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Nov 1 18

Planning to Enjoy Thanksgiving

by Phil Levin, Esq.
Planning to Enjoy Thanksgiving

As friends and family gather around the Thanksgiving table, we recognize how truly grateful we are. We are grateful we have such wonderful friends and family and that they could be with us to celebrate. We are grateful that our health is better than it could be. While we miss friends and family who could not be with us, we raise a glass in their honor and cherish the memories we are creating with those joining us.

One of the reasons we can enjoy our time together is that we’ve prepared. The Thanksgiving gathering did not come together on its own. We have arranged time away from work or school. We may have travelled long distances to be together. We’ve prepared the main course, typically a turkey. Maybe we had to arise before daylight to start cooking. We’ve prepared our sides, such as sweet potatoes, and our desserts, such as pumpkin and pecan pies. We’ve thought of everything, right down to the real whipped cream for the pies.

Sometimes it takes a little planning to make things go smoothly so you can enjoy the most important moments in life. Estate Planning really is no different. It’s important to do your planning so that things go smoothly when you need them. It’s important to plan so that when the time comes, your affairs are handled the way that you want them to be handled. When you’ve planned, you can focus on the moments in life meant to be cherished, the raucous Thanksgiving meal or the soft conversation by the convalescent bed. Those moments could be lost if the planning is not done ahead of time.

As Alan Lakein famously said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” There are countless issues that could arise without proper estate planning:

Your assets would go via intestacy, a one-size-fits-all plan devised by your state legislature. So, your assets probably would not end up going to the people you want in the shares you want.
Your “plan” would not consider the tax, creditor, divorce protection, or maturity issues your beneficiaries might have. In other words, even if your assets were going to whom you wanted, it is not likely they would be going the way you wanted. Your failure to plan could mean your assets would go unnecessarily to the beneficiaries’ creditors, divorcing spouses, or the government.
Your plan would not appoint the decision-makers you would want to handle your estate. The relative you didn’t even invite to Thanksgiving might end up in control of your assets.
You would have no say regarding who would care for your minor children after your death.
If you were to become incapacitated during life, you would need to go through a public proceeding to declare you incapacitated and then a judge you didn’t know would appoint someone you may not like and whom you did not select to make decisions for you.
Finally, it would be much more likely that in the future the relative calm around the Thanksgiving table would be disrupted by discord caused by your failure to plan.

Planning ahead is not easy, but it is the loving thing to do. And, won’t you feel better knowing that things are taken care of, so you can relax and enjoy life’s special moments.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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Sep 1 18

Can You Bequeath (or Inherit) Airline Rewards Points?

by Phil Levin, Esq.
Can You Bequeath Airline Miles?

Many of our clients are frequent travelers who have accumulated significant reward points with one or more airlines. Naturally, they would like any miles that remain in their accounts at their deaths to go to loved ones.

This topic has generated increased interest this past month, following the death of Anthony Bourdain. The globe-trotting celebrity chef mentioned his airline miles in his will, requesting that his ex-wife Ottavia “dispose of them in accordance with what she believes to have been my wishes.”

This approach may work for Bourdain – after all, no airline would want negative publicity arising from refusing to honor a celebrity’s wishes. But for the rest of us, it’s not so simple, and bequeathing miles to loved ones in an estate plan is not a workable approach. That is because your rewards account is a contract specifically between you and the airline. It is the airline’s policy that determines if, when and how miles can be left to others.

Research and Reach Out!

When it comes to planning to leave miles to loved ones, there is no getting around it: You will need to do your homework! Read the fine print on the airline’s web site. Call customer service, too, as our clients often report there is some “wiggle room” between what the web site says and what customer service is prepared to do. Document everything you are told.

The same goes for survivors of someone who held an account: Call customer service to see if those miles can be salvaged. Some airlines may comply, regardless of written policies, after requesting certain documentation from you.

Here are the current policies of two major airlines:

Delta Sky Miles Program

Miles are not transferable. The website says: Restrictions on Transfer: Miles are not the property of any Member. Except as specifically authorized in the Membership Guide and Program Rules or otherwise in writing by an officer of Delta, miles may not be sold, attached, seized, levied upon, pledged, or transferred under any circumstances, including, without limitation, by operation of law, upon death, or in connection with any domestic relations dispute and/or legal proceeding.

Jet Blue True Blue Program

Jet Blue has a “family pooling program” that allows family members to transfer points to one another. But when an account holder passes away, the points die with the holder. The Jet Blue web site says: Accrued Points and Award Travel do not constitute property of Member and are non-transferable (i) upon death, (ii) as part of a domestic relations matter, or (iii) otherwise.

Also, remember to check back with the airline from time to time. Airline policies can change over time… sometimes in your favor.

Aug 1 18

Before Your Kids Leave For College, Make Sure They Sign These Documents

by Phil Levin, Esq.
Before Your Kids Leave for College

With high school graduation coming up, many parents will soon watch their children become adults (at least in the eyes of the law) and leave home to pursue their education and career goals.

