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Now is a Good Time to Review Your Estate Plan.

It has certainly been a strange year and it feels as though we are finally heading out of it and things are “getting back to normal”. It makes me very happy to hear everybody talking about all of their upcoming plans for travel and trips to visit family because they missed out on a lot of planned events this past year.

Let me tell you what has really hit home for me, is how painful lack of planning can be and how it can affect your family in many ways. There are far too many lessons that we have learned from the past year, but one, in particular, is how a lack of planning can devastate a family.

Before you head out on all of your great adventures and trips, please take a moment for yourself and put your own oxygen mask on. Please pull out your estate planning and take a quick look at it. Make sure that the documents read the way that you want them to read and that you understand them.

Furthermore, make sure that all of your beneficiary designations on your life insurance and retirement accounts match what you intend for them to do and do not incorrectly believe that your Will controls how those assets are distributed.

As we have stated in many other blogs and articles, the beneficiary designations on these items are the most important thing and will trump what you have in your Will. Just confirm that your plan is the way that you intend it to be and that there are no unintended consequences.

If you have not had it reviewed by a professional in the last three or four years, take the time now to bring it to someone to review to ensure that everything is the way that it needs to be.

We also encourage you to take the time, once your documents are review and updated as necessary, to talk to your family about your planning when you are on your adventures and at family gatherings to make sure that everybody knows what your wishes are and what your planning is for the future.

These simple steps will save heartache and avoid hurt feelings. The time is now to review prior to heading out. Enjoy your travels and please be safe.

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

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I Don’t Trust My Trustee. What Can I Do?

It is important to understand that a trustee is a fiduciary and is held to a higher standard of duty.  It is imperative as a beneficiary of a trust that you read every word of the trust and understand the circumstances under which the trustee is to distribute money to you as the beneficiary. 

If you do not understand the agreement, seek legal counsel so that you’re sure you understand the terms under which the trustee should/may/can/must distribute money to the beneficiary.  As you can see from all the different words that I used, every trustee has different discretions depending on the four corners of the trust document.  There is no one size fits all, so it is imperative that you read and understand the terms of the document and what discretion the trustee has.

Once you understand the document if you still feel as though you’re not getting transparency from the trustee you can always request accounting.  If the trustee does not comply with the request for the accounting of the trust you can then file an action in the Orphans’ Court in your local county to force the trustee to provide you a copy of the accounting to understand what money has been distributed from the trust and under what circumstances.  If you have reviewed the accounting and are still not satisfied that the trustee is fulfilling in his or her fiduciary duty, I would look to the trust document to determine if there is a trust protector.  

Many trusts nowadays will incorporate in them a trust protector who is often another law firm or professional fiduciary who can assist the beneficiaries.  It would also be imperative to read every word of this section to understand what the trust protector can and can’t do and also seek counsel if you still do not understand the specific terms of the documents.  

Because there are so many different styles and types of trusts it is virtually impossible to provide a specific direction to beneficiaries who feel that the trustee is not acting in their best interest, but the steps provided herein provide a starting point for the beneficiaries to feel that they have a voice and a say.  In certain circumstances the trustee may have sole and absolute discretion to do whatever he or she wishes, but even in those circumstances understanding what monies have been paid out and your rights under the document is very important. 

Please seek assistance from an attorney who specializes in trust and understands the “in’s and out’s” of trust documents in order to be able to provide advice on what you can and can’t do within the terms of the trust.

If you would like to learn more about trusts and how they can benefit your family, please give us a call at 717-845-5390.

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Five Challenges to Retirement

Old couple on beachIf you’re heading toward retirement, you need to address five challenges. That is according to Kiplinger’s recent article, “Near Retirement? 5 Plans You MUST Have in Place.”

You may be ready to move from accumulating money to protecting what you already have. At this point, there are some important decisions that need to be made. For example, you will need to decide when to take Social Security, how to take your pension (if you have one), how to structure your savings to be sure you don’t run out of money and how to plan for taxes, inflation and long-term care costs.

