The St. Louis Rams & Beneficiary Designations

When the rules are in writing, you have to follow them. Unless you’re the NFL. 

I am a St. Louis Rams fan. Loyal from the time they arrived in St. Louis after failing to get a new stadium in Los Angeles. Like all Rams fans, I was really upset when they left St. Louis, even after witnessing a decade of historically bad football.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, the lease the Rams had allowed them to relocate to Los Angeles this past January. The Governor of Missouri appointed a task force to try and negotiate a new, long-term stadium deal to keep the Rams in St. Louis. The task force ultimately came up with an actionable proposal on a new riverfront stadium for the Rams.

But after the proposal was submitted, the NFL’s assigned committee recommended that teams in San Diego and Oakland (two cities that essentially had no stadium proposals) be allowed to move to L.A., instead of the Rams. Throughout the task force’s work, it appears the Rams’ ownership was uncooperative. They did not meet with the task force, talk to the media, or talk to the fans. All of this was in apparent disregard of the NFL’s relocation guidelines requiring good-faith negotiations and attempts to maximize fan support in their current home community.

In spite of all this, the league allowed the Rams to relocate to L.A.

It seems laughable to suggest that the NFL relocation guidelines were followed. An owner who refuses to take part in negotiations is not negotiating in good faith, and an owner who refuses to talk to fans or the media for four years after his intention to move has become public, is not operating in a manner that would maximize fan support.

As the Rams made the number one pick in the NFL draft this year, the fans in Los Angeles got to cheer on their new quarterback. I thought to myself: based on the NFL’s own guidelines, he should have been St. Louis’ new quarterback. I didn’t like seeing something end up in the wrong place because it seems unfair. 

Estate Planning Involves Written Rules That Have to be Followed

Unfortunately, we see unfair things all the time in our firm. In the estate-planning world, unlike the club of pro football owners, we can make written rules and trust that they will be followed. Unfortunately, too often people don’t pay close attention to the rules that are put in place through their own plans and beneficiary designations.

For example, in 1996, a man named Warren Hillman named his wife as beneficiary on his federal employee’s life insurance policy. They later divorced, and Mr. Hillman remarried four years later, but he never updated his beneficiary designation. When he died, his widow sought to claim the payout, but she was denied because she wasn’t the beneficiary. The dispute over that policy made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2013 the court ultimately granted the death benefits to the ex-wife because she was the listed beneficiary. (Read about more court cases involving problems with beneficiary designations on life insurance policies here.)

It’s pretty easy to picture an ex-wife enjoying money that a widow thought was rightfully hers; the same way I picture the fans in L.A. enjoying the sun and the Rams. Every day, we help clients coordinate their beneficiary designations with their estate plan to make sure everything ends up in the place you desire. After you’re gone, the best way to make sure your family knows your wishes is to leave them in writing. 

Be Sure to Update Your Beneficiary Designations in Writing

Your things (and your family) are far more important than a football team. Therefore, it is vitally important that you make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date and your estate plan is current.

Life is constantly changing, and when it does, your plan needs to be updated to reflect those changes. At Edwards Group, we have a special program that helps make sure your plan stays up to date. Read more about our Dynasty Program here.

If it’s been a while since you’ve updated your plan, give us a call at 217-726-9200 or plan to attend one of our upcoming workshops.

 

 

Introducing: Edwards Group LLC Youtube Channel

Scheduling an initial meeting or attending a workshop can be a great way to learn about the legal tools available to you. But with the hectic nature of everyday life, watching a YouTube video can be a quicker and more efficient way to access basic estate planning information. Edwards Group is launching a YouTube Channel to help you accomplish your estate planning goals, regardless of how busy your everyday life is. Please click on the topics below to learn more from the Edwards Group’s Youtube Channel:

What is a trust?

What types of trusts are available to me? 

How can I find and pay for a good nursing home?

What is an Elder Law Attorney?

 What can I expect during the estate planning process?

What is life-care planning?

