Friday, September 2, 2016

How Often Should You Update Your Will or Estate Plan?

Today’s Elder Care Matters Q&A provides guidance regarding how often you should update your Will or Estate Plan


Question: How Often Should I Be Updating My Will or Estate Plan?


Answer: You should update your estate plan every 3-5 years on average. This should take place sooner if you experience significant life-changing events such as:


  • Marriage: If you marry someone, this is invariably going to affect your estate plan. A marriage is one of the most important life events, and you want to make sure your spouse is properly accounted for according to your wishes.

  • Divorce: Like marriage, this is one of the most significant life events, albeit a more unpleasant one. You want to make sure you adjust your plan so that your ex does not end up receiving more than you intended

  • Bearing children: If you have more children or even if you end up welcoming stepchildren into your life, you you may want to set up trusts or other arrangements to make sure they are provided for.

  • Dealing with family deaths: If a family member dies before your estate plan would kick in, then you should revisit your plan and remove the deceased person.

  • Acquiring significant property: If you buy a house, inherit property, or encounter some kind of windfall, then you would want to add this to your plan, deciding who it would go to.

  • Starting or dissolving a business: Your estate plan should specify what happens to the business if you are unable to make business decisions, are incapacitated, or die. This can avoid a lot of chaos down the line.

  • Moving between states: Anytime you move, chances are high that your assets and financial arrangements may change or shift. In addition different treatment of assets in different states can complicate matters. It is best to speak with an attorney if you move to a different state or acquire property in other states.

These are just some of the most common reasons to more frequently revisit your estate plan. If you maintain regular communication with your estate planning attorney, he will alert you when you should sit down and look at it again.


Today’s Answer was provided by Don L. Rosenberg, Attorney and Counselor, with Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C. in Troy, Michigan.  Attorney Rosenberg is a Partner Member in the National ElderCare Matters Alliance.


21 “Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories


If you need help in planning for and/or dealing with this issue or with any Elder Care / Senior Care matter, you can find the professional help you need in one of the following 21Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories. These Elder Care / Senior Care – specific Directories are sponsored by the National ElderCare Matters Alliance, an organization of thousands of America’s TOP Elder Care / Senior Care Professsionals who help families plan for and deal with a wide range of Elder Care Matters.



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How Often Should You Update Your Will or Estate Plan?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

IRS Now Allows IRA Distribution Deferrals

Today’s Elder Care Matters Q&A is about the IRS’s recent decision to permit Seniors to defer taking Minimum Required Distributions


Question: Has the Internal Revenue Service changed its policy about annual minimum required distributions from retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401Ks?


Answer: Required minimum distributions from retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401Ks have been problematic for many seniors who do not necessarily need to take money out of their accounts to meet their expenses. The rules have required seniors to withdraw minimum amounts from their retirement accounts beginning at age 70½ based on their life expectancies as determined each year by complicated IRS charts.


However, as Smoke Signals reports in “A new, liberating IRA option is available,” seniors now have the choice to take lower amounts out of their retirement accounts.


The new policy allows account holders to defer up to $125,000 or 25% of the total amount in their accounts, whichever is lower. The amount deferred does not factor into the required minimum distribution calculation.


The deferment can be taken until age 85, but the money must be placed in a qualified longevity annuity contract as the only premium payment of that annuity. The money placed into the annuity will continue to grow and payments will be made on the annuity when the deferment age is reached.


For seniors who do not need to take money out of their retirement accounts, this new option allows them to continue to increase their income if they wish to preserve those accounts as part of their estates or if they anticipate living longer and might need the money later.


Today’s Answer was provided by Scott A. Makuakane, Esq., CFP, Founder of  Est8Planning Counsel LLLC in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Attorney Makuakane is a Partner Member in the National ElderCare Matters Alliance.


