When Do I Really Need to Update My Living Will?

Living will In the state of Massachusetts, a living will is a suggested supplement and companion document for your healthcare proxy. While your healthcare proxy is the official document that allows you to name individuals who you wish to help you in the event that you’re unable to make healthcare decisions on your own, your living will is the document that actually outlines what those wishes are, should those agents need to take action.

Use a Living Will for Your Unique Wishes and Needs

Your living will is highly personalized and tailored specifically to your individual needs. Remember that these needs and wishes may change over the course of your life or as your health situation changes. This is why it’s a good idea to set aside time to review your living will annually and to update it as needed. There are several different times that you may wish to update your living will outside of an annual review. These include:

  • When you are preparing for the birth of a child
  • When you have had a major change in your health or a significant diagnosis
  • On milestone birthdays ending in a five or a zero
  • If you can’t remember what your living will outlines
  • When a family member has recently gone through a health crisis and you want to ensure that your own documents help prepare for situations that may have happened
  • Before you go to surgery
  • After hearing a media story about where not having a living will impacted an individual and you want to make sure that a similar challenge won’t make life difficult for your family.

It’s never a good idea to attempt to write a living will on your own. It is strongly recommended that you consult with a Massachusetts estate planning attorney to be sure that all of your needs are addressed properly. Do not hesitate to get help as soon as possible in this situation.

Why Tax Time is the Perfect Window for Reviewing Your Will

When you’re going through your financial paperwork for the last year and preparing to file your taxes, it’s a good idea to take a look at any other legal documents that you have to ensure that they are written properly and still carry out the wishes that you want.

What Should I Review at Tax Time?

Some examples could include beneficiary designations on life insurance policies and your will. Make sure that the individuals you have named in any official estate planning documents are still willing and available to help.

Life Changes and the Passage of Time Necessitate Review

Things might have changed in your life over the course of the past year and these changes should be reflected in your estate planning documents. For example, one common area that is overlooked after an individual goes through a divorce is updating all of the beneficiary designations and estate planning documents that name your former spouse as an authorized agent. Of course, after a divorce you will want to update these but this is not the only event in your life that warrants a significant change.

Accomplish All Your Review at Once

Getting all of your paperwork out of the way at the same time ensures that you don’t have to think about it for a while and gives you the peace of mind that you know your documents are there to protect you and your needs for the year to come. Set up a consultation with a Massachusetts estate planning attorney to talk more about making these changes to your documents.

What Happens to Stocks After the Death of the Owner?

Business Stock Exchange Trading ConceptsAcross the United States, stock ownership is extremely common and this is why the question about what happens to stock ownership transfer when the holder passes away is of great importance to many individuals.

There are numerous variables that impact this, but the most important one has to do with whether or not the stocks are jointly owned. Since Massachusetts is not a community property state, you need to walk through your planning options with an attorney to make sure all of your assets and accounts are organized properly.

Typically, any jointly owned equities  pass to the survivor, although laws of different states can differ especially when it comes to what is classified as separate property. One of the most common methods for passing stock along is to use a registration referred to as ‘transfer on death.’.This means that a named beneficiary can take ownership of the stocks while avoiding the probate process.

Bear in mind that not all states allow for transfer on death registration for stocks, meaning that the probate process could still be required when the inheritance comes through a will or intestacy. If you are thinking about planning ahead for your own future, you will carefully want to consider all assets and how you want them included in your planning.

Meeting with a Masschusetts estate planning attorney can be extremely helpful if you intend to outline the distribution of assets that you wish to exclude from probate. Using tools like trust, for example, can help ensure that you maintain control over the distribution of assets without having concerns associated with your beneficiaries having to go through the probate process. You can talk over your options with an estate planning attorney about how jointly owned property will be treated when you pass away.

An estate planning attorney can also help you walk through all of the different assets in your estate to ensure that you have provided for the appropriate planning for each of them. Taking a comprehensive look at your estate planning is always beneficial.

Living Longer

Senior woman portraitRecently, President and Mrs. Obama made news when they enjoyed a visit and short dance with a 106-year-old woman from Washington D.C.

Virginia McLaurin, told reporters she had waited all her life to see a black man in the White House and had launched her own social media campaign two years ago, to visit the President before he left office. Her quote, after, seeing herself on You Tube was simply, “I can die with a smile on my face now.”

But, her performance brought to the fore a long held belief about the life expectancy difference between men and women. All over the globe, people have just assumed that it was something in the makeup of the female anatomy that allowed them to live longer.

But, according to scientists, that has only been true since the end of the 19th century.

A University of Wisconsin researcher studied deaths going back 200 years in 13 countries across North America and Europe. When combined with mortality data from the World Health Organization, they found that women and men had roughly the same life expectancy. Overall their lives were short, due to a number of factors, including lack of access to clean water and food as well as modern antibiotics.

But once those factors were available to everyone, women began to gain a longevity edge. For people born between 1900 and 1935, men were two or three times more likely to die in their 50’s and 60’s than their female counter parts.

For the first part of the 20th century smoking was much more common in men which accounted for some of the differences, but according to the study the gap really widened when people started eating more animal fats. A high-fat diet may do more damage to your system and since men tend to eat more animal fat that may account for the difference in mortality rates.

