September 1, 2014










Elder Scam Artists – How to Beat Them at Their Own Game – Part 1

No matter what age, all people are somewhat vulnerable to expert scam artists. They prey on desires and fears, and try to trick people into giving them personal information. Most people, however, have a healthy enough dose of skepticism to filter out scams. Elderly people, on the other hand, are more vulnerable to scam artists.

As people age, they can sometimes become forgetful and more dependent on others. Older people grew up in tighter communities, so they often are more trusting of and friendlier to strangers. Elderly adults are less tech savvy, so they may be fooled by new gadgets. Many seniors may not hear about new scams targeting people in their area. This makes seniors even more likely to fall victims of fraudulent activity.

Furthermore, as the number of senior citizens grows every year, scams designed to target the particular vulnerabilities of older adults become increasingly profitable.

As the caretaker of an elderly loved one, one of your biggest responsibilities will be to protect him or her from scam artists. You need to take steps to protect older family members from scams.

Recognizing Common Scams that Target Seniors

One of the best ways to protect loved ones against scams is to educate yourself on the most common scams people use to target seniors. You can teach your loved ones and watch out for any signs that your family is being targeted.

There are many ways scam artists trick seniors into giving them money or personal information. The most common tactics include Internet-based scams, phone calls, direct mailings, broadcast ads, print advertisements, and door-to-door solicitations. The following are some of the most common schemes employed:

  • Living trust seminars or kits: Many estate planning “do-it-yourself” kits or seminars are really ruses to bilk large numbers of seniors out of money for nothing of value in return. Even worse, some of these scams are used to collect personal financial information. The best way to plan for your estate is always to consult an estate-planning attorney who is a reliable member of the American Bar Association. Many of these seminars claim to be “endorsed” by organizations like AARP, when in reality they are frauds.
  • Financial seminars for a “free” big-ticket item: No matter what product they are giving away, it almost never is worth it to attend. These events always involve high-pressure sales tactics for the product they really want to sell (like timeshares, for examples), and seniors may end up purchasing something they do not need and cannot afford.
  • Unsolicited reverse mortgage offers: Legitimate reverse mortgage companies do not send out unsolicited information or offers. It is important to do thorough research before contacting these types of companies.
  • Investment opportunities: Although there are many great options that seniors can use to invest, usually unsolicited offers from unknown companies can’t be trusted. Be careful of pyramid schemes.
  • Healthcare fraud: Many travelling labs will scare elderly patients into getting unnecessary “tests” and then overbill the patient or Medicare.

The most important thing to remember with any offer that you or your loved ones receive is that if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Do not ever invest money in something without careful and exhaustive research. Most importantly, make sure to keep communication open and honest with seniors, so that you can work together to prevent fraud.

Contact Us

The best way to protect your assets and make investments is through a trusted estate planning and elder law attorney. If you want to keep seniors safe from scam artists, contact us at Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C. today to find out how we can help. Also, make sure to read the second segment on how to prevent scams before they are ever presented to a loved one.

Deciding on a Retirement Plan

For those who are beginning to think about their financial futures, researching retirement plans can be a stressful and confusing process. However, with just a little research and the guidance of an advisor, starting a retirement plan can be easier than most people think. Several different programs provide tax advantages to both employees and employers, so it is important to carefully weigh all available options before choosing an account that is right for you.

What are Pre-Tax Contributions?

Most retirement funds are funded by a “pre-tax contribution,” meaning that taxes are not taken out of the contribution at the time of the deposit but will instead be owed later when the money is removed from the savings account. For instance, if an individual begins to save money when he or she is 20 years old, the money contributed to the plan is pre-taxed. If it remains in the account untouched until he or she turns 70 years old, the money is tax-deferred, or protected from tax, until a portion or all of it is removed.

Common Types of Retirement Plans

Each of the following accounts has additional restrictions and benefits, so it is important to understand that the information provided is a general overview of the most commonly held retirement savings accounts.

1. Traditional 401(k)

A 401(k) is a pre-tax retirement plan for employees and their employers. It allows eligible workers to contribute pre-tax money into a savings account and permits a “profit-sharing” contribution for the employer to also contribute to the account. While the money remains in the 401(k) or other allowed account such as a Rollover IRA, the money is tax-deferred, and account holders are not required to pay taxes on the money unless it is removed from the account.

2. 403(b)

This pre-tax retirement account is used by some hospitals and public schools as well as other eligible organizations with a non-profit tax status. The 403(b) plan allows both employees and their employers to contribute money into the account.

3. IRAs

There are several types of IRAs including traditional IRAs, Rollover IRAs, and Simple IRAs. Traditional IRAs allow individuals to either work with an advisor or on their own to save pre-tax money while Rollover IRAs allow money to be rolled out while the account maintains a tax-deferred status. Simple IRAs are designed for employers with fewer than 100 employees.

4. Roth IRAs

Roth IRAs differ from the aforementioned retirement accounts as contributions are made after taxes are paid on the money. If the Roth account has been opened for at least five years and the account is taken after age 59½, distributions are tax-free.

Contact Us Today

The Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin P.C. is dedicated to helping its clients with their retirement planning needs. Call Andrew Lamkin today at (516) 605-0625 for a free consultation and to learn more about the most efficient ways to choose a retirement plan.

Why You Should Talk to Your Aging Parents about Money

While the popular adage “silence is golden” often rings true, does it apply to the topic of parents’ elder care expenses, living costs, and healthcare? The Fidelity Intra-family Generational Finance Study has recently found that four out of 10 families have not yet had a conversation with their elderly parents about these important matters. According to the study, children want to avoid upsetting their parents while parents worry that their adult children are hoping for a future inheritance. As a result, money often becomes taboo in many families, and important conversations about family finances are simply not happening.

FIGS Study Finds Fewer Families are Discussing Finances

According to researchers, both parents and children did not necessarily feel that it was difficult to have a conversation regarding retirement, healthcare, and living expenses. However, many families found trouble in knowing exactly when to begin the conversation as well as how in depth the conversation should go. One of the most important notes that researchers made was that it was critical not to wait until an emergency occurs to sit down with parents to discuss their future financial plans.

How to Effectively Plan for Parents’ Financial Futures

Before beginning a conversation on such a sensitive subject as money, it is important to realize that the conversation is not a democracy. All of their lives, parents have made their own decisions about their money, and there is a slim chance that they will relinquish control now. Children should realize that they are discussing their parents’ money and, ultimately, the parents have the final say.

There are several keys to facilitate an effective conversation:

1. Treat parents with respect. Above all, always respect parents’ wishes regarding their plans for elder care, healthcare, and living expenses. Avoid attacking, yelling, accusing, and blaming them for their requests, as doing so can only lead to bitterness and resentment.

2. Start the discussion early. One of the most common mistakes that many families make is that they think that they only need to have one big conversation regarding family finances. However, the earlier that a family chooses to discuss their plans for the future, the easier the conversations will become. Continued discussions about the subject are much more favorable as plans, circumstances, and needs will change with time.

3. Include all family members. Ensure that all siblings and immediate relatives are included in the conversations so that everyone is fully aware of all decisions and requests, and no one is receiving incorrect or inaccurate information through the grapevine.

4. Understand the parents’ need to have control over their own lives. The conversation is not about preserving or receiving an inheritance; it is about the parents’ rights to be able to live their lives however they want to live them.

5. Provide information. Communication is vital, so it is necessary to thoroughly explain any concerns that a child may have regarding the treatment and care of his or her parents. Obtain any relevant information to support the concerns.

6. Re-evaluate the plan if it is not working. If conversations become heated or family members feel as if they are going around in circles without accomplishing anything, it is okay to take a few steps away from the conversation to clear the air and regain focus on the issues at hand.

7. Agree to disagree. Always remember that it is okay to disagree, and that the conversation is not about who is wrong or who is right. Remember that this is a delicate subject that means a great deal to all who are involved.

Contact Us

Discussing finances with parents can be difficult, particularly if one or both individuals are in poor health. Oftentimes, it may be beneficial to discuss some of the legal and financial aspects of elder care with an experienced elder care lawyer. Contact the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C. today to schedule a free consultation.

Andrew M. Lamkin Is Named 2014 Small Business Person of the Year

The Chamber Board is proud to announce that one of its Board members, Andrew M. Lamkin, has been named Plainview-Old Bethpage Chamber of Commerce Small Business Person of the Year for 2014. Andrew is Principal of the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., located on Old Country Road in Plainview. He has been practicing law since 2008.

