Why You Should Get Estate Planning Off Your To-Do List

There are many goals most of us want to accomplish in life, and some of the most important ones center on family and money. Here is what a thoughtful estate plan can help you accomplish that involves both:

Control health care decisions. Most people will die in a hospital or care facility, and many will lack important decision-making capacity for their own care. You can name the people responsible for health care decisions if this should happen to you through an advance medical directive as part of your estate plan.

Control your finances. By assigning a durable power of attorney in your estate plan, you can save your family from the expense and emotional trauma of having to go to court to take control of your finances via a conservatorship in case you become incapacitated.

Plan for your long-term care. Most of us will require long-term care at some time during our lives, and it can be expensive – even financially devastating for many families. An estate plan will help you take the necessary steps to plan for your long-term care so it doesn’t fall to your family.

Keep peace in the family. By determining where your assets will go and having the right beneficiaries named on retirement and bank accounts, you will help ensure family harmony and fend off any potential inheritance fights.

The process of estate planning is ripe for procrastination since so few people understand it or – more commonly – wish to contemplate their own demise. Yet it still remains one of the best things you can do to protect your money, your health and your family.

Here are 3 tips to get estate planning off your “to-do” list:

Consider your children. Estate planning helps you protect your children throughout their lifetimes. When they are young, you need to appoint a guardian if something should happen to you. When they are older, you want to have the financial capacity to send them to college. When you are gone, you want them to enjoy a legacy that includes passing on your values as well as your assets.  Only estate planning can do this for you.

Review beneficiary designations. Life insurance policies, retirement accounts, investment accounts and other financial vehicles all require you to complete a beneficiary form to designate who will receive the assets upon your death. With no form, state law will govern, and your assets may go to those you never intended to receive them, or worse, go to your estate and be depleted by taxation. Be sure you have beneficiary forms on file for your accounts and that they are reviewed at least annually for any necessary updates.

Consider your own health. If you become incapacitated, who will be making your health care decisions for you? Do you want your life to be prolonged via life support no matter what? Whatever your wishes are for your own health, they won’t necessarily be followed unless you have executed a Living Will or assigned powers of attorney to see to these matters.

Make this the year you create your estate plan – or, if you have a plan that hasn’t been reviewed in the last two years, to update your estate plan. It’s a gift that will keep giving to you and your family.

The best way to learn about estate planning for your family is to meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones. Don’t wait! Give us a call today at 832.408.0505, we love to hear from you.

 

Longevity Insurance Can Help Those Worried About Outliving Their Money

With longer life spans comes the necessity to be sure your money is around at least as long as you are.  Longevity insurance – where you pay a certain sum to an insurer when you’re in your 60s in exchange for monthly payments 20 or more years down the road – is a lesser known insurance product that is growing in popularity, especially considering potential cuts to Social Security benefits and the absence of pension plans in corporate America these days.

According to the Society of Actuaries, for a relatively healthy 65-year-old couple, chances are 63 percent that one of them will live until the age of 90 and 36 percent that one will make it to 95.  Some financial advisors consider longevity insurance to be a good way to manage the risk of living to a ripe old age.

Longevity insurance is an annuity with a fixed income that kicks in at a specified future age, usually 85.  For example, a “maximum income” version of MetLife’s longevity insurance with a lump sum investment of $100,000 at age 65 would pay a woman a little over $59,000 annually once she reached the age of 85.  A man would receive more – just under $74,000 a year – because men have shorter life spans than women.

Under many longevity insurance policies, if you die before payments begin, your heirs are out of luck.  However, there are alternate versions that guarantee some death benefits to heirs, but they are usually more expensive at the outset.

If you’d like to learn more about long-term care and other estate planning strategies, call our call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk with a Personal Family Lawyer®.

Spring Cleaning For Your Legal and Financial Affairs

Spring has officially sprung and that means it’s spring cleaning time. Shake out the rugs, clean out the cupboards, and get your legal and financial affairs in order.