Turning 18, graduating high school, and moving out is a huge accomplishment. And it also comes with some serious responsibilities that probably aren’t at the forefront of their (or your) mind right now. However, when your children become legal adults, many areas that were once under your control are now solely up to them.

Here’s the big one: Before they turned 18, you had access to their financial accounts and had the power to make all of their healthcare decisions. After they turn 18, however, you’re no longer able to do either.

Before your kids head out into the world, you should discuss and have them sign the following estate planning documents, so if they become ill, injured, or incapacitated, you can easily access their medical records and financial accounts without having to go to court. Signing these documents will ensure that if they ever do need your help and guidance, you will have the legal authority to easily provide it.

Medical Power of Attorney

A Medical Power of Attorney allows your child to name an Agent, who has the power to make healthcare decisions for them if they are ever incapacitated and cannot make such decisions for themselves. For example, this authority allows you to make medical decisions if your child becomes unconscious in a car accident or suffers an illness and is not able to communicate their health care desires to medical care peoviders.

While a Medical Power of Attorney would give you authority to make treatment decisions, that authority only goes into effect if the child becomes incapacitated. This means that unless your child is incapacitated, you do not have the authority to view their medical records, which are considered private under HIPAA.

HIPPA Waiver Authorization

Passed in 1996, the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,” or HIPPA, requires health care providers and insurance companies to protect the privacy of a patient’s health records. Once your child becomes 18, no one—even parents—is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission from your adult child.

But this is easily remedied by having your child sign a HIPPA Waiver Authorization that grants you the authority to access his or her medical records. This can be critical if you ever need to make informed decisions about your child’s medical care.

Advance Medical Directive (a/k/a: Living Will)

While a Medical Power of Attorney allows you to make medical decisions about your child’s ongoing healthcare if they are incapacitated, a living will provides specific guidelines for how their medical care should be handled at the end of life.

A Living Will details how an individual want medical treatment decisions made for them if he or she is terminally ill.

Your child may have certain wishes for their care, so it is important you discuss these decisions with them and have such provisions documented in a Living Will. For example, a Living Will allows the child to decide when and if they want life support removed if they ever require it. Since these are literally life-or-death decisions, you should document them in a Living Will to ensure they are properly carried out.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

In the event that your child becomes incapacitated, you will also need a Durable Financial Power of Attorney to access his or her financial accounts. If you do not have a signed, Durable Financial Power of Attorney, you will not have access to their financial records and would be required to go to court in order to become appointed as the legal Guardian to gain access to their financial records.

While a Medical Power of Attorney will authorize you to make healthcare-related decisions on their behalf, a Durable Financial Power of Attorney will give you the authority to manage their financial and legal matters, such as paying bills, applying for Social Security benefits, and managing banking and other financial accounts.

If your child is getting ready to leave the nest to attend college or pursue some other life goal, you can trust The Levin Law Firm to help your child articulate and legally protect their healthcare and financial interests. With us in your corner, both your child and you will have peace of mind knowing that they will be well taken care of in the event of an unforeseen illness, accident, or injury.

At The Levin Law Firm, we do not just draft documents; we ensure that you make informed and empowered decisions for yourself and the people you love.

Jun 1 18

How Not to Leave a Mess For Your Children

by Phil Levin, Esq.
How Not to Leave a Mess For Your Children

For many of our clients, their goal is to not leave a mess for their children, either literally, financially or legally.

The literal type of physical “mess to avoid” is the cluttered house. We have worked with many surviving spouses and adult children who have had the task of cleaning out the family residence of accumulated belongings after the passing of a their family member. So de-cluttering and getting rid of our unnecessary worldly possessions often ranks at the top of the list for reducing or eliminating the literal mess.

Today, we often see that children do not want their parents’ valued china and silverware, which only a generation ago, were often coveted treasures to pass on as a legacy to enjoy. Therefore, we have discovered that asking the children about their desires for specific items of tangible personal property is often a good start in the downsizing process.

Elder Law Estate Plan

Our experience working with many clients to establish a comprehensive estate plan reveals that the financial and legal mess may happen as a result of neglecting to complete a comprehensive Elder Law Estate Plan in the event of a temporary or permanent disability, and upon their passing.

Very often, clients want their spouse, then their children, to step in and take over in the event of a disability, but the spouse or children may be prevented from properly handling both financial, legal, and healthcare decisions without up-to-date Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney in place. With the proper estate planning legal documents in place, the client selects the people to be designated as their Financial Agent and Healthcare Agent in order to make vitally important decisions in the event of a temporary or permanent illness, injury, or incapacity, which legal documents serve to completely avoid the costs, delays, and publicity of a formal Guardianship proceeding, wherein a judge appoints your legal Guardian.

