Using DIY wills for estate planning can have unintended negative consequences according to Marguerite Lorenz, a writer for marketwatch.com. She reports having recently seen a DIY service that had many typos on its website and that its estate planning “packages” had a document labeled with three different names. This service – like many other estate planning sites – has its own attorneys, but access to specific help for your personal documents is rarely available. If personal advice is offered, it then appears to cost a great deal to receive.

So which is better, DIY wills or an online professional? For people with complicated personal and financial lives, a do-it-yourself service might not fully address your complexities. If you do estate planning by yourself, you might never know the results of your work, but your loved ones will.

According to Lorenz, there are a lot of DIY options for completing your own estate plan, and they have been available almost as long as we have had the internet. With the ease and availability of these programs, you would think that more of us would have an up-to-date estate plan.

Most investors have one overriding goal: building a sum of money saved that can be used in the future (also known as a nest egg). But some investors who are talented and lucky focus on something else: passing their assets to their heirs.

It’s not as simple as leaving a list of accounts. Steps taken years before your death can help minimize taxes and headaches for those who inherit. The main issues for investors to consider for their heirs include family relationships, estate and gift taxes, insurances, Roth conversions, annuities, and record keeping.

Most small investors don’t need to worry about estate taxes these days, since the first $11.4 million per individual, and $22.8 per married couple, is exempt. Also, assets that are passed down to heirs while the investor is still alive are exempt from taxes below $15,000 per year per recipient.

When same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015, many legal issues that same-sex couples faced were ratified. But other areas, like estate planning, could still be problematic.

Elena Lidrbauch, certified elder law lawyer attorney at Hickman & Lowder Co. in Cleveland, Ohio, and Joy Savren, at Savren Legal in Cleveland, said that there are many ways estate planning could differ for same-sex couples – like how it relates to trusts, wills, healthcare, or power of attorney.

Both attorneys say that the biggest issue that same-sex couples could face is who would get custody of a child after a partner dies. Savren says that same-sex parents should be asking themselves questions when it comes to estate planning, like if they had children while married or before or if they had children from a previous marriage. Lidrbauch says that it comes down to whomever is the custodial parent. She says that before same-sex marriage was legalized, you couldn’t have same-sex parents listed on a birth certificate – it had to be one mother and one father.

What Makes a Will Valid?

Much of what we think we know about wills might be from dramatic media portrayal in movies, television, or books. However, these might not always show what is needed to make a valid will, especially when what makes a will valid can vary between states.

So, what exactly makes a will valid, and how can this vary?

In ten years, most middle-income American seniors will not be able to afford the rising cost of independent or assisted living.

A recent analysis in Health Affairs titled “The Forgotten Middle,” took a look at how middle-income seniors will be caught in the middle financially when it comes to long-term care – too wealthy to qualify for Medicaid or subsidized housing, but unable to afford the rising cost of independent or assisted living.

The researchers defined the middle-income group as Americans from the 41st to the 80th percentile in terms of financial resources, using data from the national Health and Retirement Study. They found that in a decade, 80 percent of middle-income seniors will have less than $60,000 a year in income and assets, not including equity in their homes. By conservative estimates, the cost of assisted living and out-of-pocket medical expenses for seniors will be $62,000.

A new smartphone app called “What’s Covered” was released in January to give Original Medicare beneficiaries an easier way to find out if medical items or services will be covered by the program.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is launching this app as part of their “eMedicare” initiative designed to strengthen Medicare and help those covered by the program make better health decisions by making information clearer and more easily accessible online. There is also a price comparison tool available online that is part of this initiative.

“What’s Covered” focuses on Original Medicare which includes part A hospitalization coverage, Part B outpatient coverage, and optional Part D drug coverage and Medigap supplemental coverage. About two thirds of Medicare beneficiaries have Original Medicare, while about a third have Medicare Advantage (Part C) which is provided by private companies that are contracted by the government.

