5 Reasons You Need a Trust

Trusts are a very valuable planning tool. When people think about estate planning, most people think about wills. While wills are the most basic/common tool for estate planning, trusts are an incredibly effective way to plan for things that wills can’t address. Trusts can be used to:

  1. Organize your assets so it’s easier on your family later. (Read about two types of asset organization mistakes here.)
  2. Set out instructions for when you’re not able to make your own decisions — either upon disability (like a stroke) or death.
  3. Keep things private. (All wills are public record.)
  4. Protect assets from creditors, divorces, kids who don’t know how to manage money and even future lawsuits you can’t anticipate (like car accidents).
  5. Reallocate assets to maximize long-term care benefits such as Medicaid or VA benefits.

If you’re ready to get started protecting what you’ve worked so hard for, call us at 217-726-9200 to schedule an initial appointment with one of our attorneys. If you want to learn more without any obligation, our free 1-hour workshop, “Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started” is a great way to learn about the basics of wills and trusts while finding out why our approach is so unique and effective. After attending the workshop, if you decide to work with us, you’ll receive $200 off your Initial Meeting fee.

estate planning quiz

Estate Planning Quiz: 8 Questions to Help You Know Where You Stand

The following quiz helps you identify weak spots in your estate planning. For many people an estate plan just means a will, but oftentimes that is not enough to accomplish the goals you have or to protect your loved ones. Honestly answering these 8 questions will help you know if your plan needs more work.

  1. How old is your will? (Changing life circumstances, such as marriages, divorces, etc. can impact old wills.)
  2. Who would manage your finances if you had a stroke?
  3. Is your legal and financial information organized and easy to find?
  4. Do you know whether your estate would avoid probate court? (A time-consuming and expensive process.)
  5. Do you know whether you will owe estate taxes?
  6. If you have an IRA or Annuity, do you know when (or if) your family will have to pay taxes on it?
  7. If something happened to you tomorrow, would your family know what to do?
  8. Are your loved ones (kids, grandkids, etc.) as good with money as you are?

If you don’t know the answers to some of these questions, it’s time to learn more about effective estate planning.

Here are some next action steps to take:

  • Explore our website. Our website is here to be an educational resource to anyone who wants to learn more about effective estate planning. We are passionate about helping people plan because we see the good that can come of it when it’s done properly, and, unfortunately, we see everyday the heartbreak that ineffective (or no) planning can cause.
  • Sign up for our e-newsletter. Our bi-weekly newsletter aims to help people learn more about planning and learn more about Edwards Group. Through this weekly email we share insights and stories about proper planning and why it’s so important. We also know that trust is vital in forming a strong relationship with our clients, so we help people get to know us by sharing things like vacation pics from David‘s latest family trip.
  • Attend a free workshop. Education is a core foundation of Edwards Group, so in addition to our website and e-newsletter, attending one of our free workshops is another great way to learn more about effective planning. This value is so important to us, that you will receive $200 off your Initial Meeting fee just for attending our introductory workshop on estate planning — Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started.
  • Get started today. If you’re ready to jump right in and get started, all you have to do is call us and schedule an Initial Meeting with an attorney. At the Initial Meeting, we will review your concerns and goals, then the attorney will help you understand the unique risks facing your family. Call 217-726-9200 and one of our team members will happy to help you get started.
  • Hope things will just work out. This is, frankly, the easiest thing to do, and sadly, the worst thing you can do for your family. Estate plans aren’t really about you and what happens when you die. They are about what type of life your family will have after you’re gone. Procrastination is the greatest threat to protecting your family. We have designed our process to make it as easy as possible for people to take the next step, but we can’t pick up the phone for you… If the unthinkable happens, will your lack of planning make things harder on your family?

As always, we’re just a phone call away. If you’re unsure of what your next step should be, or even if you need a next step, we’d be happy to chat with you on the phone. We are passionate about helping families just like yours, and it is all we do everyday.

“You’re NOT the boss of me!!”

We all have control issues. When my son was 2-years-old we experienced our share of yelling, “NO!!” and throwing full tantrums on the floor. Toddlers are just beginning to understand how they can exert control on the world around them, which makes for an interesting family life for a while. But if you think about it, we all like to be in control – AT ANY AGE. And when someone tries to tell us what to do or tries to take away our freedom, many of us still pitch fits. (Even if we no longer throw ourselves to the ground!)

The same is true for seniors who have spent decades making their own decisions and living their own life, then suddenly loss of control seems to be everywhere – loss of health, loss of strength, loss of peers, loss of home, loss of self. The constant feeling of loss can really take its toll.

