Seniors To Receive a 3.6% Raise in Social Security. Finally!
October 24, 2011
There is good news today for senior citizens! Finally, seniors will receive a long awaited Cost-Of-Living increase in their social security benefits.
According to this article in CNN Money, “Social Security recipients will receive a cost of living adjustment of 3.6% starting in January.” This will be the first “raise” recipients have seen in three years, and most welcome the increase. “Many seniors have felt squeezed since banks are paying virtually no interest on savings accounts and stock market declines has eroded their retirement accounts.”
Unfortunately, many seniors may not see a useful increase in their social security income thanks to a hike in Medicare premiums expected to be announced next month. “For the past two years when Social Security benefits stayed the same, many seniors were shielded from the increase in Medicare premiums because of a “hold harmless” provision that protects more than 70% of beneficiaries… However, high-income beneficiaries and new enrollees did see their benefits reduced because they are not covered under the provision.”
Even with the expected increase to Medicare premiums, most seniors are simply glad to see the Cost-Of-Living increase in their social security. Those receiving Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) will also see an increase, and we expect that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will shortly announce an increase in Veterans Pension Benefits, as well. Stay tuned.
For more complete information about the coming changes in Social Security please read the full article.
Coping After the Death of a Spouse: A “To Do” List
October 16, 2011
Losing a spouse may be one of the most difficult life events that any of us have to deal with. A spouse is a parenting partner, a co-CFO, a best friend and a beloved soul mate. Losing the person who supports you in so many ways can create an emptiness which can be almost paralyzing.
This is why it’s so important after the death of a loved one to have the support you need to get through the detail-oriented and often emotionally draining probate process, which includes tasks such as sorting through a financial history, submitting legal documents to the probate court, contacting creditors and family members, and more. Some people have family or friends to help with these time-consuming tasks, others enlist the help of an estate planning or probate attorney, but one thing is clear: no one should do it alone.
Every family or couple will have a different experience with the probate process, but our firm would like to offer a basic list of universal “to-do” items to remember after the death of a spouse. We hope this will help give our readers a little bit of security during a very emotional and stressful time.
* Obtain multiple copies of the death certificate
* Gather any and all estate planning documents
* Contact an estate planning attorney. Even if you don’t plan to retain an attorney, a brief initial consultation can help you understand the task ahead and prevent you from skipping important steps
* Notify the person named as executor or trustee
* Notify the necessary institutions or agencies (the deceased’s employer, social security administration, insurance company, creditors, post office, etc.)
* Ultimately, you should remove your spouse’s name from all joint accounts or ventures, such as bank accounts, utility companies, credit card accounts, etc., but we recommend holding off on the co-owned bank accounts until you first consult with an estate planning or elder law attorney. Sometimes there are disclaimer provisions in your spouse’s trust or will which might be affected.
* Pay final bills
* Cancel accounts, subscriptions, etc.
Depending on your situation and location, there may be many more tasks to be done. Additionally, if you are serving as executor or trustee (as many spouse’s do) there will be a great number of administrative tasks to be performed in addition to the ones on this list. Under these circumstances even the strongest and most capable people can feel overwhelmed. Remember that you don’t have to go through the process alone.
Death of Steve Jobs Saddens the World
October 15, 2011
The recent death of creative visionary and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs saddened the world. News of his death traveled like wildfire, and had the online social networks humming with tributes, memorial posts, and sentiments of grief. Mr. Jobs was very private about his personal life, but through his public appearances and his support of various creative enterprises he touched and changed the lives of many individuals; just as his visionary ideas changed the face of technology.
The sad announcement of his death has many people now wondering “what next?” How will this change the company he started? What will happen with his family? As this article from ABC News relates, “The ever-private Steve Jobs was famously secretive when it came to Apple’s new products. As with his personal life, the future of Steve Jobs’ wealth [and family] will also stay under the radar.”
The article mentioned above states that “Given Jobs’ vast wealth and penchant for privacy, he likely set up private trusts for his family and charitable purposes.” Private trusts would certainly have been the logical thing to do, under the circumstances. Trusts are a much more flexible, powerful, and private tool than a simple will when it comes to estate planning. Trusts are useful under any circumstances, but they provide a much greater amount of control and protection of assets, especially when dealing with very large estates.