Imagine receiving a phone call that your child is in the hospital thousands of miles away, and the doctors and nurses refuse to provide you with medical information about his or her condition. This is a very real situation that occurs when medical directives are not in place for adult children. Eighteen-year-olds are adults under the eyes of the law. Your son or daughter can vote, get married, make a will, sign a contract, open a bank account and get medical treatment – all without your approval. More importantly, this means that you no longer have the right to speak with your child’s doctors, make medical decisions, pay his/her bills, or access medical records without consent.

This is an ideal time to have a conversation with your child about the responsibilities of becoming an adult, and how to put plans in place to take over if they are unable to make decisions. In case of a medical emergency, the following documents will ensure that your son’s or daughter’s wishes will be carried out by the agent(s) he or she appoints.

Power of Attorney for Heath Care. This is also called a Medical Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. This document can be effective immediately or when one becomes incapacitated, thereby granting the appointed agent the right to obtain medical information and to make medical decisions. Without this power of attorney in place, if your college student ends up in the ER, the hospital may refuse to provide you information about your child.

If you are moving to a nursing home and want to protect your home from Medicaid, you might think that transferring your home to your children is a good way to protect it.  Although you don’t typically need to sell your home to qualify for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care, after you die, the state must attempt to recover from your estate whatever benefits it paid for your care if Medicaid had helped cover the cost of the nursing home (this is referred to as “estate recovery”). Transferring your house to your children in order to protect it from estate recovery is not ideal for a number of reasons.

First, transferring your home can make you ineligible for Medicaid for a certain amount of time. The state Medicaid agency looks for transfers made within five years of the Medicaid application and if any transfers were made for less than market value, the state imposes a penalty period in which you are not eligible for benefits.

However, you can typically avoid this penalty when transferring your home to the following:

Our firm is always stressing the need for Healthcare Powers of Attorney and Living Wills which are examples of healthcare directives.   Remember, that the Healthcare Power of Attorney is a document that names an agent to make healthcare decisions for you should you lack capacity to make those choices.  It not only pertains to decisions concerning life sustaining treatment if death is imminent, but also pertains to those situations where death is not imminent.

By contrast, the Living Will is a document which is restricted to those situations when death is imminent.  It is basically a written pronouncement by you that you do not want life sustaining measures taken if those procedures only delay the dying process. Unlike the Power of Attorney for Healthcare, an agent is not appointed and the health provider must continue to administer food and water.

But what if you have neither  a Power of Attorney for Healthcare nor a Living Will, your death is imminent and you lack the capacity to make medical treatment and life sustaining decisions? This is when the Illinois Healthcare Surrogate Act will apply. The Act generally allows for family members, friends, guardians and other named persons to make these type of decisions.

For years, attorneys, accountants, financial planners, and insurance sale persons have been touting the benefits of long-term care insurance. “Buy in your 50s and you will never have to worry about your future long-term care expenses ever again” was the common refrain. It was sound advice. With the right long-term care policy your problems were solved. Daily benefit rates typically covered the lion’s share of the daily private pay rate preserving assets for much-needed extras and, in many cases, a tidy inheritance for the next generation.

Unfortunately, any aging population, the unexpected popularity of assisted living facilities, and a steady increases in the cost of care has made it all but impossible for insurance companies to continue to provide the promised levels of benefits without increasing premiums. It can be argued that insurance companies should have seen the baby-boomers coming but no one anticipated that so many seniors would prefer to transition to an assisted living facility foregoing the in-home care option. Insurance companies also expected a much higher percentage of customers to cancel coverage. A common theme across all types of elective insurance coverage types. The constant refrain from professional advisers to clients recommending that they retain long-term care insurance at all costs had the unintended effect of making LTC insurance untenable for insurers.

All of these unanticipated and unintended consequences has had a real impact on seniors. In some cases, premiums have as much as doubled in the past two years and Mass Mutual, one of the largest LTC insurance underwriters, is about to ask regulators to authorize an average increase in premiums of 77 percent.