Here’s the five “must haves” to help you with your retirement challenges:

  • Income plan: the top goal in retirement planning is creating a strategy that ensures you don’t run out of money.
  • Protection plan: unanticipated events like the death of your spouse or serious illness, can wreak havoc with retirement goals.
  • Growth plan: examine your glide path when you’re near or in retirement to reduce the risk in your portfolio and to hedge against inflation.
  • Tax plan: taxes can impact a hard-earned nest egg without proper planning.
  • Estate plan: be certain that your family, friends, and favorite charities are addressed and that you document your wishes. Create and regularly review your plan with an experienced estate planning attorney so you don’t burden your loved ones with those decisions and possible issues.

Assemble an experienced team that can give you the guidance you’ll need to get to and through retirement without problems.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 2017) “Near Retirement? 5 Plans You MUST Have in Place”

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The Bumpy Ride of Care for Your Parents

Holding elder persons hand“Thanks to Father Time and copious amounts of prescription drugs, people are living longer. But with longer lives comes the potential for increased healthcare needs.”

It can happen out of the blue. One second your folks are in pretty good shape. The next second, your dad is in the hospital with pneumonia and your mom is showing signs of early onset dementia.

How the devil did this happen? This is the basic question asked by Chicago Now in its recent article, “Getting Old Sucks: Why To Start Estate Planning With Your Parents.” As the article puts it: “you are officially on the rollercoaster ride to elder hell.”

Fortunately, there are things you can do on this bumpy ride to make it easier on you and your parents. While it’s uncomfortable at first discussing the topic of death with your parents, it’s necessary and important.

Talk to them about estate planning and make sure that they have wills, durable healthcare and medical powers of attorney (POA) and health care directives. If your parents don’t have these documents, you should make an appointment with a qualified estate-planning attorney and get this completed today as soon as possible.

For example, what if your father has a debilitating stroke, doesn’t regain consciousness and needs 24/7 medical support indefinitely? Without a health care directive, the hospital will keep him alive, even in a vegetative state, until he passes naturally.

You’ll be unable to have him removed from life support, unless you can show the physician and hospital administrators his legally valid health care directive and his medical POA that details his wishes. Without these estate planning documents, you and your mother will have limited control on how he should be treated.

From a financial standpoint, it is important to remember that the hospitals will continue to bill you even when your father is on life support and technically brain dead. After 100 days of Medicare coverage, your mom will be fully responsible for these care and treatment expenses, if there’s no supplemental insurance.

Start the dialog with your parents and let them determine how they want to live and die. This will save you and your loved ones considerable stress, frustration and heartache in the future.

Once this is under control, work on your own estate planning. You should contact a knowledgeable and experienced estate-planning attorney with your questions.

Reference: Chicago Now (March 7, 2017) “Getting Old Sucks: Why To Start Estate Planning With Your Parents”

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Selecting the Right Executor for Your Estate

Question mark with peopleWhen you look at the desired traits of an executor for your estate, look for a person who has the capacity to carry out the needed tasks, is willing to serve in this role and is very familiar with your unique situation. However, The Brainerd Dispatch’s recent article, “How to find an estate plan executor outside of your immediate family,” explains how to find an executor if you don't know an individual who meets these three criteria. What are the options for getting an executor, if there are no immediate solutions within your family or your close friends?

Many experienced estate planning lawyers say that it's typically best to find an individual to serve as the executor of your estate. If you can’t think of any readily obvious choices that you believe would be a good fit, expand your thinking. Perhaps there is an adult grandchild who might be a possibility. You might also have a good relationship with the adult child of a close friend who’d be able to carry out the tasks of executor.

Folks are typically very willing to help, if asked.  However, make sure that it’s not just anyone, but someone with some financial or legal knowledge and who is familiar with your wishes, even if they're not a member of your immediate family. They should also not be afraid to seek help from an experienced estate planning attorney.

There are some alternatives to working with an individual. If finding an individual you trust and is willing and able to serve as an executor for your estate is impossible, then you may consider engaging a third party to serve as your executor.

A financial advisor probably won’t be able to serve as the executor of your estate, due to his or her potential conflict of interest. However, you may be able to hire an experienced estate planning attorney. At the very least, he or she may have some relevant recommendations.

Whether you name an individual you know and trust or a professional third party as the executor of your estate, it's crucial to review the details of your financial and estate plans. You should also let the executor know the location of your important financial documents and information. This will make settling your estate an easier task and lighten the burden that you’ve entrusted to your executor.

Reference: Brainerd (MN) Dispatch (December 23, 2016) “How to find an estate plan executor outside of your immediate family”

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