Why You Need Long-term Care Planning

One of the most important things an estate planning/elder law attorney can help you accomplish is taking good care of your loved ones as they age. Good elder law attorneys will also help find ways to pay for care. David Edwards, Estate Planning Attorney at Edwards Group LLC, explains how long-term care planning can help you accomplish these goals in the video below:

Scheduling an appointment or attending a workshop will help you learn more about the legal tools available to you. Your initial meeting with Edwards Group will last about 45 minutes. During that time you’ll talk with David to decide if he can be of any help to you and your family. Please contact Tarina at Tarina@EdwardsGroupLL.com to schedule an appointment today.

(Video) What is an elder law attorney?

As people live longer and longer, it is more and more important to have an experienced elder law attorney on your side. If you have a loved one who is aging, or are concerned about the issues of aging for yourself or a spouse, please read on to find out what elder law attorneys do and how to choose a good one…

Elder law attorneys work with families to solve problems related to aging. They meet with, and help, clients reach goals related to finances and healthcare. They often collaborate with other professionals such as financial advisors, life insurance professionals and tax professionals to ensure an effective comprehensive plan for clients.

In addition to general estate planning, elder law attorneys should have expertise in helping plan for incapacity (due to things like a stroke) or long-term care needs. When it comes to long-term care planning, elder law attorneys coordinate private and public resources to ensure the client’s right to quality care.

Founding attorney, David Edwards, explains a little about elder law attorneys in the short video above.

How do you choose a good elder law attorney?

Because elder law is a specialized field, it is important to ask some specific questions of any elder law attorney you are considering working with. It is important that you feel you can trust the attorney and his/her staff, otherwise you may not end up with effective solutions for your goals.

5 Questions to Ask an Elder Law Attorney

  1. How many Medicaid applications have you processed? Was the firm able to protect assets in most of these cases? Have you ever been turned down for an application?
  2. Are you accredited with the VA? As with many government programs, there are fairly strict standards that protect citizens from those looking to take advantage of seniors or Veterans. In order to be involved with a VA application, an attorney must be accredited by the VA. Read more about aging VA benefits here.
  3. Have you done VA apps for in-home care, assisted living and nursing home care? Each one is slightly different. Experience matters when it comes to the type of app your family might need.
  4. Do you have staff solely focused on helping families with long-term care issues? Helping families apply for public programs to offset the skyrocketing costs of long-term care is a very involved process. It’s probably no surprise that the bureaucracy of the process can be overwhelming (and tricky) for those who are not experienced with it. Mistakes during the process are very costly – emotionally and financially.
  5. Does the firm have free information to help families get started? This is a big decision.  Like we said above, you must be sure you can trust the attorney you choose to work with. Taking advantage of free educational materials is a great way to get to know the attorney. It’s also important to get to know his staff along with the general feel and philosophy of the firm. Not every family is a good fit for every attorney. It is a very personal decision.

You can read more about choosing an elder law attorney at the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys’ website. Or, be sure to take a look at these additional articles on our website:

7 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help if Your Loved One is Already in a Nursing Facility

9 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help With In-home Care

I just ate a cheeseburger.

At this point in the year, many of us are abandoning our New Year’s resolutions, but there’s still hope…

by Chris Flynn, Attorney

Well, we’re a few months into 2016, which means we’re also past the point where many people have abandoned their New Year’s resolutions. (I’ve started eating cheeseburgers again despite the 15 or 25 pounds I’d planned to lose this year.)

Estate Plan Organization

A common resolution in the beginning of the year is to “get organized.” I have file cabinets at home that I’ve been mindlessly throwing documents into for years. I keep meaning to clean them out. I know they hold important papers, but can’t imagine trying to actually locate any one of them. With no immediate need to know where specific paperwork is, it’s always easy to put it off for another day instead of taking a couple hours to make sure the big things are in place.

And sadly, if I never do take care of those file cabinets? My family will be left to dig through the piles of junk I’ve gathered over the years trying to figure out what’s important and what’s been left for them.

Would it help your children to know where stuff it? To easily know what bank accounts, investment accounts and insurance policies you own? To get things handled quickly and privately and as automatically as possible when you die?

We can help with this! In just a few meetings, you can know what you have, where your accounts are, where your assets are going when you die, and have it all in one place so that you or your loved ones can access it whenever it’s neededBig Red Binder web version

When you set up a trust with Edwards Group LLC, you’ll leave with The Red Binder. In it, we’ll have all the documents needed to ensure easy administration of your accounts and assets during your disability or after your death.

