“The Legal Corner”
By Sam A. Moak
MAKE SURE YOU TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR
The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstance.
As hot as it is this summer, and its only June, this maybe a good time to reorganize the closets, clean out those old files in the cabinet, and get rid of all those boxes in the garage. Call it “Extended Spring Cleaning” if you will. Anytime someone “Spring Cleans” seems to be a good time to take stock and start fresh…at least in the home. But what about with your health?
I am not talking about the diet you vowed to follow in your New Year’s Resolution, or trying to look good in that new bathing suit this summer. What I am talking about is your annual checkup—taking stock of your health with your primary care physician and making sure you are both on the same page with your instructions for health care and your advanced healthcare directive or living will.
When clients come into our office for an estate plan, we ensure that their healthcare instructions are completed as well. But the job doesn’t end when the document is signed. We tell our clients their health care providers need to be aware of their wishes as well. The best way to ensure that they know and understand your wishes is to take a copy of your advanced healthcare directive or living will with you to your next check up and talk to your physician about it, then ask them to keep the copy on file.
A rule of thumb with healthcare wishes is to give a copy of your Medical Power of Attorney and your Directive to Physicians and Family to each of your primary care physicians, give copies to each of the healthcare agents you’ve nominated, AND keep a copy or two on file to take with you if you ever need to go to the hospital. Of course, keep the signed original in a safe place with the rest of your estate planning documents.
If you have a question regarding Elder Law, Estate Planning, Living Trusts or Probate in the Huntsville area, please contact us at 936-295-6394 or visit our website. Call today and we will connect you with an experienced Elder Law and Probate Attorney. We can schedule you a face to face appointment to discuss your circumstances. If you have questions or are considering any aspect of your estate plan, probate, or your health care directives, etc. we can help! We look forward to hearing from you and assisting you with any and all elder law and estate planning needs.
Having a net worth of $1 million, or maybe even $2 million, does not give you entry into such a small exceptional group as used to be the case. By some estimates, between 5 and 6 million American households have a net worth of at least $2 million. This means that currently there are considerably more people who should consider how best to shield their money from the IRS and pass it on to their heirs, assuming that is their wish. One such strategy that just became more attractive, due to new federal legislation, is the making of gifts during one’s lifetime.
Among the significant pieces of the new federal tax law that was passed in December 2010 were very substantial, albeit temporary, increases in the lifetime gift tax exemptions for individuals and couples. For 2011 and 2012, these exemptions have increased five-fold, from $1 million to $5 million for individuals, and from $2 million to $10 million for couples. There will be no gift tax imposed on gifts that do not exceed those totals. The same law reduces the tax rate for gifts above the exemptions to 35% from a scheduled rate of 55%, thus benefitting individuals wealthy enough to make gifts that exceed the exemption levels.
Last year, Congress also raised the exemption for federal estate taxes to $5 million, and lowered the estate tax rate to 35%, also for a two-year period, so that, taken together, the new federal estate and gift tax rates are more favorable for taxpayers than they have been for approximately 80 years.
This is an area of the law for which sophisticated professional help is especially appropriate, but there are some general considerations to bear in mind when devising a plan for gift-giving. For example, making a gift now, tax-free, makes good sense, especially for assets that are appreciating rapidly, so that future appreciation can be shielded from taxes. It is conceivable that Congress in the future could “claw back” gifts that are greater than the exemption at the time the donor dies, but, even in that event, any income or appreciation occurring after the gift date should be tax-exempt.
Other considerations for giving are more emotional than legal. Financial considerations aside, it may be a high priority for you to make sure that assets with sentimental value are preserved for future descendants, such as by putting them into a trust. Or gift-giving decisions may entail weighing some remorse over parting with assets that took so long to acquire against the desire to improve the lot of those receiving the gifts. Of course, a contrarian view might see large gifts as mainly abdicating control and risking having everything squandered. In any case, if these considerations are all reconciled in favor of making major gifts, now may well be the time to take the plunge.
I hope this review of the new federal tax law passed in 2010 has made it clear that everyone should do some planning. If you have a Will and have not reviewed it in awhile, then now is the time because the tax laws have changed and all Wills are not created equal. Your old Will may be outdated. You should consult an attorney to review your estate and draft the best document for you. Spending a little now can save a great deal of expense and aggravation for you family later.
If you have a question regarding Elder Law, Estate Planning, Living Trusts or Probate in the Huntsville area, please contact us at 936-295-6394 or visit our website. Call today and we will connect you with an experienced Elder Law and Probate Attorney. We can schedule you a face to face appointment to discuss your circumstances. If you have questions or are considering any aspect of your estate plan, probate, your health care directives, etc. we can help! Call us now at 936-295-6394 . We look forward to hearing from you and assisting you with any and all elder law and estate planning needs.
The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstances.
We all procrastinate. However, when it comes to estate planning, and particularly drafting a Will, it seems to get worse. Many couples think they are too young to need a Will or any kind of estate planning. But, as I have discussed in earlier columns and as was driven home to me this past week when a good friend and client was tragically killed, no one is too young to consider some estate planning.
Another oversight by many couples is that they never seem to get around to having a Will prepared or they fail to make changes to an existing Will as their life circumstances change. Let me ask a question that might motivate you. If you were to die tomorrow or next week, what about the kids? Who would pick them up from daycare or school? Who would make sure they were fed, bathed, and had a place to stay?
Not choosing means that if your kids become orphaned, the courts will decide who gets to raise them. And a judge may not choose who you would. He or she might choose that awful Aunt Deville. If no one agrees to take the children, then they could land in foster care. If too many people want them, then there is going to be a nasty fight in court over who is to become the guardian.
If you have young children or children in the difficult teen years, you probably would prefer to find a guardian yourself, and there is no time like the present. So, in this week’s column I will give you some things to consider in making this choice.
Your choice will be made easier if you first list the qualities that matter most to you in a caregiver. More importantly perhaps, what qualities do you want in your children when they are grown? Think about what spiritual and moral values are important to you and that you would like to see in your children. Think about the guardians as role models and what practical skills you want them to have. Establishing a guardianship is very much like deciding what you are all about as parents.Read More