Andrew M. Lamkin received his B.A. in Political Science and History in 1996 from Syracuse University and his J.D. from Widener School of Law in 2006. He is currently an active member of the Plainview Old Bethpage Chamber of Commerce for which he serves as Chairman of the Membership Committee and is a member of the Executive Board.

A member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Andrew M. Lamkin also belongs to the Senior Umbrella Network of Nassau County, and he also serves on the Advisory Board from the Eden II and Genesis programs for adults and children living with autism in New York.

Andrew and his firm exclusively practice in the areas of residential real estate transactions, supplemental needs, estate planning, elder law, estate administration, and planning. Andrew will be honored later this year at a legislative breakfast given by the Nassau County Council of Chambers on October 17, 2014. He was also recently elected as Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce.

About The Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C.

The Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C. is based in Plainview, New York and focuses on practice areas including estate planning, elder law, special needs planning, trusts and wills, estate administration, Medicaid planning, and residential real estate transactions. The Firm provides comprehensive case evaluations to individuals who would like to learn more about their options regarding elder law. Andrew M. Lamkin is a member of the Nassau County Bar Association, the Suffolk County Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association, and the AARP Legal Services Network from Allstate.

Elder Care Benefits in the Workplace

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, more and more working adults are finding themselves responsible for the care of parents or other elderly relatives. In fact, over 40 percent of Americans are currently responsible for the care of elderly family members, and most are doing so in addition to managing their careers and taking care of children or other household responsibilities. Many employers are starting to recognize this trend and are beginning to offer some kind of elder care benefits in the workplace.

Increasing Empathy and Help for Employees with Elder Care Responsibilities

According to the 2014 National Study of Employers published by the Families and Work Institute, growing trends show an increase in elder care support and benefits provided in the workplace from 2008 to 2014. In fact, 75 percent of employers are willing to provide time off for employees to provide elder care without putting their jobs at risk. Furthermore, employers are increasingly more likely to report that they offer elder care resources, referral programs, Dependent Care Assistance Programs (DCAPs), and access to respite care in health plans.

One explanation for this trend given by the Families and Work Institute is that aging upper management is more likely to personally experience elder care issues, making them both more sympathetic to and aware of these needs. The study also cited an overall aging workforce, a greater number of employees dealing with managing elder care, and an expectation that even more employees will need elder care benefits in the next five years even if they are not already providing care for a loved one as reasons for increasing benefits. Interestingly, this trend has not been aided by legal requirements, as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not expressly provide for the care of the elderly.

Not All Employers Are Equal When It Comes to Elder Care Benefits

Although the trend in workplaces across the country is to increasingly provide for elder care benefits, not all employers guarantee the same or even any elder care provisions. Twenty-five percent of workplaces still have no provisions allowing for employees to take off work to take care of elderly relatives or other provisions supporting elder care. The National Study of Employers categorized companies with the following characteristics as the most likely to provide elder care:

  • Large companies with many employees or operating in multiple locations
  • Nonprofits
  • Employers of few hourly employees
  • Employers of many women
  • Employers with many women and minorities that are in or report directly to executive leadership

Although these types of companies most likely have elder care, some companies that fulfill these characteristics do not provide for elder care benefits. The easiest way to find out what elder care benefits are available in your company is to ask. Your elder law attorney can help answer questions about benefits and planning.

Contact Us

In general, elder care can be a complex issue to manage for personal, financial, and legal reasons. Oftentimes, it can help to discuss some of the financial and legal aspects of elder care with an experienced elder care attorney. If you are responsible for the care of an elderly relative, contact the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C. today for a free consultation to find out what you should do to make sure that you are both protected during this difficult time.

Healthcare Inconsistencies Among States

Every citizen deserves access to high-quality healthcare, but unfortunately the quality of long-term healthcare and healthcare services varies greatly from state to state. A recent study published by the AARP, The Commonwealth Fund, and the SCAN Foundation found that the quality of healthcare is much better in some states than in others. The study assessed healthcare in each state on five main dimensions:

  1. Affordability and accessibility of care
  2. Availability of choice of setting and provider
  3. Quality of life and quality of care
  4. Structural support for family caregivers
  5. Effectiveness of transitions between care and normal activity

These categories were assessed by considering 26 different factors, including the following:

  • Access to Medicaid home care programs
  • Quality and cost of nursing home and home care
  • Private home care insurance coverage
  • Percent of adults with disabilities in the community usually or always getting needed support
  • Percent of nursing home patients with dementia undergoing burdensome transitions
  • Number of home and personal care aides
  • Number of assisted living and residential care units
  • Quality of life and level of stress of family caregivers
  • Percent of home care patients with hospital admission

All of these factors and others were assessed to rank states by the level of care they provided. Top-performing states consistently scored high in almost every category in the study. These states were Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the opposite also was true. Bottom-performing states consistently scored fairly low in almost every category in the study. Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Indiana were the worst-ranked states in the United States.

A trend in the study showed that the gaps in the level of care were vast. This means that while the worst-ranked states did have some of the worst care provided, there were places in each state where you could receive very high quality healthcare. For this reason, the worst-ranked states have the capacity to give much better long-term healthcare services to their citizens if they choose to apply the same standards of care across the board.

While quality healthcare can be found in every state in America, many states could make strides to vastly improve the care they provide to average citizens. This may require examining the healthcare systems of top-performing states for suggestions, reviewing state policies, or committing more state resources to elder care. It is clear, however, that something must be done to assure that every person has access to high-quality healthcare. An elder law attorney can help you make sound decisions in regards to healthcare arrangements for your loved one.

Contact Us

If a loved one needs assistance healthcare arrangements, contact the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C. today for a free consultation to find out if you may have a case. Andrew Lamkin and his associates will be by your side every step of the process to assure that your family gets only quality care in the future.

The Right Way to Leave an Inheritance

Most people want to leave a legacy for their children. While an inheritance is never meant to cause conflict, sometimes personal or financial issues can cause tension and complicate the process. By leaving an inheritance the right way, you can avoid these tensions and make the trying time after losing a loved one a bit easier. The following are six key things you should do when leaving an inheritance.

  1. Communicate openly about the will and manage expectations. Tell your family what they can expect from an estate. Children often underestimate the value of an estate by over $100,000. When you are clear about what they can expect, there will be no conflicts later caused by surprises in the will.
  2. Make sure to document important information in your will or estate plan. By detailing what all of your assets are and where the deeds and other information can be found, you can eliminate stress for your heir.
  3. Distribute your assets yourself. Do not simply name one child as the beneficiary of a policy and assume that he or she will distribute equally to the rest of the siblings. If you want assets to be shared equally, say so in the will and list them all as beneficiaries.
  4. Distribute your assets fairly. This does not necessarily mean that you have to distribute your assets equally, but generally, this does cause less friction. Include your family equally in the planning so they are aware of your plans and have the opportunity to add their opinions.
  5. If you distribute your assets unequally, explain yourself. Maybe there is a good reason to leave more to one family member than the others. Perhaps one child makes much more or a child has medical issues that require extra money for care. Not explaining this, however, often leads to resentment. If you do not want to explain this to your children while you are still alive, at least leave them a note so they will not be bitter towards their siblings.
  6. Use a trust to minimize uncertainty. Lawyers who specialize in estate planning usually suggest distributing estate assets to children in parts by putting assets into a trust. This is especially true if children will inherit at a younger age. You can determine not only when and how distributions should be made, but also how money may be used or many other types of provisions. This will assure your inheritance will be used prudently.

Contact Us

By ensuring that your inheritance is written in such a way, you can minimize the conflict and stress that inheritances often tend to cause. In order to assure that your estate is left exactly how you want it, you need to work with an estate-planning attorney. If you need help planning your estate, contact Andrew M. Lamkin and he will help you navigate the process. Call him today for a free consultation to determine what you will need to do to finish getting your inheritance in order.

What to do When You Inherit Your Parent’s Debt

Losing a parent is always a stressful experience. The loss of someone you love is devastating and emotions run high. That is why inheriting a parent’s debt can be even more stressful. Most people do not know what laws apply to the situation or what they should do to discharge the debts they still owe. There are a few important guidelines to help you more easily determine what to do when you inherit a parent’s debt.

Medical Debt

Medical debt of a parent sometimes must be paid by the estate or by children, and other times, it is not required. The main determination for medical debt is whether or not your parent was on Medicaid.

