Round Rock, TX Attorney Blog

Monday, September 7, 2015

When Will I Receive My Inheritance?

If you’ve been named a beneficiary in a loved one’s estate plan, you’ve likely wondered how long it will take to receive your share of the inheritance after his or her passing.  Unfortunately, there’s no hard or and fast rule that allows an estate planning attorney to answer this question. The length of time it takes to distribute assets in an estate can vary widely depending upon the particular situation.

Some of the factors that will be involved in determining how long it takes to fully administer an estate include whether the estate must be probated with the court, whether assets are difficult to value, whether the decedent had an ownership interest in real estate located in a state other than the state they resided in, whether your state has a state estate (or inheritance) tax, whether the estate must file a federal estate tax return, whether there are a number of creditors that must be dealt with, and of course, whether there are any disputes about the will or trust and if there may be disagreements among the beneficiaries about how things are being handled by the executor or trustee.

Before the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, the executor and trustee must also make certain to identify any creditors because they have an obligation to pay any legally enforceable debts of the decedent with those assets. If there must be a court filed probate action there may be certain waiting periods, or creditor periods, prescribed by state law that may delay things as well and which are out of the control of the executor of the estate.

In some cases, the executor or trustee may make a partial distribution to the beneficiaries during the pending administration but still hold back sufficient assets to cover any income or estate taxes and other administrative fees. That way the beneficiaries can get some benefit but the executor is assured there are assets still in his or her control to pay those final taxes and expenses. Then, once those are fully paid, a final distribution can be made. It is not unusual for the entire process to take 9 months to 18 months (sometime more) to fully complete.

If you’ve been named a beneficiary and are dealing with a trustee or executor who is not properly handling the estate and you have yet to receive your inheritance, you should contact a qualified estate planning attorney for knowledgeable legal counsel.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Medicare Premiums Expected to Rise Up to 52 Percent for Some Seniors

What changes to Medicare laws are expected in the future?

As seniors continue the post-retirement financial planning process, the annual Medicare Trustees Report released at the end of July purports to show a dramatic increase in Medicare Part B premium costs – up to 52 percent in some instances. Moreover, the Trustees  Report shows that Medicare Part B deductibles are also expected to rise – also up to 52 percent for some seniors. In sum, certain groups of Medicare Part B recipients could see a concurrent rise in both monthly premium and out-of-pocket expenses.

Medicare Part B Coverage

For those who are just beginning to plan for retirement and long-term care, understanding Medicare and its various components, as well as the role of Medicaid in long-term care planning, can be overwhelming. In general, Medicare is available for senior citizens who have paid into the program for a sufficient number of years during their employment history. The program works much like a private insurer, and is administered by private management companies. It consists of several parts, each assigned a letter, with each component covering a different segment of comprehensive healthcare.

Medicare Part B is an essential component of healthcare coverage that spans a wide variety of everyday services, including doctor visits and surgical procedures. What it does not cover, however, is long-term care services beyond 120 days.

For those in need of long-term care services, including round-the-clock skilled nursing services in a nursing home setting, it may be necessary to begin planning for eventual Medicaid eligibility. Medicaid, which covers the costs of a nursing home stay, is available for those who meet the financial requirements of enrollment. These requirements tend to change year to year, so it is important to meet with a reputable elder law attorney to keep current with the latest information.

If you are in need of elder law advice or would like to speak to a reputable attorney about your options in estate planning, please contact the Winters Law Firm in Valparaiso, Indiana. We serve clients throughout Northwest Indiana and can be reached at 219.307.4373.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Tips for Executors: The Basic Steps of Indiana Probate Administration

I am named executor for a family member that recently passed away. Where do I get started?

Serving as executor or executrix for a loved one’s estate can be both an honor and – for some – a great burden. As experienced practitioners of probate law, our office can help take the stress and anxiety out of this process, and allow you the opportunity to complete the tasks at hand with minimal difficulty.

If you are new to the estate administration process, you may be wondering where to begin. The following offers a timeline for the probate process in Indiana, and should serve as a starting point as you begin your journey:

 Step #1: The first step for an executor is to become officially appointed as such by the Indiana probate court. This is accomplished by taking the original Last Will and Testament and a Petition for Probate to the probate court in the county where either the decedent lived or owned real estate. At this point, the probate court will provide the executor with Letters of Probate, which provide authority over the estate assets and allow the executor to lawfully handle the decedent’s assets and debts.

Step #2:  If the administration will be supervised by the court, the next step is to file an inventory of assets and liabilities. Not all estates require this step, however, and an estate administration lawyer can help you better decide if you need supervised or unsupervised administration.

Step #3: Handling creditor claims is a big part of the administration process, and creditors have just three months from the date notice is published or mailed to properly file a claim against the estate.

