Trusts and Estates Blog

Five Steps to Estate Planning

Young family walking on a beachEstate planning is a very beneficial step for all of us to take in our lives. In order to begin your planning for the future, think of these five steps to get you started.

1. Understand Your Family. Before you can begin allocating assets and dividing your estate, you need to sit down and plan who you will leave items to. Think of children, living parents, a spouse, former spouse, children from previous marriages, extended family members, close friends, or business associates. Who will be receiving a piece of your estate, even if it is only one or two items? Have you promised Uncle Bill your collection of baseball cards? Does your first child have dibs on your antique car?

Also consider who will assume control of your estate should you become impaired. Think long and hard about who you can trust in your family, and also who is smart enough to make the correct decisions when you cannot. Your brother might be trustworthy, but is he wise in decision-making? Keep these things in mind when considering who to give power over your estate.

2. Review Existing Documents. Have you already created a will, trust, or estate planning document? Review the document and consider what needs to be updated. Have you since been slated for an inheritance? Make sure to review and update what sections need updating of any existing documents you have.

3. Compile a List of Assets. This step may take some time. First list all tangible items you possess—home(s), car(s), furniture, antique items, and collectibles you may have. Next think of any intangible items you may have—time shares, 401(k), retirement plans, coming inheritances, stocks and bonds, and financial investments. Last, list your monetary possessions—bank accounts and amount of money in them. Make sure your list is complete and detailed.

4. Develop a Plan. With help from an estate lawyer, plan who will take control of your estate, whether to develop a will or living trust, who will execute the will, who will make financial and medical decisions for you, how and when your assets will be distributed, and so on. Your estate lawyer knows what questions need to be answered and can guide you through this step of the process.

5. Plan for the possibility of Medi-Cal Benefits. Again, your estate lawyer can help answer any questions you have about applying for Medi-Cal, but the benefits of this service is something you should consider. In the event that you require professional medical assistance or are moved into a nursing home, Medi-Cal can help offset the cost of treatments.

Preparing for your future doesn’t have to be complicated. Rather than fearing a long process of planning, follow the above steps and employ the help of an experienced, qualified estate lawyer to guide you.

If you would like more information concerning estate planning, contact Antelope Valley estate planning law firm Thompson Von Tungeln (TVT) at 661-945-5868 or visit their website at www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com. EstatePlanningSpecialists.com is a comprehensive online resource for estate planning solutions through wills and revocable trusts. As Board Certified Specialists in Estate Planning, Trusts and Probate as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization, partners Mark E. Thompson and Kevin L. Von Tungeln are expertly equipped to serve clients with the creative, effective and custom solutions they demand.

Special Power of Attorney vs. a General Financial Power of Attorney

male in white shirt completing a blank formPower of attorney is a term used often in the world of elder law and financial planning. Although a power of attorney isn’t something everyone will utilize, it is important to understand the difference between and benefits of special power of attorney compared to a general financial power of attorney.

Dictionary.com defines a financial power of attorney as “a legal document giving one person (called an ‘agent’ or ‘attorney-in-fact’) the power to act for another person (the principal). The agent can have broad legal authority or limited authority to make legal decisions about the principal’s property and finance. The power of attorney is frequently used in the event of a principal’s illness or disability, or when the principal can’t be present to sign necessary legal documents for financial transactions.”

On the other hand, a special power of attorney is defined as “a power of attorney authorizing the agent to carry out a particular business transaction for the principal.”

A general financial power of attorney gives all power of your estate and financial decisions to a trusted individual. It is wise to create a power of attorney along with your will or trust, even if you never use it. A special power of attorney, though, only takes authority in specific cases, such as a business transaction.

For example, let’s say you are in the process of purchasing a home but can’t sign all the real estate papers because you purchased a non-refundable European vacation a year ago. Assigning a special power of attorney would allow the agent to sign the papers for you.

Providing for a special power of attorney can be very beneficial and a wise financial tool to utilize, but you must set clear parameters of the duties of the agent. Clearly define who the agent is, what they are to do, and when their duties cease.

If you would like more information concerning powers of attorney, contact Antelope Valley estate planning law firm Thompson Von Tungeln (TVT) at 661-945-5868 or visit their website at www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com. EstatePlanningSpecialists.com is a comprehensive online resource for personal wealth management solutions through wills and revocable trusts. As Board Certified Specialists in Estate Planning, Trusts and Probate as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization, partners Mark E. Thompson and Kevin L. Von Tungeln are expertly equipped to serve clients with the creative, effective and custom solutions they demand.

Planning for the Worst (Why does your car have air bags?)

familywithdogNo one wants to think of the “what-ifs” in life. Worrying about the future never helped anyone, but planning for the future is something every person should think about. Especially as an elderly person, planning becomes a vital preface to assure you and your loved ones will be taken care of in the case of any medical emergency.

