We all know that you can find “Do It Yourself” Wills online. We all know that it costs less money to do your own estate plan than to hire an attorney.

But… what if you press the wrong key when answering the prompts?  What if you don’t know how to even answer the question in the prompt?

A few years ago,  new clients asked me to review their DYI estate plan.  On the bottom of each page in very small print were the words “Nebraska Law applies”.  I asked my clients if they lived in Nebraska when they did their Wills.  They NEVER lived in Nebraska! 

Another client called to say her Durable Power of Attorney was refused by an insurance company.  The Do It Yourself document did not include the language required to deal with insurance companies. 

And, even more disastrous, was the client whose Will’s beneficiaries included a physically disabled adult child who was receiving federal benefits.  These benefits would be lost as soon as the child inherited his rather modest bequest.  Did these parents ever hear of a Special Needs Trust?  No, the forms they used didn’t have such a provision.

So… remember the old line, penny wise, pound foolish?  Do It Yourself documents are plain dangerous.  The cost of using a good estate planning attorney could save you or your heirs much more.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Few decisions are more difficult than the one to place a spouse or parent in a nursing home.  Most families try to care for a loved one at home for as long as possible, only accepting the inevitable when no other alternative is available.

The placement decision can be less difficult if, to the extent possible, all family members are included in the process, including the senior, if he or she is able to participate.

I recommend the following steps as you begin this process.

  • Try to have a family meeting, either with the family alone or with medical and social work staff.  If you cannot meet in person, use the telephone or e-mail.
  • Research all options.  Look at-home care, daycare, respite care, assisted living and skilled nursing.
  • Consider using an Elder Law attorney and a geriatric care manager to help with placement and cost decisions.  Try using a senior placement service such as Assisted Living Made Simple in Florida– they know how to “match” the senior with the care facility.

These steps won’t make the decision easy, but they can help make it less difficult.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

NURSING HOME MYTHS AND REALITIES

Many of my clients are worried about long-term costs if they ever need a nursing home.  Most do not have any type of long-term care insurance.

These clients typically ask: Will the nursing take my house?  Or they say: I don’t want to give all my hard-earned money to a nursing home!

What they are really asking me is how to get on Medicaid!  Medicaid is the government assistance program that pays for long-term care.  It is meant for folks with low income and few assets.

But… the Medicaid rules are complicated and there are ways to become eligible and keep many of your assets.  For example, in Florida, your primary residence does NOT count as an asset when computing eligibility.  There are many other types of assets that do not count as well.  And if your income is too high, there is a type of income Trust you can create and still become eligible for Medicaid.

However, there is another reality here.  Not all facilities accept Medicaid.  And you are not likely to get your own room in a Medicaid facility.  Further, you will not be able to use your own doctors.  For health care, Medicaid patients must be in a managed care plan.  And not all treatments and therapies are paid for by Medicaid.

So, no, you don’t need to give your house to the state, but Medicaid is a needs-based program and doesn’t have all the bells and whistles you might want.

Do you have questions or need help with planning for your future?

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Facing the Realities of Aging

Getting older is definitely not a cakewalk.  If there is one thing that is true for every living person on this planet it is that we all get older and eventually die.  No one yet has ever figured out a way around this fact of life! 

It is also a given that as our bodies age every one of us will be more susceptible to developing a disability or dementia. 

But many seniors fail to plan for this.  It’s certainly easy to put off making decisions about who will take care of our finances and make medical decisions if we need help.  And what about end of life care?  Who wants to think about that?

But failing to make a plan is planning to fail.  Now is the time to see an elder law attorney.  Don’t wait until it’s too late. 

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Annual Reminders

The end of the year is a great time to review various aspects of your estate and financial plan. 

  • Request a free credit report through annualcreditreport.com
  • Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit cards.
  • Create or update a list of all your electronic user names and passwords.  Properly safeguard this information.
  • Review your Will and/or Revocable Trust to ensure that you are comfortable with your bequests, Personal Representatives and Trustees.
  • Review agents named under financial and medical powers of attorney to ensure they are still appropriate.  Review your Living Wills to make sure you are comfortable with your end of life instructions.
  • Review your beneficiary designations for your insurance policies and retirement plans.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

2019 Year-End Estate Planning

Family Meeting:

Now might be the time to have an end of year family meeting to help coordinate financial and other matters with your children and grandchildren.  Frank discussions about inheritance and your wishes if you become incapacitated are important to prevent family discord.

Beneficiary Designations:

Significant life events such as marriage, divorce, births, and deaths, can impact your beneficiary designations.  If you have not designated beneficiaries, or if your beneficiary has passed, then your assets might have to go through probate.

Update Your Estate Plan:  Have you moved to a new state?  Have any of your agents in your Powers of Attorney or Medical Directives become ill or died?  Now is the time to review your documents.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Did You Include Your Pet in Your Estate Plan?

