Trusts: The Planning Tool You May Not Know Alot About But…Really Should.

Trusts are an important piece of your estate planning arsenal; the reasons why can differ depending on the type of Trust. There are many types but I will not be discussing them all or going into great detail.

My Series has an Elder and Special Needs Law focus, so the later discussion of specialized Trusts (in the coming weeks) will go into more detail. For example, when discussing Medicaid Planning, I will delve into the Medicaid Asset Protection Trust. When discussing Special Needs Planning, I will explain the types of Supplemental Needs (a/k/a Special Needs) Trusts.

As is my intent throughout the Series, I will be laying a foundation that can carry you forward.

Generally, the Grantor’s objectives can also determine the type of Trust.  The Grantor is the person who creates the Trust for either their own benefit or for others.  Some may refer to a Grantor as a “Trustor.”

Another concept to understand is that a Trust is a fiduciary agreement, where the Grantor names a person or persons, called a Trustee or Co-Trustees, to hold/manage assets for the beneficiaries.

A Trust distinguishes itself from a Last Will and Testament, in that the former is not subject to Probate. In the second article from the Series, I defined Probate as the judicial proceeding wherein the Court names an Executor who then marshals and distributes the decedent’s assets to the beneficiaries.

When an asset is non-probate, it means that it passes directly to the named beneficiary. For example, a life insurance policy is a non-probate asset.

When discussing Trusts, whatever asset(s) is/are named within the Trust (if the Trust was drafted or written correctly) will “pass” directly to the named beneficiary without a Court proceeding. But as an example, if it is residential property the beneficiary needs to effectuate a deed change for ownership to change legally.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are many types of Trusts so they all start with these two:

  1. Inter Vivos (Living) Trust and
  2. Testamentary Trust

All Trusts will first fall under one of the above categories.

First, the Testamentary Trust

Testamentary Trust is one that is established through the Grantor’s Last Will and Testament or interestingly enough …an Inter Vivos Trust.

A Testamentary Trust can be revoked at any time during the Grantor’s lifetime, if the Last Will and Testament where it is created is modified or revoked.  Once the Testator of the Will dies, the Testamentary Trust becomes Irrevocable (i.e. permanent).

Likewise, if the Testamentary Trust provision of the Inter Vivos Trust is modified/removed, or if the Living Trust itself is terminated, so is the Testamentary Trust.

And whatever objectives an Inter Vivos Trust aims to accomplish, a Testamentary Trust can (pretty much) do the same.

The Inter Vivos Trust

An Inter Vivos or Living Trust is one that is established during the Grantor’s lifetime. There are many types- again-depending on the objective(s).

Briefly, an Inter Vivos trust can be created (and this is not an exhaustive list):

  • To shield assets from potential future creditor
  • To hold life insurance policy (ies)
  • To hold money
  • To hold property -residential or commercial
  • To hold assets for minors
  • To provide for different beneficiaries at different times (i.e. a surviving spouse and then to Grantor’s children after spouse death).
  • For the benefit of a charity
  • As a Credit Shelter or Family Trust (estate tax benefits)
  • To provide for a non U.S. Citizen spouse
  • To produce a lifetime financial benefit to the Grantor and/or the beneficiaries
  • To produce a tax benefit for the grantor and/or the beneficiaries

In the Inter Vivos Trust category, there are two further sub categories:

1.     Revocable Trust and

2.     Irrevocable Trust

Revocable Trust is one where the Grantor retains control; it can also go by the name Grantor Trust. The Grantor can:

– Amend or modify the terms (i.e. remove, buy or sell assets from the Trust) and/or

– Replace/change the beneficiaries of the Trust and/or

– Name themselves a beneficiary and/or

– Terminate the Trust altogether.

The Grantor can act as the Trustee.

The assets in the Trust remain in the Grantor’s estate.

The assets in the Trust are taxed as part of the Grantor’s estate (personal income tax, Form 1040); the Trust is not a separate entity.

A Revocable Trust becomes Irrevocable at death of the Grantor.

NOTE: Beneficiaries do not pay tax on distributions since Grantor has already done so.

