Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: Giving and Taxes

There is a relationship among income, gift and estate tax which can appear complex. However, in reality most gifts are not affected by taxes.

This column addresses non-charitable gifts. Unlike a gift to charity, a gift to a person is not deductible by the donor for income tax purposes. A gift to a person is not taxable income to that person.

There is a federal gift tax but (with the exception of Connecticut and Tennessee) states don’t impose gift taxes. Here’s how the federal gift tax works: A person may make as many gifts as he/she wishes each year so long as the total value of gifts to each person for the year is within the amount of the “annual exclusion.” The annual exclusion is subject to adjustment each year and is $14,000 for 2015 and 2016. So Dad can give up to $14,000 of gifts apiece to each child, grandchild and neighbor without having to file a gift tax return, no matter how many children, grandchildren and neighbors he has. Furthermore, Mom can do the same. In fact, if Dad wants to give up to $28,000 per donee and Mom doesn’t want to give anything, Dad can “borrow” Mom’s annual exclusion for that year. However, Dad will have to file a gift tax return which Mom will sign to show she is allowing him to use her annual exclusion. (To avoid that requirement gifts can be made from joint property, as with a joint bank account.)

What if in one year Dad gives Junior $14,000 in cash plus a share of ABC stock which has a market value of $100? (Assume that Mom isn’t in the picture to donate her annual exclusion.) In that case Dad will be required to file a gift tax return to report the gift, but probably won’t have to pay any gift tax. The reason: Each of us has an exemption. For 2016 the exemption amounts to $5,450,000. So the effect of Dad’s gift is that his exemption is reduced by the amount over the annual exclusion, $100. The balance of his exemption continues through his lifetime and applies at his death to his estate. Thus, only if his taxable estate at death exceeds the balance remaining of his exemption ($5,449,900 in this example) will his estate be subject to estate tax.

Please note that any gift between husband and wife, either during lifetime or at death, is not subject to gift or estate tax, no matter the size.

There is a subtle but important issue that should be addressed in the discussion of giving. In the above example in which Dad gave Junior a share of ABC stock, the value of Dad’s gift is measured by the market value at the time of the gift, $100 in this example. Let’s say that Dad paid $50 for that share some time ago, so his “basis” in the stock is $50. When he gives the stock to Junior, Junior takes the same basis. So, if Junior sells the stock for $100, he has a capital gain to report on his income tax return of $50. On the other hand, if Dad gives Junior the stock at his death, the basis is “stepped up” to the value on the date of death. If that value is $100 when Dad dies and Junior sells the stock for $100 after inheriting it, Junior has no capital gain to report.

From "Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life" column appearing monthly in the Blue Ridge Leader, Loudoun County, VA.

The foregoing article contains general legal information only and is not intended to convey legal advice.  For legal advice regarding estate planning, the reader should contact his/her lawyer.

Daniel D. Smith is a partner in the law firm of Smith & Pugh, PLC, 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176. (Tel: 703-777-6084, www.smithpugh.com).

Amy V. Smith Wealth Management, LLC is an independent firm.  Amy V. Smith, CFP, CIMA offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC.  Her office is located at 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176.  (Tel: 703-669-5022, www.amysmithwealthmanagement.com). Any opinions are those of Amy and Dan Smith and not necessarily those of Raymond James.  Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete and does not provide legal advice.  Dan Smith is not affiliated with Raymond James.

Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: Trusts

A common estate planning device is the trust. A trust is simply an agreement between two people: the person who establishes the trust, who may be called the Settlor, the Grantor or the Trustor, and the person or institution who agrees to fulfill the terms of the trust, called the Trustee. There can be multiple Settlors, as, for example, a married couple; and there can be more than one Trustee. Quite often in estate planning the Settlor(s) and the Trustee(s) are the same person(s), as when a married couple creates a joint trust.

There are many different types of trust, too many to describe in the space of this article. In estate planning a “Revocable Living Trust” (RLT) is very common. This is a trust established during lifetime which the Settlor(s) can continue to change during lifetime. Usually the Settlor(s) and the Trustee(s) are the same person(s).