STAY IN CONTROL

One of the biggest concerns we hear about from clients is staying in control. Not coincidentally, staying in control is one of the main goals we strive for when designing an estate plan. I know you want to stay in control, so our first planning steps are aimed at keeping you in control. Tools like Powers of Attorney, Wills, Revocable Living Trusts – they all help keep you in control. Using tools like these will help you get to spend the money, invest the money, give away the money, donate the money or whatever you want to do with the money – just like you did before your estate plan. Many times, these tools can actually help you stay in control LONGER than you would without them.

4 Things to Remember About Control
  1. You can do a lot of good planning without giving up ANY control now.
  2. Even when you have to give up some control, it may be less than you think.
  3. Depending on your goals, you may have to give up a little control. Are you willing to give up some control if that’s what it takes to meet your goals?
  4. Control issues don’t stop at your death. Instead, it becomes which of your kids are in control. Your planning (or lack of planning) will either add to or lessen the potential conflict once you’re gone.

By “staying in control” and not doing any planning, you may actually be undermining your desire to stay in control. Our unique process thoroughly examines all the unique aspects of your situation to determine what steps will best protect you, your family and everything you’ve worked so hard for.

To learn more about how to get started planning, and how our process works, we encourage you to check out our introductory workshop, “Wills & Trusts: How to Get Started.” Upcoming dates are in the upper right of the sidebar or here.

life care planning

8 Keys to Effective Long-Term Care Planning

Long-term Care Planning is one of the biggest issues facing aging adults today. With experts projecting that nearly 70% of all individuals needing long-term care at some point in their life, the issue cannot be ignored. And yet, many surveys and statistics are showing that people are doing just that. Without proper planning, the need for long-term care can be the single greatest crisis that an aging person will face in their lifetime. (Source: National Care Planning Council)

Keys to Effective Long-term Care Planning

  1. Plan Ahead. The longer you wait to plan, the less options will be available. Financial options such as long-term care insurance may become unavailable or too expensive. Legal options such as irrevocable trusts or gifting strategies will not be as effective if they are implemented later in life. The earlier you plan, the better.
  2. Maximize Your Benefits. Get legal advice to maximize available benefits such as Veterans benefits or Medicaid. Many families are unaware of the possible benefits they could legally receive.
  3. Veterans, Don’t Miss Out. Many Veterans miss out on VA benefits they qualify for and earned through their service to our country. Widows may qualify for benefits as well. So, even if the Veteran is deceased, his widow should get advice from an expert on possible Veterans benefits available to her. (Check out our VA case study here.)
  4. It’s Never Too Late to Plan. Even if someone is already in a nursing home, there still may be legal strategies to maximize benefits.
  5. Don’t Rely on “Free” Advice. Some families are told informally by their nursing facility or social worker to just spend down all the assets before seeking other benefits. By seeking the advice of an expert who works with these issues everyday, families may discover other planning options.
  6. Long-term Care Insurance Gives You the Best (and most) Options. If you qualify, and can afford, long-term care insurance, then that is often the best strategy. Long-term care insurance gives the most options for protecting assets, staying at home, and having more free choice as to which facility you can enter when the time comes.
  7. Beware of Jointly Owned Property. If you own property jointly with others (siblings, parents, friends) then their lack of long-term planning could impact you. If they need care, the property may end up with a lien and then you may be forced to pay off the lien or sell the property.
  8. Watch Out for Gifting Without a Master Plan. Suppose someone is unconcerned about long-term care, but decides to give away large gifts to their children. Later, if care is needed, those gifts may cause a problem when applying for Medicaid benefits.

Are you putting off long-term care planning? If so, you’re putting yourself and your family at great risk of financial and emotional hardship. If you’d like our help or advice in creating a long-term care plan, there are several options:

  1. RSVP for one of our free workshops. Our workshop, “How to Protect Your House and Life Savings from the Nursing Home” is particularly helpful when it comes to learning about long-term care planning options.
  2. Give us a call at 217-726-9200! If you already have a loved one in a nursing home, we can help you identify areas in which you may be missing benefits that can help ease the burden of paying for a nursing home.

Who do you call for advice on aging?

When your family hits a situation where mom, dad, grandma or grandpa can’t stay at home anymore, where do you get your advice? What if a loved one is struggling with health issues that you don’t really understand?

Many people turn to friends, neighbors or relatives who’ve dealt with it once before. Support from friends is always needed in difficult situations like this, but you may also greatly benefit from professional advice and guidance from those who understand the ins and outs of what you’re dealing with.