An IrrevocableTrust is one where

– The Grantor cannot amend or modify the terms and/or;

– The Grantor cannot terminate the Trust and/or beneficiaries;

– Once created (and funded), the Grantor has no control over it;

– The Grantor no longer has ownership rights over the assets within the Trust; and

– The Grantor cannot act as Trustee.

The Grantor could only have the right to the assets, if they named themselves a beneficiary. The Trust would need certain provisions/distribution language included to accomplish this. If done incorrectly, it could prejudice the Trust’s objectives.

The assets in an Irrevocable Trust move out of the Grantor’s estate.

The Irrevocable Trust is taxed as a separate entity (Form 1041).

The Irrevocable Trust is an attractive option for Grantor’s looking to protect assets from potential future creditors or to limit or eliminate estate taxes.

NOTE: Beneficiaries do have to pay income taxes on the distributions.

So, there you have it, a bare bones primer on Trusts. If you remember the above, all the puzzle pieces will (hopefully) fall into place as we continue along in my Series.


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The Power of Attorney: The Document You Cannot Live Without

In my last article I spoke about the Health Care Proxy, a document that governs all health care and medical decisions. This week I will be addressing the Power of Attorney, the most powerful (and abused) document in anyone’s set of planning documents.

I will try to explain this legal document in a succinct yet clear manner. This is all elemental so remember, no deep dives.

The Case of Jane and John Smith

Last week I provided the hypothetical of Jane and John Smith. I am going to revisit their story and provide different details, to illustrate the importance and power of this document.

Jane worked as an accountant and left her job at a small firm to focus on a full-time screenwriting career. At the time of the accident, she had been writing full time for a little over a year and a half. John worked as an assistant principal at a Manhattan public elementary school.

They lived in a renovated three-story brownstone in Bushwick (Brooklyn). John purchased the brownstone as a then fixer upper well before meeting Jane. Two years prior to the accident, he took out a second mortgage in the amount of $450,000 to finance the major renovations with the hopes of renting out two of the three apartments.

 John also owned an apartment in Forest Hills, Queens he inherited mortgage free from his grandmother. He had been renting out the apartment for approximately $2000 per month and used those funds to assist in paying the $3000 mortgage on his brownstone. 

Jane and John held a joint savings account amounting to $100,000 at the time of his accident. He also held some investment accounts, jointly with Jane, worth about $300,000.

A year after the accident, financial problems began to surface. Jane’s work as a screenwriter was inconsistent, therefore so was the income. However, being a screenwriter allowed her to spend more time with John at his long- term rehabilitation facility.

 Jane has been paying $13,500 per month for the facility with the money in John’s investment accounts. She knows this money will not last and she will need to solicit long term care Medicaid for John sooner rather than later.

 She has maxed out their joint savings account. She has been able to pay the mortgage but, at times, with difficulty. As much as it pained her to think it, she believes she needs to sell the brownstone as it was too much to manage.

 She wants to keep the Forest Hills apartment as an income producing property.

John never executed any Advance Directives, and this included a Power of Attorney. At this point, Jane’s hands are tied with respect to properties she does not own. 

(As I mentioned in my previous article, there is a (costly) solution. It will be addressed next week).

Like a Health Care Proxy, the “POA” (the abbreviated term utilized by attorneys) is an Advance Directive. It is a document that is only valid when the person who executed it, also referred to as a Principal, is alive and incapacitated. The person who carries out the document’s intent is, again, the Agent.

A POA should have two Agents that either act separately or together. 

There are many authorities that can be conferred in a POA and, often, one person cannot do it all or may not have the aptitude for certain tasks. It does make sense to allow both Agents to act separately. When agents act together, this means they must agree on a course of action. This could lead to conflict but, to be fair, so can Agents who act separately.

Rule of thumb: Think responsibly and cautiously about who you select to act as your Agents. They do not need to be your spouse, child or close family member. If they happen to be and are appropriate, then so be it.

There should also be named successor Agents in the event your original Agent(s) are unable to serve for any reason.