The RLT has several advantages. First, the RLT avoids probate for the assets with which it is properly funded during lifetime (for an explanation of probate, refer to our prior article on “Probate”). It is easier to change than a will. It provides a measure of privacy after death because, unlike a will, it is not recorded in the public records. (Beneficiaries, however, are entitled to a copy of the trust after the death of the Settlor.) It can provide lifetime management of assets for a Settlor who wants to turn that responsibility over to another person.

Contrary to popular belief, the RLT does not avoid estate tax. The RLT does avoid probate tax, but that tax is minimal. However, estate tax is not an issue for most Virginia residents. Unlike D.C. and Maryland, Virginia has no state estate tax. The federal government imposes an estate tax, but the current exemption is $5,430,000 per person.

Attorney fees are generally higher when an RLT is part of an estate plan because the trust is an additional document. Wills are still needed, although they are simple wills that “pour over” assets into the RLT at death. Do-it-yourself will and trust kits quite often lead to significant problems after death and are not recommended.

In order for an RLT to be effective in avoiding probate, it must be properly funded. This means that assets which would otherwise pass under the will (and thus go through probate) must be transferred to the trust during lifetime. It is common and most unfortunate for a Settlor to spend money to create a well-drafted trust but fail to fund it properly.

The RLT can provide for on-going trusts after the death of the Settlor. For example, a married couple may include a provision in their joint RLT that, if they are both deceased, a separate trust will be created for each child. A Trustee will be named for the trust, and the terms of the trust will be set forth. For example, the Trustee may be authorized to disburse for “health, education, support and maintenance” of the child and to disburse, say, half the balance of the child’s trust at 25 and the remaining balance at 30.

While the RLT can be very helpful in an estate plan, the need for an RLT can be overstated by advisors. There are many situations in which a simple will is quite sufficient. Each situation is different and should be reviewed with a competent advisor.

From "Amy and Dan Smith's Planning for Life" column appearing monthly in the Blue Ridge Leader, Loudoun County, VA.

The foregoing article contains general legal information only and is not intended to convey legal advice.  For legal advice regarding estate planning, the reader should contact his/her lawyer.

Daniel D. Smith is a partner in the law firm of Smith & Pugh, PLC, 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176. (Tel: 703-777-6084, www.smithpugh.com).

Amy V. Smith Wealth Management, LLC is an independent firm.  Amy V. Smith, CFP, CIMA offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC.  Her office is located at 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176.  (Tel: 703-669-5022, www.amysmithwealthmanagement.com). Any opinions are those of Amy and Dan Smith and not necessarily those of Raymond James.  Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete and does not provide legal advice.  Dan Smith is not affiliated with Raymond James.

Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: How Divorce Affects Social Security Benefits

The 10-year rule and understanding your benefit options

When it comes to retirement income, Social Security typically accounts for the lion’s share, so it makes sense to understand how to maximize your benefits. As you may know, marital status is an important decision factor when it comes to timing benefits. But, did you know divorce also comes into play? Many people see divorce as a chance to start over, a clean slate, if you will. But just because your former spouse is out of the picture, doesn’t mean his or her Social Security benefits have to be, especially if he or she earns more money than you. In fact, your ex can actually mean extra when it comes to what you’re eligible to collect.

Here’s why. If you were married at least 10 years before your divorce, you may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record, assuming he or she is entitled to them. If your ex-spouse hasn’t applied for retirement benefits yet, you can still collect on his or her record if you’ve been divorced for at least two years. This holds true even if your former spouse has remarried. And, claiming benefits on his or her record has no effect on what a new spouse can claim. Of course, you have to qualify to do so.

To claim benefits on an ex-spouse’s record, you must be 62 or older and still single. In addition, your own work-based benefits must be less than the benefits you’d receive on your ex-spouse’s record. On the other hand, if you were the higher earner during your working years, be aware that your ex can receive benefits based on your record. The same qualifying criteria apply to your ex as well, and your own benefits will not be affected.