For plenty of folks, it’s easy to know what to do when it comes to home organization, but the idea of legal and financial ordering can be complex and confusing.

This article will give you a few places to start:

  1. Review Your Beneficiary Designations

Request updated beneficiary designation forms from your life insurance account and retirement account custodians. Look at the form and identify whether you have a minor designated as either a primary or contingent beneficiary. If you do, those assets will be tied up in Court, unnecessarily, and may not be available to the people you’ve named to care for your children.

Consider designating your life insurance and retirement accounts to be distributed to a trust for the benefit of your heirs, providing Court and creditor protection, and ensuring your children do not inherit money before they are properly prepared.

  1. Update Your Family Wealth Inventory

Your Family Wealth Inventory is where we document the assets that you own, so that in the event you become incapacitated or when you die, your family will know how to find what you own.

Without an updated Family Wealth Inventory, your assets could be lost to the state department of unclaimed property. There’s currently FOUR (4) billions of dollars of assets in our state department of unclaimed property because most people do not leave a clear record of their assets at the time of their incapacity or death.

  1. Consider If You Need to Name New Guardians (Long or Short-Term)

Review your guardian nomination designations. Have you named guardians for both the short-term (local) and the long-term (people you would trust to raise your kids fully)? If so, do they need to change? Is there anyone you would wish to exclude? Does the ID card for your wallet need to be updated? This is the time to check.

  1. Check Out the Title to Your House

Get a copy of the deed to your house and make sure that your trust is listed as the owner on the deed, if you want your house to stay out of court in the event of your incapacity or death. If you see your personal name on the deed, and there is not a trust listed, you can be sure that would result in your house having to go through the court process of probate in the event of your death. If you don’t want that, now is the perfect time to spruce up your planning.

  1. Come In and Meet With Us For a Family Wealth Planning Session

Last, but far from least, this is the perfect time of  year to come in and meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session, whether you’ve done planning in the past or not.  We will have a 2-hour working meeting that will get you more financially organized than you’ve likely ever been before (unless you’ve already done planning with us) and give you the confidence of knowing you’ve made the most empowered, informed and educated legal and financial decisions for the people you love.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love.

Call our office to schedule a time for a private conversation about your family wealth via a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best ways for you to ensure your legacy of love and financial security for your family.

When Is the Purchase of Long-Term Care Insurance Worth It?

Elder Care is emerging as a significant issue for many people as life spans continue to increase. It is nice to know that because of health care advances, we can expect to live longer, but there are no included guarantees on the quality of life in the later years.

Many people eventually face a period in life when they can no longer do for themselves. Daily living tasks such as walking, bathing, cooking, and managing household affairs are beyond their physical and perhaps even mental capabilities. Frequently, that period has not been planned for by the person or family members. And sometimes, this period in life comes suddenly, such as when a debilitating fall takes place.

One thing which people and their families should consider before this difficult period is the purchase of long-term care insurance. This type of insurance provides coverage for the expense of daily living assistance. It can cover in-home assistance as well as assisted living or nursing home costs. Most people, however, buy it to cover in-home living expenses so as to avoid a nursing home.

Often, an elderly person will suffer intermediate health issues before needing permanent assisted daily living. Health insurance and Medicare cover costs of treatment for injuries and illness and typically pay for some daily living assistance as the person recovers or levels off at a permanent degree of recovery. When that recovery occurs, though, those services no longer pay, and the person is on their own.

A long-term care insurance policy will pick up the ball at this point and, depending on its terms, pay for daily living assistance for a period of time or for the life of the policyholder.

This type of insurance can be costly, depending on when it is purchased. The farther away you are from needing its coverage, the more affordable it is. Depending on the person’s age and health, companies may not be willing to sell a policy, or the premiums will be high, reflecting the amount of risk it is assuming.

The decision of whether to buy this insurance is a mix of one’s personal financial picture, health, family support network, and family history. For example, a healthy person whose parents lived long into life should be thinking about how he will be cared for in old age. Similarly, a person with no close family to rely on would want a safety net in place. In both of these situations, a proactive person might buy the insurance if she can afford it.