If your parent was on Medicaid, you will never be directly responsible for the debt. Under Medicaid regulations, the only major asset that a person can possess and still qualify for Medicaid is a home. That home can be placed under a lien in order to recover medical debt, but the money taken from the estate will be limited to the value of the home.

If your parent was not on Medicaid, different rules apply. First, medical bills will be paid out of the assets in the estate. If there is not enough money in the estate, children are required to pay the remainder in some states.  Each state has laws that determine if children inherit the medical debt of a parent under so-called “filial laws.” Thirty states currently have laws that require children to assume medical debts to some extent. New York is not currently a state with such laws, but the amount owed is determined by the state where the medical debt was incurred.

Other Debts

You also may be responsible for other debts left behind by a parent. If you inherit a parent’s home, you will be responsible for paying any mortgage associated with the home, or you can make the decision to sell the house and use the profit to pay off the mortgage. If the value of the mortgage is more than the value of the house, the bank can go after the estate for the difference.

You will not be responsible for paying most other debts left behind by a parent, such as taxes or credit cards. These debts can be taken out of the estate. Government agencies have high priority, so taxes will often be paid off first. Credit cards have very low priority, and sometimes credit card debt can be negotiated, because creditors do not want to risk getting nothing.

Contact Us

While these guidelines can help you determine what debts you may inherit from a parent, the process to settle an estate and associated debts can often be drawn out and complicated if you are not experienced in the field. It can help to have an experienced estate attorney settle these complications for you to avoid paying any debts you are not required to settle. Andrew Lamkin has years of experience settling estates for clients in the most beneficial way possible. You can contact the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin by calling 516-615-0625 at any time for a free consultation.

Your Will Does Not Address Everything

It is a common misconception that a last will and testament is the only document that a person, called a testator, needs in order to give proper instructions for the management of his or her estate after death. There are a number of reasons for which wills are necessary, including the transfer of property and finances. However, there are some important things that your will does not cover or that should not be included in your will.

Funeral Instructions Should Not be in Your Will

While it would certainly seem to make sense to insert your funeral instructions in your will, keep in mind that a will is often not found immediately following a person’s death. If an executor (the person named to manage the affairs of an individual after he or she passes away) cannot find the will in time, then specific wishes for funeral proceedings may be lost. Instead, write out funeral instructions as a separate document and inform your executor of its location.

Concurrent Estates Cannot be Transferred in a Will

If you co-own an estate with another person (referred to as “joint tenancy”), you cannot leave your part of the estate to a benefactor. According to property law, upon a joint tenant’s death, his or her part is automatically transferred to the other tenant. This law exists to minimize the possibility for disputes over concurrent estates.

You Cannot Transfer Assets to Pets

Naturally, you will want to arrange for the care of your pets in a will. However, since a pet cannot own property, you cannot transfer any assets to them. Instead, you will want to explain what you want to be done with the pets, and you may even consider leaving money for the beneficiary appointed to their care.

A Will Cannot Help You Avoid Probate

After an individual dies, the decisions regarding his or her assets will go to probate court. Here they will read the will and decide if it is legitimate. However, even when it is approved, the process can still often be long and drawn out. While a will gives you control over who will receive your assets, and often makes the process easier for family, it will not make the process free of hassle, unfortunately.

Get Legal Assistance

You will want to consider hiring a lawyer with experience in drawing up wills. It is very important that a will be thorough and clear. and it can be difficult to be sure that it is going to do everything you plan for it to do. You can receive help by contacting Andrew M. Lamkin to discuss your will. You can reach our offices at 516-615-0625 and we will be happy to provide you with an initial consultation, free of charge.

Should You be a Guardian to Your Parent with Alzheimer’s Disease?

alzheimersWhile it may seem like the natural step to get legal guardianship over a loved one who is struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease, you should be aware of the level of involvement and commitment required in managing your loved one’s affairs. Not only is this difficult, but the process of actually obtaining a legal guardianship can be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. Thus, it is important to know what is involved in legal guardianships before pursuing one.

Obtaining Guardianship

Whether an individual is granted guardianship over another individual will ultimately be decided by a judge, and that decision involves varying factors that can result in different outcomes.

First, there are two different types of guardianship that a person can be granted over an aging and/or incapacitated loved one: guardian of the person or guardian of the estate. A person granted guardian of the person will have responsibilities including controlling medical treatment and organizing living arrangements of the needy person. On the other hand, a guardian of the estate will only be responsible for the individual’s financial matters.

Therefore, the type of guardianship granted to an individual over his or her family member dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease may depend on the ability to handle necessary tasks of the guardianship. For example, if an individual is attempting to obtain a guardianship of the individual, he or she needs to live close to the person so that daily tasks can be handled. On the other hand, if an individual is attempting to obtain guardianship of the estate, it is beneficial if the individual has experience dealing with financial matters. These factors will be considered by the judge, who will make the final decision.

If You are Granted Guardianship

Once you are granted guardianship, this does not mean that your appearances in court are over or that the decision cannot be changed. You may also have to appear in court for some of the following reasons:

  • You will have to document and report the money that you use from the individual and you may be required to appear before a judge to review your expenditures
  • You may also be required to appear before a judge when faced with a big decision, such as the selling of a house or placing your loved one in a nursing home facility.
  • If other members of your family are not pleased with your power over a shared loved one’s affairs, and/or believe that you are mismanaging them, they can appeal for a review of the case, which could result in additional court time and more lawyer’s fees.

Know Your Options

It can be a difficult to have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Oftentimes, they are frustrated and angry, incapable of remembering important facts and details about their lives and affairs. Because of this, you may feel that it is your responsibility to care for him or her by obtaining legal guardianship. While this is certainly an option, there are other options. For example, if you feel incapable of performing the tasks necessary to care for the affairs of a loved one, a judge can appoint a paid professional guardian to manage your loved one’s affairs.

Contact Us

If you are applying for a guardianship or are currently reviewing your guardianship, do not hesitate to call Andrew Lamkin at 516-615-0625, and he will be happy to provide you with an initial consultation that is free of charge to discuss your case. This process is difficult for anyone, and having experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel at your side can be of great service.

How to Avoid Paying Tax on Your Estate

property-taxAfter a person dies, if he or she has an estate worth more than $5.34 million, the beneficiaries of the estate will be required to pay estate taxes on however much the individual’s estate exceeds this amount. Currently, this rate is set at 40% in the United States, meaning that if someone’s estate is worth $6.34 million and the owner dies, the beneficiaries will have to pay taxes on the $1 million over the exempted $5.34 million. This would result in $400,000 in taxes, which is a significant amount.

For some, avoiding this tax can be as simple as leaving all of one’s assets to a surviving spouse, which would avoid estate taxes altogether. However, once the surviving spouse also passes away, and he or she now has all of the assets in his or her name, the taxes could again result in a substantial amount. The full amount of both individuals’ exemptions ($10.68 million) can be used, but if the worth of the deceased couple exceeds this, survivors may be required to pay estate taxes. However, there are some ways that an individual can avoid estate taxes, including the following:

  • Gift giving
  • Paying for medical treatment or higher education
  • Giving money to charity
  • Establishing a life insurance trust
  • Eliminating assets from an estate

Here is a closer look at a few of the most prominent methods:

Gift Giving

Any individual can give a gift of $14,000 per year to another person, free from taxation. A benefactor can give this amount to any number of individuals, although if he or she exceeds this amount, taxes will follow. Ultimately, gift giving serves two purposes:

  1. It removes assets from an estate, which will lower estate taxes
  2. It affords an opportunity for the benefactor to preemptively give gifts to loved ones, free from taxation

Also, note that any money given for the paying of higher education and medical bills cannot be taxed, regardless of the amount of money spent. The same is true for money given to charities.

Reducing Size of Estate

Most methods for avoiding estate taxes have less to do with elimination than mitigation. For example, a person can set up a Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT), which allows an individual to remove his or her house from the estate. The individual still lives there, but after the trust term runs up (usually 10-15 years), the house will be transferred to the benefactors of the trust. While this will not eliminate estate taxes on the house, it does effectively lower them, since gifts given through trusts have a lower tax rate than assets simply inherited.

Get Some Help

Beyond QPRTs, there are a number of trusts and partnerships that you can use to reduce the size of an estate, such as a Family Limited Partnership (FLP) and/or a life insurance trust. There are, in fact, many ways that an individual can help lessen their estate taxes. If you need help planning your estate, contact Andrew M. Lamkin and he will help you navigate the process. You can reach the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin by calling 516-615-0625. Mr. Lamkin will be happy to provide you with an initial consultation, free of charge.