How divorce benefits work

Once you have reached full retirement age, you’ll have a choice between your own benefits and your spouse’s. You can choose to receive your ex-spouse’s benefits first, while delaying your own retirement benefits. Waiting longer could result in a higher benefit down the road based on the effect of delayed retirement credits. Keep in mind, though, that getting married again generally means you can’t collect on your former spouse’s benefits record, unless the subsequent marriage also ends, for whatever reason.

Prior to full retirement age, if you’re eligible for your own retirement benefits and ex-spouse benefits, you’ll receive a combination of benefits equal to whichever is higher. Basically, your benefits will be paid first and then your ex-spouses benefits will supplement the rest. Keep in mind the amount you receive depends on the age you begin drawing benefits. Generally, the longer you wait to begin claiming Social Security, the higher your benefit.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to Social Security and when to start drawing benefits. However, it’s important to talk to your advisor and determine how to maximize the benefits coming to you, including whether it makes sense to apply for benefits on your ex-spouse’s work record.

From "Amy and Dan Smith's Planning for Life" column appearing monthly in the Blue Ridge Leader, Loudoun County, VA.

The foregoing article contains general legal information only and is not intended to convey legal advice.  For legal advice regarding estate planning, the reader should contact his/her lawyer.

Daniel D. Smith is a partner in the law firm of Smith & Pugh, PLC, 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176. (Tel: 703-777-6084, www.smithpugh.com).

Amy V. Smith Wealth Management, LLC is an independent firm.  Amy V. Smith, CFP, CIMA offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC.  Her office is located at 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176.  (Tel: 703-669-5022, www.amysmithwealthmanagement.com). Any opinions are those of Amy and Dan Smith and not necessarily those of Raymond James.  Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete and does not provide legal advice.  Dan Smith is not affiliated with Raymond James.

Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: When to Take Social Security - Timing is Everything

As you approach retirement, there are several decisions that can impact the level of income you will receive when you stop working. One such decision will be about claiming your Social Security retirement benefit.

More than half of eligible Americans take their benefits “early”-after they reach 62, even though they are locking in a permanent reduction in their monthly payment by as much as 25 percent. Still, “early” makes sense for many if they have little in savings and simply need the money. However, many do it because they can, without realizing they are giving up progressively higher payments each year they wait to claim, potentially losing as much as 32 percent than if they had waited to age 70. Surveys have shown that nearly 40 percent in this camp actually regret their decision to claim “early” once they realize how much they have given up in lifetime income. For some couples, this could translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars for not adopting a “wait to take” strategy.

This “wait” strategy makes even more sense when you consider the growing longevity for both men and women. On average, women reaching age 65 today can expect to live to age 86 and men to 84, according to the Social Security Administration. While that’s good news, it also presents several new challenges. A longer life increases the likelihood that you’ll have increased medical and long-term care expenses. The value of your nest egg will be more significantly impacted by increases in the cost of living over a longer term. And, quite simply, you could outlive your money.

This means that today, it’s more important than ever to make calculated decisions about when to begin drawing Social Security benefits within the context of your overall retirement income plan and to develop a strategy to maximize the value of it. Evaluating a number of decision factors can help you maximize your Social Security retirement benefits and even your survivor’s benefits. By addressing each of these factors as it pertains to you, you can develop a plan to get the most out of your benefits when combined with other sources of retirement income.

Once a plan is in place, you can then knowledgeably and confidently make your appointment at the local Social Security Office, which can be found via the website www.ssa.gov. Here you can find more information about the claiming process.

To recap, if you are considering applying for benefits soon, you’re likely concerned with four primary decision factors:
Your Age-when should you draw benefits?
Your Job-How do earnings impact your benefits?
Your Taxes-How are benefits taxed when combined with other retirement income?
Your Marital Status-How do spousal and survivor benefits work?

From "Amy and Dan Smith's Planning for Life" column appearing monthly in the Blue Ridge Leader, Loudoun County, VA.