21 “Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories


If you need help in planning for and/or dealing with this issue or with any Elder Care / Senior Care matter, you can find the professional help you need in one of the following 21Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories. These Elder Care / Senior Care – specific Directories are sponsored by the National ElderCare Matters Alliance, an organization of thousands of America’s TOP Elder Care / Senior Care Professsionals who help families plan for and deal with a wide range of Elder Care Matters.



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IRS Now Allows IRA Distribution Deferrals

Elder Care / Senior Care Article

This week’s Elder Care article was written by Brian Andrew Tully, JD, CELA, CSA, CLTC, Founding Partner of Tully Law, PC in Melville, New York.  Attorney Tully is a Partner member of the national ElderCare Matters Alliance.


Medicaid: Spousal Refusal Risks



In the current environment of budget deficits, and the mandate handed down by the State to the Counties to pursue recoveries from community spouses, and the estates of Medicaid recipients and their spouses, litigation by the Department of Social Services over the payment of Medicaid benefits is on the upswing. Once a spousal refusal has been submitted, there are issues which a community spouse should be aware of. The most significant risks to the effectiveness of your long term care planning include the following:


1) The execution of a spousal refusal by an excess-resourced community spouse.


A spouse who is deemed to have excess resources may be sued by the Department of Social Services for support on behalf of the institutionalized spouse. Even when this does occur, however, the community spouse almost always still comes out ahead because of the difference between the private pay rate and the Medicaid pay rate, which translates into a significant savings to the community spouse even if full support is required.


2) Claims against the estate of the community spouse.


A community spouse who is found to have had excess resources at the time benefits were paid may be found to have an “implied contract ” with the State to pay back the benefits paid out on behalf of the institutionalized spouse. This implied contract may ultimately be enforced as a claim against the estate of the community spouse.


3) The spousal elective share right.


If the community spouse dies before the Medicaid spouse, the Medicaid spouse will have a statutory right of election against the estate of the community spouse. A Medicaid Trust of the community spouse will be considered to be a testamentary substitute, and therefore included in calculating the net elective estate for elective share purposes. However, even if the Department of Social Services does move to enforce this right, only one-third (1/3) of the net elective estate is required to be paid out to the institutionalized spouse, and given proper planning it may be possible to preserve up to fifty percent (50%) of the elective share amount for family members. If possible, Waivers of the right of election should be signed by both spouses in advance of the Medicaid application.


4) Transfers After Medicaid Eligibility is Determined.


Once a spousal refusal Medicaid Application is accepted, under current New York law the community spouse may transfer assets without penalty. The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), however, has indicated that a state may treat any transfers or gifts made by the community spouse as a disqualifying transfer for the Medicaid recipient. At this time New York State’s regulations do not adopt this policy, but there is a risk that the Department of Social Services may attempt to recover resources that have been gifted by a community spouse based upon New York’s Debtor and Creditor Law, by alleging that the transfers are fraudulent. Therefore, any asset transfers done “post-eligibility” must be carefully planned and executed.


21 “Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories


If you need help in planning for and/or dealing with this Elder Care Matter or with any Elder Care / Senior Care issue, you can find the professional help you need in one of the following 21Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories. These Elder Care / Senior Care – specific Directories are sponsored by the National ElderCare Matters Alliance, an organization of thousands of America’s TOP Elder Care / Senior Care Professsionals who help families plan for and deal with a wide range of Elder Care Matters.


  1. ElderCareMatters.com

  2. ElderCareMattersBlog.com

  3. ElderCareWebsites.com

  4. ElderCareAnswers.us

  5. ElderCareArticles.us

  6. ElderCareProfessionals.us

  7. ElderLawAttorneys.us

  8. EstatePlanningAttorneys.us

  9. FindDailyMoneyManagers.net

  10. FindElderCareMediators.net

  11. FindElderLawAttorneys.net

  12. FindEstatePlanningAttorneys.net

  13. FindGeriatricCareManagers.net

  14. FindHomeCareProviders.net

  15. FindLongTermCareInsurance.net

  16. FindMedicaidAttorneys.net

  17. FindProbateAttorneys.net

  18. FindSeniorLivingCommunities.net

  19. FindSeniorMoveManagers.net

  20. FindSpecialNeedsAttorneys.net

  21. FindVAAccreditedAttorneys.net

#eldercare, #seniorcare, #eldercarematters, #seniorcarematters, #eldercarearticles, #seniorcarearticles, #medicaidarticles




Elder Care / Senior Care Article

Friday, July 29, 2016

What does the legal term "Intestacy" mean?

