “intestate”), then the laws of your state determine how your assets are distributed and who rears your children. Depending on where you live, your spouse might not automatically inherit everything. Discuss whether you need a Revocable Living Trust. In most states, when you pass away, your estate goes through a process called “probate.” The courts basically review your estate plan and determine whether everything looks right. The problem is that your will becomes a public document—and so does information about your assets. Some people prefer to keep their lives private by transferring assets to a revocable living trust, which distributes assets according to your instructions at your death. Titles to the assets must be changed so they are “owned” by the trust. This is known as “funding” the trust. You still retain complete control of your assets, since you are the trustee. However, if you fail to retitle assets, the estate goes through probate. You will also still need a will to protect your minor children. Review your beneficiaries. Whether you remember it or not, when you open many different kinds of accounts—banking, investment—you assign a beneficiary

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