The foregoing article contains general legal information only and is not intended to convey legal advice.  For legal advice regarding estate planning, the reader should contact his/her lawyer.

Daniel D. Smith is a partner in the law firm of Smith & Pugh, PLC, 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176. (Tel: 703-777-6084, www.smithpugh.com).

Amy V. Smith Wealth Management, LLC is an independent firm.  Amy V. Smith, CFP, CIMA offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC.  Her office is located at 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176.  (Tel: 703-669-5022, www.amysmithwealthmanagement.com). Any opinions are those of Amy and Dan Smith and not necessarily those of Raymond James.  Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete and does not provide legal advice.  Dan Smith is not affiliated with Raymond James.

Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: A Social Security Strategy Could Enhance Your Retirement Income Plan

What do you think of when someone mentions Social Security? Many people consider Social Security and retirement as one and the same. More than 90 percent of working Americans plan for Social Security to replace part of their current incomes when they leave the workforce. Sadly, what really happens is that, because of timing decisions, 75 percent of those already receiving benefits are drawing a reduced amount.*

Your benefits can be greatly affected by your specific circumstances during retirement. Your monthly payment amounts as well as your tax status can change if you decide to work part time or start a second career. There is also your and your spouse’s beneficiary eligibility to consider.

Baby boomers – on average – are living longer than any previous generation. While that’s good news, it also presents several new challenges. A longer life increases the likelihood that you’ll have increased medical and long-term care expenses. The value of your nest egg will be more significantly impacted by increases in the cost of living over a longer term. And, quite simply, you could outlive your money.

One important aspect of planning for your later years is factoring in the benefits you will be entitled to once you reach retirement age. The Social Security Administration website (http://ssa.gov/myaccount/) provides you with a useful online tool to determine your likely benefit amount as well as your earnings statement. Registration is required. But, once you establish an account you can check your earnings record and benefits estimate at any time, day or night. No more waiting for your quarterly statement to arrive in the mail!

It’s important to check your earnings once a year to make sure the SSA is recording your income accurately. If your income is being under-reported, it could reduce the amount of benefits you receive.

When you consider all these factors, it’s more important than ever to make calculated decisions about when to begin drawing Social Security benefits within the context of your overall retirement plan. Alongside other sources of income, Social Security is a critical asset to plan for in retirement, so it’s important to develop a strategy to maximize the value of it. Evaluating a number of decision factors can help you maximize your Social Security retirement benefits and even your survivor benefits.

Over the coming months, I’d like to present an overview of the critical factors that relate to your benefits including:
Your age: When should you draw benefits?
Your job: How do earnings impact benefits?
Your taxes: How are benefits taxed when combined with other retirement?
Your marriage: How do spousal benefits work?
*Source: Social Security Administration

From "Amy and Dan Smith's Planning for Life" column appearing monthly in the Blue Ridge Leader, Loudoun County, VA.

The foregoing article contains general legal information only and is not intended to convey legal advice.  For legal advice regarding estate planning, the reader should contact his/her lawyer.

Daniel D. Smith is a partner in the law firm of Smith & Pugh, PLC, 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176. (Tel: 703-777-6084, www.smithpugh.com).

Amy V. Smith Wealth Management, LLC is an independent firm.  Amy V. Smith, CFP, CIMA offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC.  Her office is located at 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176.  (Tel: 703-669-5022, www.amysmithwealthmanagement.com). Any opinions are those of Amy and Dan Smith and not necessarily those of Raymond James.  Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete and does not provide legal advice.  Dan Smith is not affiliated with Raymond James.

 

 

Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: The Marital Agreement

In Virginia, as in most states, a marital agreement can be entered into before or after marriage.  It can cover a variety of topics but commonly addresses issues pertaining to the disposition of property upon separation, divorce or death of the parties, including spousal support.  The agreement and any amendment thereto must be in writing and signed by both parties.  Commonly, lawyers will require a list of assets and liabilities of the parties as an attachment to ensure that the agreement has been entered into with full disclosure.  Each of the couple should have his/her own lawyer to avoid conflict of interest.