Step #4: Distributing assets is the last step in the administration process, and must be done after the estate’s debts and liabilities are disposed of. Assets are to be divided according to the executor’s directions in his or her Last Will and Testament, and the executor is required to handle this responsibility in a timely manner.

If you were recently named as an executor in a Last Will and Testament and would like to speak to an experienced attorney, please contact the Winters Law Firm in Valparaiso, Indiana today: 219-307-4373. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

You’ve Finally Done Your Healthcare Directives – Now What?

Healthcare directives can be vitally important, as recent cases, like that of Terry Schiavo, clearly brought to light. These important documents can mean the difference between your health care wishes being carried out or family members fighting over whether a loved one should be placed in a nursing home or removed from life support. Healthcare directives usually include both a healthcare power of attorney and a living will, or a form which is a combination of the two. In a healthcare power of attorney, an individual authorizes another individual to make healthcare decisions for him or her if the individual becomes unable to do so. A living will expresses an individual’s preferences about life support.

Once you have executed your healthcare directives, you may be uncertain as to what to do with them. First, you should make copies of the documents and inform others of their existence. In addition to your health care agent, persons you should consider notifying of the directives include family members and your health care providers.  Ideally, the originals should be kept in a place that is both safe and easily accessible.

You may wish to consider using a secure registry service to store your healthcare directives. Such services allow you to access healthcare directives any time and in any location with access to the Internet.  Some also allow the documents to be accessed via an automated fax-back service. In addition to providing the healthcare directives, many registries also allow caregivers to access information like emergency contacts, allergies, and other pertinent medical information.

You should review your healthcare directives regularly.  As individuals get older, their preferences about health care and life support change, and it’s important that your directives reflect your current health care wishes.   Of course, life changing events such as marriage, divorce, or the death of a loved one typically require changes in those documents to ensure that the people named in them are still those you wish to make decisions on your behalf.  

Moving to another state? Many states provide that healthcare directives prepared in another state are valid, but you should consult an attorney to make sure your wishes will be carried out in the manner you desire.

Establishing your healthcare directives can spare your family a great deal of anguish if they need to make decisions at a time that is already very emotionally-charged. By keeping the documents in a secure place, providing copies to loved ones, and reviewing them regularly, you can be more certain that your healthcare wishes will be carried out.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Small Business Succession Planning

As a small business owner, what do I need to consider when deciding the best course of action for the future? 

You’ve spent your life building and growing your business. You’ve invested time, money, and more sweat equity than you could possibly recall. Yet, you’ve come to terms with the fact you won’t be around forever to manage everything – and you’re not quite sure what the next step should be. 

Sound familiar? If so, it may be time to meet with a reputable business succession attorney at the Winters Law Firm – a team of legal professionals with a keen understanding of the unique estate planning needs of Indiana small business owners. For help, contact our Valparaiso office right away, and consider the following as you plan for the future: 

Issue #1: Family Dynamics: For many, the obvious choice in business succession planning is to pass the dynasty on to the next generation. However, this choice should not be made lightly, and oftentimes families hand over the reins to children only to see the business liquidated and sold a short time later. Thoughtfully consider the strengths and weaknesses of family members before making this pivotal decision, and do not be afraid to consider other options. 

Issue #2: Transition Style: Are you ready to retire and get out of business altogether? Or would you rather stay on board in a “consulting” role as your children or partners continue in the day-to-day management of the enterprise? The answer will depend heavily on the current management structure, and whether there is anyone in place who knows the ins and outs of the business with the same keen attention to detail as the founder. 

Issue #3: Liquidation: It may be a difficult concept to consider, but for some small business owners it makes the most sense to sell the business and use the proceeds for a comfortable retirement. For high net worth businesses, this option will also prompt the need for a strategic and well-thought-out estate plan – which our office can help with as well.

If you are ready to discuss your options in business succession planning, please do not hesitate to contact the estate planning attorneys at Winters Firm right away: (219) 307-4373. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Legal Tips from the Shark Tank

Lawyers are often mocked in pop culture as “sharks,” but a quick flip through the TV guide tells you the real sharks out there are in the business world. The ABC reality show “Shark Tank” has become a cultural phenomenon, inspiring tons of people to start their own businesses and invent new products.

If you are part of the wave of Shark Tank inspired entrepreneurs, here are some legal tips for you.

Don’t go into the Shark Tank, or into business, without a plan. On the show, the entrepreneurs that do the best are the ones that are the best prepared to answer all of the sharks’ questions. In the everyday business world the same is true. It’s just that it’s not sharks asking the questions - it’s investors, employees, and the other companies you are doing business with. 