Edwards Group deals with the issues of aging every day, and we help guide people through the difficult process. There are many issues to consider – what type of care, which facility, how to pay for it, which legal documents you need, asset transfers, how to protect the healthy spouse still at home, and dealing with complicated benefit applications. Our elder care advisors are equipped and experienced in helping families through just about any issue they face.

There are two types of benefits in particular that can be helpful in paying for care that may be needed as a loved one ages:

1. VETERANS BENEFITS

Wartime veterans or their widows may qualify for benefits from the VA to help pay for care as they age. This benefit may be available to pay for in-home care, assisted living, or a nursing home.

In order to qualify for the maximum benefit, legal planning may be needed. We work with families regularly to help prepare them to qualify for the maximum benefit. A married veteran may qualify for over $2,000 per month in benefits. A widow of a veteran may qualify for over $1,100 per month in benefits.

Please CLICK to review this case study about how we helped one local family.

The VA process can be complicated. Let us help your family understand the potential benefits and what planning may be needed before your application is filed.

2. MEDICAID BENEFITS

When a loved one needs nursing home care, that is one of the most stressful things a family faces. We help families every day deal with this difficult issue.

One of the biggest concerns is often “how do we pay for it?” Nursing homes are expensive, often $5,000 per month or more. For many families, that cost will eat up their savings within a short time. Medicaid benefits are one option that can be used to pay for care and protect some of your wealth. (70% of nursing home residents in the U. S. rely on Medicaid to pay their bill each month.)

If your family is faced with nursing home care and are paying out of pocket, we may be able to help. We have many legal planning tools available to maximize benefits and protect the family’s wealth, while still getting good care for the loved one. Some families are surprised that we may be able to get a loved one to qualify for Medicaid benefits sooner than expected while protecting assets in the process. (While you can apply for Medicaid benefits on your own, we don’t recommend it. Here’s why.)

CLICK HERE FOR CASE STUDY

HOW WE HELP FAMILIES FACING LONG-TERM CARE QUESTIONS

  1. We want to get families all the benefits they are entitled to. More benefits leads to more resources, and that means better care for your parent or loved one.
  2. Most parents want to leave something to their kids and grandkids. Our planning helps make sure that those who matter most to you will be taken care of when you’re gone.
  3. No parent ever dreams of using up all their savings on a nursing home stay, but it happens fast. We have legal tools and resources to help preserve assets and find other ways to fund long-term care.
  4. Parents never want to be a burden to their children. Good planning relieves your children of the stress that comes from scrambling to figure out how to pay for care you might need and the huge amount of paperwork that comes with that crisis.
  5. Planning like this isn’t greedy. It’s wise — kind of like minimizing income taxes every year through the use of an accountant. You’ve worked hard all your life. Why not protect as much as the law allows?

Chances for good planning disappear with time. The sooner you contact us, the more we can do to help. As elder law attorneys, our main goals are to:

  • Help carry out the wishes of the client.
  • Help clients access all available resources.

If you have a loved one facing changes in their living arrangements, please contact us to discuss your options. Our staff is specially trained in Medicaid and VA Benefits, both of which are important when it comes to long-term care planning.

New Medicaid laws coming: Joshua Becker quoted in State-Journal Register today

On the front page of the Springfield State-Journal Register this morning, there is an article about the new Medicaid law changes and how they will impact families.  Joshua was quoted several times in the article and a big illustration summary of the law, states at the bottom “Source:  Joshua Becker of Edwards Group LLC”.  The reporter, Dean Olsen, came out to our office earlier this week to talk to him about the new law.

Click here to read the SJ-R article quoting Joshua Becker.

Getting Old Ain’t for Sissies: 10 Things to Consider As You Get Older

Here are some things to consider for yourself as you look at getting older. They are in no particular order, just my random thoughts from years of working with families facing these situations.

1. Are you having discussions about how you want to be cared for as you get older? Talk about it. Better yet, put your wishes down in legal documents so people are clear what you want.

2. Is your family prepared to handle things without your help, whether financially or otherwise? If not, you better make doubly sure things are set up right, so they get the assistance they need.

3. Have you lined up the financial resources needed if you became disabled? Such as disability insurance (at work or individual), long term care insurance, emergency fund savings. Do you have too much debt? Do you really want to be retired or facing a disability with credit card debt or a mortgage that’s not paid off?

4. Who is going to help you with healthcare decisions? Who will encourage you to go to the doctor? Who will go to the appointments with you to make sure you stay as healthy as you can for as long as you can?

5. Are you spending too much? How does your income, savings, and spending line up if you look out a few years? Have you calculated how your savings will grow or shrink based on your current spending level? or do you need to have a professional help you do that?

