Lessons In Estate Planning From Casey Kasem

If you have spent time online or watching the news recently, you have probably heard about Casey Kasem’s disturbing final weeks. The legendary host of American Top 40 and longtime voice of Shaggy from Scooby Doo passed away last weekend at the age of 82.

Photo taken at the 41st Emmy Awards 9/17/89 - ...

Photo taken at the 41st Emmy Awards 9/17/89. Photo by Alan Light. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are so many lessons to be learned from Casey’s last weeks that it is hard to know where to begin. I have provided two links to articles about recent developments. The Forbes article discusses in detail the battle between Casey’s second wife, Jean, and his daughter Kerri over control of Casey’s care. The second article, from Find Law, discusses some of the estate planning tools and strategies involved in the case. In this post, I would like to focus on the latter article.

Health Care Proxy/Advance Healthcare Directive/Living Will. This document allows a person to give authority to another adult to make healthcare decisions on his or her behalf in the event of incapacity, and specify the types of treatment desired in an end of life situation. Casey signed such a directive in 2007, placing his daughter Kerri and her husband in charge of making healthcare decisions for him.

Power of Attorney. A Power of Attorney is different from an Advance Healthcare Directive, but it too authorizes another adult to make legal and financial decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person. Some Power of Attorney documents may include authority to make health care decisions, which can lead to conflict between the documents. In 2011, Casey designated his wife Jean as Power of Attorney, and this superseded Casey’s 2007 Advance Healthcare Directive.  This illustrates the problem of naming separate parties, at separate times, to make decisions on one’s behalf.

Guardianship and Conservatorship. Casey’s daughter was able to successfully argue for and obtain Conservatorship a month before Casey’s death. This gave her control over Casey’s financial and medical decisions. (It is important to note that in Massachusetts, Conservatorship names a person to make financial decisions on another’s behalf, while Guardianship can authorize a person to make medical decisions.) In this way, she was able to enforce Casey’s Advance Healthcare Directive, which stipulated that he did not wish to be kept alive if doing so “would result in a mere biological existence.”

While it is advisable to be more specific in making one’s Advance Healthcare Directive, Casey’s condition was so dire that his doctor concluded that continuing artificial nutrition and hydration would “at best prolong the dying process for him and certainly add suffering to an already terribly uncomfortable dying process.”

It’s a sad story, one that will no doubt get even uglier as the parties battle over Casey’s estate and allegations of elder abuse. But hopefully, it will serve as a reminder about the importance of open communication between family members and the need for comprehensive, consistent end-of-life planning.

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Three Budget Proposals That Could Hurt Your Retirement Plan

A recent article in Forbes discusses three proposals in President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2015 that could disrupt retirement plans nationwide. It’s a fairly long article, which I invite you to read in full by clicking here, but here are the “highlights.”


retirement (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Mandatory minimum distributions on Roth IRAs.
Unlike traditional IRAs and other retirement planning vehicles, Roth IRAs are not subject to rules requiring minimum distributions at age 70 and a half. This change will reduce the amount of assets benefitting from tax-free growth, with the owner of the Roth IRA ultimately having less money available during the course of his or her retirement.

A cap on wealth inside an IRA.
This change would place a cap on the amount of contributions or accruals allowed in an IRA once the owner has achieved what the government terms a “secure retirement.” The cap is rather substantial, $3.2 million, but other retirement plans such as a 401(k) and 403(b) would count against the IRA cap. High net worth individuals should be aware of how this potential change will impact the way they use IRAs in their retirement plans.

A reduction in Social Security benefits.
The government has been exploring ways to protect the future viability of the Social Security system for years. According to the Forbes article, the current focus is on finding ways to eliminate aggressive Social Security claiming strategies, which allow wealthy beneficiaries to maximize delayed retirement credits by manipulating the timing of collecting Social Security benefits. The loss or reduction of certain claiming strategies could impact not only wealthy beneficiaries, but also middle and lower income families who were planning to use similar strategies in planning for retirement.

While it is impossible to predict which, if any, of these changes will be adopted, the prospect of changes to the law is one reason to have your plan reviewed over time.

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Meditation May Help Seniors Cope With Loneliness

I recently came across an article describing how meditation may provide seniors with both psychological and physical benefits. A study conducted at UCLA found that meditation might reduce feelings of loneliness and the expression of certain genes that cause inflammation.

Meditating in Madison Square Park, Manhattan, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meditating in Madison Square Park, Manhattan, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The study involved 40 people between the ages of 55 and 85, who were assigned to either a control group or a group that practiced what is called mindfulness meditation. This involves training the mind to focus on events taking placing at the present moment instead of past or future events. Participants in the mindfulness meditation group attended weekly two-hour meetings and meditated daily for 30 minutes. After eight weeks, the participants who had been meditating reported feeling significantly less lonely.

The study found that the mindfulness meditation group benefitted physically as well, showing ‘lower levels of an inflammatory marker C-reactive protein and beneficial alterations in a genetic transcription factor (NK-kB), which has been found to be important in heart disease.’

