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!

 

Is Your Estate Plan Old and Clunky?

David Edwards loves what he does, and it’s obvious because he can connect just about anything to estate planning! In this post, Dave and his dad explore how estate planning is like… old tennis rackets. 

Estate Planning is Like… Old Tennis Rackets

When my parents were first married (around 1967 or so), my mom’s parents gave them each a tennis racket. They were nice sturdy wooden rackets with the frames that you could screw down to keep them from warping.

My parents used them a little, but not too much before they ended up in storage in the attic above the garage. When I was in the 10th grade, I signed up for tennis at the YMCA one summer. Since I needed a racket, my dad proudly offered, “We have a couple of nice ones up in the attic. Barely been used.”

I came home after that first lesson and said, “Dad, the coach said that I need a new racket.” As we shopped for the new racket, my dad later told me he realized just how much things had changed in the past 20 years or so. That wooden racket was really heavy and clunky compared to the new, lightweight metal ones.

Dave and the Taylorville Boys Tennis Team

David Edwards and the Taylorville Boys Tennis Team around 1989

David Edwards and the Taylorville Boys Tennis Team around 1989

Dave’s Dad Tells Us How Old Rackets are Like Estate Planning (And No, Estate Planning is Not a Racket!)

Recently my dad reminded me of this story and thought it would be a good topic for a newsletter or a post. And he was right!

Old tennis rackets are like estate planning… if we’re not careful, our estate plans can become “clunky old wooden rackets” and be really out of date. They just won’t get the job done.

But there’s another great lesson in here, too, concerning our children —

Don’t send them out into the world with “clunky old wooden rackets.” Be sure to give them the training and the tools they need to face what lies ahead.

Our firm is pretty unique in that we work with the whole family to draft an estate plan that is effective. That means that when the time comes to put your plan into action, your kids will already have met us, know who to call, and we will help guide them through the process during one of the most stressful times of their life. What better tool to get the job done?

If you’re new to Edwards Group and wondering if we’re the right estate planning firm for you, please check out our FREE workshop, Aging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning & Peace of Mind. We hold it every month and it’s a great way to learn:

  • that planning must include both estate planning (death planning) and LIFE planning.
  • the 5 life stages to plan for and which one you’re in.
  • simple planning steps to take on your own — plus options for additional guidance from the Edwards Group team.

Call 217-726-9200 to save your spot at an upcoming workshop or to schedule an Initial Meeting.

10 Non-financial Planning Issues (Infographic)

Lesson #2 from Robin Williams – Your “Special Stuff” List

Another way (see the first way here) in which you can minimize fighting amongst your family after you’re gone is by creating a “special stuff” list before you go.

Creating a “Special Stuff” List Can Minimize Fighting Amongst Your Family After You’re Gone

Last week, we talked about having “The Conversation” with your kids and how it can really increase the chances that things will go as planned after you’re gone. This week we are really excited to offer you a special resource that will help you decide who should get what special possessions and heirlooms! (Keep reading for the FREE resource.)

Many families fight over the personal property “stuff” as much as they fight over money. (Sometimes even more than they fight over money.) When it comes to preventing a big fight after you die, it’s not enough to deal with the financial items. You must deal with property that has emotional or family value.

Because of this, I encourage clients to create a “special stuff list” that directs certain items to the people they want those items to go to. This list, which is officially called a Memorandum for Distribution of Personal Property, is then incorporated into the Will or Living Trust.

7 Things to Consider When Making Your “Special Stuff” List

1. What did your parents or grandparents pass down to you that you want to pass on?

2. What items bring back the most memories of your family time?

3. Have you discussed with family what they might want? Some families have a “lottery” style selection process where they openly discuss item by item what they may want. Others prepare a “fire inventory” list of their belongings and then send copies to their children, requesting that the children mark the items they want on a scale from 1-10 with 10 being they want that item the most. Once the children return their lists to the parents, the parents can then more adequately assess who will get what.

4. How will you preserve the stories behind the items? Write out the story, record a video or audio clip about it. Even a few short sentences will mean a lot when you’re gone.

5. Don’t rely on Post-it notes, masking tape, or assumptions, “The kids know who gets what.” This just doesn’t work!

6. Make sure your “special stuff” list or letter is signed and dated, with copies sent to your attorney. Also keep copies with your Will or Living Trust paperwork.

7. In order to better identify items, take photos and include them with your “special stuff” list.

A Few More Things to Consider…

While creating your list, don’t assume the things you find valuable will be the same things your family finds valuable. It’s always better to communicate about what you want to leave, and to whom, beforehand. Maybe you want your granddaughter to have your birthstone earrings, but maybe she’d rather have the old battered, blue pottery bowl that you used to  make pudding in together. You might never know the bowl was meaningful to her without a conversation, and you might even throw it out without any consideration, thinking, “Nobody’ll want this ol’ thing.”

