Monthly Archives: January 2014

Estate Planning for Those with Special Needs

According to the Special Needs Alliance, approximately 57 million adults in this country suffer from some form of a diagnosable mental illness. Excluding those illnesses caused entirely by substance abuse, almost 5 percent of those 57 million suffer from a serious mental disorder that causes substantial interference with daily and major life activities. Some of the disorders included in this list are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, manic depressive and dementia.

Typically, adults who suffer from these serious illnesses or other special needs disorders are unable to sustain consistent employment, and they receive government financial aid to cover their medical needs and other living expenses.

 When parents of special needs children set up their estate plan, careful attention needs to be paid to all aspects of how these plans will affect their children once the parents have died. An error or oversight could have serious consequences and cause the child to lose thier government aid.

Many legal experts suggest the first thing parents of special needs child should do is write what is referred to as a “letter of intent”. In the book, More than a Mom, a book written by a mother with a special needs child, the author shares a sample letter of intent. Included in the letter are lists of people who should be contacted if something should happen to the parents, the child’s current life situation, education, medical care, employment, behavioral management, social life and the identity of guardians or trustees named in estate planning documents.

Choosing the right attorney is critical to setting up any future planning. Make sure you choose an attorney who is familiar with setting up a Special Needs Trust. These trusts are set up so that your child’s government aid will not be affected.

Life insurance held by parents with a child with special needs must be carefully tailored in the planning process. Upon a parent’s death, the funds can be used to ensure that the child’s future needs are met, protecting the quality of care that is required. It is again critical that the beneficiary on the policy be updated if a Special Needs Trust that has been set up to protect any financial aid the child receives.

Making sure your child with special needs will be properly taken care of if something should happen to you is a great concern to parents. The rules and laws can be complicated. That is why it is important to have an experienced DuPage County estate planning attorney help you plan for the future.

Keeping Track of Beneficiary Designation Forms

There are many assets such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts, insurance policies, annuities and retirement funds that allow a beneficiary to be named on the account. In the event of the account owner’s death, those funds go directly to the person named, avoiding a lengthy probate waiting period. An article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the importance of keeping accurate and up-to-date documentation of those who have been named as beneficiaries and the serious issues that can arise if beneficiaries are not updates.

 beneficiariesFor example, it is important to remember that despite who is designated in a will, it’s the person named as the beneficiary on the account, policy, etc., who will receive the funds. It’s all too common for people to forget the beneficiary they named on as beneficiary on accounts opened years ago. Your will may be written so that your entire estate is left to one person, but if someone different is named as beneficiary on your bank accounts,the beneficiary on the accounts will receive the funds, not the person named in your will.

Another common oversight people make is forgetting to update beneficiaries when an event such as a death, marriage, or divorce occurs. Financial experts point out that it’s important to choose a beneficiary when you roll over a 401k or an IRA to a new plan or to a Roth IRA because the person who you had previously designated does not automatically carry over to any new accounts.

Experts also advise against choosing a different beneficiary for multiple accounts. For example, if you have three children and each one is the sole beneficiary on three separate accounts and the accounts experience different rates of growth over the years, there will be an unequal distribution of assets upon your death. It may be advantageous to designate all three children as equal beneficiaries on all three accounts.

Careful consideration should be given before naming a minor child as a beneficiary without a trust in place. If a trust is not in place and a minor child is the beneficiary, the court will appoint a financial guardian over those funds until the child becomes of legal age. In addition, not all young adults of legal age are fiscally mature enough to handle a large sum of money responsibly.

Trusts for disabled children and disabled adult children should be set up as supplemental trusts so as not to interfere with any government assistance these children receive. Keeping your beneficiaries up to date and setting up the most strategic estate plan requires the guidance and knowledge of a DuPage County estate planning attorney.

Problems with Deathbed Planning

End-of-life preparations are not easy, even when an experienced estate planning attorney is involved. Things become even more complicated when one makes said preparations later in life. In these cases, the probability of disputes from the beneficiaries increases because of the suspicion that elderly people are prone to undue influence.

 Thus, litigation may follow whenever a person makes drastic changes to their will shortly before dying, especially when they disinherit family members for the benefit of non-family members.

Even high-worth individuals may encounter difficulties with their estate plans. Take the case of the copper mining heiress Hugguette Clark, who left behind an estate worth nearly $300 million.

Ms. Clark died at the ripe old age of 104.

She spent the last two decades of her life in a hospital, where she was cared for at $400,000 per year. In 2005, she executed a new will that disinherited most of her distant relatives, and gave significant sums to people involved in her everyday care, including her lawyer, doctors, hospital, goddaughter and her nurse (who received several millions dollars).

However, another will that was in existence only six weeks prior to the new will had left her distant relatives nearly $30 million. Needless to say, the sudden and significant change would cause even the most trusting of minds to be suspicious.

The relatives, who were disinherited in the second will, filed suit to void the second will. They argued that the non-family beneficiaries took advantage of their close position with Ms. Clark to exert undue influence on the elderly person. The beneficiaries of the new will, on the other hand, argued that Ms. Clark seldom spoke to her distant relatives and that her decision to execute the new will reflected her appreciation for the care and dedication that her caregivers had shown toward her.

The dispute ended in a tentative deal that included the distant relatives in the distribution scheme and excluded her lawyer and nurse (the doctor relinquished his portion of the inheritance).

An experienced Illinois estate planning attorney can assist clients with addressing these types of issues. If you have questions regarding your estate plan, or the will or trust of a recently departed family member, contact an attorney today.