If the cost of the insurance seems beyond a person’s budget, a couple of things can be considered. One is to divert money being saved for retirement to finance the premiums. In a way, the goal is the same—money for retirement years. This approach would require balance between having enough money to fund healthy retirement years and enough to avoid being placed in a nursing home when you need healthcare support.

Another consideration is money being spent on life insurance. Some people carry life insurance early in life to provide for dependents who will survive them, then keep carrying it after that need has passed. The premiums being paid for life insurance could be applied to long-term care insurance, recognizing that the need for insurance still exists, just for a different purpose. A life policy that carries a cash value could be cashed in to pay a lump sum premium for a long-term care policy.

If one buys a long-term policy, caution should be exercised to make sure the coverage pays for what you anticipate needing. Bathing, for example, is one of the first personal activities that an aging person cannot perform; cooking is another. Also, if purchased a number of years before the anticipated need, be sure the policy provides for inflation in the cost of services. And watch out for a waiting period between disability and payments. Policies often include this feature.

The financial impact of living a long life should be a consideration in your estate planning.  That’s why we take a holistic approach to estate planning– so we can help you cover all the angles and live life to the fullest.

Contact us before buying a long-term care plan so we can support you to review your options objectively. Unlike insurance professionals, we are not paid a commission dependent on the product you buy, and it’s always the best idea to have objective trusted advisor legal counsel, like we provide, to support you and your family.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,®  who develops trusting relationships with families for life.  It all starts with a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ where we can provide you with accurate information about how you can structure your finances to provide for your needs both now and in the future. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.

 

Consider Your Estate Plan Before Your Summer Travel

It’s summer, when travel is the busiest and careful planning is necessary to nab the best airfare or book that awesome beach cottage before it slips away. One thing that is probably not on your travel to-do list is estate planning, but it should be so you can travel with peace of mind.

Here are some tips to pack away your worries before you board that flight:

Complete your estate plan. If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to complete your estate plan. If money is a consideration, then start with those the most important items: a will, power of attorney and advance health care directives.

Update an existing estate plan. Has something changed in your life since you last updated your estate plan? A birth, a death, a marriage, a divorce? Each of these triggers your need to update your estate plan.

Establish guardianship for minor children with a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan(r). Before you travel, make sure you have a plan in place to ensure the well-being and care of your kids, no matter what. A plan that only names guardians in a Will could leave your kids at risk of being taken into the care of strangers while the authorities figure out what to do, if something happens to you.

Review beneficiaries. Beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance and other assets must be kept current or your assets will not pass to them upon your death. If you have minor children, you will need to set up a trust and name the trust as beneficiary so your assets can pass without court intervention.

Review/update incapacity documents. Two very important health care documents – a durable power of attorney for health care and a HIPAA Authorization – will determine who can make medical decisions for you and who has access to your medical records in case of incapacity. Be sure you have these documents before you travel and that the person/people named are still valid.

Review/update insurance. Does your life insurance coverage still meet your family’s needs?  If not, it is time to update your insurance policy before you hit the road.

In addition, you need to be sure you have an organized file of all your accounts and estate planning documents and you need to tell your family where they can locate the file if and when it becomes necessary.

The time to create a plan that spells out how you will pass on your values, beliefs and your money to your children is now. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

The Last Important Gift to Give Your Family

As hard as it is for all of us to “plan” for our deaths, doing so is one of the best things you can do for your family.  Adding to their grief and pain by giving them no clue as to where to find your personal and business paperwork should not be a memory you leave behind.

Gather the following information in a folder and let your family know where they can find it in case you die unexpectedly or have a health crisis:

Advisors – Provide the name and contact information of any financial advisors, including attorneys, estate planners, CPAs, accountants, etc.

Bank Accounts and Safety Deposit Boxes  – Bank name and account numbers for each bank where you have an account.  Include PIN numbers for online banking.  If you have a personal banker, include his or her name as well, with contact information.  If you have a safety deposit box, record the name of the bank, the box number as well as contents of the box and location of the key.

