Category : News

How to Plan Your Funeral

Thinking about your funeral may not be fun, but planning ahead can be exceedingly helpful for your family. It both lets them know your wishes and assists them during a stressful time. The following are steps you can take to plan ahead:

  • Name who is in charge. The first step is to designate someone to make funeral arrangements for you. State law dictates how that appointment is made. In some states, an informal note is enough. Other states require you to designate someone in a formal document, such as a health care power of attorney. If you do not designate someone, your spouse or children are usually given the task. 
  • Put your preferences in writing. Write out detailed funeral preferences as well as the requested disposition of your remains. Would you rather be buried or cremated? Do you want a funeral or a memorial service? Where should the funeral or memorial be held? The document can also include information about who should be invited, what you want to wear, who should speak, what music should be played, and who should be pallbearers, among other information. The writing can be a separate document or part of a health care directive. It should not be included in your will because the will may not be opened until long after the funeral. 
  • Shop around. It is possible to make arrangements with a funeral home ahead of time, so your family does not have to scramble to set things up while they are grieving. Prices among funeral homes can vary greatly, so it is a good idea to check with a few different ones before settling on the one you want. The Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule requires all funeral homes to supply customers with a general price list that details prices for all possible goods or services. The rule also stipulates what kinds of misrepresentations are prohibited and explains what items consumers cannot be required to purchase, among other things. 
  • Inform your family members. Make sure you tell your family members about your wishes and let them know where you have written them down. 
  • Figure out how to pay for it. Funerals are expensive, so you need to think about how to pay for the one you want. You can pre-pay, but this is risky because the funds can be mismanaged or the funeral home could go out of business. Instead of paying ahead, you can set up a payable-on-death account with your bank. Make the person who will be handling your funeral arrangements the beneficiary (and make sure they know your plans). You will maintain control of your money while you are alive, but when you die it is available immediately, without having to go through probate. Another option is to purchase a life insurance policy that is specifically for funeral arrangements. 

Taking the time to plan ahead will be a big help to your family and give you peace of mind. 

For more information on planning your funeral from Kiplingerclick here

A Final Retirement Account Distribution Must Still Be Made After Death

Federal law requires that beginning on April 1 of the year after you reach age 70 1/2, you must begin withdrawing a minimum amount from your non-Roth individual retirement account (IRA) or 401(k) accounts. These withdrawals are called required minimum distributions (RMDs).

But what if you die after age 70 1/2 and before all the account funds have been distributed? In the eyes of the law, death is no excuse not to take RMDs from an IRA or 401(k). Your heirs must take the final RMD before they can take control of the account.

Congress created the rules governing the minimum distribution of retirement plan funds to encourage saving for retirement and to allow retirement assets to build up tax-free during the plan owner’s working years. But lawmakers built in provisions so the money wouldn’t simply keep accumulating tax-free forever. The funds you withdraw are treated as taxable income in the year you take the distribution. If you don’t start taking the RMDs from your retirement accounts and pay taxes on the withdrawals, you will face a 50 percent penalty on what should have been withdrawn but wasn’t.

The rules for inheriting an IRA as a spouse are different than the rules for a non-spouse beneficiary, but regardless of who is inheriting the IRA, the heir must take the RMD for the year the account owner died. The full RMD must be taken by December 31 in the year the account owner died, even if he or she died at the beginning of the year. To take the RMD, beneficiaries must contact the custodian of the account and submit a death certificate. If the account owner died before he or she was required to begin distributions, then the beneficiaries do not need to take an RMD.

The money from the RMD will go directly to the beneficiary listed on the account, not the estate. That means it will be taxable income for the beneficiary. If there is more than one beneficiary, it will be split evenly.

To find out the best way to deal with an inherited IRA, contact  Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

Medicare Launches App to Help Beneficiaries Find Out What’s Covered

At the doctor’s office and want to know if a procedure is covered by Medicare? There is an app for that. Medicare has launched a free app that gives beneficiaries a quick way to see whether the program covers a specific medical item or service.

The “What’s Covered” app allows you to search or browse to learn what’s covered and not covered under Medicare Parts A and B, how and when to get covered benefits, basic cost information and other eligibility details. You can also see a list of covered preventive services. The app does not give results for extra benefits that Medicare Advantage plans may cover but that Original Medicare does not, such as certain vision, hearing or dental benefits.