Consider this situation: Betty, a 70-year-old lady was stuck with the task of caring for her family’s finances when her husband, the long-time financier, suffered a stroke that left him impaired. She was confused, frustrated, and fearful. She had never been taught how to care for their finances and suddenly found herself in uncharted waters.

Those circumstances happen all too often. Rather than waiting for a medical emergency to begin preparations, take time now to make arrangements for the day when you can’t handle your own financial or legal matters. Here are a few ways to plan for that time of your life:

Gather important documents. While it’s nearly impossible to prepare for every emergency situation, gathering vital documents and keeping them in a secure location will help you point people to them if you are impaired. Documents like your birth certificate, Social Security card, bank statements, tax records, and a document of passwords and account numbers. Here are some other documents you should consider gathering:

• birthplace and birth date
• education and military records
• names of employers and dates of employment
• full legal name
• legal residence
• location of living will
• location(s) of birth, death, marriage, divorce, and citizenship, and adoption certificates
• prescribed medications and other regularly taken vitamins, medications, and supplements
• group memberships and awards received
• names and phone numbers of close friends, spouse, children, relatives, attorney, financial advisor, doctors, and religious contacts
• Social Security number
• Financial Records
• copy of most recent tax return
• credit and debit card names and numbers
• insurance information (life, health, long-term care, home, car) with policy numbers and agents’ names and phone numbers
• investment income (stocks, bonds, property) and stockbrokers’ names and phone numbers
• liabilities, including property tax (what is owed, to whom, when payments are due)
• location of most recently updated will with an original signature
• location of original deed of trust for home and car title and registration
• location of safe deposit box and key
• mortgages and debts (when and how they’re paid)
• names of your bank(s) and account number(s) (checking, savings, credit union)
• Social Security and Medicare information; sources of income and assets (retirement funds, IRAs, 401(k)s, interest, etc.)

Keep these items in a home safe, bank deposit box, or let your lawyer store them for you.

Keep a trusted person involved. Having the documents gathered and in one place is step one, but it does not good if no one knows where the items are. Find a trustworthy friend, family member, or even your lawyer to tell of the location of the items should anything happen. You don’t have to divulge your private information to them; simply let them know the location and how to retrieve the documents.

Make legal preparations. Certain legal documents can help you allocate power of your estate, medical decisions, and legal issues to a trusted person before you lose the ability to make such decisions yourself. Talk to your lawyer about setting up a living will (make arrangements for yourself ahead of time) or a durable power of attorney (appoint someone to make the decisions for you).

While medical emergencies can be a fearful time, make sure that your loved ones aren’t burdened with caring for your estate without direction. Begin planning for such a situation today.

If you would like more information concerning Veterans Benefits, Medi-Cal, or estate planning, visit www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com today. www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com is a comprehensive online resource for VA benefits, elder law, estate planning and related issues. As Board Certified Specialists in Estate Planning, Trusts and Probate as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization, Mark E. Thompson and Kevin L. Von Tungeln are expertly equipped to serve clients with the creative, effective and custom solutions they demand.

Helping Veterans Pay for Long Term Care

Fed Benefits for Veterans bookThere are currently over 25 million veterans alive in the United States. There are over 9 million surviving spouses of veterans currently living in the United States. Many of these veterans and surviving spouses are receiving long term care or will need some type of long term care in the near future, and there are funds available from the Veterans Administration (”VA”) to help pay for that care. Unfortunately, many of those who are eligible have no idea that any type of benefits exist for them or that an attorney can help them become eligible.

Benefits Available. There are three types of benefits available that provide a monthly cash payment to veterans who have long term health care needs. This article discusses aid and attendance.

Pension with Aid and Attendance. The highest monthly benefit is available when a wartime veteran or surviving spouse requires the assistance of another person to perform activities of daily living, is blind or nearly so, or is a patient in a nursing home. This benefit, often referred to simply as “Aid and Attendance” is the most widely known and talked-about benefit as it offers the highest possible monthly payment. An unmarried veteran can receive up to $1644 per month, a married veteran can receive up to $1949 per month, and a surviving spouse can receive up to $1056 per month (with additional payments available if dependent children are present in the home).

Prerequisites to Benefits

Wartime Service. As noted above, a veteran must first meet certain service and discharge requirements before being considered for any type of pension benefit. A veteran must have served 90 days of active duty with at least one day beginning or ending during a period of war. After September 1, 1980, the active duty requirement increases to 180 days. In addition, the veteran must have been discharged under circumstances other than dishonorable.

Disability. To qualify for any type of pension benefit, a claimant must also be 65 or older or be permanently and totally disabled. A claimant is the individual filing for benefits –

    either a veteran or surviving spouse.

