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Articles Posted in Estate Planning

A 30-year-old patient with COVID-19 who was on a ventilator passed away last week. He hadn’t laid out his end-of-life wishes (referred to as advance directives). After seeing the numbers related to his son’s condition, his father was devastated and felt that further treatment was only painfully prolonging the inevitable. His mother wanted to try everything possible to save him. If the patient himself was able to speak, he could have expressed what his wishes were and saved his family from this heart-breaking conflict.

But he hadn’t planned to die.

This tragic situation is too common as families often fail to discuss emergencies and end-of-life wishes ahead of time. It’s even more stressful to make this kind of decision when the stakes are high, as they often are now amid the coronavirus pandemic. This is why it’s so important to learn about and make end-of-life treatment choices before a crisis occurs. None of us want to imagine the worst, but the worst is a callous reality.

Although the coronavirus pandemic began only concentrated in large cities, there are cases now in all states both in cities as well as more rural areas. More and more people are considering what they want to do if they become infected, including thinking about estate planning.

“You start asking yourself, what happens if I become sick?” Jack Garniewski, president of the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils says. “Do I have the proper legal documents in place so that someone would be able to make decisions for me financially and from a medical standpoint?”

Garniewski says that more Americans are now making sure they have a durable power of attorney, which gives another person the power to make financial decisions for them if they become incapacitated. Many people are also planning how they want their property to be transferred if something happens to them.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us in Illinois are complying with the governor’s stay-at-home order. We are hunkered down in our homes – making only necessary trips for essential matters such as medical treatment, supplies, or perhaps taking a walk to breathe in in some fresh air and soak in some sunshine while maintaining social distancing. We thank and applaud everyone who is doing their part in curbing the spread of this virus.

At this time, some of you may reflect on the “what ifs” of the future. What will happen if you become incapacitated, or worse, if you pass? What if your child has special needs and you wish to preserve assets for the benefit of your child? What if you have minor children? How or who will take care of them and assets for their benefit should you be unable to care for them, or worse, die? Are you able to make or coordinate health care and financial decisions for your spouse, parent or other elder loved one?

Illinois law provides defaults for distributions through probate court proceedings if you were to pass away and a legal process (namely, guardianship) should you become incapacitated. Depending on Illinois law could involve what could be costly court proceedings. Ultimately, the result of the Illinois laws may not reflect your wishes as to the disposition of your assets and/or who will be in charge. A properly executed estate plan sets out your wishes and names the trusted persons you want in charge of your affairs during life and afterward. Estate plan documents can and often include wills, powers of attorney, living wills, and trust documents – such as living trusts, special needs trusts, or asset protection trusts.

The stock market has been in a free fall, and Americans are experiencing a type of fear that hasn’t been seen since the polio epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s.

During those decades, polio outbreaks in the U.S. crippled more than 35,000 people yearly, on average. Parents were afraid to let their children go outside, travel and commerce were restricted, and homes and towns where polio cases were found needed to be quarantined. Similar fears are resurfacing for many people now, and estate planning attorneys are being asked many questions.

“Suddenly business owners — from mom and pop shops to CEOs of large corporations — are meeting with estate planning lawyers like no other time than I can recall,” says Bakersfield, California, estate lawyer Patrick Jennison. “Appointment books are getting filled.”

It was recently National Love Your Pet Day, and although you might think of your pet as family, under the law, pets are regarded as property – so although you can’t leave them money in your will, there are other ways you can make sure they are protected in the event of your passing.

You may have heard stories of people who left their entire fortune to their dog, but that isn’t exactly how it works. You can leave all your money to ensure your pet will be taken care of after your death, but it needs to be done in a certain way.

Because pets are considered property, you won’t be able to name them as a normal benefactor in your will, says Peter Elikann, Boston 25 legal analyst.

Let’s say a married couple indicates in their estate plan that on the first of their deaths, the predeceasing spouse’s assets will be held in a trust. During the surviving spouse’s lifetime, they are the beneficiary and trustee of the trust, and once the surviving spouse passes away, the remaining trust assets will then be passed along to the couple’s children. Under prior Illinois law, the surviving spouse was not required to give notice or accounting to the children during that spouse’s lifetime. Many surviving spouses would have responded to the children’s questions about the trust with something along the lines of, “It’s none of your business.” However, on Jan. 1, 2020, that changed.

The Illinois Trust Code

Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, the new Illinois Trust Code (ITC) replaced the previous Illinois Trusts and Trustees Act. Among the changes, the most important involve the rights of remainder beneficiaries to notices and accountings – but it also gives proactive clients new tools to customize trusts and modify or avoid some of the new notice and accounting requirements.

The elimination of the Stretch IRA as part of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (Secure) Act is going to create big changes for wealth advisors, estate planners, and parents planning to leave behind savings in individual retirement accounts for their kids.

“For a lot of people, the bulk of their wealth has been established in their IRAs,” said Michael Repak, vice president and senior estate planner with Janney Montgomery Scott.

The Secure Act is the most comprehensive retirement bill to pass in a decade and a half, and much of it is designed to stimulate more and better options in the workplace defined contribution market.

An important new federal law went into effect January 1, 2020 called the SECURE Act (Setting Every Community Up For Retirement Enhancement). This law will change retirement savings and estate planning options for many people. Here are a few of the changes this act puts into place that may have the greatest impact on you and your estate plan.

The SECURE Act raises the age at which individuals must begin taking required minimum distributions from their IRA, 401K, 403B, and other qualified funds from age 70 ½ up to age 72 (an exception being if you turned 70 ½ prior to Dec. 31, 2019, in which case the new rule does not apply to you and you will need to start taking distributions by April 2020 or face penalties). The new law also does away with the 70 ½ age cap on contributing to an IRA. Now you can contribute income to an IRA no matter your age.

The most significant impact the SECURE Act has on estate planning concerns the IRA Stretchout. Before this act, individuals who did not need their IRA money could pass the IRA to non-spouse beneficiaries who could then “stretch out” withdrawals based on their life expectancies. Clients could use this to create a lifetime income stream for their children. However, this can no longer be done under the new law. Instead, non-spouse beneficiaries have to withdraw all funds from an inherited qualified plan within 10 years of the death of the original owner (although there are a few exceptions, such as if the non-spouse beneficiary is disabled.) There doesn’t need to be a set withdrawal schedule – the account just has to be depleted within 10 years. Those most impacted by the income tax consequences will be non-spouse beneficiaries in their peak earning years.

Maggie Kirchhoff, a certified financial planner with Business & Personal Finance in Denver, has been with her partner, Matt, for 13 years. The two do not plan to ever get married, and they know this means they won’t get the same automatic rights and protections that those who are legally married get, especially when it comes to death.

“A lot of spousal rights are inherent with a marriage certificate,” says Kirchhoff. “For unmarried couples, though, you have to make a concerted effort to cover all your bases.”

The number of unmarried couples who live together was at 18 million in 2016, up 29% from 14 million in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center. Among those age 50 and older, this increase was 75%: About 4 million were cohabiting in 2016, up from 2.3 million in 2007.

For most Americans, estate planning can be complex and daunting. It might seem overwhelming and expensive, and it isn’t easy to confront one’s mortality and make the necessary decisions for it. Nevertheless, it is essential that every American have one important estate planning document: A Health Care Directive.

A health care directive is a legal document which specifies the decisions for caregivers in the event of illness or dementia as well as giving directions for end of life decisions, including how the body should be handled after death. They are sometimes also called living wills, durable health care powers of attorney, or medical directives.

The Impact of Estate Planning

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