Examples of the types of questions the app can answer include:

  • When are mammograms covered?
  • Is home health care covered?
  • Will Medicare pay for diabetes supplies?
  • Can I get a regular cervical cancer screening?
  • Will my Medicare benefits cover a service to help me stop smoking?

Although the app provides beneficiaries with basic information, it doesn’t provide personalized information. It doesn’t ask details about each user’s specific insurance information, so it doesn’t take into account the user’s supplemental insurance, co-insurance, and deductibles. Essentially, the app provides another way for Medicare beneficiaries to get the same information that is available online and in the Medicare handbook.

The app is part of an initiative by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) focused on modernizing Medicare and empowering beneficiaries. Other initiatives include:

  • Enhanced interactive online decision support to help beneficiaries better understand and evaluate the coverage options and costs of original Medicare compared to Medicare Advantage plans.
  • New price transparency tools that let consumers compare the national average costs of certain procedures between settings, so people can see what they’ll pay for procedures done in a hospital outpatient department versus an ambulatory surgical center.
  • A new webchat option in the Medicare Plan Finder.
  • New easy-to-use surveys across Medicare.gov so consumers can tell CMS what they want.

To get the new “What’s Covered” app, go here: https://www.medicare.gov/blog/whats-covered-mobile-app. Or learn more by contacting Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

How Gifts Can Affect Medicaid Eligibility

We’ve all heard that it’s better to give than to receive, but if you think you might someday want to apply for Medicaid long-term care benefits, you need to be careful because giving away money or property can interfere with your eligibility.

Under federal Medicaid law, if you transfer certain assets within five years before applying for Medicaid, you will be ineligible for a period of time (called a transfer penalty), depending on how much money you transferred. Even small transfers can affect eligibility. While federal law allows individuals to gift up to $15,000 a year (in 2019) without having to pay a gift tax, Medicaid law still treats that gift as a transfer.

Any transfer that you make, however innocent, will come under scrutiny. For example, Medicaid does not have an exception for gifts to charities. If you give money to a charity, it could affect your Medicaid eligibility down the road. Similarly, gifts for holidays, weddings, birthdays, and graduations can all cause a transfer penalty. If you buy something for a friend or relative, this could also result in a transfer penalty.

Spending a lot of cash all at once or over time could prompt the state to request documentation showing how the money was spent. If you don’t have documentation showing that you received fair market value in return for a transferred asset, you could be subject to a transfer penalty.

While most transfers are penalized, certain transfers are exempt from this penalty. Even after entering a nursing home, you may transfer any asset to the following individuals without having to wait out a period of Medicaid ineligibility:

  • your spouse
  • your child who is blind or permanently disabled
  • a trust for the sole benefit of anyone under age 65 who is permanently disabled

In addition, you may transfer your home to the following individuals (as well as to those listed above):

  • your child who is under age 21
  • your child who has lived in your home for at least two years prior to your moving to a nursing home and who provided you with care that allowed you to stay at home during that time
  • a sibling who already has an equity interest in the house and who lived there for at least a year before you moved to a nursing home

Before giving away assets or property, check with your attorney to ensure that it won’t affect your Medicaid eligibility. To learn more, contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

Don’t Leave Children Unequal Shares By Mistake

Siblings do not always receive equal shares of a parent’s estate. Sometimes the inequality is intentional and sometimes it is accidental. Regardless of how it happens, it can cause arguments among the children. However, there are some steps parents can take to promote family harmony.

If you intend to leave your children equal shares of your estate, don’t forget to consider any money or property held jointly with a child. Property in a joint account passes outside of your estate. If you add a caregiver child to one of your bank accounts out of convenience, the account will pass to that child alone when you die. This is true for any property held in joint tenancy or any property in a POD (Pay on Death) account. If you don’t intend for that child to receive a bigger share of your estate, you can add a provision in estate planning documents stating that any property passing through joint tenancy to a beneficiary will be treated as an advancement of that beneficiary’s share.

On the other hand, you may intend to leave one child a different share of your estate than your other children. For example, you may want to reward a caregiver child or you may feel that a child with a disability needs a bigger share. If you do decide to favor one child over another, you should explain in detail your reasoning in your estate planning document. This may help your children understand your decision. You also need to make it clear that it is your decision and not the influence of the favored child. If your children are unhappy with how much they have received, they may try to challenge your will.

Your attorney can help you ensure your estate is divided the way you intend. Contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton here.