Ensuring Good Care for Your Elderly Parents

If you are the guardian of your elderly parents, you are responsible for their well-being. In addition, you have the right and privilege to make sure that they are treated properly while in a nursing facility. Here are some common problems for nursing home patients that you can avoid for your loved ones:

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is usually the most obvious form of abuse. If bruises or other injuries begin to appear on an elderly patient, it is important to ask about the injuries. Physical abuse can also include restraining or drugging a patient unnecessarily.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse occurs when a caretaker or someone else interacts with an elderly person, causing him or her emotional distress. If verbal, the abuse can include shouting, threatening, or humiliating. If nonverbal, emotional abuse can include isolating an elderly person or ignoring him or her.

Financial Abuse

Because elderly people often need help performing their daily tasks, they may not be as capable in handling their money and assets. Sometimes, this opens them up to financial exploitation. This could include stealing their possessions, forging their checks, or even stealing their identity.

Neglect

However, the most common form of elder abuse is a less-extreme type: neglect. While it may not involve physical violence or psychological distress, neglect can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort for an elderly person. The most common indicators of neglect are bedsores, dehydration, dirty living conditions, and rapid weight loss. Additionally, look for changes in the elderly person’s demeanor. Does he or she seem depressed, angry, or apathetic? Also, note if the elderly individual is getting into arguments with his or her caretaker, as this is often a sign of some sort of problem.

Call Us

The first step that should be taken in guaranteeing that your elderly family member does not have to deal with any of the above issues is to carefully choose the care facility. Upon finding a good situation for your elderly family member, call Andrew M. Lamkin, at 516-615-0625. He will gladly help you file all of the appropriate paperwork and make sure that your loved one’s transition is smooth and carefree.

Helping Your Parent Adjust to a Nursing Facility

If you’re reading this, you’re probably facing the decision to place a parent into a nursing facility. You’re very likely feeling guilty, but don’t. If you didn’t care, you probably wouldn’t be bothering with finding ways to make the transition easier for your parent.

Facing the Facts

Many times, when children make this decision, it is after having spent a great deal of time caring for that parent and ultimately coming to the realization that it has become too difficult. The guilt associated with that decision is a normal response for any caring child. Often, the parent will be hurt or angry and lash out, causing even more guilt. It’s important to understand that making this decision doesn’t make you a bad person.

The Transition

There are many resources online to help you find the right place for your parent. There are some very good facilities, but it will very likely take a month or two for the transition. One of the most important things you can do for your parent is to listen. Allow them to be angry or make accusations without becoming defensive or reacting in anger. Be gentle and patient and let them know that you care about their feelings. Do everything you can to help them feel at home. Bring pictures or items from home to place around the room. Bring children and grandchildren to visit. This is unlikely to have any negative effect on the children, but will often have a very positive effect on your parent. Encourage friends and other family members to visit as well. Remember that this is your parent’s new home. When you visit, knock before entering instead of just barging in. Bring a deck of cards, or a picture album, or other activities to do during the visit.

Be Involved

Get to know the staff. Address any concerns you have with trusted staff members and if there are serious issues that come up, be certain you know how to get help. When there are meetings, bring notes and take notes. Involve other family members as much as possible. Visit often, but allow your parent to adapt to the new environment without being there every moment. Your involvement is important, but just as important is giving your parent the space and time to adjust.

Take Care of Yourself

Be sure that you have a support system available, especially in the beginning. This can be a very tough decision to make, and you may need a friend to help you through it. Don’t neglect yourself and your own needs. There are also support groups available to help you, both on and offline.

Contact Us

If you are concerned about the needs of your elderly parents or a disabled loved one, the law office of Andrew M. Lamkin, PC can help you. Contact them today at 516-605-0625 to get the help you need!

How to Prepare for Retirement

The concept of retirement is meant to invoke feelings of accomplishment and comfort. The average American who saves and plans ahead can enjoy a 20-year retirement. People dream of a nest egg waiting for them once they’ve reached the peak of their working lives, and the desire to settle in and enjoy a life at ease is universal. However, in today’s world of crippling debt, rising interest rates and a dubious economy on the decline, retirement seems more of a dream and less of a reality. In fact, to many it’s a source of stress and worry.

Recent studies show that below 50% of Americans have begun to calculate how much is needed for their retirement. Additionally, one-fourth of Americans claim that they are not confident in their ability to save enough for their own retirement. Although budgeting and planning for retirement can seem burdensome and in some cases even scary, here are three basic and proven methods to give yourself peace of mind when planning for your future and the future of your loved ones.

Begin Saving Now

The first tip to planning for your financial future is the most obvious and it’s also the easiest. You need to get in the habit of saving today, regardless of your budget or situation. Every little bit counts towards your goal, and in time, you can work towards increasing the amount you can save. Remember, whatever you forego today in setting aside funds is an investment towards your future retirement. It’s a good idea to sit down and make a savings plan that your income would allow without putting a strain on your current financial needs. Also, remember that while any money you’ve put aside is yours you can’t touch it.

Debt Management

The most significant cause of stress with regards to the topic of retirement is debt. About a fifth of the American workforce says that debt is a major concern. It’s for this reason that many Americans fear that they’ll never be able to rise above it and reach their savings goals, and it’s also a reason that so many don’t even begin planning in the first place. Debt isn’t only a financial status, it can also become a state of mind as well. By first addressing and then working to diminish debt, working towards your goal of retirement can be done even if you have some red on your ledger.

See Your Employer’s Savings Plan

Many companies offer their employees a 401(K) savings plan. It’s in your best interest to apply and contribute as much as possible. The more you put in, the more your company is willing to match. The option of automatic deductions from your wages is an easy way to keep this going while sticking to your budget. If you’re not participating in the 401(K) savings plan at your work, ask about it and get started soon. If one isn’t already offered by your employer, see about getting one started and how you can help.

Though daunting at first, planning for your retirement is every bit the reality as you want it to be. While saving, managing debt and contributing to your employer’s 401(K) plan are all invaluable ways to reach your goal, there are always more options to help secure your financial future. Never underestimate the value of asking your peers for advice, researching other methods that may better suit your needs and consulting a financial specialist. It’s never too early to begin planning for the future.

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When preparing for retirement, the law office of Andrew M. Lamkin, PC stands ready to help. Contact them today at 516-605-0625 to set up a consultation appointment!

Understanding Guardianship of the Elderly

Understanding all of the intricacies associated with guardianship of the elderly can be a complicated task. However, when looking past all of the detailed legal terms involved, there are a number of simple and easy-to-understand guidelines that should help.

Rules Surrounding Guardianship of the Elderly

In essence, guardianship of the elderly refers to the ability for someone to be deemed by the court to be the rightful guardian for an elderly person. Many times, the guardian is given the title due to the subject being ill or incapacitated and therefore unable to look after him or herself anymore. Those who are appointed by a judge to be a legal guardian for the elderly should understand that they will now have to make all of the decisions for their ward. This means that the guardian is entirely responsible for the well-being of the person for whom they have been awarded guardianship.

The courts must first come to the conclusion that the elderly person in question needs a guardian and cannot make basic decisions. The judge may also choose to grant limited guardianship. For instance, limited guardianship can often be determined if the elderly person can provide for him or herself financially, but cannot do so in regards to physical needs, or vice versa. Once guardianship is granted, the guardian does not have to acquiesce to the demands of the elderly person, as he or she is no longer in charge of his or her own decisions.

Who is Eligible

The most basic of rules for eligibility to be a guardian states that the person must be at least 18 years of age. It’s possible for any person that is officially chosen by the elderly person to become a guardian. Despite this, it is oftentimes impossible for the elderly person to even have the faculty to do so.

Those that are relatives or close family members of the subject can apply to become a guardian, while anyone else that the court deems appropriate may also serve as a guardian. If there is no one available to become the guardian for the elderly person, the Department of Social Services may step in and do so.

Required Documents

Becoming a guardian for an elderly person doesn’t require endless amounts of documents. It’s necessary to apply and fill out any paperwork provided. Once the paperwork has been filled out, it should be taken to a nearby probate court, where they will schedule a hearing. The only fees that are required include a fee to obtain the paperwork and another fee to file.

For anyone considering guardianship of an elderly person, it’s important to understand that this is not a light matter. Being given guardianship over a person’s entire decision-making process is a huge responsibility. If you feel that this is the correct decision to make, the aforementioned guide should help you to have a better understanding of the process involved.