People consider their spouses and children when creating their estate plan.  But, pets are family, too.  An estate plan should consider every aspect of life – if you have a pet, having someone ready and willing to look after them is crucial.

Your Will and Power of Attorney should name at least two people who can take of your pet.  Depending on timing, the first person named may not be able to take care of the pet. And if you don’t have a family member or friend, then there are charities such as no-kill shelters that can provide this care.

Even the nicest friend or a charity may not be willing to take care of your pet for free, so it is important to leave money to provide for the animal’s needs during their lifetime. You can easily do this with a Pet Trust.

Having some money placed in a Pet Trust can give you control and peace of mind that your pet will be well cared for.  The amount of money you leave will depend on the type of animal, and its age, type of food, and medical costs.

Give yourself peace of mind.  Don’t leave your beloved pet’s welfare up to chance.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Estate planning attorneys are often asked by their clients to prepare Wills that pass along their money with strings attached.  I call this “dead hand control”.

A common example is making an inheritance contingent upon the beneficiary being married to a person of a particular religion.  Another one is requiring that the beneficiary be drug-free for a period of time.

Is this legal?  In general, courts tend to allow people to pass along their money with strings attached, provided that those strings do not foster behavior that is illegal or against public policy. In an Illinois case a few years ago, a man-made his grandchildren’s inheritance contingent on their marrying Jewish spouses. The Will was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Clients who want this are doing what they think is best for the beneficiary.  But clients also need to understand that putting conditions on their bequests can cause their family pain.

Consider this Florida case: Grandma died leaving a sizable estate to her 3 granddaughters.  The money was divided equally, but they would only get their inheritance if they were married to a person of Grandma’s religion.  Two of the sisters were, but one was not -she was happily married to someone of a different religion and had 2 children.  She would not inherit.  All three of the sisters were shocked and angry.  The Executor of the estate explained that its hands were tied and their only recourse was an uphill battle in the courts.

Conditional bequests, related to religion or anything else, should always be thoroughly discussed with your estate planning lawyer.

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

 5 Tips for Securing Your Assets, Healthcare and Legacy

It’s your life and your legacy:  Make sure you have an updated estate plan.  And don’t wait until it’s too late!

Create or Update Your Estate Plan: avoid unnecessary taxes, family arguments, and creditors

  • Wills allow you to transfer property to your selected beneficiaries, permits a parent to name a guardian, can help protect beneficiaries against creditors, and reduces the burden on family
  • Revocable Trusts allow you to distribute your assets at death and can allow you to avoid probate. 
  • Irrevocable Trusts can help you qualify for financial assistance if you need long-term care and can provide for strong creditor protection for you and your beneficiaries.
  • Special Needs Trusts allows you to leave assets to a disabled heir without risking the loss of Social Security, Medicaid benefits, or food assistance.

Create Your Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Directives.

  • A Durable Power of Attorney authorizes your named agent to act in your place for financial and legal decisions if you are incapacitated.
  • An Advance Medical Directive allows you to name someone to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated.
  • A Living Will allows you to express your desires about life-prolonging procedures if you are at the end of life with no hope of recovery.

Review and Update your Beneficiary Designations on your Life Insurance and Retirement Plans.

Consider New Laws.  Do the new tax laws affect your estate?

Review Social Security and Retirement Benefits.  What is your full retirement age?  Should you delay your benefits to increase your monthly benefits?

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Risks abound for Do It Yourself estate planners

Yes, you can do your estate planning without professional help.

However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  The risk of making a mistake is greater without help.

The problem with the forms found on websites is that Florida has strict rules on how those documents need to be executed in order to be valid.  You can download those forms, but you have no way of knowing if you did it properly or if it was appropriate for you.

Your estate plan is your last testament to living family.  Not understanding how property passes after death is a heavy consequence.  Mistakes can leave loved ones disappointed and frustrated.  And mistakes have financial consequences.

And remember, your estate plan cannot be fixed if you are not of sound mind and certainly not after death.  You and your heirs could be stuck with an estate plan that has terrible consequences.

Saving legal fees is usually the motivation for DIY documents.  But, is it worth the risk?  If you make a mistake, the legal fees will be much greater later when mistakes have to be fixed.  And attorneys can save you money in the long run.  A lawyer can offer guidance and provide options for you that you might not even think about when you go online.

You wouldn’t do surgery on yourself, would you?  Why do your own estate plan?

Call the Law Offices of Debra G. Simms at 386.256.4882 to learn more.

This blog post is not case-specific and is provided only for educational purposes and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. Blog topics may or may not be updated and entries may be out-of-date at the time you view them.

Contact Us

Port Orange Office:
Prestige Executive Center
823 Dunlawton Ave. Unit C
Port Orange, FL 32129
Local: 386.256.4882
Toll Free: 877.447.4667
New Smyrna Beach Office:
629 N. Dixie HWY
New Smyrna Beach, FL 32168
Local: 386.256.4882
Toll Free: 877.447.4667