The Red Binder

Some of the contents of The Red Binder include:

• A Trust, stating what happens with all of your assets upon your disability or death.

• A Will, ensuring that any “straggling” assets get handled in accordance with your trust.

• Powers of Attorney, ensuring that the right people (of your choosing) have the ability to help you when you need it.

• End-of-life and burial wishes, so your family knows what you want and can avoid disputing it later.

• A summary of your plan and a summary of your assets.

In our office, Senior Asset Coordinator Laura Peffley (pictured above with clients), is constantly helping clients get their assets consolidated into one trust. If you simply have an account statement or can print one, she can usually work with that. If you can’t find a deed to your house, she can help you track it down. And ultimately, we can map out a plan together to ensure all of your assets go where you want, when you want.

Procrastination is the Enemy of Estate Plans

Even if you’ve already abandoned some of your resolutions at this point in the year, we can still help you tackle this one today. Procrastination is the single greatest threat to an effective estate plan. Don’t put it off any longer. Planning protects those things most important to you, and we make it easy to take the first step with the following options:

  1. Attend a free workshop. Our monthly workshop, Aging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning & Peace of Mind, is a great way to get started with effective planning.
  2. Give us a call at 217-726-9200. Tarina, our Client Coordinator, loves helping people and answering their questions. In fact, she was a client before she ever started working at Edwards Group, so she has a unique perspective that many find helpful.
  3. Schedule an Initial Meeting. If you know you’re ready to get started and want to stop putting it off any longer, just give us a call to schedule a 45-minute meeting where an attorney will review your concerns and goals. The attorney will also help you understand the unique risks that your family faces. By the end of the meeting, you should understand your planning options, what they will cost and if Edwards Group is the right firm for you. Clients find this meeting to be very valuable in helping them understand their options.

Get back on board with getting organized by calling us at 217-726-9200 to RSVP for a workshop, ask questions or schedule an Initial Meeting.

myths about retirement

Contributing to an IRA After Retirement

One of our clients had a question a while back: Can a retired person keep contributing to an IRA? Take a moment and learn about the logistics of contributing to an IRA after retirement.

Can a retired person keep contributing to an IRA?

There are many types of Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), but they all exist to help you save for retirement. Once you’ve reached retirement though, can you keep contributing to your IRA?

Yes and no. If you are earning a salary based on work you are doing, then you can contribute to an IRA account. This is because you generated earned income. Earned income includes wages earned by working for yourself or wages earned by working for someone else. The IRS describes earned income as earnings from self-employment, wages, salaries, tips, union strike benefits, and long-term disability benefits that are received prior to retirement. The amount of earned income you create affects the maximum amount you can contribute to your IRA account. You cannot contribute more than your earned income if your earned income is less than your maximum contribution. The maximum you can contribute is $5,500 if you are under 50 and $6,500 if you are over 50.

Not everyone works for themselves or others to generate income. You may generate unearned income through interest, dividends, investment income, pensions, and social security. Unearned income may not contribute to an IRA account. While you may financially depend on unearned income, you cannot contribute to an IRA in a year when you have only that type of income.

There are exceptions to these rules. If you are married, you can take advantage of a Spousal IRA. This IRA account aims to help save for retirement by allowing a working spouse to contribute to a nonworking spouse’s IRA account. As long as the working spouse has a high enough earned income, he or she can contribute equal maximums into both IRA accounts.

All in all, working for wages allows you to generate earned income and contribute to an IRA account. If your income comes from alternative sources other than work, it generally cannot be used to contribute to an IRA account.

Read more about IRAs using these links:

6 IRA Planning Tips

7 IRA Planning Traps to Consider

Other IRA articles here…

lottery ticket

How NOT Winning the Lottery Makes Your Life Easier

Big changes in your life may require updates in your estate plan. What kind of big changes? And what should you do about it?

Didn’t win the lottery??

That’s okay. Can you imagine how much life changes after something like that?