According to Steven W. Cole, the study’s lead scientist, “Our work presents the first evidence showing that a psychological intervention that decreases loneliness also reduces pro-inflammatory gene expression. If this is borne out by further research, MBSR could be a valuable tool to improve the quality of life for many elderly.”

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The Arlington Elder Abuse Task Force

I am on the Arlington Elder Abuse Task Force for this Town Forum. The Mission Statement is: “The Arlington Elder Abuse Task Force is a community-based team of organizations and individuals committed to providing public education and resources to prevent and respond to abuse, neglect, fraud, and financial exploitation of all seniors in Arlington.”
Please join us on June 24th for:
A community-wide forum on the economic security and personal safety of our seniors.
Click here for details.
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Eyes Wide Open—What You Need To Know Before Remarrying In Retirement

Several weeks ago, I posted an article about senior dating and some of the resources available to help seniors who are divorced or widowed find a new partner. The article also mentioned that for various reasons, many seniors who do meet that special someone are reluctant to get remarried. But what if you do want to marry your new love? A recent article in USA Today addresses some of the issues couples need to consider before walking down the aisle again.

A couple of 14-carat gold wedding rings. Pictu...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Discuss each of your finances openly
Does your prospective spouse carry a lot of debt? Have either of you co-signed loans to help children from previous marriages? Questions like these need be asked before the marriage, not after. Many people are embarrassed about their debt and reluctant to discuss it. You should also review one another’s credit reports.

Don’t forget to change your beneficiaries
If you have a life insurance policy, an annuity, an IRA, or any other retirement account, review each of them and make sure beneficiary designations reflect your new relationship.

Think about getting a prenuptial agreement
It’s not the most romantic topic to bring up with your new love, but virtually every senior considering remarriage should have one.

Think twice before adding your new spouse’s name to your home
This is often one of the most contentious issues in second and third marriages. Children from previous marriages can feel particularly threatened by the potential loss of the family home. Instead of adding your new spouse’s name to the home, it is more prudent to give him or her occupancy rights.

If you are a senior considering remarriage, I invite you to contact me to discuss issues like these and any other concerns you might have.

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The Tip Of A Lifetime

I recently came across an uplifting story that I want to share with you. It’s about a young woman named Melissa Manier, who was working as a waitress at a restaurant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to help pay her way through college. One day, she was waiting on an elderly gentleman who frequented the restaurant, a man by the name of Benjamin Olewine III. The two had never spoken to one another, but on this particular day, they did.

Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org

Photo Credit: en.wikipedia.org

During their conversation, Benjamin learned that Melissa was working her way through nursing school and struggling to pay her student debt. According to Benjamin, he admired Melissa’s determination to succeed and her demeanor. So much so, that he offered to pay off her existing loans, and cover the cost of the rest of her education.

As you would expect, Melissa was skeptical. After all, she had no idea who this man was, other than another friendly regular customer.

It turns out that Benjamin Olewine III is a millionaire and one of Harrisburg’s most generous philanthropists. He had donated money to causes all over town, and he was serious about paying for Melissa’s education and helping her realize her dreams of becoming a nurse.

Fast-forward a few years, hundreds of hours of study, and $20,000 in tuition payments from Benjamin—Melissa is now a registered nurse. Fittingly, she works at PinnacleHealth in Harrisburg, where the spine, bone and joint institute is named after a major donor. That donor’s name is Benjamin Olewine III.

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Estate Planning Is No Game, Especially When You Own A Professional Sports Team

While virtually everyone can benefit from having an estate plan of his or her own, proper planning is particularly important for people of means—for example, owners of professional sports teams. Let’s take a look at what happened following the death of three such owners.

Joseph Robbie
Joseph Robbie was a highly successful businessman and attorney. He also owned one of the most successful teams in National Football League history, the Miami Dolphins. When Robbie passed away in 1990, his estate was valued at slightly less than $100 million, nearly 50 percent of which was lost to federal estate taxes. This, together with bitter infighting between family members, forced Robbie’s family to sell the team at a fraction of its value—a result that could have been avoided through proper planning.

George Steinbrenner

English: George Steinbrenner's life, work clip...

George Steinbrenner 1930-2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees, a team worth approximately $1.6 billion according to Forbes, passed away in 2010. However, at the time of his death, the franchise was 95 percent leveraged due to debt from construction of the Yankee’s new stadium. While this sounds like a recipe for disaster, Steinbrenner had the “good fortune” to die in a year when there was no federal estate tax. In effect, he saved his heirs approximately $600 million by passing away in 2010. In the world of sports, pundits often say, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” In Mr. Steinbrenner’s case, it would appear that this cliché rang true.

Ralph Wilson
Ralph Wilson died earlier this year. He was the sole owner of the Buffalo Bills. He never made public his intentions for the franchise, so it is unknown if ownership will transfer to his family members, or the team will be put up for sale. The result may wind up revolving around the issue of estate taxes and whether Wilson put in place a plan to reduce or eliminate payment of these taxes upon his death.