Today’s Elder Care Matters Q&A is about the meaning and consequences of the legal term “Intestacy”


Question:  I’ve read a lot recently about the legal term “Intestacy”.  What exactly does this mean and what are the consequences of this to the elderly and to their families?


Answer:  If a person dies without making a Will he/she dies intestate. Without a Will, a decedent’s property will pass according to the State of Connecticut Intestate Succession Laws. If you are thinking that “intestacy” sounds like some sort of sickness, you may not be too far off the mark. When you see how the state distributes the funds of those who die intestate… you may feel a little sick.


In Connecticut, State statutes provide that if a person dies intestate, and there are children that are the children of the decedent and the spouse, the surviving spouse will receive the first $100,000 plus one half of the balance of the intestate estate. The children will receive the remainder. For example, assume a $500,000 estate: The spouse will receive $300,000 ($100,000 plus half of the remaining $400,000) and the children will receive the remaining $200,000 in equal proportions ($100,000 each). Now let us suppose that there is only one child who is 18 years-old. Even a very mature 18 year-old may have difficulty handling a check for $200,000.


Typically, when most people plan out their estate, they want all of their assets to go to the surviving spouse and not to their children. The thought is that the surviving spouse is in the best position to use the assets wisely for the benefit of the children. In many scenarios it does not make sense to hand a large sum of cash over to a child or young adult. Imagine trying to convince an 18 year-old into investing his/her money in a college education — good luck.


The rules are different if the decedent had children that were not children of the surviving spouse. In this case, the surviving spouse would receive one-half of the intestate estate, and the children would receive the balance. This solution seems to be based in logic. The state wants to make sure that the step-children of the surviving spouse are not taken advantage of by a person who is not related to them by blood. While this plan works in preventing the aforementioned problem, it still puts money into the hands of people who may not be ready to handle it. With a Will based plan you can direct where your assets go, as well as direct appropriate measures to protect your children from the problems that come with receiving a large sum of money outright.


If there are no children of the decedent, but the decedent is survived by a parent or parents, the spouse does not receive the entire intestate estate. In this scenario the surviving spouse will receive the first $100,000 plus three-quarters of the balance, and the parents would receive the balance of the estate. Furthermore, if there are no heirs to the estate, the decedent’s money, property, etc., will escheat to the state and the state will become the owner. It’s probably not a coincidence that you cannot spell escheat without “c-h-e-a-t.”


As you can see from the above sampling from the Connecticut Intestate Succession Statutes, by not planning for the disposition of your property the state has a plan for you. It should be no surprise that control freaks hate the laws of intestacy. It takes control (albeit control that was never exercised) of a person’s hand and vests that control with the State, who then applies cookie cutter solutions for unique situations. The only way to avoid intestacy is to make sure that you have a validly executed Will. Any other plan will fall short.


Today’s Answer was provided by George P. Guertin, Esq. of the law firm of Guertin and Guertin, LLC in North Haven, Connecticut.  Attorney Guertin is a Partner Member in the National ElderCare Matters Alliance.


21 “Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories


If you need help in planning for and/or dealing with this issue or with any Elder Care / Senior Care matter, you can find the professional help you need in one of the following 21Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories. These Elder Care / Senior Care – specific Directories are sponsored by the National ElderCare Matters Alliance, an organization of thousands of America’s TOP Elder Care / Senior Care Professsionals who help families plan for and deal with a wide range of Elder Care Matters.



