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Queen Elizabeth’s School of Estate Planning: 3 Lessons to Learn

Queen Elizabeth’s School of Estate Planning: 3 Lessons to Learn

Estate Planning

As you might imagine, the royal estate of Queen Elizabeth II was massive, with an estimated value of about $27 billion. Personally, the Queen’s net worth was around $500 million. The bottom line: a huge transfer of wealth is about to happen.

The good news is that, as you might expect from British royalty, the Queen’s estate plan was a masterpiece. Not only did it account for a plethora of diverse assets—trusts, real estate, a family business, fine art, jewelry, and even assets owned by separate trusts—but it was impeccably maintained to address the many changes that occurred throughout the duration of her life.

We may not have royal estates, but we can certainly learn from the Queen’s savvy approach to estate planning. Here are 3 estate planning lessons fit for a queen (but applicable to you, too):

1. Have your documents in order. An effective estate plan includes more than just a will or trust. Important documents, like a Durable Power of Attorney or Advance Directive for Healthcare, should also be in place. Beyond having the right series of estate planning documents, making sure your loved ones know where to find them, as well as what their responsibilities may or may not be in administering your estate, is of equal importance.

2. Make regular updates to your plan. Estate planning isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it activity. As your life changes—for example, you have children or grandchildren, get married or divorced, or lose a loved one—your estate plan needs to be updated accordingly. Because the Queen’s life was lived more publicly than most, we know of several occasions where updating her estate plan became a matter of prudence.

3. Talk about your wishes before you pass away. Let your family and loved ones know how your assets will be distributed (and why), so you can answer their questions and prevent family squabbling later down the line. The Queen famously communicated her desire for Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, to be referred to as the Queen after her death. While that is a decision that Charles could have made as King, knowing that he has his mother’s blessing to refer to his wife as the Queen must provide a sense of relief.

Preparations for Queen Elizabeth’s death started decades ago, and—if you have the foresight—you’ll follow suit and begin preparing for your own death decades before it happens. However, we don’t’ always know how many decades of life we have left, so the best way to protect your loved ones and legacy is to start planning now.

Contact Miller Estate & Elder Law

Miller Estate & Elder Law is here to guide you through the estate planning process. Whether your estate is massive and complex, or small and simple, we can help design a plan that is fit for a queen (or king). Complete the brief form below to contact us today!

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Who Holds the Power, and When? Beneficiary Designations vs. Wills

Who Holds the Power, and When? Beneficiary Designations vs. Wills

Beneficiary Designations vs. Wills

When it comes to estate planning, many people are content to draw up a will and leave it at that. That can be a big mistake. The fact is that a will is just one of many necessary estate planning tools, and if you ignore the other documents and designations, your assets could end up going to the wrong person after you pass away. This is especially the case when it comes to beneficiary designations, which hold more power over the distribution of certain assets than your will does.

What is a Beneficiary Designation?

A beneficiary designation is a stipulation that allows you to transfer certain assets directly to a specific person when you pass away. Typically, a beneficiary designation is used on bank accounts, retirement accounts, or life insurance policies. In most cases, a beneficiary designation names a specific individual, but you can also designate your estate as a beneficiary. A beneficiary designation supersedes any directive that may appear in your will, so whoever you name as a beneficiary on your bank or retirement accounts, or on your life insurance policy, will be the person who receives those assets.

Four Common Mistakes to Avoid When It Comes to Beneficiary Designations

1.  Failure to name a Beneficiary. If you don’t designate a beneficiary on your accounts, then the estate automatically becomes the beneficiary. This means that your assets will be distributed according to your Will.  If you have no will, then the laws of the State of Alabama determine who gets those assets.  When that happens, your assets may very well wind up going to someone who you did not intend to receive them.

2.  Not Naming a Contingent Beneficiary. What happens if your designated beneficiary dies, becomes incapacitated, or simply does not wish to receive the asset? If you haven’t named a contingent beneficiary, then your assets will, again, be distributed by the estate executor…the same as if you hadn’t named a beneficiary at all. Therefore, it’s important to account for all possibilities.

3.  Failure to Account for All Your Assets. Many people have more accounts that are subject to beneficiary designations than they realize. Whether it’s an IRA, a 401 (k), or a mutual fund account, it’s important that every asset for which you can designate a beneficiary be considered. Make a list of all your assets, and then check each one to be sure you’ve prepared properly for what will happen to them.

4.  Not Updating Your Beneficiary Designations. Life is full of changes: people pass on, children are born, we fall out with our friends. Similarly, beneficiary designations should change in accordance with our life circumstances. Every time a major life event happens, you should update all of your estate planning documents. You should also review your beneficiary designations periodically to be sure that your assets will not go to an unwanted recipient.