 

Steps to Take in Advance of Death or Disability

No one wants to face the fact that our loved ones will not be with us forever. Facing our own mortality is frightening as well. Although none of us wants to contemplate a time when we or a loved one might become disabled or die, it is important to be prepared. There are many steps families can take in advance of death or disability to avoid future conflicts or uncertainties:

  • Don’t be afraid to start the conversation. Whether you are a parent talking to your children, a husband talking to a wife, or an adult child talking to an aging parent, bringing up the topic of death and disability can be difficult, but it is an important conversation to have.
  • Make sure you or your loved ones have done estate planning. All estate plans should include, at minimum, two important estate planning instruments: a durable power of attorney and a will. The first is for managing property during your lifetime, in case you are unable to do so yourself. The second is for the management and distribution of property after death. Revocable (or “living”) trusts can also help you avoid probate and manage your estate both during your life and after you’re gone. In addition, you or your loved ones should consult with an estate planning professional about the best way to minimize estate taxes.
  • Plan for the worst. You and your loved ones need to be prepared in the event that one of you becomes disabled and will no longer be able to make your own decisions. The durable power of attorney mentioned above is an important instrument. You will also need a health care proxy (sometimes called a health care power of attorney), which gives someone else the medical authority to communicate your wishes about medical treatment.
  • Make sure you or your loved ones draw up a list to help your executors carry out your estate plans. The list should contain information on the location of assets, such as bank accounts, property, and stocks and bonds; the location, keys, and passwords to any safe deposit boxes; the identity of important professionals who might have information about your estate; and the location of important records, such as loan, insurance, and tax documents. The list can also contain things you want done immediately after you die, such as calling relatives or notifying employers.
  • Determine you or your loved ones’ wishes regarding funeral arrangements. You may want to pay for your funeral ahead of time to take the burden off of family, but you need to be careful and shop around. If you can’t make arrangements ahead of time, put your wishes in writing so the whole family knows what you want.
  • Figure out who is going to get what personal property and heirlooms. Preparation and planning in advance can avoid family squabbles after you or your loved ones die.

To learn more, contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton.

A Brief Overview of a Trustee’s Duties

If you have been appointed the trustee of a trust, it is a strong vote of confidence in your judgment and trustworthiness. It is also a major responsibility. A trust is a legal arrangement through which one person (or an institution, such as a bank or law firm), called a “trustee,” holds legal title to property for another person, called a “beneficiary.” The following is a brief overview of a trustee’s duties:

  1. Fiduciary Responsibility. As a trustee, you stand in a “fiduciary” role with respect to the beneficiaries of the trust, both the current beneficiaries and any “remaindermen” named to receive trust assets upon the death of those entitled to income or principal now. As a fiduciary, you will be held to a very high standard, meaning that you must pay even more attention to the trust investments and disbursements than you would for your own accounts.
  2. The Trust’s Terms. Read the trust itself carefully, both now and when any questions arise. The trust is your road map and you must follow its directions, whether about when and how to distribute income and principal or what reports you need to make to beneficiaries.
  3. Investment Standards. Your investments must be prudent, meaning that you cannot place money in speculative or risky investments. In addition, your investments must take into account the interests of both current and future beneficiaries. For instance, you may have a current beneficiary who is entitled to income from the trust. He or she would be best off in most cases if you invested the trust funds to generate as much income as possible. However, this may be detrimental to the interest of later beneficiaries who would be happiest if you invested for growth. In addition to balancing the interests of the various beneficiaries, you must consider their future financial needs. Does a trust beneficiary anticipate buying a house or going to school? Will the beneficiary be depending on the trust income for retirement in 15 years? All of these questions need to be considered in determining an investment plan for the trust. Only then can you start considering the propriety of individual investments.
  4. Distributions. Where you have discretion on whether or not to make distributions to a beneficiary you need to evaluate the beneficiary’s current needs, future needs, and other sources of income, as well as your responsibilities to other beneficiaries before making a decision. And all of these considerations must be made in light of the size of the trust. Often the most important role of a trustee is the ability to say “no” and set limits on the use of the trust assets. This can be difficult when the need for current assistance is readily apparent.
  5. Accounting. One of your jobs as trustee is to keep track of all income to, distributions from, and expenditures by the trust. Generally, you must give an account of this information to the beneficiaries on an annual basis, though you need to check the terms of the trust to be sure. In strict trust accounting, you must keep track of and report on principal and income separately.
  6. Taxes. Depending on whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable and whether it is considered a “grantor” trust for tax purposes, the trustee will have to file an annual tax return and may have to pay taxes. In many cases, the trust will act as a pass through with the income being taxed to the beneficiary. In any event, if you keep good records and turn this over to an accountant to prepare, this should not be a big problem.
  7. Delegation. While you cannot delegate your responsibility as trustee, you can delegate all of the functions described above. You can hire financial advisors to make investments, accountants to handle taxes and bookkeeping for the trust, and lawyers to advise you on questions of interpretation. With such professional assistance, the job of trustee need not be difficult. However, you still need to communicate with those you hire and make any discretionary decisions, such as when to make distributions of principal from the trust to one or more beneficiaries.
  8. Fees. Trustees are entitled to reasonable fees for their services. Family members often do not accept fees, though that can depend on the work involved in a particular case, the relationship of the family member, and whether the family member trustee has been chosen due to his or her professional expertise. Determining what is reasonable can be difficult. Banks, trust companies, and law firms typically charge a percentage of the funds under management. Others may charge for their time. In general, what’s reasonable depends on the work involved, the amount of funds in the trust, other expenses paid out by the trust, the professional experience of the trustee, and the overall expenses for administering the trust. For instance, if the trustee has hired an outside firm for investment purposes, that expense would argue for the trustee taking a somewhat smaller fee. In any case, it makes sense to consult with a professional experienced with trust work who can guide you on what would be normal fees considering all of the circumstances.