DOWNLOAD Your FREE “Special Stuff” List Worksheet

It’s very difficult to see families torn apart by issues like “who gets Grandma’s yellow pie plate?” Our firm is always seeking ways to make planning easier for you, and we are really excited about our latest resource: Your “Special Stuff” List Worksheet. Set aside an afternoon to spend going through the worksheet line by line, and you should be well on your way to making sure your family will still be speaking to each other after you’re gone.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 217-726-9200. We will be more than happy to help you in any way possible.

robin williams; death; wills; trusts

A Lesson from Robin Williams: Having “The Conversation”

One way in which you can minimize fighting amongst your family after you’re gone is by having “The Conversation” before you go…

Does Your Family Have Trust Issues Like Robin Williams?

After his death in 2014, it appeared that Robin Williams did everything right when it came to estate planning. The bulk of his wealth was transferred through well-thought-out (and private) trusts that distributed his belongings to his three children while also providing for his current wife, so she could stay in the house they shared. And yet, his third wife and his three children still got involved in a court case with each other. So what happened? And what can we learn from this situation?

Effective Estate Planning Anticipates Emotions Will Run High

The first thing people should know is that all bets are off when someone dies. In the extremely emotional  environment of grief and loss, even the best families experience some stress and disagreement. It’s just hard to avoid. Every estate planning attorney could fill a book with unbelievable real life stories about this very thing.

Effective estate planning attorneys work hard to mitigate this risk and prevent these issues from tearing families apart. And that’s where “The Conversation” and the “Special Stuff List” come in. Over the next two weeks, we’ll look at two important actions you can take to minimize fighting in your family.

“The Conversation”

Just like the birds and the bees talk you once had with your kids when they were younger, this next conversation can bring up almost as much anxiety. Many times it’s “easier” to start a conversation about inheritance and estate planning during family gatherings or holiday get-togethers. I know. I know. That sounds like a real downer of a conversation for a family event, but let me assure you, it will be a lot less unpleasant than what your family will experience after you’re gone if you DON’T have “The Conversation” with them.

Here are 5 tips for talking about inheritance:

1. Share your own reasons or motives for bringing up the issue. Then try to clearly convey what values are really important to you. What’s important to accomplish with your assets after your death? What does fair mean to you? What does it look like? What items do you think have special meaning? What stories about those items need to be written down and shared with your family?

2. Ask “what if” questions to find out how your family feels about certain scenarios. “What if Mom had to go in a nursing home and I was already gone? Would you want to keep the house? What would you do with the stuff in the house?” Or “what if Mom and I downsized. What would you want us to keep?”

3. Clearly convey choices you’ve already made, like who is in charge of making decisions after you’re gone (or incapacitated). For example, if your will says that the children should share your estate 50/50, then one child may understand that to mean keeping the house and sharing it. The other child may see it as an opportunity to sell the house and get some money. Bam. Now you have a big fight and your children never speak to each other again. (This is a TRUE story.) It is vitally important to talk to your kids about how you want things done before you’re gone (and then make sure to tie it down legally, as well.)

4. Look for natural opportunities to talk about the issue. Sometimes the death of a neighbor or a friend can provide better timing for this conversation. Celebrity deaths like Robin Williams can also present good times to bring up the topic, especially if their estate is presenting problems you would like to avoid.

5. Listen. Remember that listening is an important part of communication and any conversation. Take time to listen to your family’s perspective and opinion throughout the course of “The Conversation.”

Having “The Conversation,” along with detailed and effective legal planning will go a long way in avoiding the problems that Robin Williams’ family is now having. Read more tips on having “The Conversation” here.

In a future blog post we’ll talk about creating your “Special Stuff List.” This special list further clarifies your wishes and intentions with regards to certain special pieces of property. (Like your paperweight collection or the antique shotguns you inherited from your grandfather.)

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 217-726-9200. We will be more than happy to help you in any way possible.

[Photo by Jacobo Hoyos Zea via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.]
non-financial estate planning issues

10 Non-financial Planning Issues You Should Consider

Effective planning doesn’t just involve money…

We tend to do things a little differently around here. After years of doing planning the traditional way (and seeing ways that the process could be improved), I started my own firm. Not only is it important for me to educate you about planning financially, I also want you to think about the non-money planning issues that are often overlooked by more traditional estate planning.

Not planning for non-financial issues can be just as tragic as not planning for more traditional money issues. This lack of planning can lead to poor quality of life for you, extra stress for your kids and loss of a legacy.