The good news is, if you didn’t win the lottery then all the planning you’ve done doesn’t have to change at all.

We’ve worked with several clients recently though, who have gone through big changes in their life, some of whom have received an inheritance, bought a new house, had a loved one get married, or become disabled.

Any of these types of changes in your life could mean that you need to update your estate plan.

We frequently help clients update their plan after big life changes. By updating your plan periodically, you ensure that:

• any new money or wealth will go where it needs to go instead of being eaten up by things like nursing home costs or taxes.

• any planning you did based on your prior home is also done for your new (or second) home.

• your child’s inheritance can be protected in a trust where things like future divorces, long-term care costs or creditors cannot “steal” it away.

While we often help clients who already have done planning elsewhere to update their plans, our Dynasty program has proven to be a simple and cost-effective way to make sure our clients’ plans are always up-to-date. Through this program, we follow up with our clients regularly to confirm that their plan is up to date with the law, but also that their plans capture any changes that have occurred in life, health or assets.

Even more important than updating your current plan, is making sure you have a plan in the first place. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to get started with an Initial Meeting.

The greatest threat to an effective estate plan is not taking any action at all, so take a step today and call us at 217-726-9200.

Not Your Best Option: Life Estate Deeds

So, what are life estates or life estate deeds?

Sometimes, instead of using a trust, people will use a life estate deed to try and protect a house or farmland. This means they deed the land to their kids but reserve the right to still use the house or the farm as long as they are living. Because all of the instructions are contained in the deed itself, it can sound like a nice, simple solution. Life estates can seem like a cheaper and easier alternative to a trust…

But life estate deeds do not always work as advertised.

 

A Life Estate Case Study

Click here to download the Case Study as a PDF

We recently had a situation here at the office that is a good example of why life estates are generally not a good option.  Mom had put her house into a life estate a while back. She was now in a situation where she needed more care and was going to a nursing home. The family wanted to sell the house, but if they sold the house, then a percentage of the house would be considered an asset for the purposes of Medicaid. Even with good legal planning, some of the funds would have to be spent on nursing home costs, and the ultimate goal of planning is to protect your hard-earned money and assets (like your house) that you hoped could be a legacy for your family someday. 

4 Reasons Life Estates Don’t Work

1. They don’t protect ALL the value. People are surprised by how much of the value of their house or property is still considered theirs if they need Medicaid. This is all governed by a Medicaid table. (See it here.) So, what are the exact problems with life estates and why don’t life estate deeds “work”?

Here’s how the Medicaid table works: if someone is 65-years-old, Medicaid says that almost 68% of the house is still considered yours. At age 70, 60.5% is yours. At age 80, 43.66% of the value of the house still counts as yours. 

So what does this mean? It means that if you are 70-years-old, have a stroke and need to go to a nursing home, when your house is sold then 60.5% of the house sale money stays in your name and is exposed to long term care costs. This is true even if it has been more than 5 years since the deed was done.

2. You don’t own or fully control your house or property anymore. If something unexpected happens and you “need” to sell the property, you can’t without getting the kids to sign off on it, because they actually own the property. You don’t own it anymore (even though you have the right to use it for the rest of your life).

3. You can’t change who gets it after you are gone. With a deed, it’s a done deal. The house goes to your kids at your death — no matter what. There is no way to change it. So, if your child dies before you do, you can’t reconsider who the house or property goes to. It will go through his or her estate and be completely out of your control (even though you have the right to use it for the rest of your life).

4. Life estate deeds could prevent you from getting VA benefits. The VA sees things differently and assumes that any income interest or life estate you might have are entirely yours (and therefore counted as an asset). Depending on the situation, this could cause you to be denied VA benefits. For instance, farmland with a life estate would typically prevent VA benefits without further planning.

 What’s the Solution?

In contrast to the above issues with life estates, nest egg trusts can effectively address all of these issues:

• They can protect 100% of the value once 5 years has passed.

• You can be the trustee of the trust where your farm or home is kept, which means you can sell the property, buy a different house if you want, etc.

• You can reserve a rewrite power (called a “power of appointment”) so you can change who gets it at death. That way, if circumstances change, you can respond to them appropriately.