Investment And Retirement Accounts – For investment accounts, provide the name of the brokerage, your personal broker, the location of your statement file, account and PIN numbers.  For retirement accounts, provide contact information for plan administrators as well as account and PIN numbers.

Insurance  – For all your policies – health, home, car, life, long-term care – provide the name and contact information for the agents as well as account numbers.

Health care – For your health care providers, give contact information for physicians, Medicare information and any other gap coverage you may have.

House – If you still have a mortgage on your home, provide information on your lender and payment due dates.  Also provide the location of deeds and property titles.  Include contact information for any home service providers – cleaning help, lawn care, etc.

Credit Cards – Make a photocopy of both sides of each credit card and provide balance and payment information.

Vehicles – Provide information on where titles and registration information are kept. Make a photocopy of your driver’s license as well.

Personal – Include a list of your friends and neighbors with email and phone contact information as well as all your email account log-ins and passwords.

This last bit of planning on your part will go a long way toward helping your family cope in the immediate aftermath of your death or incapacitation.

One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the safe, successful transfer of wealth to the next generation.  Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family to ensure your legacy of love and financial security.

 

Before You Take Off for Summer Vacation, Take On These 5 To-Dos

It’s no surprise that Americans spend more time planning their summer vacations than they do planning their estate.  After all, a vacation is a trip you want to go on, while the eternal “trip” is not.

However, wouldn’t you travel with more peace of mind if you knew you had taken the necessary steps to protect your family if something unthinkable should happen to you?  That’s why you need to tackle these five important tasks before you go on that much-deserved summer vacation:

Guardians for minor children — if you have children under the age of 18, you must name a guardian or guardians to ensure that they will never be left in the hands of strangers or people you wouldn’t want raising them.  You can name short-term guardians in case of emergency, and then plan for long-term guardianship.  We recommend a full Kids Protection Plan® to ensure there is no gap in your kids care, ever and no matter what.

Beneficiary review — if it’s been awhile since you updated your beneficiary forms for retirement accounts, life insurance or other assets, it’s time for a review — especially if there has been a major change in your life.  Make sure insurance and retirement accounts are never passed on to your minor children, outside of a Trust.

Estate plan review — if you have experienced a birth, death, marriage, divorce or other life-changing event since you last updated your estate plan, you need to be sure those changes are reflected by updating your plan.

Advance healthcare directive — if you become incapacitated and can’t make your own health care decisions, have you named someone who you can depend on to carry out your wishes?  If not, you need to execute an advance health care directive that includes a durable power of attorney and a HIPAA release so your medical information can be shared.

Insurance update — is your life insurance still sufficient to meet the needs of your family?  If not, then you should revise your policy before you go.

If you haven’t done any of these things, it’s time to take care of business.  Call our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best ways for you to protect and provide for your family.

Consider Your Estate Plan Before You Travel

We are fast approaching the holidays, when travel is the busiest and careful planning is necessary to nab the best airfare or book that New Year’s beach cottage before it slips away.  One thing that is probably not on your travel to-do list is estate planning, but it should be so you can travel with peace of mind.

Here are some tips to pack away your worries before you board that flight:

Complete your estate plan.  If you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to complete your estate plan.  If money is a consideration, then start with those the most important items: a will, power of attorney and advance health care directives.

Update an existing estate plan.  Has something changed in your life since you last updated your estate plan?   A birth, a death, a marriage, a divorce?  Each of these triggers your need to update your estate plan.

Establish guardianship for minor children.  If you have ever gotten a nagging fear about what would happen to your children if something were to happen to you, then use that fear to follow through on naming a guardian for raising your minor children.  If you have young kids, there is never an excuse for you to neglect this important step.

Review beneficiaries.  Beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance and other assets must be kept current or your assets will not pass to them upon your death.  If you have minor children, you will need to set up a trust and name the trust as beneficiary so your assets can pass without court intervention.