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What does the legal term "Intestacy" mean?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How to Find an Elder Law Attorney

Today’s Elder Care Matters Q&A is about How to Find an Elder Law Attorney


Question:  I’m trying to find an Elder Law Attorney.  What steps should I take to locate a competent, caring attorney who can help me with our family’s Elder Care Matters?


Answer:  Legal problems that affect the elderly are growing in number. Our laws and regulations are becoming more complex. Actions taken by older people with regard to a single matter may have unintended legal effects. It is important for attorneys dealing with the elderly to have a broad understanding of the laws that may have an impact on a given situation, to avoid future problems.


Unfortunately, this job is not made easy by the fact that Elder Law encompasses many different fields of law.


Some of these include:


  • Preservation/transfer of assets seeking to avoid spousal impoverishment when a spouse enters a nursing home

  • Medicaid

  • Medicare claims and appeals

  • Social security and disability claims and appeals

  • Supplemental and long term health insurance issues.

  • Disability planning, including use of durable powers of attorney, living trusts, “living wills,” for financial management and health care decisions, and other means of delegating management and decision-making to another in case of incompetency or incapacity.

  • Conservatorships and guardianships

  • Estate planning, including planning for the management of one’s estate during life and its disposition on death through the use of trusts, wills and other planning documents

  • Probate

  • Administration and management of trusts and estates

  • Long-term care placements in nursing home and life care communities

  • Nursing home issues including questions of patients’ rights and nursing home quality

  • Elder abuse and fraud recovery cases

  • Housing issues, including discrimination and home equity conversions

  • Age discrimination in employment

  • Retirement, including public and private retirement benefits, survivor benefits and pension benefits

  • Health law

  • Mental health law

Most Elder Law attorneys do not specialize in every one of these areas.


So when an attorney says he/she practices Elder Law, find out which of these matters he/she handles. You will want to hire the attorney who regularly handles matters in the area of concern in your particular case and who will know enough about the other fields to question whether the action being taken might be affected by laws in any of the other areas of law on the list.


For example, if you are going to rewrite your will and your spouse is ill, the estate planner needs to know enough about Medicaid to know whether it is an issue with regard to your spouse’s inheritance.


Attorneys who primarily work with the elderly bring more to their practice than an expertise in the appropriate area of law. They bring to their practice knowledge of the elderly that allows them and their staff to ignore the myths relating to aging and the competence of the elderly. At the same time, they will take into account and empathize with some of the true physical and mental difficulties that often accompany the aging process. Their understanding of the afflictions of the aged allows them to determine more easily the difference between the physical versus the mental disability of a client. They are more aware of real life problems, health and otherwise, that tend to crop up as persons age. They are tied into a formal or informal system of social workers, psychologists and other elder care professionals who may be of assistance to you. All of these things will hopefully make you more comfortable when dealing with them and ease your way as you try to resolve your legal problem.


Finding an Elder Law attorney


Your first question may be: How do I find an Elder Law attorney? Before making the effort, step back a moment and try to determine whether you actually have a legal problem in which an attorney needs to be involved. If you’re not sure, ask your clergy, your social worker, your financial advisor, or a trusted friend to help you decide whether this is a legal issue rather than a medical or a social services issue. Legal expertise is expensive and it serves you well to know that you actually need legal assistance before seeking an attorney.


There are many places to find an attorney in your city or state who specializes in problems of the elderly. This Web site, ElderCareMatters.com, includes a searchable directory of attorneys with expertise in a wide range of Elder Care Matters.  In addition to finding Elder Law attorneys near you, this site provides you with substantive, up-to-date information to help you plan for and deal with your family’s elder care matters.


If you know any attorneys ask them for a referral to an elder law attorney. An attorney is in a good position to know who handles such issues and whether that person is a good attorney. Such persons are often the best and safest sources of referrals.


Ask Questions First


Ask lots of questions before selecting an Elder Law attorney. You don’t want to end up in the office of an attorney who can’t help you. Start with the initial phone call. It is not unusual to speak only to a secretary, receptionist or office manager during an initial call or before actually meeting with the attorney. If so, ask this person your questions.