The criteria for incapacity are the same as defined for the Health Care Proxy. The person can no longer make decisions, because they are

–      unable to verbally, or through other means, communicate and/or;

–      cannot comprehend what is being told to them;

–      it is usually a neurocognitive issue, and/or;

–      developmental or intellectual disability, and/or;

–      at times combined with a psychiatric illness.

And yes, some people will execute a Power of Attorney to permit others to act on their behalf even when they possess their cognitive faculties but present with limited to no mobility.

The Subjects Under a Power of Attorney

What powers does a Power of Attorney confer on the Principal’s named Agent, the person with the authority to act on their behalf?

Few to many. Narrow to broad.

It depends on the Principal’s level of comfort with ceding control as well as their expressed wishes. However, an effective Power of Attorney needs to cover a lot of bases and the one you download off the internet is not going to pass muster.

The subjects addressed in your boilerplate POA:

–      Claims and Litigation;

–      Banking transactions;

–      Bond, share and commodity transactions;

–      Real Estate transactions;

–      Benefits from governmental programs or civil or military service;

–      Health care billing and payment;

–      Tax matters;

–      Estate transactions;

–      Business operating transactions;

–      Retirement benefits;

–      Insurance transactions;

–      Personal and family maintenance;

–      Chattel and goods transactions; and

–      “All other matters”

On its face, the above subjects appear to be comprehensive. They cover every facet of your life outside of health care and medical decisions. But do they really protect you as the Principal?

From the perspective of an experienced Elder Law or Trusts and Estates attorney, the above provides insufficient to minimal protection, in that the language is too generic and open to any interpretation—usually of the narrow kind. It is also missing other subject matters that are important to an aging population and those with special needs.

It is simply not tailored to the Principal, his/her life and future needs.

A Minute on the Banks and Financial Institutions

Let’s talk about the banks and financial institutions. They are not known for their POA “friendliness.” They will often ask their customers to complete an institutional POA, even though this is not necessary-or is it?

If you look at a standard/template POA it simply states, “banking transactions.” What exactly does that mean? Whatever the person looking at the document determines it to be—and it will often not work in the Agent’s favor.

I can say the same thing for every single category listed. Additionally, the “all other matters” language is akin to a catch all provision in a contract -and not a good one.

The Statutory Gifts Rider

Another mistake people make when it pertains to a POA? The absence of a Statutory Gifts Rider, which for this article’s purpose is defined as an accompanying document that permits the Agent(s) to make gifts of money in excess of $500. The sole gifting provision in the POA only allows gifting in an amount up to and including $500. The additional gifting authority found in the Rider is vital in the area of Medicaid Planning, a future series topic.

An experienced Elder Law attorney will further flesh out the above subjects when drafting a POA and the Statutory Gifts Rider. Furthermore, they will also include and expand the following topics; this is definitely a general and non-exhaustive list:

–      Trusts (creating, funding, modifying, termination, etc.)

–      Medicaid Planning

–      HIPPA (access to confidential medical records)

–      Beneficiary Designations (modifications, etc.)

–      Powers of Appointment

–      Statutory Elections

–      Domicile and Residence (changing the Principal’s home setting as well geographic location, etc.)

–      Estate Transactions (receipt, waivers, consents and releases, etc.)

–      Real Estate transactions (sales, leasing, transfers, etc.)

–      Employment of other professionals (to assist the Agents in handling the Principal’s affairs)

–      Reimbursement issues for the Health Care Agent

–      Enforcement proceedings against banks or financial institutions

–      And even the naming of the Agent as a Guardian, should the question of formal guardianship arise during the period of incapacity

To close, I will return to my hypothetical. Can you see some of the problems Jane Smith is facing in the absence of the POA?

At this point in time, she has no authority to 1. Sell the brownstone, much less collect the proceeds from the sale, 2. Transfer the Forest Hills apartment to her name, 3. Do any type of preliminary Medicaid planning (or spend down) for her husband, 4. Establish new bank or financial accounts for her husband, 5. Establish a Trust for her husband’s benefit, and/or 6. Move her husband to a different facility if she wanted to.

A properly drafted POA would have made most of, if not all, the hurdles non-existent.