Be prepared to take risks, but preferably not legal ones. Starting a business is a gamble, but it can be downright dangerous if you don’t fully comprehend the legal risks you are taking on. Several entrepreneurs have had their dreams crushed by the sharks because their business is just too big of a legal risk to invest in. In order to be successful in business you need to know what risks you face so you can plan around them.

Be prepared to negotiate. The sharks rarely buy into a business on the first terms offered to them by the entrepreneurs. In and outside the tank, the successful business owners and inventors are the ones prepared to negotiate to get a deal that is good for both parties. This often means giving up more equity than originally planned or revaluing assets to reflect market realities.

Patents are shark bait. The old saying “you’ve got to spend money to make money” is absolutely true in the innovation world. The sharks’ eyes light up when an inventor mentions that they have a patent on the idea or product they are pitching. That’s because patents are hard assets that you can buy, sell, license or build a business around. If you have a great idea, spend the money to patent it. 

Going head to head with the sharks is something only a few businesses do. But feeling like you have been thrown to the sharks is something all business owners and inventors can identify with. If you are looking for someone to help you navigate the legal issues your business is facing - from starting up, to scaling up, to selling out - consider contacting an experienced business law attorney today.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Using Divestment Strategies to Secure Long-Term Care

Will Medicare cover the costs of a nursing home stay? 

The government-run health insurance program known as Medicare is accessible by millions of Americans upon reaching age 65 – covering a wide range of services from general wellness visits to invasive surgery. However, one glaring issue with Medicare coverage is its virtual ignorance of long-term care needs for seniors who are simply no longer able to live on their own. More specifically, long-term care coverage is generally available to a Medicare enrollee only up to 120 days – and is usually reserved for rehabilitative-type treatments or post-operative recovery requiring skilled nursing. 

So, for the average American with a moderate nest egg saved, how is one to afford the skyrocketing costs of nursing home care – which average anywhere from $7,000-$12,000 per month depending on the jurisdiction? Further, if a husband and wife require care together, this sum could be potentially doubled – depleting assets at a record pace. 

In short, Americans are either required to deplete their entire life savings on the costs of long-term care, or with a little pre-planning can arrange for careful and tactful divestment strategies to help them to eventually qualify for Medicaid – another government health insurance option based primarily on financial need. 

Divestment strategies and Medicaid

Medicaid regulations are comprised of a myriad of guidelines, income thresholds, and property allowances to guide applicants as they begin the application process. For married applicants, the excluded income and assets are somewhat higher than those assessed against single applicants. However, in either scenario, applicants must demonstrate a lack of significant assets in order to qualify. 

Herein lies the need for an experienced elder law attorney to help plan proper and lawful divestment strategies in order to preserve assets for future generations while simultaneously ensuring long-term care eligibility when the time comes. One way to do this is to begin transferring assets to family members now, in hopes that the need for Medicaid eligibility will not occur during the five-year lookback period – which could trigger a penalty. There are also other ways to spend down your assets such as pre-paying for funeral and burial costs.  Other options include the use of irrevocable trusts, which should be handled with the care and consideration of a knowledgeable attorney. 

If you are considering the rising needs of long-term care in light of your own personal savings – and would like to speak to a reputable elder law attorney – contact the Valparaiso and Porter County, Indiana based Winters Law Firm at (219)307-4373 today. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Business Succession Planning Tips

Business succession plans contemplate and instruct regarding any changes in future ownership and management of a business. Most business owners know they should think about succession planning, but few actually end up doing so. It is hard to think about not being in charge of the business you have built up, but a proper succession plan can ensure that your business continues long after you are there to run it, providing an enduring legacy.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you begin to think about putting a succession plan into place for your business.

  • Proper plans take time - often years - to develop and implement because there are many steps involved. It is really never too early to start thinking about how you want to hand off control of your business.

  • Succession plans are a waste of time unless they are more than a piece of paper. Involving attorneys, accountants and business advisors ensures that your plan is actually implemented.

  • There is no cookie-cutter succession plan that fits all businesses, and no one way to develop and implement a successful plan. Each business is unique, so each business needs a custom-made plan that fits the needs of all parties involved.

  • It may seem counterintuitive, but transferring a business between people who are familiar with the business - from one family member to another, or between business partners - is often more complicated than selling the business to a complete stranger. Emotional investments cannot be easily quantified, but their importance is real. Having a neutral party at the negotiating table can help everyone involved focus on what is best for the business and the people that are depending on it for their livelihood.

  • Once a succession plan has been established, it is critically important that the completed plan be continually reviewed and updated as circumstances change. This is one of the biggest reasons having an attorney on your succession planning team is important. Sound legal counsel can assist you in making periodic adjustments and maintaining an effective succession plan.

If you are ready to start thinking about succession planning, contact an experienced business law attorney today.

Friday, July 17, 2015

If you're over 70 and have considerable assets, should you consider Medicaid Planning?