  • How long has the attorney been in practice?

  • Does his/her practice emphasize a particular area of law?

  • How long has he/she been in this field?

  • What percentage of his/her practice is devoted to elder law?

  • Does he/she have any advanced designations – CELA, Fellow or CAP

  • Is there a fee for the first consultation and if so, how much is it?

  • Given the nature of your problem, what information should you bring with you to the initial consultation?

The answers to your questions will assist you in determining whether that particular attorney has those qualifications important to you for a successful attorney/client relationship. If you have a specific legal issue that requires immediate attention, be sure to inform the office of this during the initial telephone conversation.


Once You Have Found an Attorney


When you have found an appropriate attorney, make an appointment to see him/her. During the initial consultation, you will be asked to give the attorney an overview of the reason you are seeking assistance, so be sure to organize and bring all the information pertinent to your situation.  After you have explained your situation, ask:


  • What will it take to resolve it?

  • Are there any alternative courses of action?

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each possibility?

  • Who will handle your case?

  • Has that attorney handled matters of this kind in the past?

  • If a trial may be involved, does he/she do trial work? If not, who does the trial work? If so, how many trials has he/she handled?

  • Is that attorney a member of the local bar association, its health advocacy committee, or trust and estates committee?

  • Is that attorney a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys?

  • How are fees computed?

  • What is his/her estimate of the cost to resolve your problem and how long will it take?

Discussing Fees


There are many different ways of charging fees and each attorney will choose to work differently. Be aware of how your attorney charges. You will also want to know how often he/she bills. Some attorneys bill weekly, some bill monthly, some bill upon completion of work. Ask about these matters at the initial conference, so there will be no surprises! If you don’t understand, ask again. If you need clarification, say so. It is very important that you feel comfortable in this area.


Some attorneys charge by the hour with different hourly rates for work performed by attorneys, paralegals and secretaries. If this is the case, find out what the rates are. Other attorneys charge a flat fee for all or part of the services. This is not unusual, for example, if you are having documents prepared. Your attorney might use a combination of these billing methods.


In addition to fees, most attorneys will charge you out-of-pocket expenses. Out-of-pocket expenses typically include charges for copies, postage, messenger fees, court fees, disposition fees, long distance telephone calls and other such costs. Find out if there will be any other incidental costs.


The attorney may ask for a retainer. This is money paid before the attorney starts working on your case. It is usually placed in a trust account and each time the attorney bills you, he/she pays himself or herself out of that account. Expenses may be paid directly from the trust account. The size of the retainer may range from a small percentage of the estimated cost to the full amount.


Get It in Writing


Once you decide to hire the attorney, ask that your arrangement be put in writing. The writing can be a letter or a formal contract. It should spell out what services the attorney will perform for you and what the fee and expense arrangement will be. REMEMBER– even if your agreement remains oral and is not put into writing, you have made a contract and are responsible for all charges for work done by the attorney and his/her staff.


A positive and open relationship between attorney and client benefits everyone. The key to getting it is communication. The communication starts with asking the kinds of questions contained in this document. Use the answers to the questions as a guide not only to the attorney’s qualification, but also as a way of determining whether you can comfortably work with this person.


  • If your concerns are given short shrift;

  • if you don’t like the answers to these questions;

  • if you don’t like the attorney’s reaction to being asked all those questions or if you simply do not feel relaxed with this particular person

DO NOT HIRE THAT PERSON. Only if you are satisfied with the attorney you have hired from the very start will you trust him or her to do the best job for you. Only if you have established a relationship of open communication will you be able to resolve any difficulties which may arise between the two of you. If you take the time to make sure that you are happy right at the beginning you can make this a productive experience for both you and the attorney.


You will thank yourself, and your attorney will thank you.


Today’s Answer was provided by Stephen J. Silverberg, Esq., of  the Law Office of Stephen J. Silverberg in Roslyn Heights, New York.  Attorney Silverberg is a Partner Member in the National ElderCare Matters Alliance.


