Thursday, May 31, 2012

VA Demands Compensation for Overpayment

If you are a veteran receiving benefits for non-service connected pension and Aid and Attendance, the VA may make a demand to be paid back for overpayment to you. What can you do?
The VA can forgive any debt if there was no indication of fraud, misrepresentation, or bad faith on the part of the claimant and recovery of the debt would be against equity and good conscience.  [38 USC § 3502 and 38 CFR § 1.963(a)]. You can submit a request for the debt to be forgiven or ask that there be a “waiver of the debt.”  The request must be in writing and received by the VA within 180 days of the VA’s request for repayment .  If you fail to request that the debt be forgiven within the deadline, the VA can garnish Social Security benefits, stop your VA benefits, and garnish any tax return you may be receiving.

In summary, pay attention to your mail if you have been receiving VA benefits.  If you receive a letter stating you have been overpaid, take action so that you don't end up on the hook for the overpayment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Should Each Spouse Have Their Own Estate Planning Lawyer?

Estate planning requires the attention of an entire family:  husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, and others all have a stake in ensuring that planning is done properly and timely.  This raises the question whether each individual with a stake in the planning needs their own lawyer.  Does each spouse in a blended family have adverse interests such that a single lawyer cannot represent them both in their planning?  An article in Forbes recently discussed this very question.

Of course, in certain family situations it is usually vital that couples have separate counsel. For example, while certain types of uncontested divorces exist, in most cases couples going through a separation must have their own legal advocate, because the entire process is contentious. Most times, though, the same issues do not apply in elder law estate planning.  While divorce involves a "tug-of-war" over property splitting and other issues, estate planning is a collaborative process where families talk together with the counsel of experienced legal professionals to discuss their long-term financial wishes and potential care needs.  There is typically much less inherent conflict.  This does not necessarily mean that that both spouses will automatically agree on every single detail of a plan, but the resolution of those disagreements are generally not so contentious that they necessitate each party have their own individual legal counsel.

The article mentions an added benefit of going through the process together, noting that "it builds greater trust and more open communication between the two of you, and possibly with all of the children in your lives. There are certain situations where separate representation may have benefits, though.  It is usually a combination of factors which might result in significant dispute, including situations where only one spouse has a child, where one spouse is much wealthier than the other, if the relationship is still very new, if there is a prenuptial agreement, if there is a large age difference between spouses, or if one spouse has certain privacy issues that they might not want exposed during the process.  It's a topic worth considering when starting a family estate plan.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Passing on Religious Values in Your Estate Plan

An estate plan usually includes a range of features, from a trust and pour-over will to a Power of Attorney, and yet no two plans are identical. While inheritance, retirement, and long-term care issues are common to all, the exact way to accomplish those goals depend on one's situation, perspective, and values.
For example, religious belief can have very large implications on some of these issues. End-of-life decisions delineated in a living will reflect an individual's personal perspective on advanced life support measures--often guided by a particular faith. In some case an advanced medical directive might include a clause that indicates such end-of-life decisions must be made by an individual with a particular religious perspective, such as an Orthodox rabbi with an expertise in Jewish law.

Religious traditions and inheritance issues are usually the most controversial way that one's faith can affect their estate plan. Many families have individuals with varying kinds and degrees of religious faith, which can be a recipe for feuding for a family when religious issues are involved in how assets will be dispersed. Often there are few easy answers.

The most conflict-ridden of these issues relates to parents who wish their children to marry someone within the tradition. These parents often seek to disinherit those who marry outside the faith. Disinheritance on these grounds often lead to family divisions and costly legal fights. That is why it is important to talk with experienced professionals about these concerns to be made fully aware of one's options and the potential ramifications of certain actions.

Clauses in inheritance documents that hinge on marriage decisions by heirs have been upheld in many courts so long as they are not deemed to encourage divorce. Yet, one purpose of planning is to account for possible legal challenges before they occur to hopefully prevent them altogether. One common alternative that may be less divisive is to leave assets to heirs in trust with a trustee given broad criteria to make distributions. In that way, religious conduct may play a role in the inheritance while allowing special circumstances to be taken into account.

One way to pass on beliefs is to craft an "ethical will." These wills are not legally binding but instead are exercises undertaken by thinking about one's overall legacy. An ethical will is often given to a family while one is still alive. It acts as a way to pass on the values, wisdom, and perspective gained over the course of a lifetime. Quite often an ethical will shares morals and lessons rooted in the author's spiritual faith. It is yet another way for one to pass on those faith-based beliefs to loved ones.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Estate Planning and Medicaid Planning Workshops in May

Join us for our upcoming in-office seminars this month!  Please call 512.476.0888 to register or for more information.  Attendance is free!

Tuesday, May 15th in Austin, TX 
Estate Planning Basics 2-3 pm
Medicaid Planning 3-3:30 pm

Wednesday, May 16th in Georgetown, TX
Estate Planning Basics 2-3 pm 
Medicaid Planning 3-3:30 pm
In Estate Planning Basics you will learn about:
  • Living Trusts, a powerful estate planning tool
  • Wills, uses and misconceptions
  • Estate planning for IRAs and life insurance proceeds
  • Protecting your assets
  • Reducing death taxes, attorney’s fees, and other costs
  • Avoiding guardianship
  • Living wills and powers of attorney
  • Avoiding probate court
  • Avoiding Estate Planning Pitfalls

In Medicaid Planning you will learn about:
  • What you may own and still be eligible for Medicaid
  • The truth about the new look-back rule...when the look-back starts and why you may still be eligible for Medicaid even if you have transferred assets in the last five years
  • How you may still be eligible for Medicaid for nursing home care even if you earn more than $1,911 per month
  • How you can provide for your spouse before you spend it all on nursing home expenses
  • How assets may still be preserved if you are currently in a nursing home
  • How an Irrevocable Trust may preserve and protect assets

Attendees of both workshops will receive the opportunity to schedule a complimentary private consultation with Ronald Greening regarding Texas planning.