I’m not an expert in health and wellness but I know that you need to be prepared for the end of life regardless of sex or age. I am Noreen Murphy and would be happy to help you with Elder Care advice or Estate Planning guidance.

How Much Debt is Too Much?

Dept SignpostA recent report from the New York Federal Reserve, as reported in the Wall Street Journal,  pointed out that older Americans are holding more debt than previous generations.

According to the report, the average Baby Boomer over 65 has 47% more mortgage debt and 29% more auto debt than a 65-year-old had in 2003 (after adjusting for inflation).

In 2003 many seniors had no debt at all. A married couple who had lived in the same home for over 30 years was proud they had no mortgage, owned their own cars and were living a comfortably in retirement.

But there are number of lifestyle factors at work.

First, there are many more 65-year-olds today than there were in 2003. The Baby Boom generation is growing exponentially, so the range of potential lifestyles has changed significantly.

Eliminating a mortgage, and its tax deduction, may not be in their best interest. Borrowing money from your home at historically low interest rates (3%) to fund an investment that makes 5%, is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s all about cash flow as the MBA types would say.

While our parent’s generation did not have to fund our undergraduate education, many do so willingly now, hoping to alleviate student debt and get their children started off on an even financial footing.

Many seniors, who have more resources, are allowed to take on more debt because traditionally they have been able to pay off their loans.

The figures that are available indicate seniors have more debt but have not defaulted at a higher rate than in the past and are able to manage their debt more successfully – at least according to their credit scores.

Noreen Murphy Law can help with your estate planning , elder law or Veterans benefits needs. Please give her a call.

Who is a Qualifying Relative

Mother and daughterFor many years Baby Boomers were consumed by ‘empty nest syndrome’ when their children moved out and they had fewer responsibilities. Anxiety centered around everything from what to do with the rest of your life to how to use the extra space and whether your should move into a smaller home.

But then The Recession hit, and college graduates realized how much they still owed for their college educations. Thousands of young adults lost their jobs and had no choice but to move back home.

Aging parents, who did not have the means to support themselves added to the pressure and Baby Boomers became the ‘sandwich generation.’ Everyone, it seemed, was turning to them for help.

The result was an increased number of parents who had adult relatives living with them. These days, in some parts of the country, housing is so expensive adult children cannot even afford a place of their own so mom and dad are a great place to stay while they try to save money.

Love and compassion make it tough to say no, but there are some practical things to consider, such as what impact this will have on your taxes.

Claiming an adult dependent on your taxes is possible but the IRS has a specific set of factors that have to be considered for a qualifying relative.

Factors such as age, relationship, income, and how much support you actually provide are all part of the equation.

Noreen Murphy Law  for all your estate planning needs, if you need help with your estate, elder law or Veterans benefits please give her a call.

A Warning for Long-Term Care Patients: Monitor Your B12 Levels

too many meds macroToday’s entry is a little different from my usual blogs, and it’s written especially for my clients who are currently receiving some form of long-term care.

A brand-new study out of Canada, reported in U.S. News & World Report, finds that Vitamin B12 deficiency is surprisingly prevalent among long-term care patients, and it’s a real concern.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked with:

  • Amenia
  • Changes in skin pigmentation
  • Depression
  • Difficulty walking
  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nerve problems
  • Respiratory problems
  • Vision loss
  • Weakness

Many of those conditions can exacerbate problems already common among long-term care patients.

Most concerning, though, is the fact that several studies have shown a direct link between vitamin B12 deficiency and memory loss, including dementia. That’s startling when you consider that dementia is emerging as one of the primary factors in the rising need for long-term care in the first place.

While many people assume that the deficiency is caused by a lack of B12 in the diet, it often stems from medications and/or underlying medical conditions that interfere with the body’s ability to absorb the B12 already in your diet.

The good news is that most cases of B12 deficiency can be easily managed. Detection is the key. That’s why we’re sounding the alarm.

If you or someone you love is in long-term care, have a talk with your healthcare provider about vitamin B12 as soon as possible.

You Can’t Paint Long-Term Care Insurance with a Broad Brush

Forbes has an interesting new article that traces the history of long-term care insurance in America. It’s a topic I suspect many college history courses fail to touch upon, and not many more law school classes either.

Essentially, the summary looks like this: For a long time, long-term care insurance wasn’t very good. Then, in the 1990s, it became almost too good to be true, with great benefits at a surprisingly low price. Those untenable policy benefits eventually led to higher premiums, though, along with a reduction in benefits and a dramatic consolidation of the available plans.

Today, we’re somewhere in between. There are fewer long-term care insurance plans available, and those that exist range from modestly helpful to moderately helpful — and never entirely sufficient on their own.Long-term care insurance form and dollars.

There is a tendency among some Americans to take out a long-term care insurance policy and decide that they’ve done everything they need to take care of themselves in old age. That’s far from the truth, and those people may be in for a rude awakening.

On the other hand, though, there is an equally misguided tendency in the industry to write off long-term care insurance altogether.