21 “Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories


If you need help in planning for and/or dealing with Medicaid Issues or with any Elder Care / Senior Care matter, you can find the professional help you need in one of the following 21Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories. These Elder Care / Senior Care – specific Directories are sponsored by the National ElderCare Matters Alliance, an organization of thousands of America’s TOP Elder Care / Senior Care Professsionals who help families plan for and deal with a wide range of Elder Care Matters.



#eldercarematters, #eldercare, #eldercareanswers, #seniorcareanswers,  #eldercaredirectories, #seniorcaredirectories, #findseniorcareprofessionals, #findseniorcareexperts, #elderlawanswers, #seniorcare, #seniorcarematters, #findeldercareprofessionals, #findelderlawattorneys, #findestateplanningattorneys, #findmedicaidattorneys



How to Find an Elder Law Attorney

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Elder Care / Senior Care Article

This week’s Elder Care article was written by Brian Chew, Esq., Founding Partner of OC Wills & Trust Attorneys in Irvine, California.  Attorney Chew is a Partner member of the national ElderCare Matters Alliance.


TITLE:  6 Events Which May Require a Change in Your Estate Plan


Creating a Will is not a one-time event. You should review your Will periodically, to ensure it is up to date, and make necessary changes if your personal situation, or that of your executor or beneficiaries, has changed. There are a number of life-changing events that require your Will to be revised, including:


  1. Change in Marital Status: If you have gotten married or divorced, it is imperative that you review and modify your Will. With a new marriage, you must determine which assets you want to pass to your new spouse or step-children, and how that may relate to the beneficiary interest of your own children. Following a divorce it is a good practice to revise your Will, to formally remove the ex-spouse as a beneficiary. While you’re at it, you should also change your beneficiary on any life insurance policies, pensions, or retirement accounts. Estate planning is complicated when there are children from multiple marriages, and an attorney can help you ensure everyone is protected, which may include establishing a trust in addition to the revised Will. Depending on jurisdiction, this may also apply to couples who have established or revoked a registered domestic partnership. If one of your Will’s beneficiaries experiences a change in marital status, that may also trigger a need to revise your Will.

  2. Births: Upon the birth of a new child, the parents should amend their Wills immediately, to include the names of the guardians who will care for the child if both parents die. Also, parents or grandparents may wish to modify the distribution of assets provided in their Wills, to include the new addition to the family.

  3. Deaths or Incapacitation: If any of the named executors or beneficiaries of a Will, or the named guardians for your children, pass away or become incapacitated, your Will should be revised accordingly.

  4. Change in Assets: Your Will may need to be changed if the value of your assets has significantly increased or decreased, or if you dispose of an asset. You may want to modify the distribution of other assets in your estate, to account for the changed value or disposition of the asset.

  5. Change in Employment: A change in the amount and/or source of income means your Will should be examined to see if any changes must be made to that document. Retirement or changing jobs could entail moving to another state, thus subjecting your estate to the laws of that state when you die. If the change in income modifies your investing, saving or spending habits, it may be time to review your Will and make sure the distribution to your beneficiaries will be as you intended.

  6. Changes in Probate or Tax Laws: Wills should be drafted to maximize tax benefits, and to ensure the decedent’s wishes are carried out. If the laws regarding taxation of the estate, distribution of assets, or provisions for minor children have changed, you should have your Will reviewed by an estate planning attorney to ensure your family is fully protected and your wishes will be fully carried out.

21 “Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories


If you need help in planning for and/or dealing with this Elder Care Matter or with any Elder Care / Senior Care issue, you can find the professional help you need in one of the following 21Mobile Friendly” Elder Care / Senior Care Directories. These Elder Care / Senior Care – specific Directories are sponsored by the National ElderCare Matters Alliance, an organization of thousands of America’s TOP Elder Care / Senior Care Professsionals who help families plan for and deal with a wide range of Elder Care Matters.


