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Estate planning and the Dysfunctional Family

Over my career as an estate planning and elder law attorney, I swear I have seen just about everything.  I cannot remember a fact pattern that surprised me or took me aback.  I am honestly at the point now where I think that dysfunctional is the norm for the common family that we assist.  I’m not sure if it’s because we specialize in estate planning and elder law and we get referrals and cases that are more complex and more advanced than others, or if that is just the norm these days.  My gut says it is probably the latter. 

I did some research to define the word dysfunctional, and there is no clear-cut definition.  But my gut would say that dysfunctional would include families such as second marriages with kids to different relationships, as well as addictions or spendthrift issues, or just family dynamics in in-tact families where people do not care for each other.  Again, I think this is probably the norm more than any exception.  

It is imperative that families are open and honest with their attorney so that the attorney can put a plan in place that addresses what they need for their specific situation.  Dysfunction does not present as the same fact pattern in any two cases, and therefore an experienced estate planning attorney is needed to be able to dot the I’s and cross the T’s.  Be very wary of the do-it-yourself sites or general practice attorneys who don’t specialize in this area if there is a complex fact pattern for you and your family. 

We love assisting any and all families and certainly love putting the fun in dysfunctional. We look forward to providing an estate plan that is unique for you and your family, whether you are dysfunctional or as functional as anyone else. 

Please feel free to give us a call if you have any questions or comments at 717-845-5390.

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Potential Decrease in Federal Gift and Estate Tax Exemption, Did it Pass and Does it Impact You?

A hot topic among our clients is the proposed amendment to the Federal Lifetime Gift & Estate Tax Exclusion and how it may affect their current estate plan.  At this point Congress did not pass the proposed amendment to the law that was to go into effect January 1, 2022.  And there does not seem to be a lot of talk of bringing this to the forefront again for a vote anytime soon.  

The current law doesn’t reduce the exemption until January 1, 2026, when it would revert to $5 million.  The exemption is a lifetime exemption per person and applies to gifts you make during your life or distributions to your beneficiaries after your death.  Any amounts gifted or passed through your estate in excess of the deduction amount will be subject to either federal gift tax or federal estate tax.  

This change will only impact you if your net worth is in excess of $5 million (adjusted for inflation).  If you are like many people, me included, who can only dream of having $5 million dollars of assets in your lifetime then the reduction of the exemption on January 1, 2026, or before, will have no effect on you or your planning.  However, if you do have significant assets you may want to consult a qualified estate planning attorney to determine if you can make additional gifts before the law rolls the exemption amount back to $5 million in approximately 4 years.  The attorney will also be able to advise you if establishing and funding a grantor trust prior to the exemption being reduced would benefit you and help to reduce any federal gift or estate taxes.  Please keep in mind that this law and any changes applies to federal gift and estate taxes and has no effect on the assets or value of the assets subject to Pennsylvania inheritance tax.  Inheritance tax in Pennsylvania is separate and apart from any federal laws and currently inheritance tax is assessed on almost every asset you own with the exception of life insurance.  

For questions on if the proposed changes in the federal gift and estate tax laws in early 2026 will negatively impact you or your estate planning or questions on Pennsylvania inheritance tax, please consult a qualified estate planning attorney for a review of your estate plan.  We would be happy to schedule a time to speak with you regarding your individual situation.  

Please feel free to give us a call if you have any questions or comments at 717-845-5390.

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Comparing Life Care Planning to Traditional Elder Law

This year, we are getting the word out there about the Life Care Planning we offer that involves a licensed social worker to act as the Client Care Advocate. A question that we keep getting is what is “What is the difference between Life Care Planning and Elder Law and why did you make the change?” The way that I explain it is that a traditional elder law firm prepares documents for an individual and then either waits until the client passes or until they need to go to a nursing home and will qualify them for public benefits.

A life care planning firm is a more holistic approach to providing care. Our licensed social worker, Meg Motter, works with families to assist in figuring out ways to keep their loved ones home and how to receive care in a home or in a less restrictive environment than a nursing home. A licensed social worker will be able to provide different cognitive assessments and evaluate safety and necessity of levels of care, unlike an attorney. The elder care coordinator allows the firm to provide a more comprehensive approach, separate from just estate planning documents or qualification for Medicaid. The care coordinator allows the firm to provide information and advice that was not otherwise available to the firm prior to becoming a life care planning model firm.

We are ecstatic to have Meg Motter onboard as our elder care coordinator and we look forward to assisting you and your family in the future.

Please feel free to give us a call if you have any questions or comments at 717-845-5390.

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How to Help Your Loved One Avoid Isolation

Isolation is something that many seniors experience on a regular basis. However, with the COVID pandemic, that isolated feeling is more common than ever. Today, we want to encourage the individuals who know someone living alone to take some small steps to help your loved one socialize.

We always encourage our clients to incorporate video conferencing or video chat to allow the family member to see their loved ones on a regular basis. This could be on a scheduled date and time each week where you have a conversation and catch up, or maybe schedule meals together where you leave the video on while everybody eats. You have to eat anyway and giving the opportunity for your loved one to spend their mealtime talking with their family and seeing familiar faces is a small gesture that could go a long way! Not only will it help them, but it will also give you the chance to assess whether your loved one is having any hearing or sight issues that should be addressed.

Encourage your loved one to join clubs. Many of them are now virtual to allow as many people possible to partake. Having them be a part of these groups will give them interactions outside of your conversations and have stories to bring you when you visit or call.

Although these are very minor suggestions, they can go a long way in helping your loved one not feel so isolated. Please feel free to give us a call if you have any questions or comments at 717-845-5390.

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When are My Powers of Attorney Active?

Powers of attorney are often drafted differently by different professionals. In our office, we draft our powers of attorney to be effective immediately so that the principal is authorizing the power to be used by their agent now. However, we do not have the agent sign the acknowledgment pages, acknowledging that they are going to act in the best interest of the principal and not steal from the principal and not comingle assets of the principal, and only have them do that at the time when they need to act.

At Bellomo & Associates, we have a document signed by the principal, telling our firm only to give out the originals and to only have the agent sign the acknowledgment when and if the agent actually needs to use them, which would only occur if the principal instructs our firm to give the documents to the agent, or the principal is incapacitated. Yes, we do potentially take on liability because it is up to us to ensure that the agent has not received the documents before they are supposed to, but this is the mechanism that protects that the principle that the agent will not have the documents prior to when they actually need them.

Over 20 years of practice I have found that agents always want to do the right thing for the principal and always want to be there for the person that they are acting for. In the cases that I have found that an agent has taken advantage of their power, it almost is always a situation of the agent becoming desperate for one reason or another, and I have always said “desperate people do desperate things”. It is mainly for this reason that we keep the originals of the documents protected in our office so that the agents do not have them to be subjected to the whims of a desperate situation.

In the event that the agents need or want to use the documents, they will have to sign the acknowledgment pagers prior to using the document. We often receive calls from agents wanting to know why they did not sign the acknowledgements yet, and our answer is because you do not need to act on behalf of the principal yet because he or she is still able and willing to do it themselves.

While there is certainly no perfect answer to the best way to handle this situation, we believe that our solution provides the most effective way to get the document in place, but in such a way that it’s still protected as much as possible until it needs to be used.

It is important that you receive advice from a professional about the best way for you and your family to execute into a power of attorney and whether or not the agent should sign the acknowledgments now or only when and if they need to use them.

If you are looking for advice in regards to powers of attorney, please call our office at 717-845-5390 or click the link here and we will contact you.

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