There is understandably a resistance to the idea of a marital agreement.  To say the least, it would likely steal some joy after the marriage proposal for one to suggest to his/her betrothed that, while intending to live happily after, they should discuss terms of divorce.  However, there is a place for the marital agreement even if divorce in not considered an option for the couple.  It is important, especially with second marriages and blended families, that the rights and obligations of the parties upon death be addressed, even if separation and divorce are not included in the agreement.

Each state has statues giving rights to a surviving spouse to elect a portion of the estate of his/her deceased spouse and to override provisions in a will.  Such an election can disrupt a well-considered estate plan intended to benefit the children of the decedent.  A marital agreement can specify the rights of the surviving spouse in the estate of the deceased spouse in return for a waiver of the statutory right of election.  It can also contain provisions concerning who may serve as agent under a power of attorney and medical directive and as executor of the decedent's estate.  These can be very divisive issues in blended families.

Often, parents want to preserve within their bloodline the inheritance that they intend to leave to their child.  They may insist that their son or daughter enter into a marital agreement as a condition to marriage in order to be sure that "grandma's silverware" doesn't eventually end up with the son/daughter-in-law either through death or divorce.  If a marital agreement is not possible, an alternative is for the parents to leave the inheritance in a trust for the child.  Properly structured, the trust could provide the benefit of the assets to the child (and grandchildren) while withholding ownership so that the assets are not available to the son-in-law or daughter-in-law in case of divorce or death.

As uncomfortable as the topic of a marital agreement may be, the fact is that a discussion of sensitive topics before marriage can be a very healthy exercise.  Attitudes may be revealed which had hitherto not been apparent in the bliss of infatuation, and thorny issues can be resolved before they are allowed to disrupt family harmony.

Children of a blended family are often comforted to know that issues pertaining to their potential inheritance have been addressed and are being protected by their parent.  Sharing the existence of - and in many cases the details of - a marital agreement with children can help to dispel distrust of the stepparent.

The foregoing article contains general legal information only and is not intended to convey legal advice.  For legal advice regarding estate planning, the reader should contact his/her lawyer.

Daniel D. Smith is a partner in the law firm of Smith & Pugh, PLC, 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176. (Tel: 703-777-6084, www.smithpugh.com).

Amy V. Smith Wealth Management, LLC is an independent firm.  Amy V. Smith, CFP, CIMA offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC.  Her office is located at 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176.  (Tel: 703-669-5022, www.amysmithwealthmanagement.com). Any opinions are those of Amy and Dan Smith and not necessarily those of Raymond James.  Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete and does not provide legal advice.  Dan Smith is not affiliated with Raymond James.

 

Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: Challenges for Blended Families

The blended family has become more the norm than the exception in our society.  As with most second marriages, Amy and I came into our marriage with our own children, our own careers and our own estates.  We have experienced the challenges of the blended family.

Typically, a parent in a second marriage has conflicting loyalties.  There is the desire to provide for the well being of the second spouse while, often at the same time, there is a felt duty to preserve some part of the estate (especially, of that acquired before the second marriage) for his/her children of the first marriage.  This conflict can be especially acute if there is a significant age difference between the spouses.  Thus, the older spouse could provide a trust for the life of his/her spouse, but this could delay significantly the benefit to the children of the first marriage by many years.

Under the law of most states, including Virginia, a surviving spouse has a statutory right to a percentage of the deceased spouse's estate, no matter what provisions the decedent has made for the surviving spouse upon his/her death.  In other words, the surviving spouse may elect rights at law against the provisions of the will.  This right of election can result in a major disruption in a well-thought out estate plan.