This has been my longest article in the Series (thus far) and even so, I could still write more. All the topics I have and will discuss are important, but Advance Directives are unique, in that they are literally living documents.


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“The Greatest Wealth is Health”​ -Virgil

Health is something most of us fail to appreciate, especially when we are young.

Health is something we only true value when we lose it.

There is a sense of helplessness that comes with being ill. There are many things in life that are out of our control and, under some circumstances, certain medical situations can be unpredictable, unimaginable and devastating.

But there is something we can all do to preserve our wishes when it comes to health care decisions and even end of life issues.

Advance Directives are written statements that are valid during a person’s life but onlywhen they are incapacitated. There are two Advance Directives you should know about. I will be addressing one of them in this article; the next article in the Series will address the other.

Incapacity, for brevity’s sake, is when a person is unable to make their wishes known because they cannot communicate verbally or otherwise, or is incapable of processing or understanding information due to neuro-cognitive deficits caused by any number of medical conditions.

The document is a Health Care Proxy and it is vital to any person alive. The latter statement is not an exaggeration.  The following hypothetical will, hopefully, drive the point home.

Jane Smith and John Smith are in their forties. They have been married for eight years with no children.

John comes from a large family, while Jane is an only child.

Neither has any major medical issues and are in seemingly good health.

Then one day, Jane and John are driving down a local road when they are in a head on collision with another driver who ran a red-light driving way over the 25 miles per hour speed limit. John is ejected from the car.

Jane was wearing her seat belt, while John was not.

While John survived the accident, he was very seriously injured. He suffered a traumatic brain injury when his head hit the glass, he was ejected from the vehicle and his body hit the pavement.

Unfortunately, he never regained full consciousness. He has not spoken in over a year and will only briefly open his eyes but does not focus on anything or anyone. He cannot feed, toilet or clothe himself. He is confined to his bed. He was placed on a mechanical ventilator to assist with breathing since he was unable to do so on his own. A tracheostomy was also performed.

The neurologists are unsure of what John can hear or understand, but they do not expect a reversal of his condition.

John had, one more than occasion, told Jane that he did not want to be kept alive through artificial means if he were to suffer an accident that left him in bad shape. Jane wanted to honor those wishes.

John’s siblings, however, objected to Jane’s plans. They wanted to keep their brother alive at all costs.

Who did the hospital listen to? Neither side. They kept him alive through artificial means because that is what hospitals are supposed to do. There was no Health Care Proxy (or a Court order) which allowed the medical staff to follow anyone’s directives regarding care and life sustaining measures.

Jane’s status as John’s legal wife carried no weight when it pertained to health care decisions, particularly life sustaining measures.

NOTE: There is a solution to the above scenario—and I will address this later in the Series.

This is a terribly sad hypothetical, but it is a composite of real life situations I have run into repeatedly through my guardianship practice. It is more common than you think and more emotionally devastating than I have painted here.

What would have changed in this scenario if a Health Care Proxy had been in place?

If the Proxy was properly drafted, executed and witnessed, the Principal (in my hypothetical, John) would have named an Agent (his wife, Jane) to make health care decisions. And John’s wishes would have been followed. No extraordinary measures would be taken to prolong his life. He would be given medication to make him comfortable and to lessen and eliminate physical pain.

An Agent must be a person the Principal trusts, who is reliable and responsible and who has displayed a pattern of good decision making. They must be a person who can act decisively under pressure.

If in my hypothetical, Jane is a person who is indecisive, unreliable or buckles easily under pressure then she is not a good candidate to be John’s Agent. It is undeniable that she loves her husband but she may not make the best decisions in a life or death situation. Remember, it is always about the Principal’s best interests and wishes, not about the Agent’s feelings or self-interest.

Here are some important points I wish to highlight about the Health Care Proxy.

·      An Agent must be at least eighteen years of age. I would not recommend a younger person as an agent unless they have demonstrated maturity that defies their chronological age.

·      The Principal should inform the person they want to name as Agent of their decision prior to executing the actual document. The Agent can either accept or decline to act in that capacity.

·      A listed Alternate (“back up”) Agent is ALWAYS a good idea. And the same criteria I cited above for the Agent would be applicable here. Someone must be available to step in for the Agent if they become unable to serve in that capacity.