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Let the professionals at the law office of Andrew M. Lamkin, PC answer your questions about guardianship. Contact them today at 516-605-0625 to get the help you need!

Misunderstandings About Social Security Benefits

Social security benefits is a hot topic for both the young and the old. As is the case with any frequently discussed issue, there is a lot of misinformation available. Whether you plan to collect benefits in the near future or you are concerned that there will not be anything for you to collect by the time you reach retirement age, here are five common misunderstandings about social security.

1. You should starting taking benefits as soon as possible.

Although this sounds good on the surface and you may be eligible to start collecting when you turn 62, your benefit will be permanently reduced. It is best to wait until what the Social Security Administration refers to as your “full retirement age,” which is 66 if you were born between 1943 and 1954, in order to get a larger monthly benefit. Plus, benefits increase by eight percent for every year you wait to collect between your FRA and age 70.

2. If your spouse earns more than you do, you should take the spousal benefit.

This benefit can be a real income boost for a low-earning or nonworking spouse. However, the amount you receive is half of the amount of the higher-earning partner’s benefit. Once you file for social security, you will automatically receive the larger of either your own benefit or the spousal benefit.

3. If you are disabled, you can collect social security benefits and SSDI at the same time.

Unfortunately, you are not allowed to “double dip.” If you are currently collecting SSDI benefits, you will be automatically switched to your social security retirement benefit once you reach your full retirement age. You cannot receive both benefits.

4. Social security is only for the elderly.

An estimated 36 million workers who have retired receive social security benefits, while 2.9 million children and spouses of workers who have retired receive these benefits. Another 2.1 million spouses and children of disabled workers receive benefits as well as 8.7 million disabled workers. A total of 3.3 million children 18 years of age or younger receive social security. In addition, the SSA paid benefits to 6.3 million survivors of deceased workers in 2013, including 2 million children.

5. Social security is ending.

The SSA reports that it had a surplus in 2012 and anticipates surpluses through 2020. Currently, benefits will be paid until 2035, and financial experts hope that changes will be made to increase revenue before then. However, even if the SSA does not make any changes, the current rates at which payroll taxes are taken will likely cover roughly 75 percent of all future benefits.

6. Do not worry about IRA distributions.

Unfortunately, many retirees fail to calculate the impact that required IRA distributions will have on the taxation of Social Security benefits. These folks could find themselves blindsided as up to 85 percent of a client’s SS benefits could be subject to federal income taxes depending on that person’s modified adjusted gross income.

Whether you have reached retirement age or you are young and are looking toward the future, it is important to have a complete understanding of how social security works to protect yourself against any unfortunate surprises in the future. Solid planning, hard work, and smart decisions can help to ensure that you and your family are financially sound once you reach retirement age.

The law office of Andrew M. Lamkin, PC stands ready to help you with your Social Security needs, questions, and concerns. Contact them today at 516-605-0625 to get the help you need!

Do’s and Don’ts of Planning Your Will

When it comes time to write your will, it can be tough to know exactly what you should do. As with most legal tasks, there is a right and a wrong way to do things. This list can give you some ideas of smart moves to make when it comes to planning your will.

1. Do Not Procrastinate

Many individuals procrastinate creating a last will and testament due to fears about making decisions concerning their death. While no one wants to consider their own death, it is a fact of life that eventually happens to everyone. Writing a last will and testament does require a certain amount of knowledge to ensure it is valid in your geographic region, but there are many helpful resources available that are low-cost and easy to access. In addition, many attorneys’ offices have a basic and affordable fee for helping individuals to write a last will and testament.

2. Do Have a Sound Mind

Of course, if you are a multimillionaire who owns numerous houses and businesses, then creating a will is more complex. An important rule in every jurisdiction is that an individual must be of sound mind when writing a will to help avoid legal disputes. That means creating this important legal document before developing dementia. Statistically, less than 50 percent of the population creates a last will and testament, leading to many legal problems that can last for years. Without a legal will, the decisions about the division of property such as money and houses will be left to the court system.

3. Do Have Expert Witnesses

Designing an effective last will and testament generally means that probate hearings are handled quickly, allowing a chosen executor to pay outstanding debts. At the same time, you can make sure that heirs, including surviving spouses or minor children, will have necessary provisions. A will that is worded correctly according to a geographic region’s regulations helps to prevent legal battles between family members or business partners. By creating a will with the assistance of an attorney, you have expert witnesses to verify its legality. An attorney can keep the will in a safe place away from natural disasters such as fire and floods and people who might try to change the will without your consent.

4. Do Not Delay Due to Small Details

Planning a last will and testament takes time to consider the smallest details such as deciding who will get valuable jewelry or family keepsakes. However, needing to make decisions concerning a legal will should not lead to delaying. Begin by considering things such as bank accounts and property before deciding who gets less valuable items. A professional attorney can help you make adjustments to a will when personal circumstances such as a divorce require changes.

5. Do Seek Expert Legal Advice

An attorney is able to look at your situation objectively to make suggestions for scenarios you may not have considered, including several family members passing away at the same time. This type of situation can lead to major problems concerning a last will and testament to determine who will have custody of young children or receive property. A properly written will can prevent bad feelings that could cause family feuds that lead to battles in courtrooms that can last for several years.

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If you need help with your will or the will of a loved one has you concerned, contact the law office of Andrew M. Lamkin, PC. With our qualified, experienced attorneys handling things, you can stop worrying about your future. We pride ourselves on helping our clients receiving the best service possible.

 

The Basic Tenets of Estate Planning

The term “estate” has some connotations that may make it seem as though estate planning is something only high-income individuals have to consider. However, nearly everyone is an estate owner. To have an estate, you simply need to own something of value that you wish to pass on to someone else. Although you technically do not need an estate plan, as each state has rules to determine how your possessions will be passed on, having an estate plan ensures that your specific desires are fulfilled. Unfortunately, the state default rules, known as the intestacy system, do not depend on what individuals want, but are instead rigid procedures that provide an efficient means for property to be passed on. Thus, estate planning can help you make sure your property is passed on according to your desires, while minimizing taxes and maximizing the amount actually delivered to your intended beneficiaries.

The most basic vehicle for estate planning is the will. Wills can be made fairly quickly and easily and offer a great level of flexibility in disposing of your assets. A will allows you to designate who will be the recipient of property, designate guardians for any minor children, provide donations to charity, and more. You can change a will up until your death, so even if you are uncertain of how you will feel in the future, getting a will sooner rather than later is advantageous. Wills are relatively inexpensive and have few formal requirements, making them a useful, basic tool for estate planning.

Estate planning also commonly makes use of trusts, which transfer property to a trustee you have designated to manage and distribute the assets of the trust according to your wishes. While you can set up trusts during your lifetime, testamentary trusts — those created by will, which are different from ‘inter vivos’ wills set up during your lifetime — help you make sure that your desired asset management strategy is followed even after your passing.

You can set up your trust in many ways in order to provide for your loved ones, a charity, or some other type of organization. A trust may be set up to be primarily an investment tool, with very few distributions, or it may be set up to allow for regular distributions to the beneficiaries you designate. A trust allows you to pass on assets with the peace of mind that all of the assets will be responsibly managed in your absence, even when giving assets to inexperienced investors. In this way, trusts can be useful as gifts that stand the test of time.

While there are other tools and strategies to consider in estate planning, wills and trusts are basic ways to help you achieve the primary goals of estate planning: ensuring your assets are distributed as you desire and avoiding unnecessary taxes, fees, or losses.

SOURCES:
http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/the-basics-of-estate-planning-1.aspx

Protecting Assets from Long Term Care Expenses

Many elders are faced with the possibility of requiring long-term care in a nursing facility toward the end of their lives. Many are also under the false belief that Medicaid pays for most of this care. The fact is that the government setup Medicaid as a form of “last resort” payment for such services, and Medicaid funds are withheld from those that still have the assets to afford care. Keeping some simple laws in mind will help elders to plan for their care expenses without having to sell everything to afford care.

Why Last Minute Transfers Don’t Help

The government quickly got wise to the fact that families would rapidly sell off assets just a few years before the elder would require care. They could see it coming, and they were planning ahead to get Medicaid coverage. Unfortunately, they were not planning ahead far enough. The giving away of many major assets less than five years before the time an elder applies for Medicaid will trigger an automatic ineligibility period on the assumption that those assets could have been used to pay for care.