A key tool in the planning process is the Marital Agreement.  In Virginia, as with most states, this can be entered before or after marriage.  The purpose is to address and resolve the possible legal issues that can arise from the marriage.  Many people consider such an agreement distasteful because it typically addresses the possibility of divorce, an awkward subject for two people planning for - or already in - a marriage.  While most lawyers would recommend including provisions pertaining to a possible dissolution of the marriage, the agreement does not need to cover that topic.  Rather, it can - and should - deal with the rights of the surviving spouse upon the death of the first spouse to die.  This would include the financial arrangements to be provided in each spouse's estate for the survivor and the right to serve as executor and/or trustee of the decedent spouse's estate and trust.  The marital agreement can also deal with the right of the spouse to be the agent for the other under a power of attorney or advance medical directive.  Such provisions can eliminate potential conflicts among the children of each spouse and the step-parent.

Creative planning and honest communication can avoid painful, disruptive family conflicts.  Consider a factual situation:  The surviving wife discovers that, upon the sudden death of her husband, his adult children of the first marriage are appointed to serve as executors of the estate and as trustees for the trust established for the benefit of the surviving wife.  In other words, the step-mother must apply to her step-children for disbursements from the trust, and the step-children inherit what remains from the trust after the death of their step-mother.  This situation is destined to create on-going tension.  Creative alternatives exist which could have avoided such a potentially painful situation.

Planning in the context of the blended family can evolve as circumstances change, as, for example, children graduate from college, an inheritance is received, the residence is downsized, a spouse retires.  Thoughtful planning can accommodate life changes and avoid disruptive family conflicts.

 

From "Amy and Dan Smith's Planning for Life" column appearing monthly in the Blue Ridge Leader, Loudoun County, VA.

The foregoing article contains general legal information only and is not intended to convey legal advice.  For legal advice regarding estate planning, the reader should contact his/her lawyer.

Daniel D. Smith is a partner in the law firm of Smith & Pugh, PLC, 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176. (Tel: 703-777-6084, www.smithpugh.com).

Amy V. Smith Wealth Management, LLC is an independent firm.  Amy V. Smith, CFP, CIMA offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC.  Her office is located at 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176.  (Tel: 703-669-5022, www.amysmithwealthmanagement.com). Any opinions are those of Amy and Dan Smith and not necessarily those of Raymond James.  Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete and does not provide legal advice.  Dan Smith is not affiliated with Raymond James.

Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: Planning for Lives after Death

This past month I once again experienced life as prelude to practice.  It started with an email two weeks ago from a hospice caregiver at my father's request with words every child dreads: "Your Dad has asked me to write and tell you he thinks the end is near.  He says you'll know what to do."  What had been planned as a birthday celebration in Florida within 48 hours ended as a death vigil for my father.  My immediate family members were gathered at my parent's home to say goodbye.  Dad died quickly and peacefully after struggling for years with chronic pulmonary dysfunction.  Two of us were on either side of him holding his hands while he was sitting up on the couch, and we noticed that he stopped breathing.

The following days were busy with funeral arrangements.  Fortunately, my Dad had written out detailed instructions for his obituary, the funeral home, and church program, including specific hymns and names of those to deliver eulogies.  He had purchased a "burial package" from a local funeral home including the rental of a casket for visitation and funeral, followed by cremation, all of which was so helpful to minimize our decision-making at such an unsettling time.

What About Mom?

After the funeral, our first concern was for our mother and how her needs would be met in our family's "new normal."  Dad had always been the planner and decision-maker.  How could six brothers and sisters reach consensus to move forward and avoid the #1 problem encountered in the distribution of estate assets, money?  We'd never been particularly close but now was the time to bond for Mom's good.  Mom is physically healthy, and we hope will live for many more years.  However, she has some dementia and is unable to walk, requiring 24/7 skilled nursing care.  Fortunately, my youngest sister and husband volunteered the spare bedroom in their home for Mom's care.  Mom was visibly pleased with this decision.

Next, came the preparation for my sister's home to be fitted for Mom's needs.

Three of us sat down with care-givers and proposed an annual budget for Mom's continued care.  This included in-home nursing care (the largest expense item, approximately 2/3 of total budget), personal items, compensation for my sister's time, privacy and lost wages, and items needed to make her home handicap-friendly - including a light-weight wheel chair to fit through door frames, a hospital bed, shower stool and handle bars.