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to implement Medicaid planning.  If you’re in good health, now would be the prime time to do this planning. The main reason is that any Medicaid planning may entail using an irrevocable trust, or perhaps gifts to your children, which would incur a five-year look back for Medicaid qualification purposes. The use of an irrevocable trust to receive these gifts would provide more protection and in some cases more control for you.

As an example, if you were to gift assets directly to a child, that child could be sued or could go through a divorce, and those assets could be lost to a creditor or a divorcing spouse even though the child had intended to hold those assets intact in case they needed to be returned to you. If instead, you had used an irrevocable trust to receive the gifted assets, those assets would not have been considered the child’s and therefore would not have been lost to the child’s creditor or a divorcing spouse. You need to understand that doing this type of planning, and using the irrevocable trust, may mean that those assets are not available to you and therefore you need to be comfortable with that structure.

Depending upon the size of your estate, and your sources of income, perhaps you have sufficient assets to pay for your own care for quite some time. You should work closely with an attorney knowledgeable about Medicaid planning as well as a financial planner that can help identify your sources of income should you need long-term care. Also, you should look into whether or not you could qualify for long-term care insurance, and how much the premiums would be on that type of insurance.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Estate Planning for the Chronically Ill

There are certain considerations that should be kept in mind for those with chronic illnesses.   Before addressing this issue, there should be some clarification as to the definition of "chronically ill." There are at least two definitions of chronically ill. The first is likely the most common meaning, which is an illness that a person may live with for many years. Diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C and asthma are some of the more familiar chronic illnesses. Contrast that with a legal definition of chronic illness which usually means that the person is unable to perform at least two activities of daily living such as eating, toileting, transferring, bathing and dressing, or requires considerable supervision to protect from crisis relating to health and safety due to severe impairment concerning mind, or having a level of disability similar to that determined by the Social Security Administration for disability benefits. Having said all of that, the estate planning such a person may undertake will likely be similar to that of a healthy person, but there will likely be a higher sense of urgency and it will be much more "real" and less "hypothetical."

Most healthy individuals view the estate planning they establish as not having any applicability for years, perhaps even decades. Whereas a chronically ill person more acutely appreciates that the planning he or she does will have real consequences in his or her life and the life of loved ones. Some of the most important planning will center around who the person appoints as his or her health care decision maker and also who is appointed to handle financial affairs. a will and/or revocable living trust will play a central role in the person's planning as well.  Care should also be taken to address possible Medicaid planning benefits.  A consultation with an estate planning and elder law attorney is critical to ensuring all necessary planning steps are contemplated and eventually implemented. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Implementing a Digital Component to an Estate Plan

What do I need to know about ‘digital estate planning,’ particularly with regard to my intellectual property and online assets? 

In today’s modern times, estate planning encompasses more than the family jewels and heirloom China. With the concept of “digital assets” expanding rapidly, clients and estate planners alike should be intimately aware of the pitfalls awaiting anyone failing to take this property component into account. 

Discussed below are several facets of digital estate planning, ranging from simple password management to transferring high-value online assets. If you have additional questions about preparing for the future, please do not hesitate to contact the Winters Law Firm as soon as possible! 

Password and portfolio management

In the olden days, an executor could simply access the contents of one’s financial portfolio by opening the file cabinet drawer and withdrawing the appropriate file folder. Today, however, it is increasingly common for all financial information to be stored digitally – and many folks forgo the option of even receiving a paper statement. 

Accordingly, a comprehensive estate plan should include a password manager detailing the login information accompanying all savings, checking, investment, and retirement accounts. The information should be continually updated as passwords change, and should be stored with all other estate planning documents to make it accessible for the executor. 

Online assets

Many people make a living online, including bloggers, writers, photographers, and developers. From an intellectual property perspective, the contents of a valuable blog or digital portfolio can be extremely important to safeguard, and should be provided for in an estate plan accordingly. Likewise, planners should ensure that personally valuable family mementos stored digitally are properly addressed either outside the estate plan or within the personal property section of a will or trust. 

Social media

A social media presence is virtually unavoidable in today’s world. However, social media profiles should be taken down as soon as practicable following the death of the account holder – if out of nothing more than respect for the family. Of course, many may choose to leave condolences or final messages for the deceased’s family, but a comprehensive estate plan should include login information and instructions for the deactivation and/or removal of an account when necessary. Otherwise, it can be very difficult for an executor to handle this issue – resulting in the perpetual presence of the profile, which can be very difficult for survivors. 

If you would like to add a digital component to your estate plan, or would like to speak to a knowledgeable estate planning

attorney, please contact the Winters Firm, serving clients in Porter County and Valparaiso, Indiana, today at (219)307-4373. 

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