In short, acting as trustee gives you a wonderful opportunity to provide a great service to the trust’s beneficiaries. The work can be very gratifying. Just keep an eye on the responsibilities described above to make sure everything is in order so no one has grounds to question your actions at a later date. To learn more, contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton 

What Makes a Will Valid?

Movies, television, and books like to present wills in dramatic ways–handwritten notes, videos, deathbed utterances–but what actually makes a will valid? The law varies depending on what state you live in, but there are some basic rules.

The legal requirements for a will are fairly simple. In order for your will to be valid, you must know what property you have and what it means to leave it to someone, then sign and date the document and have it witnessed according to the laws of your state. Most states require two witnesses to watch you sign the will and then sign as witnesses. Usually one of the witnesses can be the lawyer who drafted the will. Most states do not allow beneficiaries under the will to be witnesses.

Some states allow you to make a handwritten will, called a “holographic” will. This will does not need to be witnessed, but it is much more likely to be challenged after you die. Some states require that the entire will be in your handwriting; others call for just the important portions to be in your handwriting. The writing must indicate your intent to make a will and clearly describe the property being given away. Some states require the will to be dated and signed.

Very few states allow an “oral” will (called a “nuncupative” will). The states that allow this type of will have very specific requirements for when it is valid. For example, Indiana only accepts an oral will if it is made by someone in imminent peril of death who then dies as a result of the peril. States may require two witnesses and that the will be reduced to writing soon after the declaration. There also may be a limit to the amount of property someone can dispose of with an oral will.

Video wills are not recognized as a form of will in any state. States may recognize a video will as a valid oral will if it meets all the requirements, but a video will, by itself, is not a valid will. However, using video to record a will signing can be a good method to prevent a will contest. A video recording of the will signing allows your family members and the court to see that you are freely signing the will and makes it more difficult to argue that you did not have the requisite mental capacity to agree to the will.

The best way to make sure your will is considered valid is to consult with your attorney. Contact Kristen Prull Moonan or Amy Stratton here.

Kristen Prull Moonan & Amy Stratton Recognized for Professional Excellence

Happy day!

Shout out to Amy Stratton and Kristen Prull Moonan who were both recently recognized by Rhode Island Monthly for Professional Excellence in the category of elder law.

“We are lucky to spend our days helping our clients with their estate planning and long-term-care planning needs.”

The Professional Excellence Series from Rhode Island Monthly showcases the top professionals in a variety of fields, including law. These professionals are chosen on several criteria ranging from peer reviews, feedback from professionals in related fields, professional standing, and other data collected by a third-party survey and data company.

Welcome! New Faces Expand The MSW Team

We welcome Michelle Canning and Sherry Hassel to our team, where they will lend their time and talents as our receptionist and paralegal, respectively.

Expect to talk to Michelle the next time you call our office and to interact with Sherry on your legal documents.

Our workplace culture is based on respect and collaboration, both within our office and in our interactions with our clients. As always, we invite your feedback in all of our communications.