If he did nothing, his family may have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal estate taxes. However, if he left the team to his wife, his estate would pay nothing, thanks to the marital exemption. There are a number of other estate planning tools he could have used to protect the family’s assets, together with the Bill’s future in Buffalo. Given how little time has passed since Mr. Wilson’s death, it’s simply too early to tell what will happen to his estate and the franchise.

To learn more about the estate planning issues associated with these professional sports team owners, click on the links below.

A Tale of Two Families

How Steinbrenner Saved His Heirs a $600 Million Tax Bill

Estate taxes may hold key to Bills’ future after Wilson’s death

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Paper Makes A Comeback—Social Security Administration To Resume Mailing Benefits Statements

I always liked receiving those statements in the mail every year detailing my Social Security benefits. It reminded me that, yes, some of the money I paid in taxes that year would eventually come back to me when I retire. Sure, I could have registered to view my benefits online, but I just liked getting those statements. If you feel the same way, I have some good news for you—the Social Security Administration will resume mailing them out this September.

Modern Social Security card.

Modern Social Security card. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a catch, however. The statements will only be mailed to workers aged 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, and older. And, if you registered to view your benefits online, you will not receive the mailed statement.

Why did the Social Security Administration decide to resume mailing benefits statements? A recent article I found online (I know, somewhat ironic, isn’t it?) discusses several reasons. One is that only about 11 million people signed up to access information about their benefits online. Given that Social Security is a primary component of a secure retirement, it is important that people understand the benefits that will be available to them when they retire.

The Social Security Administration also received pressure from advocacy groups for the elderly and the paper industry. The executive director of Consumers for Paper Options, John Runyan, pointed out that millions of Americans have no Internet access, and therefore no way to verify the accuracy and amount of their benefits.

Fortunately, now they will.

If you want to set up online access – click here.

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Got Arthritis? Get Milk.

It is estimated that more than a third of adults over the age of 65 have a degenerative joint disease known as osteoarthritis. And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis of the knee is particularly severe and common in older women.

A glass of milk Français : Un verre de lait

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently came across an article in the AARP newsletter that discussed this issue and referenced an interesting study funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The study suggests that women who drink up to six glasses of fat-free or low-fat milk per week are able to delay the effects of arthritis in their knees.

Unfortunately, the study indicated that men did not experience a similar decline in the progression of knee osteoarthritis. Oddly enough, the study also showed that consuming other dairy products, such as yogurt or cheese, did not reduce joint deterioration at all. In fact, women who consumed more cheese displayed faster deterioration.

The researchers who took part in the study were unable to discern a cause-effect explanation for what they found. However, when the team’s leader, Bing Lu, M.D., was asked by the New York Times whether people with osteoarthritis should drink milk, his answer was simple: “Yes, low-fat or fat-free milk.”

Given some of the foods and beverages that are rumored to treat osteoarthritis, such as shark cartilage and snake venom, I’ll take a cold glass of milk every time.

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How Reverse Mortgages Can Lead To Problems For Your Children

According to a recent New York Times article, children of parents who took out reverse mortgages to cover the cost of long-term care are increasingly faced with a difficult choice—watching helplessly as the family home goes into foreclosure, or losing their inheritances to pay back the loan and protect the home.


(Photo credit: james.thompson)

While there is no specific data on the number of heirs facing foreclosure as a result of reverse mortgages, interviews with elder law advocates, housing counselors, and heirs suggest that the problem may already be impacting tens of thousands of people. And the problem could become worse. The combined debt of seniors between the ages of ages of 65 and 74 is rising faster than the debt of any other age group. Some will turn to reverse mortgages to pay their debts. Meanwhile, 13 percent of outstanding reverse mortgages are underwater, and create a financial crisis for the heirs forced to deal with the mortgages.

The problem for heirs of parents who have passed away with reverse mortgages seems to be twofold. The law requires that lenders offer heirs 30 days from when the loan is due to decide what they wish to do with the property. Furthermore, heirs are supposed to be given six months to arrange for financing if they want to keep the home. It would appear that many lenders are not informing the heirs of these options, and instead initiating foreclosure within a matter of weeks.

The other problem centers on what is known in the industry as the 95 percent rule. Heirs are permitted to pay 95 percent of the current fair market value of the property to buy out the reverse mortgage. But the housing crises from a few years ago has rendered today’s market value significantly below what the heirs’ parents paid for their reverse mortgage. The disparity between the current value of the home and the mortgage often forces heirs to opt for foreclosure rather than trying to keep the family home, or at least keep it long enough to sell it on their own.

If you are considering a reverse mortgage to pay for long-term care costs, I invite you to contact me for a consultation. I can show you other ways to pay for the care you need, and preserve your hard-earned assets for the enjoyment of your well spouse and your loved ones.

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