Review/update incapacity documents.  Two very important health care documents – a durable power of attorney for health care and a HIPAA Authorization – will determine who can make medical decisions for you and who has access to your medical records in case of incapacity.  Be sure you have these documents before you travel and that the person/people named are still valid.

Review/update insurance.  Does your life insurance coverage still meet your family’s needs?  If not, it is time to update your insurance policy before you hit the road.

In addition, you need to be sure you have an organized file of all your accounts and estate planning documents and you need to tell your family where they can locate the file if and when it becomes necessary.

The time to create a plan that spells out how you will pass on your values, beliefs and your money to your children is now.  You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.

 

How to Ensure Your Life Insurance Benefits Go to Your Heirs

Recently, 11 major life insurance companies agreed to pay $763 million to the heirs of deceased policyholders after it was discovered the companies continued billing customers for their policies even after they were dead.

This agreement is the second in the last two years to be reached with insurance companies, which had previously agreed to provide restitution and do a much better job of locating beneficiaries after being sued by the attorneys general of several states for not paying out benefits to the heirs of deceased policyholders.

This pattern seems to indicate that we all need to do a better job to ensure that the life insurance benefits we pay out come back to our heirs in the way we intend.  Here are 5 tips for making sure your heirs benefit from your life insurance benefits:

Be truthful in your application.  If you have not been completely forthcoming about a major medical issue or your health habits (smoking, drinking, etc.) in your application for a life insurance policy, that policy could be declared null and void and your heirs would be out of luck.

Don’t let it lapse.  If your family is counting on life insurance benefits to pay the bills if something should happen to you, and you have not been paying the bills for the policy, your family is left unprotected.

Have a beneficiary bench.  Having a beneficiary on your policy who dies before you do is a recipe for disaster – and it happens much more than you think.  Designate a secondary as well as a final beneficiary for your life insurance benefits, and update them as the need arises. We recommend naming your trust as the beneficiary of your life insurance benefits, rather than naming an individual or even series of individuals.

Play it safe.  If you die because you engaged in risky behavior (not covered by the policy) – or you take your own life – your heirs will likely receive back only what you paid in premiums, and not the full value of your policy.

Talk about it.  The primary reason that a vast majority of potential beneficiaries never see a dime in life insurance benefits is because policies were lost or misplaced and family members were never told of their existence in the first place.  So if you have a life insurance policy, let your family know.  And ask them if they have one, too.  We prepare a Family Wealth Inventory (and keep it updated annually) for all of our clients.  Give us a call if you’d like us to help you with this too and ensure your family never loses track of any of your assets after you are gone.

If you would like to have a talk about protecting your family through estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

5 Things We Should Learn From Our Parents About Retirement

When we talk about retirement, most of us are still thinking about our parents’ retirement and how they did – or did not – plan properly for it.  It’s no big stretch to think that our retirement will differ significantly from that of our parents, but there are still lessons to be learned from them in preparing:

  1. Seek out a pension plan. If you are considering a career change or job move, look for companies that offer traditional pension plans.  Having a pension can make an incredible difference in retirement security.
  1. If you don’t have a pension plan, compensate. Start investing now in a 401(k), an IRA or other defined contribution plan early and keep investing in it throughout your working life.  Figure out what you could have made if you had a pension plan, and contribute that amount to your own plan.
  1. Save for a long life. None of us lives forever, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t save as if you would live forever.  Running out of money in your 80s or 90s should you live that long is a frightening prospect; medical advances are extending life spans and you need to save for a long life.
  1. Plan for health care expenses. It is estimated that most Americans will spend at least $240,000 on health care in retirement, and you will either need to save that amount or have a health coverage plan in place to cover your retirement medical costs.
  1. Start early and stay the course. As soon as you start working, aim to save at least 10 percent of your income every year – 15 percent is even better if doable.  And keep saving throughout your working years.  As your salary increases, try to set aside even more so the comfortable retirement you envision can become a reality.

If you’d like to learn more about retirement planning strategies for your family, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.