• A trust can be set up to allow VA benefits or be adjusted later to qualify for VA benefits.

Trusts are one of the best tools that we have in our legal toolbox to help clients, and our firm is one of the best at setting them up. If you are considering a life estate deed, please give us a call first to see if there are better options available for your unique situation.

Download the Life Estate Deeds Case Study for quick reference and to share with others.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about estate planning or elder law, Medicaid planning, long-term care planning or Veterans benefits, please give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’d be more than happy to speak with you!

 

asset protection

Threats to Medicaid: Can You Prove It?

Cash payments or informal caregiver arrangements can affect your loved one’s ability to qualify for Medicaid upon going into a nursing home. Here’s what you need to know…

Giving Money to Family Can Jeopardize Medicaid Eligibility

When someone applies for Medicaid, the state looks back 5 years to see if any money was given away to the family. If so, the state imposes a penalty, or a delay of benefits. Sometimes money was clearly given to the family. Other times, it was used for the loved one, but the family can’t prove it. Check out the case below for a specific example.

Michigan Family’s Benefits Delayed – No Proof of Expenses

Betty Jensen was aging and suffering from dementia. She remained in her own home, but started needing more and more assistance to stay there. In May of 2011, her grandson (Jason) acted on her behalf and hired someone to be Ms. Jensen’s caregiver.

When he hired the caregiver, Jason did so informally without a written contract. For nearly a year, Jason paid the caregiver using almost $19,000 worth of Ms. Jensen’s assets. In March of 2012, Ms. Jensen’s dementia progressed to the point where she had to enter a nursing home.

In April of 2012, Jason applied for Medicaid benefits to help offset the cost of his grandmother’s care. While she was found eligible for benefits, the Department of Human Services (DHS) penalized her for “divesting” funds. They classified the payments to the caregiver (along with some other “gifts”) as “divestments.” That meant her Medicaid benefits were delayed for 7 months and 2 days.

Sadly, Ms. Jensen died before Medicaid started covering her nursing home expenses. (In Central Illinois, this delay would have cost Ms. Jensen and/or her family approximately $35,000!)

Her grandson appealed the ruling and lost, because the payments were made to the caregiver without a written agreement that should have been put into place before care began. The case was appealed several more times with varying results, but ultimately the courts sided with DHS, stating that an agreement with a caregiver needs to be written and official.

Caregiver Agreements in Illinois

The above case happened in Michigan, but the same thing could have easily happened in Illinois. The problem with paying cash for caregivers or hiring home help without any documentation is that there is no proof where the money went. Any “gifts” can cause a delay in benefits. And if a family member is taking out large amounts of cash or writing checks without documentation, the caseworkers may assume they are gifts.

Read more about ways elder law attorneys like us can help with in-home care: 9 Ways Elder Law Attorneys Can Help with In-home Care

The Complex World of Medicaid

Medicaid is our country’s largest healthcare benefits program, paying 70% of all nursing home bills in the US. One in six Americans are covered by it. The laws governing Medicaid are some of the most complex and confusing laws in existence. They are often nearly impossible to understand without highly experienced legal assistance. Without proper planning and advice, many people unnecessarily jeopardize their future care, their well-being, and the security of their family.

Medicaid Planning Can Help Even if You’re Already in Nursing Care

Medicaid planning (or what we here like to call Life Care Planning) ideally should be started when you are still able to make sound legal and financial decisions. (Somewhere around the age of 65.) That way you can still have control over what you want and how you want to live.

What many don’t know is that even if you’re already in a nursing home, it’s rarely too late to do planning that can save some of your financial resources. Read our article, “7 Ways an Elder Law Attorney Can Help Even if Your Loved One is in a Nursing Facility

To find out more about how to avoid the crushing costs of long-term care by planning ahead at every stage of life, make plans to attend our upcoming workshop – Aging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning & Peace of Mind. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to sign up today!

secret to estate planning

The Secret Test for Your Named Helper

Naming a helper for your plan is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever have to make, but you don’t have to do it alone. Read on for guidance in choosing your executor, trustee or power of attorney.