Exemptions

The government does not expect every ounce of property to be used for a person’s care. This means that many assets are exempt and do not count when determining Medicaid eligibility. Common examples include a home, car, personal affects and income-inducing or business related properties such as offices.

The Home

The elder’s primary home is considered exempt so long as the applicant or their spouse still lives in it, but there are a variety of special rules to keeping it exempt or transferring it without penalty.

Normally, the primary residence is exempt so long as the spouse is living in it, but certain high value properties are not exempt. If the equity value of the home is more than $500,000 then the home is no longer exempt. This can be a major issue for a high-value property. Some states have a higher value of $750,000.

Transferring the property can work in some cases without penalty so long as the property is transferred to a child who is under 21, a blind or disabled child, or a son or daughter that has been residing in the home for more than two years before the date of application.

Spousal Transfers

Many elders try to transfer assets to a spouse, but this does not work because the assets of both individuals are used to determine eligibility.

Transfers to Children

Exemptions for transferring assets to a child is only effective if the child is blind or disabled, so transferring to an otherwise healthy child will not protect the asset.

Undue Hardship

If an elder’s application is denied or triggers an ineligibility period, then there is the option for undue hardship. The applicant must prove that they cannot get care without Medicaid and that without that care they will die.

The Bottom Line

The best way to protect assets from Medicaid liquidation requirements is to sell them early. Any assets given away or sold more than five years before the application date will not trigger the penalty. Keep exempt assets and transfer everything else to someone other than the spouse before the five year mark.

Sources:
http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/how-can-i-safely-transfer-my-assets-get-medicaid-pay-long-term-care.html
http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/medicaid-nursing-homes

Need-To-Know Estate-Tax Modifications of 2013

On January 1, 2013, Congress saved large portions of the Estate and Gift Tax. If Congress had not acted, the $5,125,000 exemption would have been reduced to $1 million, opening up many families of decedents to additional taxes. Furthermore, the tax rate was capped at 40% for 2013. Had the January 1, 2013 legislation failed, the rate would have been 55%. In 2013, it is estimated that less than 1% of all estates will owe any federal estate tax.

Exclusions

The legislation passed on January 1, 2013 provides that the exclusion of $5,000,000, plus annual adjustments for inflation, shall remain in effect. The exclusion for estates of decedent’s dying in 2013 is $5,250,000. The exclusion has increased $130,000 since 2012.

The annual exclusion for gifts is $14,000 per donee, meaning a taxpayer can give up to $14,000 to an individual per year without using any of their estate exclusion amount. This amount is in an increase of $1,000 from 2012.

The generation skipping tax exclusion (gifts to grandchildren and lower lineal descendants) was mirrored with the estate tax exclusion of $5,250,000.

Portability of Spouse’s Unused Estate Tax Exclusion

Though not a new provision, the —Portability of Deceased Spousal Unused Exclusion (DSUE) was made permanent on January 1, 2013. This feature is an important estate tax provision for married individuals. It was added to Form 706 United States Estate Tax Return for 2013.

In the past, when one spouse would die, the decedent’s estate could be passed tax free to the surviving spouse. However, when the second spouse passed, the second spouse could not use the prior spouse’s estate tax exclusion. To utilize the prior spouse’s estate tax exclusion, elaborate “by-pass” trusts were created. These trusts are no longer needed.

Now, when the second spouse dies, the estate can utilize the unused portion of the first spouse’s exclusion. There is a catch, however. Now, an estate tax return, Form 706, must be timely filed, whether or not any tax is due, in what is normally called an informational return.

Estate tax returns are due within 9 months of the date of decedent’s death. A timely extension, if filed, is permissible to gain an extra 6 months to file the return. After that time, the surviving spouse may waive the right to use the former spouse’s unused estate lifetime exclusion.

In other matters, a Schedule PC Protective Claim for Refund has been created for the Estate Tax Return. This schedule is used to put the IRS on notice that any estate tax paid during a dispute or controversy does not waive a right to a refund should the taxpayer win the dispute.

Sources:
http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Whats-New-Estate-and-Gift-Tax
http://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/x/215816/inheritance+tax/Significant+Estate+Planning+Developments+in+2013
http://www.irs.gov/irb/2011-42_IRB/ar10.html
http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i706.pdf

Legal Ways to Escape Estate Taxes

Even though the federal government increased the estate tax exemption slightly for 2013, estate taxes can still take hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in value out of a high-value estate. The current federal exemption for 2013 is $5,340,000. This means that all estates valued below this amount are exempt from any tax. If there is an estate valued above this amount, then there are certain legal ways to lower or reduce the amount of tax owed.

Maximize the Marital Deductions

Estate tax exemptions are calculated individually, this means that for a married couple, each person has an exemption tied to their name. Often, this double exemption is never applied, because when one of the married individuals dies, the estate assets pass automatically to the spouse and are never taxed, but then they are taxed when the surviving spouse dies using only that person’s exemption. This was slightly corrected in 2011 when congress declared that unused exemptions can be passed to the surviving spouse, but the strategy for avoiding the tax may still apply.

Use a credit shelter trust. This form of trust transfers any number of assets, usually up to the value of the exemption, into a credit trust fund. This means that the assets become liability on a credit amount that the trust beneficiary can receive periodic cash payments from. The beneficiary can also request a principle payment. The assets are later liquidated to pay off the credit. The trick is that trust assets are not included as part of the estate for tax purposes, so they can effectively lower the value of the estate without the selling of any assets that would trigger capital gains tax and will preserve the estate’s value for other inheritors.

Sell Off Assets

While it may seem obvious, one of the best ways to avoid estate taxes is to lower the value of the estate by selling assets before the tax is due. Non-taxable gifts can be made to any individual up to $13,000 per individual per year. This can really add up when the funds are dispersed to children and grandchildren. With a little early planning, this is an effective way to disburse estate funds to those who will end up as beneficiaries of the estate anyway.

Any assets that can be liquidated can also be placed into other types of non-taxable trust funds, and there are a variety of them that can be explored. It is important to consider liquidating all possible assets because estate taxes must be paid in cash, so this usually means the estate assets must be liquidated anyway if taxes are due.

An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust

This is a special type of life insurance that has a disbursement amount not included in the estate. With this type of life insurance, a trustee is the actual buyer of the policy, so it is not owned by the estate owner and is not included in their estate.

Following these tips can lead to a great amount of savings on estate taxes. A complicated estate situation should probably be overseen by a professional to help maximize tax savings.

Sources:
https://www.estateplanning.com/Understanding-Estate-Taxes/
http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Estate-Tax
http://www.elderlawanswers.com/credit-shelter-trusts-12254

In What Scenarios Should I Set Up A Pooled Income Trust?

In caring for elderly loves ones, complex emotions, logistics, and financial details must be considered. When making the best choice for an aging parent who is disabled or has special needs, greater research and a higher complexity of decision-making is required. Setting up a Pooled Trust may be a beneficial option; below are a few scenarios that may offer some insight as to why.

What Is a Pooled Trust?

Pooled Trusts are often referred to as “Community” or “Master” Trusts. A disabled person over 65 whose monthly income is excessive (according to Medicaid guidelines) is not eligible for benefits. If those assets are placed, monthly, into an Individual or Pooled Trust, the elderly’s basic living expenses (such as rent and utility bills) are paid by the trust, the individual now becomes covered by Medicaid, which, in turn, covers the medical bills for home care.

Avoiding a Nursing Home

If the family’s choice is to care for the special needs parent at home, this may be impossible to afford if the monthly income is middle or even slightly above-low. Medicaid qualifiers must show an extremely low income, and without the family actually bankrupting itself, the elderly will not qualify. A Pooled Trust can be beneficial for families who are financially not under the rock, but between a rock and a hard place.

Inability to Set up Other Trusts

Setting up an Individual or a Third Party Trust requires attorneys, financial planning experts, and capital. Many families do not have this ability. Pooled trusts are managed by nonprofit organizations that provide those specialists and resources. According to the American Bar Association, “Because assets are pooled together, the trust is able to maximize the return on investment and at the same time reduce the cost of administration and management.”

Trustee Challenges

With Individual and Third-Party Trusts, trustees must comply with fiduciary duties as outlined in the trust; however, on occasion trustees have been known to misallocate funds. Additionally, with a special needs parent, the responsibility is tremendous. Besides financial compliance, the trustee needs to keep abreast of ever-changing legislation and programs available to that population. The nonprofit organization that is chosen to oversee the Pooled Trust will advocate on behalf of the disabled, giving the family one less task in care-taking.