Here are 10 non-financial planning issues to consider and their solutions:

1. Healthcare. Who will make your healthcare decisions if you can’t? And will they know when to “pull the plug”? When they do pull the plug, will your organs be donated? Solution: You need to cover the proper legal authority through a healthcare power of attorney and a living will. Also, have conversations with your family about your wishes so they know, without a doubt, how you want them to act on your behalf.

2. Pets. Without a plan, your special dog may be bounced around from relative to relative or even put down because there is nowhere for him to go. Solution: Your will or trust can specify who will care for your pet and how the pet’s expenses will be paid after you are gone. (Which reminds me of one of my favorite estate planning jokes.)

3. Wisdom. What does your family stand for? What values were important to your parents and grandparents? Will your grandkids know about those? Solution: Take the time to reflect on these things and write them down. You can find resources for where to start online, or even hire someone to help you at the Association of Personal Historians.

4. Online or computer stuff. More and more of our lives are being lived online – Facebook, online photos, emails with your grandkids.  How will your family access that info after you’re gone? In this day and age it’s important to have a plan for this. (Read a real life story about it here.) Solution: You can store the information yourself in a safe deposit box, you can use one of the newly formed companies out there (SecureSafe or PasswordBox), or your attorney can keep the information for you.

5. Family heirlooms. Grandma’s old table, the shotgun with the homemade stock, the family Bible that’s over 100 years old. What will you pass on? And will you pass along the story that goes with it? Antique shops are filled with stuff that has some value to a stranger, but could have been priceless to family members, if only the story behind the item had been preserved. Solution: Take the time to clearly communicate your wishes or preserve the stories behind those special items. You can include the history of family items as part of your “special stuff list” or in a separate letter your family will get after you’re gone.

6. Guardians for kids. If people who don’t share your values end up raising your minor children, then the money you leave won’t really matter. Solution: We help clients make this tough choice through resources like our Child Raising Priorities Checklist.

7. Sibling relationships. If you become disabled and one child is the primary caregiver, will the rest of the family be prepared? Will the caregiver feel like no one else is helping out? Will the other siblings feel like the caregiver is overspending your money? Only you can know the answers to these questions. Solution: As part of our process we will discuss with you how to best choose helpers and how to make sure they know what to do when the time comes. Good planning helps avoid misunderstandings between siblings.

8. Burial wishes. Do you want to be cremated or have a visitation? What will your obituary say? Will you plan it out or leave it to your kids to decide (or fight about) during a time of grief and high stress? Creating a funeral plan or burial plan can be a real gift to your family and make the time of remembering you more meaningful. Solution: In Illinois, you can specify your wishes in your Disposition of Remains document, which provides binding burial instructions.

9. Living arrangements. If you’re near the end of your life, sick and unable to care for yourself, all the money in the world won’t matter if your living arrangements are not what you want for yourself. How important is it that you remain living on your own? Are there certain facilities you absolutely do not want to be placed in? Solution: As part of your disability instructions in your living trust, you can be very specific about how you want to be cared for and where you want to live.

10. End of life issues. Do you want to be kept alive with a feeding tube? Ventilator? Will your family know what your wishes are? If you are 85 years old with terminal cancer, would you want heart surgery just to prolong your life a few weeks or months? Solution: Your living will and healthcare power of attorney give the legal authority and instructions on those issues. But it is also very important to discuss these difficult issues with your family so they understand your preferences.

See our Infographic illustrating these issues HERE.

We are always happy to talk with you about any questions or concerns you might have. Just give us a call at 217-726-9200. And if you want to learn more about the process of planning, feel free to check out a free workshop. Our workshops are a great way to learn about our unique process.

The Value of Family Traditions

Ah, the holidays… a time when Michelle and I enjoy spending extra time with family. Family history and traditions mean a lot to us. Part of that family history involves names. Here are some interesting name connections in our family:

1. Otis – Bailey and Cole are the 5th generation in my dad’s family with a middle initial of “O.” My dad’s grandfather had the middle name Otis. My dad and grandpa had the middle name Oscar. Now I am David Otis and 4-year-old Cole has the middle name Otis as well. We kept it going with Bailey Olivia.

2. Bailey – Michelle’s Grandma Wilson had a maiden name of Bailey. Now Bailey is named after the family line.

3. Hall – Michelle’s maiden name is Hall. Her Grandma Hall was named Hall even BEFORE she was married. As she used to say, she was a “Hall and married a Hall.” Then came a lifetime of confusion about her maiden name and married name being the same!

4 generations picHere I am, circa 1971, with my Great Grandma Hise (whose husband had the middle name Otis), Grandma Edwards (holding me) and my father.