My siblings then advertised and interviewed qualified caregivers and gave them an in-home "test" to make sure each was a good fit not only for Mom's needs but also with my sister's family.  My sister called references provided by each applicant.

Mom moved in last week to her new home.  Her name is on the waiting list of a nearby assisted living facility in the event care provided in my sister's home is not sufficient for her physical needs.

Finally, we've all agreed on a conservative, relatively low-risk annual average financial goal for the investment return on Mom's assets to cover her on-going expenses.

Key Takeaways:

  • Conduct a family meeting with all concerned parties before death or, if not possible, with the nominated executors and trustees, to review wishes in writing well in advance of need.
  • Review estate documents and assets as soon as possible in order to assess how much is available for survivor's needs.
  • Plan an annual budget for lifetime living expenses of surviving spouse and agree so there are "no surprises" when estate proceeds are reviewed.
  • Consider purchasing long-term care insurance to offset cost of healthcare needs.  The cost of in-home healthcare is expected to be one of the greatest living expenses in retirement until end of life and can significantly deplete family inheritance.
  • Make time to grieve. Consider enrolling in a grief counseling program.  I've found the "Grief Share" (www.griefshare.org) program in local churches to be effective for those who have suffered significant loss.

 

Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: Planning for the Unexpected

Life-changing medical events of the past week have reminded me to not only review my plans but perhaps serve as a messenger for a "call to action" to any of you who think financial and estate planning is for the well-heeled or something you cannot afford or don't need.

The situation happened quickly.  I had visited my parents last month and, while chronic issues were evident, crisis did not seem imminent.  Then one of my elderly parents began falling at home repeatedly.  My other parent, also physically impaired, did not register the gravity of this matter and did nothing.  My sister, arriving a few days later, immediately called 911, taking my parent to the hospital emergency room.

I won't go into the details of what transpired the next four days but suffice to say it was quite intense.  Our large family was split as to what action to take while our other parent accused some of us as "over-reacting."  The doctor made it clear to us that my parent would not be released from the hospital until a plan was in place at home for 24/7 nursing care.  Two of the first questions were "how much will it cost" and "how will we pay for it?"  Even for someone with adequate financial resources, it can be quite sobering to calculate what the cost of 24/7 home care might add up to over the course of a year and the impact it can potentially have on retirement savings and the amount left for heirs.

For example, while Medicare may pay up to the first 20 days of qualified, skilled nursing care after a hospital stay, thereafter it could be as much as $20 per hour.  Multiply this by 168 hours per week ($3,360) times 52 weeks and the total could come to as much as $174,720 per year.  Unfortunately, my parents had refused long-term care insurance years before, thinking they would never need it.  What to do?

First, my parent told the doctor that family members would provide this care at home.  I loved what the doctor said about family members taking care of critically ill parents:  It's the family's job to love the patient, not provide nursing care, unless they are professionally trained.  After spending 14 hours a day for 4 consecutive days in the hospital, I had a better understanding and appreciation of the professional nursing skills and sheer physicality required to feed, toilet, transport and bathe my parent (who was essentially dead weight) without causing further injury.

We kids thought the ultimate medical decision rested in the hands of my brother, who had been named power of attorney.  This was incorrect.  We had to find out who held my parent's medical directives and decision-making powers restricted to health-related matters.  (See complete "Health Care Decision Making" article previously posted.)  After lots of confusion, tears and prayer, my parent was allowed to return home the last day of my stay and is now experiencing a "new normal" in light of these events.  I hope my story will help some of you review your plans for when the unexpected occurs and consider the following action items if not in place:

  • Ask a legal professional in your state of residence to execute a written medical directive, selecting an agent (usually a family member) to execute your wishes.
  • If your agent is not capable to make appropriate medical decisions when needed, provide appropriate language in your documents to remove agent, specify under circumstances agent can be removed, and then provide the name of a successor.
  • Discuss your wishes with loved ones preferably before a crisis occurs.
  • Consider setting aside separate funds for health-care needs or invest in long-term care insurance. 