Pooled Trusts are a terrific alternative but may not be advantageous or even available for every family. Consulting with special needs attorneys, financial planners, and nonprofit organizations can offer specific details that can assist in making the best choice for elderly loved ones.

Source:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/05/business/businessspecial5/05TRUST.html?_r=0
http://www.americanbar.org/publications/bifocal/vol_34/issue_5_june2013/pooled_trusts.html

6 Tips for Minimizing Real Estate Taxes

Home ownership, while an ingrained part of the American Dream, has its downsides. Apart from maintenance and the inevitable surprise repair, such as a broken sump pump during a downpour, homeowners are also responsible for paying taxes on their property. While taxes are a certainty, there are ways to minimize the impact property taxes can have on your wallet.

1. All homeowners have the right to go to their city or county tax office and request a copy of their property tax card. Some entities provide this information online. This card provides homeowners with all the pertinent information regarding the property and structures or improvements on it. As you review the card, be sure to note any discrepancies between the card and your home.

2. Before you add improvements to your home, contact the tax department. They can provide you with a rough estimate of how the improvement will affect your property value. The building department can provide the same information when you apply for building permits.

3. Most tax assessors do a drive by when assessing your property, which gives the assessment a certain amount of bias. If your home has immaculate landscaping compared to the minimally landscaped but otherwise identical house two doors down, your home could be valued higher than your neighbor. Be sure to beautify after the assessor visits.

4. While you are researching your own home, be sure to look at the property values in your area, particularly those with similar structures. When comparing property values, you need to do an apple to apples comparison. If your property is valued higher than a neighbor’s, it might be wise to ask for a new assessment.

5. After research, if you believe your property taxes are too high, you should request a reassessment. Use the records you culled from the property tax office regarding similar properties. Most tax offices are willing to hear your appeal and in many cases will reduce your property tax burden. Check with your local tax office or their website to find the paperwork to appeal an assessment.

6. Many taxing authorities will do both a drive by and an onsite inspection of your property. Walk through your home with the assessor and point out the good and the bad about your property. Allowing the assessor to walk through prevents them from making assumptions and gives you the best chance of getting a fair assessment of your property.

Real estate taxes are a fact of life, but high taxes don’t have to be. By taking a few simple steps, you can ensure you are paying your taxes without stripping your budget.

Sources:
http://www.cnbc.com/id/101106191
http://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/07/property_tax_tips.asp
http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2007-11-04/how-to-reduce-your-property-taxes

Guide to Contesting a Will

Contesting a will can be extremely difficult and time-consuming. The person who is contesting the will must have a valid reason to contest. The will cannot be contested because the interested party believes the will to be unfair. There are laws that guide proving whether a will is invalid.

There are four basic legal reasons for contesting a will. The applicable laws can vary slightly from state to state, but the basic principles hold true for each.

Fraud

The person who signed the will was tricked into signing. This can often happen when the elderly or sick don’t understand the documents put in front of them. The person receiving the bulk of the estate is often thought to be the party involved with the fraud.

The interested party who contests the will has to prove there was fraud. The burden of proof lies with the interested party. In a case involving fraud, it must be proven that the signer didn’t know what was being signed. It will involve calling witnesses who can testify to fraud.

Undue Influence

At the end of a person’s life, they may be influenced to change their will through coercion or force. A caretaker may threaten or cajole the person to sign a new will where they are given the bulk of the inheritance.

The interested party would have to prove a claim of undue influence based on previous wills and witness testimony. Unfortunately, the person is deceased and can’t answer questions about the influence to sign a new will.

Mental Incompetence

A will can be contested if the person had a mental deficiency at the end of their life when they drafted a new will. The mentally incompetent person might not have understood what he or she was doing when creating a new will.

The interested party would need medical records to prove mental incompetence. Witnesses can be called to speak to the person’s mental capacity and behavior.

Execution

In almost every state, the witnesses and signer have to be in the same room at the same time. The witnesses have to see the will being signed and understand what they are witnessing.

An unfair will isn’t necessarily a will that can be contested unless there is legal reason to claim the will is invalid. These four listed criteria are the only reasons for which the will can be contested. An interested party must make a claim against the will as soon as possible to start an investigation.

Sources:
http://money.cnn.com/2000/05/01/senior_living/q_retire_wills/
http://wills.about.com/od/fiveessentialdocuments/tp/howtocontestawill.htm

Government Programs That Can Help You Plan For Special Needs Care

Caring for a person with special needs is never an easy task. It takes a great deal of time, effort, love and at times, assistance, to properly meet the needs of one with a disability. Fortunately, there are government programs available to help assist the caregiver or family of a special needs individual.

IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the largest educational assistance program for special needs children. It is sponsored by the US Department of Education and is implemented in all states. Schools receive additional funding from the Department of Education to defray the costs of this program.

If a child is a special needs child, the school must develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the child. The program must be truly unique for the particular special needs of the child and must consider the input of the parents, medical providers, social workers and therapists. Depending on the child, program may consist of tutoring, individual therapy, mainstreaming of children with social disorders, etc. Schools receiving federal funding must comply with the provisions of IDEA. Parents have the right to appeal a decision with which they do not agree.

Social Security Child Benefits

Some special needs children are entitled to benefits in a few circumstances. First, if the child is the child of a deceased or disabled parent and is a disabled child, benefits are payable. In addition, if the child is disabled and the parents have little resources, the child may be entitled to Supplementary Security Income Benefits.

In both cases, the child must have a disability that demonstrates “marked and severe functional limitations”. The limitations must limit the child’s activities to an extent that would prevent an adult from working. Parents of a disabled child can apply for Social Security and SSI benefits in a local Social Security Office, by phone or online at SSA.gov. Like other disability programs, child’s benefits may be appealed if the decision is unfavorable.

OSERS Grants

The Department of Education provides discretionary grants to states for special education and rehabilitation services. Vocational Rehabilitation Grants are offered to help people with special needs prepare for gainful employment, based on their skills and limitations. These grants are intended to meet the needs of the most severely disabled first.
The grants are administered through an applicable state agency.

EFMP for Military Families

The Department of Defense offers special programs for military families with a special needs child. The Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), offers medical treatment, counseling, early intervention, and individualized family service plans. It also provides family outreach centers for further assistance to family caregivers. To enroll in the program, members of military families are encouraged to complete a Family Member Medical Summary (DD Form 2792) and a Special Education/Early Intervention Summary (DD Form 2792-1). Both may be obtained from the Department of Defense at Militaryonesource.gov.

Source:
http://www2.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html
http://www.ssa.gov/online/ssa-4.html
http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10085.pdf
http://www2.ed.gov/programs/rsabvrs/index.html
http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/programs.html
http://www.militaryonesource.mil/efmp/overview?content_id=269174

5 Simple Ways to Avoid Probate

Probate fees can be excessive depending on the state in which you live. States may require that individuals pay 5-15% of their total estate for probate fees. Because of the high costs that can be attached to fees, it is to your advantage to avoid probate.

1. Create a revocable trust.

A revocable trust is an instrument that you can use to directly bypass the probate procedure. In some states, you may even be able to serve as the grantor and trustee of the trust. This means that you would be able to determine how to distribute your assets and also administer the trust throughout your lifetime. With a revocable trust, you can also elect to make discretionary distributions of income to beneficiaries throughout your lifetime. An estate planning lawyer can help you in the process of distributing assets so that you minimize tax implications for your estate.

2. Create gifts of your assets throughout your life.

Creating a gift of your assets is also another easy way to forego the probate process. If you decide to make a gift to charity, then this could be one way that you minimize taxes for your estate. A charitable gift deduction enables you to write-off the gifts that you make to charities. You may also choose to make a gift to a beneficiary through a retirement plan or IRA. This will also enable you to transfer gifts to beneficiaries without the hassle of probate.

3. Title your assets in a wise manner to avoid probate.

You may want to be conscious of certain protections that may exist in your state. For example, Florida has a homestead exemption that enables a spouse to claim a life estate in a home that was used as a primary residence of the spouses throughout their lives. Otherwise, spouses may hold property under a tenancy by the entirety arrangement. This type of arrangement also ensures that a spouse has a full right of survivorship in a piece of property upon the other spouse’s death.

4. Ensure that you have designated beneficiaries for life insurance policies.

Some individuals make the mistake of failing or forgetting to name beneficiaries on a life insurance policy. If you forget to name a beneficiary on a life insurance policy, then creditors may be able to attach the proceeds of the plan. Ensuring that there is a named beneficiary on your plan will help keep proceeds within the estate.