Does your family have a special naming history? Or any other traditions? This time of year is definitely a time when we think more often about those things that make our families unique and special. We’d love to hear about your family traditions. Share it on our Facebook page, and we might even feature it in a future email newsletter!

 

The Funny Birthday Hat: 5 Reasons Why Family Traditions Are Important

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you’ve probably seen the birthday hat. I wore it for my birthday a couple weeks ago. It’s really tall and colorful — kind of like something The Cat in the Hat would wear, only this hat has Mickey Mouse on it.

Like many families, we have our own special traditions. Family traditions are one of the things that make working with families so wonderful. No two are alike. Each one is special. My family’s birthday hat came about because my mom saw a similar tradition she liked with a friend of hers, so when my brother and his wife went to Disney, they found the perfect hat to start our family’s tradition. They bought it and carried it around the park all day. And then they hand carried it on the plane so it wouldn’t get squished! My mom received it as a Christmas present in 2005, and we’ve been celebrating with it ever since.

When Bailey was nearing her 4th birthday, my dad asked her what she wanted. She said, “I want to eat ice cream and wear the funny hat!” 1475853_786756528004826_823737416_n

Why are family traditions so important? Here are 5 quick reasons:

1. They create memories that last a lifetime.
2. They give family members a stronger sense of belonging.
3. They help impart the family’s values.
4. They give children/teens a sense of security.
5. They keep generations in contact and give them something in common.

Family traditions have even been linked to higher family strength and higher family satisfaction. What special family traditions do you have for celebrating the milestones of life?

Family traditions are an important part of a family’s non-financial legacy. Oftentimes, these non-financial aspects of legacy are overlooked when it comes to planning, and yet, these are the things we miss the most once someone is gone. Continue learning about this topic with the following posts:

10 Non-financial Planning Issues You Should Consider

[Infographic] 10 Non-financial Planning Issues You Should Consider

The Special Stuff List: An Effective Way to Pass Down Heirlooms and Other Personal Property

Post-It Notes Are Not Legally Binding

 

gamble estate plan

Do You Like to Gamble? Advice for Those Who Haven’t Planned Yet

Michelle and I don’t gamble very often. But when we do, watch out!

A few years go, the kids went to the grandparents’ and we spent the weekend in St. Louis. We were staying near Laclede’s Landing at a new hotel near the Lumiere Place Casino. The evening after we checked in, we headed out to do some serious gambling.

We stopped at the penny slots and started playing. About 10 minutes later, we hit a big jackpot! Being up all of $12, we decided to quit while we were ahead.

Do you enjoy gambling? We find that most of our clients don’t like to roll the dice about their planning. Instead, they want to tie it down so they can have real peace of mind.

Not planning ahead to protect your family and your assets is gambling.

What will happen if you die suddenly? What will happen if you need long term care?

Leaving things to chance is a gamble and the losses can be HUGE.

4 Reasons to Plan Ahead

With good planning, you can have real peace of mind and not gamble that these vitally important things will just work out. By planning ahead, you can avoid these 4 hardships:

1. Stress. You wouldn’t purposefully place extra stress on your spouse or your kids, would you? But a lack of planning on your part can do just that, leaving everyone to wonder, “What should we do? Who do we contact?” Good planning makes it easier on your loved ones by providing a clear plan.

2. Delay. Messy estate plans take longer to wrap up, causing the stress and extra work of an estate to drag on and on. Good planning helps things get wrapped up as quickly as possible.

3. Conflict. Lack of planning can lead to arguments in the family. Arguments between siblings, between the step-mom and step-kids, between nieces and nephews. Good planning will make it easier on the family, making less to fight about and less stress that can lead to conflict.

4. Loss of life savings. Lack of planning can result in the loss of your wealth — to the nursing home, to probate expenses, to taxes, to creditors or to wild spending by your heirs. Good planning will protect what you have worked so hard for.

If you’re ready to stop gambling on the future and get started planning, we encourage you to call us at 217-726-9200. We would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have and to set up an Initial Meeting.

Top Five Regrets of the Dying (and other interesting stuff we found around the web…)

You may have noticed that we live and breathe estate planning around here. We’re subscribed to many a list on the topic and are constantly attending conferences to brush up and make sure we’re at our best for our clients. We also surf the web a lot. Periodically we like to share with you some of the interesting articles we come across.

The Top 5 Regrets in Life from Those About to Die: A hospice nurse shares what she sees everyday.

Good Will Hunting: Wills aren’t just for the wealthy. If you have kids and a house, you definitely need one.

With Gravestone Barcode, Tomorrow Never Dies: how the latest trend of placing barcodes on headstones can preserve more than just names and dates.