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AVOIDING PROBATE: IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT MONEY…

AVOIDING PROBATE: IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT MONEY…

As an estate planning attorney, a central goal that I preach is for my clients to avoid probate. Most of my clients associate probate with something akin to the plague and people like bankers, insurance agents, financial advisors, TV hosts and society at large have done a good job educating clients on the simple premise that they should avoid probate at all costs.

But why? Most people would guess the expense. That is certainly a legitimate reason. In Missouri, a probate administration can lead to costs to the court, big expenses being paid to your personal representative (also known as the executor) and, if you want the easy version of probate in Missouri, independent administration, the services of a knowledgeable and experienced probate attorney.

In a recent probate, an approximately $450,000 estate ended up costing about $1,000 in costs to the court for filing fees, inventory fees and various other expenses and approximately $31,000 in fees split equally between the personal representative and attorney .

That’s a lot of money and completely avoidable with estate planning. But to me the underrated reasons to avoid probate are:

1. Time

In Missouri, an estate cannot be closed for at least six months. Best case, therefore, you are looking at a 180 day process. In most cases, you can add at least a couple of months, if not more.  In some cases, the estate won’t be closed for at least a year, sometimes longer. So, not only have you lost a loved one, but now as a beneficiary or heir of an estate you have to wait a long time to get your inheritance!

2. Complexity

I work on probates every day and while I do a great job for my clients I have to say….I don’t like doing them.  St. Charles County has a terrific probate division but many of my probates are in St. Louis County and they are a nightmare to deal with.  Every county has a different set of procedural details that must constantly be adhered to, which is tough because those details seem to change by the month. Probates are comparable to getting your teeth pulled. The smallest details can delay them for days and even weeks.

3. Family Issues

Imagine with your family who would be more than a little bit anxious / conspiratorial about an inheritance owed to them. If someone makes out a will and then dies, unlike on TV, there is generally not a reading of the will. That is largely a Hollywood created fiction. In larger estates with a variety of distant relation family members or different beneficiaries (like people that don’t know each other), it might make sense to have a will reading. So people think that something is being hidden from them when the personal representative and the attorney for the estate don’t just cut them a check. Probates cause family tensions and in families where there is already tension, it can only aggravate things.

Conclusion

Here’s the silver lining: It is easier than ever to avoid probate with a living trust or even without a living trust under some circumstances. All you need to do first is sit down and meet with an estate planning lawyer to find out how. Heck, our office offers a free initial consultation. By the end of that meeting, you’ll know what you need and how much it costs…and how much avoiding probate will save you.

The Future Of Retirement and The Importance Of The Revocable Trust

The Future Of Retirement and The Importance Of The Revocable Trust

The Future Of Retirement and The Importance Of The Revocable Trust

As an estate planning attorney, I have had an interesting viewpoint of how the Great Recession affected my estate planning clients. Over the last two or three years, I have noticed a consistent worry of clients during initial conferences. They seem to be more worried in some cases about their children’s ability to retire than their own.

It makes sense. The Great Recession had far reaching effects on our country’s economy and some of those effect are still being felt today. But those with investments, they have not only recovered their nest egg but since increased the size of it handsomely as the stock market has reached all time highs. Retirement age parents, however, are concerned about their children’s student loan debt, costs of housing, delayed family creation and just generally about their well being when they are gone.

I met with a client couple recently who told me that each of their children had graduate degrees from prestigious schools and were now out in the world. One found a job pretty quick since he is in software engineering, but is getting crushed by a $1,500 per month condo rental, plus $1,500 per month in student loans (for the next 30 years). The other child had graduated last year, could not find a job in our area in her chosen field (computer science) and had taken a job as an office assistant at a company in St. Louis. She lives with them.