Permanent and total disability includes a claimant who is:
• In a nursing home;
• Determined disabled by the Social Security Administration;
• Unemployable and reasonably certain to continue so throughout life; or
• Suffering from a disability that makes it impossible for the average person to stay gainfully employed.

Asset and Income Requirements. The financial eligibility requirements of any pension benefit address a claimant’s net worth and income. A married veteran and spouse should have no more than $80,000 in countable assets (less for a single veteran or surviving spouse), which includes retirement assets but excludes a home and vehicle. However, the $80,000 limit is a guideline only – it is not a rule set by the VA. The VA looks at a claimant’s total net worth, life expectancy, income and medical expenses to determine whether the veteran or surviving spouse is entitled to special monthly pension benefits.

A veteran or surviving spouse must have Income for VA Purposes (”IVAP”) that is less than the benefit for which he or she is applying. IVAP is calculated by taking a claimant’s gross income from all sources less countable medical expenses. Countable medical expenses are recurring out-of-pocket medical expenses that can be expected to continue throughout a claimant’s lifetime. If a claimant’s IVAP is equal to or greater than the annual benefit amount, the veteran or surviving spouse is not eligible for benefits.

Does the Claimant Require the Aid and Attendance of Another? If a claimant can show, through medical evidence provided by a primary care physician or facility, that the claimant requires the aid and attendance of another person to perform activities of daily living, that veteran or surviving spouse may qualify for an additional special monthly pension commonly referred to as aid and attendance pension benefits.

The VA defines the need for aid and attendance as:
• Requiring the aid of another person to perform at least two activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, dressing or undressing;
• Being blind or nearly blind; or
• Being a patient in a nursing home.

Qualification. The VA looks at a claimant’s total net worth, life expectancy, and income and expenses to determine whether the claimant should qualify for special monthly pension benefits. Unlike Medi-Cal, there is no look-back period and no penalty for giving assets away. However, one must use caution when considering a gifting strategy to qualify a veteran or surviving spouse for special monthly pension benefits as this will cause a period of ineligibility for Medi-Cal which could be as long as five years. Other Medi-Cal planning strategies may apply when trying to qualify a veteran or surviving spouse for special pension with aid and attendance.

For more information visit the website of the Estate Planning Specialists of Thompson|Von Tungeln, P.C., at
www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com

Dad Has a New Friend and He Just Changed his Will

old man marrying young womanOne of the biggest fears family members have surrounding their aging elders is that of a new “friend” convincing them to get a new will or trust – especially after their spouse is gone. A new caregiver, new friend, or recent love interest sadly poses the risk of a change in a loved one’s will. How can you be sure your loved one is not pressured into changing will beneficiaries? If they have changed their will recently, how can you keep them from making a pressured decision?

As people age, many times their mental abilities age as well. They may not have the wisdom and discernment in making decision that they once had, and they may be more willing to trust strangers. Sadly, some people take advantage of such elderly people, causing them to sign over estates and benefits to people they hardly know. As a loved one, you want to do all you can to make sure your family member isn’t pressured into changing their will. That’s where a conservatorship can come into play.

Dictionary.com defines conservatorship as “a circumstance in which the court declares an individual unable to take care of legal matters and appoints another individual, known as a conservator, to do so.” If your loved one is unable to make sound decisions, taking control of their will or appointing a trustworthy person to do so prevents scam and fraud.

Many courts do all they can to keep the wills true to the original intentions of the estate-holder. If you believe your loved one has been pressured into changing their will, gathering a few items of evidence will help you present your case before a judge.

Witnesses. Find people who have interacted with your loved one that can testify of their state of mind. Nurses, doctors, friends, bank tellers, salon staffers, or whoever interacts with your family member on a regular basis. Have them testify of the elder’s state of mind at the time the original will was written.

Medical Records. Perhaps the most convincing of evidences comes from your loved one’s medical records. Did doctors notice a decline in mental abilities? Are there notes of a decline in reasoning skills? Were they on any medication whose side effect was decreased mental awareness? Search the elder’s medical file at the time of the amended will for any signs of mental instability.

Evidence of Relationship. Another influence on the court’s decision in a conservatorship case is the evidence of the relationships between the former beneficiary and the new beneficiary. If the new beneficiary is someone your loved one has known for only a short period of time, judges are more likely to trust the original will that benefits a family member or long-time friend.

You don’t have to be stuck with a pressured change in your loved one’s will. Make sure that any changes or amendments come from a true desire to change the will and not a pressured idea during a weakened state of mind.

Cautionary Note: Think long and hard before seeking a conservatorship for a loved one. A conservatorship is a drastic step that should always be a last resort. Courts are hesitant to grant conservatorships absent solid proof of a person’s inability to care for themselves. And if your request for a conservatorship is denied, you can count on being removed from the life of the proposed conservatee.