·      The Health Proxy should be for an indefinite period of time. I have rarely encountered a person who wants it to expire under a certain set of circumstances or on a specific date. How can any person know the future?

·      A Principal should always discuss their wishes with the Agent during capacity. The Health Care Proxy allows an Agent to follow a Principal’s wishes as he or she “knows them to be”—i.e. they do not need to be memorialized in the document.

·      However, the Principal is well within their right to elaborate on, limit or expand those powers within the document. The instructions can be brief or pages long. It is a highly personal document and the decisions that follow are personal as well.

·      A Health Care Proxy also addresses routine medical care, like doctors’ visits, medications, course of treatment, hospitalizations, surgical procedures and overall health. It covers all medical decisions, including “end of life.”

·       “End of life” treatment can also be explicitly addressed in the document.

  •  “End of life” includes, but is not limited to, mechanical respiration and ventilation as well as artificial nutrition and hydration, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), surgical procedures, blood transfusions, and even antibiotics.
  •   You can specify medical conditions by category and state what treatments you want or want withheld (examples of conditions are coma or an unconscious state with no chance of reversal, a terminal illness, or brain damage- like John in my hypothetical).
  • The Principal can either request that all life sustaining measures be taken or that they be withheld if a meaningful recovery is medically impossible and/or if the Principal’s diagnosis would not allow them to live a full or independent life. What a quality life means to the Principal differs for every person.
  •  The Principal must sign the document.
  • The Principal’s signature must be attested to by two witnesses who then also sign the document, but notarization is not required.
  • The witnesses have no right to read the Health Care Proxy. They are there to attest to the Principal’s state of mind as well as the voluntary nature of the document execution.
  • The Agent is never to be a witness.
  • The Health Care Proxy should be kept in a place accessible to family and emergency medical personnel; it’s location should be known to anyone who is important to you-especially your Agent. Copies should be made available to family and your physicians.

It is not a secret document.

Every person, once they reach eighteen years of age, should have a fully executed Health Care Proxy among their most personal and important documents. Your life is the most precious gift. When you are no longer able to speak for yourself, others should treat your life in accordance with your beliefs- with respect.


This article is part of a LinkedIn Series Pilot I was invited to participate in.

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El Cuidado de Atención de Largo Plazo: Información Importante para Ud. y sus familiares

Hace unos meses, dí una breve presentación sobre el cuidado a largo plazo para los ancianos y discapacitados. Al contemplar mi propia mortalidad, la de mis padres y la de mis clientes, quise escribir un post sobre este tema. Es un poco largo, pero te prometo que aprenderás algo valioso.

Los estadounidenses tienden a pensar: “Tengo seguro médico, así que estoy cubierto.” Y mientras esto puede ser cierto para la atención médica de rutina, visitas al médico, recetas medicas, hospitalización y algunos tipos de rehabilitación, no se extiende a cuidado a largo plazo.

¿Qué es el cuidado de atención de largo plazo ? Yo podría definirlo, pero el Instituto Nacional de Salud (NIH) hace un mejor trabajo al explicarlo aquí. Cuando escuchamos “cuidado a largo plazo ” a menudo visualizamos una persona mayor, pero eso no es siempre el caso.  Cualquier persona puede enfermarse en cualquier momento y requiere de cuidados a largo plazo en una institución . Como estadounidenses estamos viviendo más tiempo debido a una mejor atención médica, los avances en la ciencia, los factores ambientales y, si tienes suerte, buenos genes. Inevitablemente, sin importar sus genes, todos nos vamos a enfermar. Simplemente no sabemos como ni cuándo.