From "Amy and Dan Smith's Planning for Life" column appearing monthly in the Blue Ridge Leader, Loudoun County, VA.

The foregoing article contains general legal information only and is not intended to convey legal advice.  For legal advice regarding estate planning, the reader should contact his/her lawyer.

Daniel D. Smith is a partner in the law firm of Smith & Pugh, PLC, 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176. (Tel: 703-777-6084, www.smithpugh.com).

Amy V. Smith Wealth Management, LLC is an independent firm.  Amy V. Smith, CFP, CIMA offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC.  Her office is located at 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176.  (Tel: 703-669-5022, www.amysmithwealthmanagement.com). Any opinions are those of Amy and Dan Smith and not necessarily those of Raymond James.  Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete and does not provide legal advice.  Dan Smith is not affiliated with Raymond James.

 

Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: Looking Beyond U.S. Borders

Even though U.S. equities still represent the single largest portion of the world stock markets, more than half of the world's total stock market capitalization lies outside the United States, and economic growth rates outside the United States have in some cases exceeded that of the United States.  Investors are beginning to consider diversifying their holdings beyond U.S. borders as a result.  In the past, I have often recommended allocating no more than 10-20 percent of an investor's overall portfolio to international funds.  However, with the growth of global markets and the European Central Bank's recent initiation of quantitative easing, many experts now suggest an even higher percentage can be appropriate given the right circumstances.

The following article "Thoughts on Europe" is from Chris Bailey, Raymond James European Strategist.  The complete article can be found on my website www.amysmithwealthmanagement.com under "Market View" then "Investment Strategy Quarterly."

Thoughts on Europe

From the perspective of American investors, this year's rise of the U.S. dollar pushed most international markets into losses although the history books show that, in local currencies, many European and international equity markets made gains during 2014.  However, any losses are modest compared to those apparent in mid-October when most international equity markets hit their lows for the year.  By contrast, fixed income markets in Europe and Asia have been very strong with generally material yield compression to levels not seen in modern financial history.

To understand the reasons for the above, it's necessary to review the policy actions of the European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of Japan (BOJ) and the People's Bank of China (PBOC).  Throughout 2014, the ECB loosened policy that included interest rate cuts and the announcement of asset buying support mechanisms.  Meanwhile, the BOJ announced a material expansion of the quantitative easing program and the PBOC also cut interest rates for the first time in two years.

Unifying reasons for these actions was a fear that these economies would slip into a slower growth zone, such as outright recession in Europe and Japan and below recent-trend-growth rates in China.  In the last few months of 2014, the anticipated expansion of these pro-growth policies into 2015 has provided a strong boost since the mid-October lows.  In late December, market fears about the euro zone resurfaced amid political crisis in Greece, stoking concerns about a renegotiation of it's bailout.

Europe's outlook for 2015 rests on the credibility of policy-makers.  Further stimulus measures to help boost growth seem very likely in the euro zone; however these are unlikely to be sufficient on their own to sustainably boost the local economies and retain investor confidence.  This role rests with the speed of structural reforms around taxation, labor markets and other company productivity initiatives.  If legislation movement in Europe can be successfully accomplished, the investment outlook for the euro zone in particular is bright.

From "Amy and Dan Smith's Planning for Life" column appearing monthly in the Blue Ridge Leader, Loudoun County, VA.

 The foregoing article contains general information only and is not intended to convey investment or legal advice.  Amy V. Smith Wealth Management, an independent firm, CFP, CIMA offers securities through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC.  Her office is located at 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176.  (Tel. 703-669-5022, www.amysmithwealthmanagement.com).  Any opinions are those of Amy and Dan Smith and not necessarily those of Raymond James.  Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete and does not provide legal advice.  Dan Smith is not affiliated with Raymond James.

Daniel D. Smith is a partner in the law firm of Smith & Pugh, PLC, 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Leesburg, VA 20176. (Tel: 703-777-6084, www.smithpugh.com).