By implementing prudent advanced estate planning, you and your family can save time, money, and the complications resulting from the invasion of your privacy which occurs through a Court sanctioned Guardianship proceeding. In addition, by establishing an appropriate Elder Law Power of Attorney, which should contain an unlimited gifting power, clients may indeed be able to protect the majority of their financial assets, from the increasing costs of a nursing home, in the event that ongoing long-term care is required due to a physical and/or mental disability.

The average cost of care in many nursing homes in the northeast is approximately $330 per day, and we regularly see long-term care costs ranging between $12,000 to $18,000 per month, depending upon the facility and level of care required. Therefore, if you have not already planned ahead, by seeking competent financial and legal advice, now is the best time for you, and possibly your children, to consult with an experienced financial advisor and elder law attorney to establish an appropriate financial and estate plan for your family.

Don’t Leave a Mess for Your Children

One of the key ways to not having a personal tragedy become a financial and estate settlement disaster, and not leave a mess for your children, is to take action to plan for the possibility of your disability and demise. In addition to the ongoing stress of taking care of an ill parent, children often must deal with the stress of figuring out the next steps in providing for your care, as well as preserving and protecting your hard-earned money from the potential costs of a nursing home.

Clients can indeed plan ahead to protect their assets by seeking the advice of a financial advisor and purchasing a suitable Long-Term Care insurance policy. In addition, establishing an effective Asset Protection Trust can protect both financial assets and real estate from nursing home costs after five years. As a result, the majority of assets can be passed intact to the children, rather than exposed to the costs of care during life, as well as an Estate Recovery Claim by the Department of Human Services after the passing of a family member.

Organizing your personal, financial, and legal affairs, along with relevant paperwork, is a gift to children. Of course, it is also important to share with specific family members exactly where to find your important financial and legal documents. Since may individuals no longer receive paper statements from their financial institutions, it makes good sense to make a list of your online bank and brokerage accounts, including your user names and passwords. In addition to properly identifying your assets, it also is prudent to make a list of any debts which you owe, along with the people and companies that should be notified in the event of your disability or demise.

Clients have shared with me the discovery of savings bonds, cash, and other valuable property discovered in their Mother or Father’s freezer, as well as unrecorded property, including valuable jewelry, hidden away in shoeboxes and clothing containers. We believe that it is just good practice to place your personal, financial, and legal affairs in good order, to reduce the potential stress for your spouse and and children.

May 4 18

Importance of Medical Directives: End-Of-Life Wishes Reflected in Barbara Bush’s Passing

by Phil Levin, Esq.

Former First Lady Barbara Bush died at her Houston home on April 17, surrounded by her family. She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, and had been hospitalized multiple times in recent weeks. Following an Easter weekend in the hospital, the 92-year-old decided to let nature take its course. She rejected additional life-prolonging measures, which likely would have included being attached to a breathing machine. The family announced her choice for “comfort care” only and supported her decision. She died with her husband of 73 years, President George Herbert Walker Bush, holding her hand.

The timing of her decision and passing has particular significance given that National Healthcare Decisions Day was April 16. Established in 2008, the purpose of NHDD is to encourage Americans to complete advance directives and to talk to their family about their healthcare wishes, including their end-of-life wishes. According to a 2013 survey by the Conversation Project, only 27% of Americans have done so — even though 90% say it’s very important!

Conversation Project

Nathan Kottkamp created National Healthcare Decisions Day as a result of his experiences serving on hospital medical ethics boards. He writes on the NHDD website: “Time and time again, families, providers and health care administrators struggle to interpret the wishes of patients who never made their healthcare wishes known (or who failed to create an advance directive to record their states wishes.)” Kottkamp applauds the Bush family for going public with this most personal decision and hopes it will encourage others to create health care documents and to discuss these issues with family. And Ellen Goodman, chair of the Conversation Project, which provides tools for families to talk about these sensitive issues, said of Bush: “It sounds like this forthright, outspoken woman has made her wishes known and the family is standing by her.”

Creating Advance Directives for Healthcare

Under Pennsylvania law, a competent adult has the right to make his/her own health care decisions. That includes the right to reject unwanted medical procedures. You also can name people to make your decisions if you are incapacitated and cannot do so yourself. Creating advance directives for healthcare can give you peace of mind and do the same for your family, making them confident they are doing what you want if they are called on to make decisions on your behalf.

An Advance Directive for Patients with Dementia

Please see an excellent article in The New York Times, on April 30, 2018, entitled, “An Advance Directive for Patients with Dementia” – Getting choices on end-of-life care recorded can help patients feel secure that their wishes will be respected, experts say.

We firmly believe having up-to-date Healthcare Powers of Attorney, including Advance Medical Directives, is an extremely important component to a comprehensive estate plan. Please feel free to forward our Estate Planning Matters newsletter to your valued clients.

Remember: It always seems like it’s too early, until it’s too late.