La mayoría de nosotros no estamos preparados para financiar nuestras estancias a largo plazo en un hogar de ancianos. Y es costoso, más costoso que pagar por un año de universidad ( pública o privada ), una boda y, en algunos estados, el valor de los pagos de la hipoteca por un año . Durante mi presentación me referi a esta infografía y hace el costo económico realidad. Afortunadamente, hay maneras de planificar la financiación de cuidado de atención de largo plazo. Cuanto antes lo haga, más opciones tiene disponible. Ninguna de las opciones son baratas, pero las opciones posteriores son mucho más costosos – y no me refiero sólo al dinero.

a)       Pago privado . Esto es exactamente lo que significa. Usted o un ser querido paga de su bolsillo por largo plaza la atención en un centro . La mayoría de nosotros ahora sobrevivir a nuestros ahorros , especialmente a la luz del costo financiero muy alto asociado con el envejecimiento. Pero , si usted es uno de los relativamente pocos que se encuentran en el tramo impositivo exclusiva de “extremadamente ricos ” – felicitaciones. Ahora , para el resto de nosotros.

b)       Un seguro de atención de largo plazo ( LTC en ingles) . Yo se lo podría explicar pero creo que el Instituto Nacional de Salud ( NIH ) hace un mejor trabajo al definirlo aqui. El LTC es un seguro que usted paga para que pueda cuidar de usted en caso de necesitarlo en la incapacidad o vejez. Porque soy un gran fan de las infografías, aquí comparto otro del ano 2013 , que ilustra las tasas de aceptación y rechazo de seguros LTC en base a la edad, y también el costo de mantenerla.

De nuevo, lo mejor es planear lo mas pronto posible, porque una vez que se enferme, este tipo de seguro ya no está disponible para usted. Una advertencia: El seguro LTC probablemente no cubrirá toda su atención a largo plazo las necesidades para el tiempo que lo requieran. Este último es suponiendo que viva mas allá  del periodo de cubrimiento de la póliza; es decir, el dinero se acaba antes de Ud. morir. El seguro LTC seguro está destinado a ser un cojín de clases, para retrasar o prevenir el gasto de su bolsillo, separarse de sus activos , o la solicitud de Medicaid. Aplicando para Medicaid es el siguiente paso para muchos, pero no deja de tener problemas .

c )     Medicaid. Es un programa de seguro medico para personas con bajos ingresos. Para las personas   mayores calificar, deben de cumplir con ciertos límites de ingresos y recursos. Y esos límites son bajos y, en la opinión de algunas personas, casi cerca de indigencia . Aproximadamente 2/3 de los residentes de hogares de ancianos dependen de Medicaid para su cobertura médica y la mayoría de esas personas han trabajado con un abogado con el fin de calificar porque tenían “demasiado” en bienes. Y usted se sorprendería al conocer lo que consideran “demasiado.”

A diferencia de el seguro de atención de largo plazo, Medicaid continuará cubriendo su atención médica –mientras que cumpla con los requisitos del programa. Es posible que Medicaid pueda cubrir su cuidado de largo plazo hasta su muerte. Algo muy importante, Medicaid es el único seguro de salud que cubre el cuidado de largo plazo. Este enlace proporciona proporciona información sobre el program de Medicaid en mi estado natal, Nueva York.

d)    Hipoteca Inversa. Esta es una opción para las personas que tengan al menos 62 años de edad y han pagado su hipoteca por completo o que tienen más equidad en su casa que el balance de la hipoteca .  El importe de la hipoteca inversa debe ser suficiente para pagar su hipoteca (si es necesario), vivir en la casa y mantenerla, pagar facturas o deudas de algún tipo, fondos de renovaciones en su casa o tener ahorros para lo inesperado. Usted puede obtener una hipoteca inversa y nunca tocar un centavo de ella. Tengo poca experiencia con las hipotecas inversas, así que voy a dejar que La Comisión Federal de Comercio de los Estados Unidos proporcione más información aquí.

Por último, y como un bono por leer este post hasta el final, es una infografía de la financiación de envejecimiento en los Estados Unidos- y sin duda cuenta una historia. Hágase un favor grande, a planear y a planear temprano … y a compartir este post con los demás!

Mi próximo post será sobre la protección legal en lo que se refiere a cuidado de atención de largo plazo, principalmente en la formación de un fideicomiso y otros mecanismos legales. Haciendo esto puede salvaguardar sus bienes y anticipar su futuro cuidado de atención de largo plazo. Para planificar adecuadamente, necesitará un abogado apoyándolo.

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