If you would like more information concerning Veterans Benefits, Medi-Cal, or estate planning, visit www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com today. www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com is a comprehensive online resource for VA benefits, elder law, estate planning and related issues. As Board Certified Specialists in Estate Planning, Trusts and Probate as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization, Mark E. Thompson and Kevin L. Von Tungeln are expertly equipped to serve clients with the creative, effective and custom solutions they demand.

Helping Veterans Pay for Long Term Care

veteran_with_doctor_bedsideThere are currently over 25 million veterans alive in the United States. There are over 9 million surviving spouses of veterans currently living in the United States. Many of these veterans and surviving spouses are receiving long term care or will need some type of long term care in the near future, and there are funds available from the Veterans Administration (”VA”) to help pay for that care. Unfortunately, many of those who are eligible have no idea that any type of benefits exist for them or that an attorney can help them become eligible.

Benefits Available

There are three types of benefits available that provide a monthly cash payment to veterans who have long term health care needs. This article discusses aid and attendance.

Pension with Aid and Attendance. The highest monthly benefit is available when a wartime veteran or surviving spouse requires the assistance of another person to perform activities of daily living, is blind or nearly so, or is a patient in a nursing home. This benefit, often referred to simply as “Aid and Attendance” is the most widely known and talked-about benefit as it offers the highest possible monthly payment. An unmarried veteran can receive up to $1644 per month, a married veteran can receive up to $1949 per month, and a surviving spouse can receive up to $1056 per month (with additional payments available if dependent children are present in the home).

Prerequisite to Benefits

Wartime Service. As noted above, a veteran must first meet certain service and discharge requirements before being considered for any type of pension benefit. A veteran must have served 90 days of active duty with at least one day beginning or ending during a period of war. After September 1, 1980, the active duty requirement increases to 180 days. In addition, the veteran must have been discharged under circumstances other than dishonorable.

Disability. To qualify for any type of pension benefit, a claimant must also be 65 or older or be permanently and totally disabled. A claimant is the individual filing for benefits – either a veteran or surviving spouse.

Permanent and total disability includes a claimant who is:
• In a nursing home;
• Determined disabled by the Social Security Administration;
• Unemployable and reasonably certain to continue so throughout life; or
• Suffering from a disability that makes it impossible for the average person to stay gainfully employed.

Asset and Income Requirements

The financial eligibility requirements of any pension benefit address a claimant’s net worth and income. A married veteran and spouse should have no more than $80,000 in countable assets (less for a single veteran or surviving spouse), which includes retirement assets but excludes a home and vehicle. However, the $80,000 limit is a guideline only – it is not a rule set by the VA. The VA looks at a claimant’s total net worth, life expectancy, income and medical expenses to determine whether the veteran or surviving spouse is entitled to special monthly pension benefits.

A veteran or surviving spouse must have Income for VA Purposes (”IVAP”) that is less than the benefit for which he or she is applying. IVAP is calculated by taking a claimant’s gross income from all sources less countable medical expenses. Countable medical expenses are recurring out-of-pocket medical expenses that can be expected to continue throughout a claimant’s lifetime. If a claimant’s IVAP is equal to or greater than the annual benefit amount, the veteran or surviving spouse is not eligible for benefits.

Does the Claimant Require the Aid and Attendance of Another?

If a claimant can show, through medical evidence provided by a primary care physician or facility, that the claimant requires the aid and attendance of another person to perform activities of daily living, that veteran or surviving spouse may qualify for an additional special monthly pension commonly referred to as aid and attendance pension benefits.

The VA defines the need for aid and attendance as:
• Requiring the aid of another person to perform at least two activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, dressing or undressing;
• Being blind or nearly blind; or
• Being a patient in a nursing home.

Qualification

The VA looks at a claimant’s total net worth, life expectancy, and income and expenses to determine whether the claimant should qualify for special monthly pension benefits. Unlike Medi-Cal, there is no look-back period and no penalty for giving assets away. However, one must use caution when considering a gifting strategy to qualify a veteran or surviving spouse for special monthly pension benefits as this will cause a period of ineligibility for Medi-Cal which could be as long as five years. Other Medi-Cal planning strategies may apply when trying to qualify a veteran or surviving spouse for special pension with aid and attendance.

If you would like more information concerning Veterans Benefits, Medi-Cal, or estate planning, visit www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com today. www.EstatePlanningSpecialists.com is a comprehensive online resource for VA benefits, elder law, estate planning and related issues. As Board Certified Specialists in Estate Planning, Trusts and Probate as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization, Mark E. Thompson and Kevin L. Von Tungeln are expertly equipped to serve clients with the creative, effective and custom solutions they demand.

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