For some people, long-term care insurance can make sense as one piece in a larger advance planning puzzle. It’s all a question of timing, premium, benefits, and your personal needs and financial standing.

In other words, long-term care insurance remains an option worth considering, but it’s a very fact-specific inquiry.

If you’d like to know whether long-term care insurance might play a role in your own plans for the future, I’d be happy to talk about it. Give me a call today.

A New Year, A New Hope for Dementia

Memory LossStar Wars is all anyone is talking about these days, so I supposed it’s appropriate to be blogging about “a new hope.” (For those who’ve been hiding under an asteroid for the last forty years, A New Hope is the retroactively applied subtitle for the original Star Wars film.)

Over the last year or so, I’ve had the opportunity to tell you about a lot of really encouraging advances in the war on dementia:

…And that’s only scratching the surface.

I’ve frequently commented on how encouraging it is to see so much research springing forth, especially given that dementia was essentially a profound scientific mystery for so many years.

Well it turns out that I’m not the only one to notice the trend. A new report in the Independent says that scientists believe 2016 may be their breakthrough year. They’re confident precisely because 2015 brought them so many advances in their fundamental understanding of this terrible disease.

To be clear, no one is talking about a cure. There may never be one, and if there is, it’s likely a long way off. It’s important that we not conjure up any false hope — the reality is that dementia progress is still in its relative infancy.
But each new morsel of knowledge pertaining to prevention and treatment represents a significant milestone, not only for people already suffering dementia but also for those who might otherwise receive new diagnoses in the decades ahead.

Let’s hope 2016 is every bit as momentous as dementia experts expect it to be (and then some). If these are the Dementia Wars, may 2016 be the year that Science Strikes Back.

This New Year, Resolve to Estate Plan

ThinkstockPhotos-502050910New Year’s resolutions always seem to be the same — eat less, run more, get better sleep, etc. Sadly, breaking those resolutions has become as traditional as making them in the first place!

Forbes reports that only 8% of Americans manage to maintain their resolutions for the full year. Most of us ditch them in just a few weeks! Maybe we’re aiming too high.

Here’s an idea for an easier-to-keep resolution… one that’ll pay real dividends in the future. Plan your estate!

As I’ve written about in the past, the majority of Americans agree that they need an estate plan; they just prefer to procrastinate as long as possible. Procrastination is a very anti-New Year’s state of mind, though, so I think this month represents a golden opportunity to finally cross estate planning off your eternal to-do list!

Here’s an easy-to-follow plan:

  • If you don’t have any kind of an estate plan, call my office today and let’s have a friendly chat. It’s that simple. I can handle all the hard work for you.
  • If you already have an estate plan but haven’t updated it in the last few years, seize the opportunity to do so now. Estate plans are never truly finalized — you need to incorporate all the latest changes in your family, as well as recent evolutions in technology and the law.
  • If you have all the basic documents in place and they’re fairly up to date, set your sights on long-term care planning. That might be the best thing you ever do for your family. Americans are living longer, and more of us than ever will require long-term care. Unfortunately, it’s very expensive. Advance planning empowers you to provide for your future with a manageable and affordable approach in the meantime.

Let’s make 2016 your “I finally did it” year. My office can help with any of these resolutions and plenty of others, so let’s make the most of January while it’s still here. Give me a call today.

Three Youthful Myths About Estate Planning for Millennials

Funny day with the best friendsBlitheness is the prerogative of the young. Arguably, no generation has better exercised its right to youthful nonchalance than the Millennial one, known for its “Peter Pan” reluctance to embrace the burdens of adulthood.

Then again, maybe that isn’t fair. Millennials might think about growing up in different terms than those who came before them, but they are also coming of age in a different world than the one we grew up in.

And who’s to say they aren’t responsible? The New York Times recently reported that more and more young people — even without a family of their own — are beginning to make estate plans. That’s something those of us who practice estate law have been recommending to young Americans for a long time, but the message has often fallen on deaf ears. It’s nice to see that changing.

The Times report notwithstanding, though, there may still be a pervasive sentiment among Millennials that estate planning is a concern for their far-off futures.

Financial e-magazine The Street recently argued on behalf of estate planning for Millennials, and we might match the points they made to three common myths among the young:

1. Young people don’t own anything of value. That is surely a myth. Most Millennials do indeed have estates of their own. While they might not own homes, their possessions can still add up to a lot, not only in terms of financial worth but also sentimental value. That needs to be accounted for.

2. Estate planning is for rich people. This myth is popular among people of all ages, but it is equally untrue for all of them. Everyone has assets. You don’t have to be wealthy to own things that matter. Moreover, even in the absence of high-dollar assets, you still have a body. Healthcare directives, powers of attorney, and other documents are all essential for making sure that someone will make the right decisions for your health and welfare if you’re ever unable to.

3. There’s still time to do it later. That’s an easy assumption to make, especially while you’re young, but the truth is that none of us have that guarantee. Unexpected accidents, illnesses, and deaths have left many families in terrible binds. Young people can alleviate enormous burdens for their loved ones by putting an effective estate plan in place now.

If you’re a young person (or the parent of one), and you’d like to learn more about estate planning for Millennials, I can help. Give me a call.