Make Sure Your Estate Plan is Up-to-Date

As important as it is to make sure all relevant accounts name a designated beneficiary or beneficiaries, it can also be a lot to stay on top of. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you seek out an experienced estate planning attorney who can help review your estate plan as needed. We recommend an annual review to ensure the accuracy of your plan, as well as to make updates as dictated by changing legislation or tax law.

Contact Miller Estate & Elder Law

At Miller Estate and Elder Law, we have many years of experience with estate planning and beneficiary designations. Give us a call at (256) 251-2137 to speak with a member of our legal team, or contact us using the brief form below.

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Healthcare Proxy, Durable Power of Attorney & HIPAA Authorization: 3 Estate Planning Documents Your College Student Needs

Healthcare Proxy, Durable Power of Attorney & HIPAA Authorization: 3 Estate Planning Documents Your College Student Needs

healthcare proxy

As your child heads off to college, you may have a lot on your mind. Not only is the process of choosing and applying to college a stressful one, but the campus visits and Target shopping sprees in preparation for their segue into higher learning can leave you feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained. While we don’t want to add another stressor to your plate, there is one important college planning to-do that is too often overlooked: estate planning.

You have spent the majority of your life making medical, legal and financial decisions for your child, but once your child reaches the age of majority—18 in most states (19 in Alabama) —you will lose that control. Without a healthcare proxy, durable power of attorney and HIPAA authorization, you may not be able to gain access to their medical records or finances…even if you are largely responsible for funding their college education!

Estate planning for 19-year-olds is much less complicated than planning for those who are married, have children, or have accrued a complex array of assets. However, it is equally important to do so. If your child is involved in an accident and becomes incapacitated, having these three essential documents in place will ensure that (a.) you have access to their medical records and (b.) are able to make medical and legal decisions for them.

Healthcare Proxy

If your child is injured or becomes seriously ill to the point they are unable to make their own medical decisions, you will not automatically be allowed to make those decisions for them. By drafting a healthcare proxy (also referred to as a medical power of attorney or advanced medical directive) your child can grant you access to their medical records, and legal rights to make medical decisions on their behalf. Without a healthcare proxy in place, you may need to petition the courts to gain access to your child’s medical records, or to make healthcare decisions on their behalf.

HIPAA Authorization

HIPAA regulations prohibit the disclosure of medical records, and, as a result, deny parents’ access to such information for their adult child. Due to this, parents should obtain a blanket HIPAA authorization from their child if they want the option of being apprised of their adult child’s health records. The HIPAA release is an important part of the estate planning process and may be incorporated into the health care proxy.

Durable Power of Attorney

The durable power of attorney is similar in function to the healthcare proxy. It will allow your child to name an agent—you, or another trusted family member—who can make financial and legal decisions on their behalf, should they become unable to do so. Many parents don’t think their adult children have enough financial resources to warrant a need for a durable power of attorney, however without this important document, you will not be able to communicate with banks, universities, or other related institutions on their behalf…even if you are the one footing the bill for their college education!

These estate planning documents are relatively quick and painless to create. Your college-aged child will only need to make a few decisions about who they want to name as appointees. Hopefully none of these documents will be needed, but if unexpected tragedy strikes, you’ll be glad you have them on-hand.

Contact Miller Estate & Elder Law

At Miller Estate & Elder Law, we can make the process of drafting a healthcare proxy, durable power of attorney, and HIPAA authorization fast and efficient. Contact us using the brief form below and a member of our team will reach out to schedule an initial consultation.

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What is a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust & Why You Need One

What is a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust & Why You Need One

If you or a family member have ever needed long-term care, then you probably understand the importance of Medicaid, especially Medicaid asset protection. While neither Medicare nor health insurance will cover the cost of long-term care, Medicaid will. However, to qualify for this prodigious benefit, one must meet the income and asset restrictions.

Medicaid Asset Protection Trust Defined

A Medicaid asset protection trust is an irrevocable trust that is designed to hold assets so that they are no longer countable if you have to apply for Medicaid. This type of trust allows you to pass assets on to your children and grandchildren because they are not counted for Medicaid purposes and therefore do not have to be “spent down” to qualify for Medicaid. A Medicaid asset protection trust should be established at least 60 months before your application date, so it’s critical that you take advantage of Medicaid planning before the need arises.

Why You Need One

If you ever have to go into long-term nursing home care, the assets in the Medicaid asset protection trust are not considered by Medicaid as long as they’ve been held in the trust for at least 60 months. What this means is that even with your money and assets in this trust, no one can touch or move your assets.

For people who are trying to protect their assets from long-term care costs, a Medicaid asset protection trust is a great option. This is also a much safer option than giving away your assets to your children, because your assets are protected and not at risk to your children’s creditors – such as divorce, tax liens, lawsuits, bankruptcies, etc.

With the Medicaid asset protection trust, you get the benefits of having your children managing your assets without risking your assets to their creditors and predators. If protecting your assets is important to you then we highly recommend medicaid planning as part of your estate plan.