If Steve Jobs did choose to create trusts to protect his estate then it is possible that we may never truly know how he chose to distribute his wealth. It is probably safe to assume, however, that in addition to providing for his family and loved ones, he may have left a considerable amount to charitable or visionary endeavors. His words and actions during life provide a clue about how he thought about wealth: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me…Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful…that’s what matters to me.”
Meeting The Challenges of Caregiving For Your Aging Parents
October 9, 2011
As senior issues and caregiver concerns get more media attention, more and more families are making the question of who becomes mom or dad’s primary caregiver a family decision. Although one sibling may still take on the role of “primary caregiver,” families are making the conscious decision to try to share caregiving responsibilities more equally. This is definitely a step in the right direction, but as this article from the Family Caregiver Alliance points out, there are still likely to be challenges.
Choosing a Primary Caregiver. The primary caregiver often ends up being the sibling who lives closest to mom or dad; it may start with a ride to the doctor here and there, but before you know it one sibling is shouldering almost all the responsibilities. Discussing the role of primary caregiver as a family can make everyone feel more involved and result in more support for mom or dad. The local sibling may still choose to care for parents’ daily needs, but out of town siblings may choose to take mom or dad on annual vacations or provide financial support.
Making Financial Decisions. Hopefully your parents have made arrangements for their long-term care expenses; but if not, you and your siblings may feel honor-bound to take care of the expenses yourselves. While the most logical route may seem to be an equal division of expenses between siblings, this may not be feasible or fair for every family. Siblings should take the time (and perhaps consult with an advisor) to discuss the various medical and care expenses, payment options, and financial strategies. Check to see if any public benefits may be available to help, such as Veterans Pension Benefits.
Living Arrangements and Long Term Care. Facing the reality that mom can no longer care for herself is a painful revelation for any family; making the decision to move a parent to a nursing home or long term care facility can be fraught with feelings of anger, guilt, or even denial, and siblings may be tempted to lash out at each other during this emotional time. Consulting with a Geriatric Care Manager or another trusted advisor at this time can help the entire family understand the situation, manage expectations, and keep emotions in check.
Making decisions as a committee can be difficult, especially when some members of the “committee” live far away, but when everyone is involved in the decision-making process then everyone is more likely to support a final outcome. Getting together with your sibling on a regular basis—even if it’s only by phone—to discuss the care of elderly parents can not only keep everyone on the same page and minimize disagreements, it can also provide a rare opportunity to grow closer as a family.
How To Leave An Inheritance To A Child Who Might Squander Or Abuse It
October 1, 2011
Giving your children an inheritance can be one of the most generous, most loving things a parent can do… Unfortunately, under certain circumstances it can also be the most dangerous. A recent article in the New York Times addresses a question asked by many parents in estate planning offices all over the country: How to give an inheritance to a problem child who might squander or abuse it?
It is not unusual for estate planners to hear concerns from parents or families about one child or sibling who is not quite as mature, not quite as responsible as the others. In some cases the concern is not with a child or sibling, but with an untrustworthy spouse of a child or sibling. In both cases the estate planning challenge is the same—how to provide for the one you love without feeding any dangerous habits or predatory relationships.
There are actually a great number of ways parents can use estate planning to either protect or motivate an irresponsible child. The one your family chooses will depend on your unique circumstances. The article mentions a few of these strategies, including:
Eliminate temptation by restricting access to large sums of money. “Money does not cause problems, but it can sure accelerate them. The simplest strategy is to choke off that fuel.” Parents can do this through annuities, through specific instructions in trusts, or through a trusted and like-minded trustee. What is not recommended is putting another sibling in charge of the estate and asking that sibling to “parent” the less responsible one. This is a recipe for disaster.
Use your estate plan to give your child incentives to improve. “Incentive trusts can set hurdles for children to receive money or make payments only for set reasons. Pretty much anything can be a trigger, from being admitted to a certain college or matching money children earn on their own to being clean from drugs for a certain number of years.” Your estate planner can tell you how to best set this up.
Keep something in reserve for future years and generations. If your goal is to encourage children and grandchildren to lead productive lives and contribute to future generations then your estate planner can help you design a plan that will last for decades or generations. Recent tax developments have made this an especially good time to create a lasting legacy. “People with substantial wealth may want to take advantage of the $5 million exemption from taxes and 35 percent tax rate over that amount.”