6. Are you spending too little? You have worked hard and saved your money. It’s OK to spend some and enjoy yourself by traveling or other things you enjoy. Or, if you truly have more income than you need and can spend, consider using those funds to increase what you leave at death. For instance, if you have IRA distributions you have to take (after age 70.5), use those distributions to pay life insurance premiums. Then leave the life insurance to your loved ones or a charity you believe in. When we run statistical projections for clients considering life insurance, they almost always show that a person leaves more money at death by purchasing life insurance. If you really don’t need the money, parlay it into a bigger chunk with life insurance.

7. Never say never. Transitions and change are difficult. Are you laying down a gauntlet by saying “I never will…”? Instead, make a plan so you can enjoy the most freedom and as full a life as possible for as long as possible.

8. Are you willing to make a transition sooner than necessary so you can avoid losing control? By getting “greedy” and holding on too long, sometimes people can end up losing their independence more quickly. For example, a grandmother leaves the family home earlier than anyone thinks she needs to, and enters a retirement community, where she has less stress of home upkeep, and more social opportunity that keeps her young. Another grandmother waits too long, goes downhill at home by herself, gets hurt by falling, declines by not eating right. Then when she is later forced to move to another living arrangement, she can’t enjoy the people or activities there because of declining health. Remember, there are endless variations to the type of retirement community or assistance a person can choose. Make choices while you still have choices, instead of having those choices made for you in a crisis.

9. Make gifts while you are around to see someone enjoy them. Gifts to your church or charity. Gifts to family (especially of heirlooms where you can share the story behind them). If you can, give some money and things away while you are still healthy so you can see how they bring joy and benefit to those who received it. To learn more about charitable giving, click HERE.

10. The ultimate question. I personally can never think about getting older without thinking about the ultimate question – what is there beyond this life?  I believe that faith in Jesus Christ leads to eternal life.

The Nursing Home – 5 Ways to Pay For It

How will you (or your parents or grandparents) pay for a nursing home? People work hard their whole lives saving money, living frugally, hoping to pass something on to their kids and grandkids. Then reality sets in as age and health issues force that money to be used for healthcare instead.

Maybe you have wondered, “What are the options for my family to pay for nursing and long term care costs?”

There are 5 basic ways to handle it.

1. Stay at home without outside help. As long as one spouse is healthy, this works fine. But too often I see the caregiver spouse start having health issues, possibly brought on by the stress of 24-hour care for their loved one.

2. Move in with family and avoid the expense altogether. Just tell them to get your room ready, you’re on your way! This option works great for some families, but not so great for others. And it’s not just the younger generation that has the concerns. Often, my older clients say they don’t want to be a burden to their kids or put stress on them. Plus, there are some health concerns that are just beyond what a family can handle at home on their own.

3. Spend your life savings, either on nursing help at home or in a facility.

4. Let the government pay for it. Too many times, I have heard people say, “I’ll give all my stuff to my kids and let the government pay for my nursing home.” Unfortunately, there are some kinks in this plan.

If you give your money away, you really have to give it AWAY. This means your kids can waste it all, the money can be exposed if your child gets divorced, or can be at risk if they have financial problems such as getting sued, having a downturn in business or getting laid off.

You can’t just give all your money away and then apply for Medicaid to get the government to pay for your nursing care. If you give assets away, it may impact your application if you apply within 5 years after the gift (5 years according to federal law – Illinois is still at 3 year “look back” because they are late in complying with the federal requirement).

Even if you get on Medicaid, you have limited options. The government won’t pay for home care and only pays for the bare minimum of care in a nursing home that may not have been your first choice. I’m sure it’s no surprise that the nicest nursing homes don’t take government aid, they only take private payments.

5. Buy long term care insurance. If you need long term care, whose money would you rather spend? The insurance company’s or yours (which was intended to be your kid’s inheritance)? Plus, certain long term care policies allow you to use the funds to hire help at home, so you can avoid a nursing home altogether. In addition, many people are exploring hybrid long term care benefits, where they purchase an annuity or life insurance policy that can be accessed for nursing costs if necessary.

We can help you sort out these options.  The earlier you start planning the better. If you would like to start planning now for nursing home costs, our popular Long-Term Care Essentials Workshop is a great place to start. This free workshop will talk about planning for care, protecting your assets and myths about Medicaid qualification. Find out more about the workshop HERE.

However, it’s never too late to plan.  Even if you have a loved one in a nursing home using their savings to pay for it, call us at (217) 726-9200. There are legal and financial strategies that may be able to protect some of the funds for the family.

For more information about general planning, check out our article “Getting Old Ain’t For Sissies: 10 Things to Consider As You Get Older” HERE.