Be Careful Who You Choose

I heard another heartbreaking story the other day – an older couple, the man has a terminal illness and he’s worried about his wife after he’s gone. (That part’s normal.) The heartbreaking part is he’s worried because his wife can’t say no to their youngest son (and the son has been named executor because he lives so close by), but the son is taking advantage of his mom financially even while the husband is still alive. The husband is wondering, “What on earth will happen after I’m gone, if he’s already caused this much damage with me keeping an eye on her?”

Every plan needs a good helper. We talk about it ALL the time because it’s vitally important. Everyone will come to a point in their life where they will need some sort of helper, whether that be a power of attorney, a trustee or an executor.

About two years ago we created a paper newsletter with expanded information on choosing good helpers. Even now, we still use it because it’s full of great information. If you’d like a copy of our paper newsletter on choosing good helpers, you can get instant access to it by clicking this link. But if you’d prefer, you can call us at 217-726-9200 and ask us to mail you a copy.

The Secret Test for a Helper

So, what’s the secret test for a named helper? How can you know if you can’t trust a potential helper to make decisions for you when you can’t make decisions yourself?

The secret test of a helper is to look at them and see how they handle their own lives now.

  • Are they organized?
  • Do they have things “under control”?
  • Do they make wise decisions?
  • Are they handling their own money well?
  • Are they generous and kind?

People will generally handle your money worse than they handle their own. They will generally be more difficult to deal with in serving as your helper than they are in dealing with their own lives. This is just the cold, hard truth that we’ve seen over and over.

Being a helper is stressful (especially since if often happens after a crisis or death), and the stress leads people to act worse than they normally do.

So, however they’re handling things now, they’ll actually do a worse job after you’re gone. Does that give you cause for concern? If so, you should pick a different helper. As you think about someone to be a helper, consider these duties they will possibly help with. And learn more about “7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For” here.

How Edwards Group Can Help

We help families choose good helpers everyday. This is a difficult decision and one of the most important you’ll ever make. You don’t have to do it alone. We can guide you through the process of deciding who is best. While you’ll only do this once in your lifetime (maybe twice), we’ve helped hundreds of families in the seven years our firm has been solely dedicated to estate planning and elder law. We’ve seen A LOT and gained a lot of wisdom from the families we help on a daily basis. We can help you know what to do and what NOT to do.

Give us a call at 217-726-9200 and plan to attend an upcoming workshop today. We encourage people to attend a workshop so you can be better informed about effective planning, and get a sense of whether we’re the right firm for you. Attending a workshop makes the planning process easier and more effective.

The greatest threat to an effective estate plan is not taking any action at all, so take your first step today and call us at 217-726-9200.

The Top 2 Concerns of Planning

When a loved one is facing long-term care the first concern people have when they come to us for planning is how to get the best care possible. The second concern is how to pay for it.

Getting Good Care

People come to us worried about an aging family member or friend all the time. Their primary concerns are making sure their loved one is provided for, making sure they’re safe and getting the medical care that they need, while helping them have quality of life as much as possible. And these are the primary goals for our firm as well. We want to help decrease stress, increase quality of life and preserve family relationships during the last decades of life.

Paying for Care

This is the issue that usually adds the most stress for families because they don’t know where to turn or where to get good advice about the options that are out there. The scary truth is that a lot of people are given wrong information and think there’s nothing that can be done if you can’t afford care on your own.

In reality, there are many planning tools that we can use to protect assets and gain benefits, even if someone is already in a nursing home. Our firm finds ways to maximize benefits available to pay for care, and protect some of the assets that mom hoped she would leave her family someday. Even if somebody’s been in a nursing home for months or years, it’s oftentimes not too late to get benefits to pay for care.

As long as somebody is writing personal checks to the nursing home every month, it is not too late to plan and save some of those assets.

The key is working with an experienced elder law attorney. Most “estate planning” attorneys just do what we call “death planning” (last will and testament, etc.), but elder law attorneys (like Edwards Group) have specialized training and expertise, and that means we deal with Medicaid and VA benefits every single day. We help you use the legal tools to their full advantage. And that means, in most cases, we can qualify someone for benefits faster than they ever expected, get more benefits than they ever expected, and in the end, protect much more of their life savings than they thought possible!