  1. ElderCareMatters.com

  2. ElderCareMattersBlog.com

  3. ElderCareWebsites.com

  4. ElderCareAnswers.us

  5. ElderCareArticles.us

  6. ElderCareProfessionals.us

  7. ElderLawAttorneys.us

  8. EstatePlanningAttorneys.us

  9. FindDailyMoneyManagers.net

  10. FindElderCareMediators.net

  11. FindElderLawAttorneys.net

  12. FindEstatePlanningAttorneys.net

  13. FindGeriatricCareManagers.net

  14. FindHomeCareProviders.net

  15. FindLongTermCareInsurance.net

  16. FindMedicaidAttorneys.net

  17. FindProbateAttorneys.net

  18. FindSeniorLivingCommunities.net

  19. FindSeniorMoveManagers.net

  20. FindSpecialNeedsAttorneys.net

  21. FindVAAccreditedAttorneys.net

#eldercare, #seniorcare, #eldercarematters, #seniorcarematters, #eldercarearticles, #seniorcarearticles, #estateplanningarticles



Elder Care / Senior Care Article

Friday, July 8, 2016

Today's ElderCare Matters Q&A is about Online Estate Planning Documents

Question:  Would you please provide us with your comments regards the use of online estate planning documents?


Answer:  In estate planning, one size does not fit all. Over the years, I have found that no two families are alike.  Each family has unique issues and online documents typically cannot address those issues.  If your issues are overlooked or ignored, your estate plan will probably not work the way you intended. Most online documents lack the proper customization you need to address these overlooked or ignored issues.


  • For example, when you begin the online document process, the software will ask you for basic information such as who you want to serve as your children’s guardian under your Will. After careful consideration, you determine that you want your sister and her husband (your brother-in-law) to serve as co-guardians of your children under your online Will.  After completing and signing your Will, you think your children will be properly cared for if something happens to you.  However, do you want your brother-in-law raising your children if he and your sister get divorced or if your sister passes away?  As a named co-guardian, your brother-in-law can present a strong case to the court that he should raise your children pursuant to the Will.  Although it was your intention for him to raise your children with your sister, the Will does not address what happens upon death or divorce.  An estate planning attorney should be able to recognize this co-guardian issue and could implement the appropriate contingency in your Will that would remove him as guardian upon your sister’s death or divorce.  If you use online documents to name your children’s guardian, you might be unaware of this issue or unable to customize your documents to address that concern.

  • Furthermore, a lack of customization with online documents might cause the inclusion of wrong provisions in your documents. One essential estate planning document is the financial power of attorney (POA).  This document allows your designated agent to make financial decisions for you on your behalf.  A POA usually contains large amounts of standard boilerplate provisions that can be confusing to some people and may not be applicable to your situation.  For example, buried in your online POA might be a provision that allows your agent to make unlimited gifts to anyone.  For some, unlimited gifting might be necessary.  For others, unlimited gifting simply gives your agent a wonderful opportunity to deplete all of your assets.  Unfortunately, elder abuse is very common and it’s usually done by those who are appointed as POA.

Online document providers are not attorneys and do not counsel and recommend what provisions you should have in your documents.  Online providers do provide an option for you to consult with an attorney.  Will that attorney practice near you and be available to meet with you face to face?  Will you be able to select an attorney that has the experience in estate planning that you need?


In conclusion, those who use online estate planning documents might think that estate planning is as simple as filling names into blanks.  In reality, estate planning is complicated and needs to be customized to your specific needs even in the simplest of situations.  Simply filling in blanks can cause chaos for your loved ones down the road.  Online estate planning websites want you to believe that you have peace of mind that your affairs will be in order because ignorance is bliss! It has been often said that every attorney who represent himself or herself is a fool.


Today’s Answer was provided by William E. Hesch, Esq., of The William E. Hesch Law Firm in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Attorney Hesch is a Partner Member in the National ElderCare Matters Alliance.


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Today"s ElderCare Matters Q&A is about Online Estate Planning Documents