5. Prepare the division of your assets ahead of time.

Taking some time to seriously consider the distribution of your assets ahead of time pays off in the long run. By preparing a trust or pour-over will document, you can avoid probate and maximize the value of your estate.

Sources:
http://money.msn.com/retirement-plan/how-to-die-the-right-way-kiplingers-personal-finance-magazine?page=2
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/money101/lesson21/
http://www.fool.com/personal-finance/taxes/the-truth-about-living-trusts.aspx

Estate Planning Tips for Multi-State Ownership

If you have purchased property within a state other than your residence at some point, you may wonder what the implications of that purchase are on your estate. Perhaps you have purchased property in California and now have moved to Florida. California is a community property state, while Florida does not follow community property laws. If you are dealing with differing property laws in jurisdictions, then it is in your best interest to fully understand the laws concerning your situation. An estate planning lawyer can help you create an estate plan that will distribute your assets with the least risk possible.

1. Work with an estate planning lawyer as soon as possible.

An estate planning lawyer can help you draft a will or trust that will be in accordance with your intentions. An estate planning lawyer can ensure that a will or trust overrides any state intestacy laws that could have a harmful impact on the disposition of your estate at death. An estate planning lawyer will also be able to tell you whether the laws of a community-property state or other state will be the guiding force in making decisions for distributing assets within your estate.

2. Consider the tax implications of multi-state property ownership on your estate.

If you own property in more than one state, then you should also be aware of the ways in which state laws may impact the properties you own. State laws may have a very negative impact on your estate if you own property in more than one state. An estate planning lawyer can assist you in figuring out ways to decrease the tax burden for your estate. Avoiding multi-state death taxes can be much easier when you enlist the help of a legal professional for your estate planning needs.

3. Consider whether divorce may impact the distribution of your assets.

If you are going through a divorce or anticipate a divorce in your future, you may also want to speak with a lawyer for assistance. An estate planning lawyer can help you figure out ways to handle your assets so that a spouse does not retain ownership over certain property that you may have purchased with your own funds outside of the marriage. If you have purchased property in a state that recognizes community-property laws, then your spouse may be entitled to own at least half of that property upon the dissolution of a marriage. In addition, you should be aware that not all community property states have the same laws. Even community property laws can differ amongst jurisdictions, so it is important to speak with a lawyer who understands the differences amongst laws for community-property states.

Sources:
http://nhbar.org/publications/display-news-issue.asp?id=5936
http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/estate-planning-for-owning-real-estate-i-41129/

5 Questions to Ask When Selecting a Nursing Home

The decision to place a loved one into a nursing home can be a difficult one. However, doing good research and asking the right questions before choosing a nursing home for your loved one makes it easy to know that your family member is being taken care of.

What are some questions that you should ask prior to selecting a nursing home?

1) How Often Are Residents Taken Out of the Home?

It is important to know if the home has any organized activities or field trips that residents get to go on. Scheduling trips and other events for seniors gives them something to look forward to and improves their quality of life.

2) Will I Be Contacted About Any Medical Issues?

A good nursing home will always notify an emergency contact if a resident has a stroke, breaks a bone or develops an illness. Make sure that you will be notified if anything happens. If not, it could suggest that a particular home does not look out for the best interests of its patients or their families.

3) What Are the Qualifications of the Staff?

Staff members should be registered nurses at the very least. A trained doctor should also be on staff or nearby at all times. Having a qualified staff on hand makes it easier to deal with medical issues and improves communication between staff and family members of the residents.

4) How Often Are The Residents Checked?

If a resident needs medication or has a medical emergency, how fast will someone be there to provide it? Even if a resident doesn’t need anything, does a staff member do a routine check to ensure that everything is okay or to stop for a quick chat?

5) Is There an Active Community at the Home?

Is there a vibrant community at the nursing home that you are looking at? Although a vibrant community may simply mean the residents watch TV in a common room or get together to play chess, your loved one deserves to be in an environment where he or she can make friends and live a dignified life.

Putting someone in a nursing home doesn’t mean that they are being left to die. Instead, a nursing home should be a place where family members can be well cared for and interact with others their own age. This improves their quality of life while reducing a burden on yourself to provide care that you may not be able to give anymore.

The Probate Process from Start to Finish

Even when one’s will seems to be thoroughly outlined and legally sound, these situations can often become muddled and confusing within a short period of time. This could result in the probate process, which will change by state and sometimes even by county. Here is a closer look at exactly what probate is, how it is carried out, and what everyone should know about this often misunderstood situation.

The Basics of Probate

Probate is a legal process that is designed to carry out the final wishes of a deceased party. In some situations, this requires nothing more than an executor and legally-backed will but that is not always the case. Probate is a series of steps in which an executor proves that the will is valid to the court and then carries out all legal matters regarding the deceased party’s assets. In many situations, this will require everything from the repeated filing of paperwork to multiple courtroom appearances.

The UPC

Quite a few states have currently adopted the UPC, or Uniform Probate Code. This code is designed to make the process as uniform as possible between every single state. While both UPC states and non-UPC states do have a relatively similar process, minor variations may require the services of a local attorney that understands these nuances.

The Steps of Probate

The probate process begins with the executor filing the proper paperwork to prove that the will is in fact legal and valid, generally nothing more than a matter of routine. Once approved, the executor will then begin to categorize all assets left behind. This may include everything from liquid assets and bank account funds to life insurance policies and physical property. Depending on the size of the estate and the county in which the probate is being filed, a bond may need to be posted by the executor to protect the estate from any lost funds.

After all assets have been appraised and categorized, outstanding debts and taxes will be the first thing that is paid. Any remaining assets will then be distributed to the heirs, after which the executor will file receipts and petition to be released from his or her duties.

All parties should understand that this process often requires the filing of dozens of forms ranging from executor petitions to a legally-binding ad in the newspaper announcing the probate. The easiest way to prevent any legal or financial issues throughout this process is to utilize the services of an attorney that understands all county and state laws regarding wills, estate planning, and probate.
Sources:
http://www.law.cornell.edu/uniform/probate
http://www.uniformlaws.org/shared/docs/
probate%20code/upc%202010.pdf

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/how-probate-process-works-information-32438.html

4 Ways Hiring A Real Estate Lawyer Will Save You Big Money

Whether you are seeking to buy a new home for investment purposes or wish to sell your home, hiring a real estate lawyer can help you save money. When you are dealing with real estate, there are many unforeseen issues that can arise and end up being extra costly to you. It is in your best interest to receive legal help to prepare for dealing with unforeseen issues. Here are some reasons why hiring a real estate lawyer will help you keep more money in your pocket in the long run.

1. A lawyer can research the quality of title for your potential investment property.

When you are purchasing a home for investment purposes, it is essential to know the quality of title behind your home. If there is an encumbrance on the title of your home, then you will not hold marketable title to the property. An encumbrance refers to a defect on the chain of title. An encumbrance may be a lien, zoning violation or unpaid taxes on the home. A lawyer can perform a thorough title search to ensure that none of these defects are on the title for the home that you wish to purchase.

2. A lawyer can negotiate lower home prices for defects in the home.

Real estate lawyers are experienced in negotiating with sellers. They know how to leverage your bargaining power in the negotiation process. A lawyer who is experienced in real estate transactions may be able to effectively negotiate a lower price for a home that contains defects, such as insect issues, old carpeting or bad piping.

3. A lawyer may detect hidden defects in the home that take away from its value.

Some defects are not obvious to the typical purchaser, such as zoning violations. A real estate lawyer is keen and will keep an eye out for any hidden defects on the property. He or she may even be able to perform a walk-through of the home to look for any hidden defects. Spotting these defects ahead of time will protect you from purchasing a home that could end up costing you more money than you wish to spend.

4. A lawyer can perform multiple professional services for your real estate transaction.

Your real estate lawyer may be able to do showings as well as draft all of the contracts required for your transaction. You can minimize costs for your real estate transaction by hiring a single lawyer to perform all of the required services.

When you hire a real estate lawyer, you can ensure that you will always have a professional to turn to for all of your real estate issues, questions and concerns. He or she may also have more knowledge than the typical real estate agent and can help leverage this knowledge to your advantage.

Sources:
http://realestate.aol.com/blog/2010/08/10/sell-your-house-without-a-realtor/
http://realestate.msn.com/6-tips-for-a-painless-closing