Each of them told me that they had started watching their spending habits so that they could leave as much of an inheritance to their children as possible, despite their terrific educations and work habits. This is a sea change in estate planning for those with a decent amount of assets to leave to their children.  So what I recommended at the end of our initial conference was a living trust whereby they would each act as the trustees and then when the second spouse had passed away, a successor trustee would take over. In their case, that successor trustee was not their children but a younger brother of the husband.

When the second spouse dies, unlike is often the case in traditional revocable trust planning, the children will not inherit everything. The younger brother will manage the trust for a set number of years at which time the 50/50 split inheritance of each child would be distributed outright. That will be a considerable some based on the couple’s current assets. But the beauty of this delayed distribution is that since the inheritance of each child will not immediately be received it can be invested and grow.

In other words, we are creating a retirement plan for the children via their inheritance. Bills of the children can still be paid as a supplement by the trustee, but the principal remains invested. So upon the death of the second spouse, the balance of any student loans could be paid off but the significant money left can continue to grow. Meanwhile, since the kids have careers starting, they can continue to save for retirement themselves as well. If the inheritance was given to them right away, that may not be the case. The plan we created ensures the kids will have the best of both worlds: A retirement source via inheritance, which will grow from the delay of distribution and the retirement they create for themselves, which should be easier through the assistance of at least some of their bills being paid as needed by the trustee of the revocable trust.

As an aside, I am not a financial advisor but one significant way retirement planning has changed and will continue to change is the loss of guaranteed income. Pensions are largely a thing of the past and workers have to invest more into building a larger nest egg so that they can replace that lost pension check, if necessary, with a draw from the nest egg itself. Many of my clients still enjoy significantly high incomes from combined pensions and Social Security. This can leave their nest egg largely intact. However, their risk tolerance is much lower than someone like their children. This again reinforces the beauty of the plan I outlined above.

Medicaid Estate Recovery in Missouri…

Medicaid Estate Recovery in Missouri…

MEDICAID ESTATE RECOVERY IN MISSOURI

Under Missouri law, MO HealthNet (aka Missouri’s Medicaid Program) can make a postdeath claim against the estate of a benefit recipient.  (RSMo. 473.398).  This is known as Medicaid Estate Recovery.

This blog article discusses Medicaid Estate Recovery in Missouri, how it works and exceptions.  For starters, Missouri courts have recognized the state’s right to pursue an accounting to recovery property to satisfy its claim.  The Family Support Division (FSD) will sent a notice to the person handling the deceased person’s affairs.

There are exceptions to the right to estate recovery.  One is if there is a surviving spouse of the decedent who received Medicaid benefits.  The other is where a surviving child under 21 years of age or surviving adult child who is blind or permanently and totally disabled.  Additionally, no recovery is allowed where the benefit recipient was under the age of 55 when they received MO Healthnet benefits.

Estate recovery claims are not subject to the six month nonclaim period like other creditors or to the one year deadline for filing a claim.  However, if not probate proceeding is filed within one year of the recipient’s death, the estate recovery is time barred.

A MO Healthnet Claim is a claim of the seventh class (RSMo. 473.397), so it is allowed after payment of court costs, administration expenses, exempt property, the family and homestead allowance, funeral expenses, taxes and debts to the United States and the reasonable cost of a tombstone.   Basically what this means is that the Medicaid estate recovery, if valid, is paid after all of the above is paid first.  Those expenses can be significant and as a result can ultimately reduce the value of Medicaid estate recovery claim.

The standard of proving the claim is low.  Missouri Department of Social Services (MoDSS) does not have to produce written records.

Proper Medicaid planning can help ensure not only initial eligibility for Medicaid but also protect the estate, as best as possible, against estate recovery.  Our office assists clients with this type of planning and offers clients a free consultation to see if they are a good candidate for Medicaid Planning.

 

FREE Missouri Estate Planning Guide

FREE Missouri Estate Planning Guide

Free Missouri Estate Planning Guide

CLICK HERE FOR YOUR FREE MISSOURI ESTATE PLANNING GUIDE:  Estate Planning Guide