If you would like to explore the option of a Medicaid asset protection trust, then contact Miller Estate & Elder Law at (256) 251-2137 or register for one of our free estate planning workshops.

The 3 Estate Planning Documents Everyone Needs

The 3 Estate Planning Documents Everyone Needs

Life is extremely unpredictable, so it’s vital that everyone has three specific estate planning documents set up before tragedy unexpectedly strikes. These documents ensure that, if we become incapacitated or worse, someone in your life will have the authority to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf—and that they know how you would like them to make those decisions. By having just three estate planning documents in place, you can save your family time, money, stress and heartache by having these important decisions made ahead of time. Not only will you be able to rest assured that you will receive medical care and treatment in alignment with your wants and beliefs, but you will also gain peace of mind knowing that your loved ones and assets will be taken care of after you are gone.

The three documents that everyone needs are: a last will and testament, advanced directive for healthcare, and a power of attorney—or POA. These documents are crucial to setting out a plan for how you want your healthcare and assets handled.

Last Will and Testament

The last will and testament is a legal document that expresses how a person wants their estate to be distributed upon their death. If you have no will, it is called dying “intestate,” and a local probate court will determine how your assets are distributed. While the courts follow state laws to distribute your assets, your actual final wishes will be unknown. The only way to ensure your final wishes are followed through is by having a last will and testament.

Advanced Directive for Healthcare

The advanced directive for healthcare is a 2-part document and contains a living will and medical power of attorney, or healthcare proxy. The living will states what you do or do not want if you become incapacitated or injured to the point where you can or cannot survive without advanced measures. For example, your living will might state that you do not want a feeding tube, or to breathe with assistance. By setting out these instructions ahead of time, it will save your family a lot of stress and heartache, and they won’t have to wonder if they’re doing what you would have wanted. The medical POA names someone to help make these medical decisions. This person will work with your medical care team to make sure that your wishes are being granted, as well as ensuring that you’re receiving the best care possible.

Power of Attorney

A power or attorney, or POA, is designed to give someone else the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf while you are still alive. A POA will give someone else the ability to take care of your estate by doing such things as paying bills, signing important documents, selling assets, and more.

These three estate planning documents tell others what to do if you are incapacitated or pass away, leaving no questions or issues regarding your assets if drafted effectively. If you are looking for peace of mind knowing that your estate and health will be taken care of when you’re not able to physically make those decisions, then contact Miller Estate & Elder Law or register for one of our free estate planning workshops.

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Medicaid Qualifications: Myths About Medicaid Eligibility

Medicaid Qualifications: Myths About Medicaid Eligibility

Medicaid is widely known but often misconstrued. With laws and regulations constantly changing, there is a possibility that you’ve heard incorrect or outdated information along the way. We’re here to help debunk some of the most common misconceptions about Medicaid eligibility, but first let’s cover a few of the basics.

What Is Medicaid?

Medicaid provides health coverage to low income families, disabled adults, and nursing home residents.

Who is Eligible for Medicaid?

Medicaid Eligibility varies from group to group. You can find the full list of eligibility requirements on the Alabama Medicaid website.

Myth #1: You cannot use Medicaid and Medicare simultaneously

False. Medicare is a federal program that provides health coverage primarily for those over the age of 65. Medicaid is a federal and state program that provides health coverage to low income people, and those with disabilities. If you qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare, then you can use both.

Myth #2: Medicaid is a lot like Medicare

While Medicaid and Medicare can be similar, they are also very different. For instance, Medicare will only pay for 100 days of long-term care in a nursing home, while Medicaid will pay indefinitely for long-term care for recipients. Nursing home care in Alabama can cost around $70,000/year, so it’s important to plan ahead.

Myth #3: You can only apply for Medicaid if you are going to long-term care.

Did you learn to dial 9-1-1 after an emergency or before? If you have the proper Medicaid qualifications, then apply ASAP. It’s much easier to have Medicaid and not need it, than to need Medicaid and not have it.

Myth #4: Only lower income individuals are Medicaid qualified.

While it is true that Medicaid qualifications do have income restrictions, including Alabama Medicaid planning as part of your estate plan can be extremely beneficial. By planning ahead, it’s possible to use asset protection strategies to safeguard your estate.

Myth #5: Medicaid only looks at the individual’s income, so you can give away your assets to your spouse or kids.

Medicaid caseworkers will review all income, assets and financial records of both you and your spouse going back 60-months prior to the date on your application. Giving away assets or property in that 60-month period may tie up your application and cause penalties that can prevent you from getting the care you need.

Don’t let long-term care issues give you a sudden and unpleasant surprise. Know where you stand now, and how to plan for the future.  At Miller Estate and Elder Law, we have helped many families with both advanced planning and crisis planning. Give us a call at 256-251-2137 or use our convenient contact form below to reach out to our legal team today.