Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Which Is Right for You?

Revocable vs. Irrevocable Trusts: Which Is Right for You?

A trust is a legal instrument where one person (the trustor) grants another person (the trustee) the legal right to hold title of assets for the benefit of a third party (the beneficiary). Depending on the type of trust, they’re often set up for a number of purposes, including:

  • Creditor protection: Certain types of trusts can protect assets from creditors and lawsuits.

  • Asset safekeeping: A trust is a legal entity that holds property, and as such it can be a safer choice than simply giving assets to a relative or other individual who could lose them in a legal entanglement like a lawsuit or divorce.

  • Tax shelter benefits: Certain trusts allow assets to transfer to beneficiaries without being subject to estate taxes.

  • Privacy: The terms of a will may be public information depending on where you live, whereas the terms of a trust can remain private.

  • Estate planning: Trusts allow minor children to receive assets with the stipulation that a trustee manages those assets until the child reaches adulthood.

  • Incapacity. A trust can allow a person you designate to step in and manage your assets in the event you become incapacitated without having to petition the court for guardianship.

  • There are many different types of trusts, but one of the main differentiators that allows a trust to function for different purposes is whether that trust is revocable or irrevocable.

    One can alter the terms of a revocable trust at any time. The owner could decide to eliminate or add beneficiaries and modify the terms under which assets are managed.

    While this offers flexibility, it also greatly limits some of the benefits trusts can offer. Typically, revocable trusts do not confer tax shelter benefits or protection from creditors. In many cases, however, they can avoid the probate process and provide greater privacy than a will.

    An irrevocable trust, on the other hand, cannot be changed once it’s established except under very rare circumstances. And any changes generally require the intervention of a judge and the consent of all parties involved. You’re permanently giving up control of your assets by placing them in an irrevocable trust. This is why it’s important to be very certain that your needs or reasons for establishing an irrevocable trust are not likely to change over time.

    Irrevocable trusts require serious contemplation, but they can offer a number of advantages over revocable trusts, including protection from creditors and lawsuits, tax shelter benefits and asset protection from Medicaid. In essence, there is a direct tradeoff between control of assets and the benefits and protection a trust offers.

    An Important Decision, No Matter Which Type You Choose

    An Important Decision, No Matter Which Type You Choose

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May Your Will Be Done

May Your Will Be Done

Writing a will is one of those things that you know you ought to do, but many of us try to avoid. A will is the way you authorize the transfer of your assets to your spouse, children or others after your death. If you don’t have a valid will, your home, bank accounts and other possessions will be dispersed at a court’s discretion in a probate proceeding — and the fact that you told your nephew he could inherit your classic car may make no difference to the judge.

What’s in a Will?

A will is basically a written statement detailing who should receive your property. In most states, it must be signed by a witness, while others require a notary. It must name an executor, the person who will oversee the legal process of transferring your assets. That can be your spouse, an adult child or a trusted friend, attorney or banker. Be aware that executors are often paid around 2% to 5% of the value of the estate for their work, even if they’re not professionals.

What a Will Can — and Can’t — Do

A will can transfer many types of property: real estate, intellectual property like patents and real property such as cars, furnishings, artwork and collectibles. It can also transfer shares in a partnership or corporation, though that may depend on the by-laws or partnership agreement.

However, understand that there are limits to what can be in a will, such as if you have property that’s held in joint tenancy with someone else, like a spouse — or financial assets such as retirement accounts, brokerage accounts or insurance policies for which you’ve signed a beneficiary form.

In addition, you can’t put overly onerous conditions on bequests, such as requiring someone to get married, divorced or change their religion. Some conditions, such as leaving money that someone is to receive if they go to college, for example, might be ok. And you can’t leave your money to your cat; animals can’t own property, but you can leave money to someone else to take care of your cat after you’re gone.

To Hire or Not to Hire

There’s no legal requirement that you hire an attorney to create your will. However, if you have complicated finances, family members or business partners who could fight over inheritance, or just a desire for peace of mind, you may want to hire a specialized estate planning attorney who is up to date on the latest regulations in your state and can help ensure your interests are represented faithfully.

You can also use a do-it-yourself will kit or an online service such as LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer or Quicken Willmaker & Trust. If your financial life and your wishes are simple, one of those may suffice. However, be aware that any mistakes you make can be costly for your heirs to undo.

Don’t Hide It

You have a will. Now, where to keep it? If you use a bank safe deposit box, make sure two other people — your spouse and either a child or your attorney — have a key and access to the box. Otherwise, your heirs will have to get a court order to drill the lock. A secure, fireproof safe at home is another option. You can also give a copy to an attorney you trust and let your heirs know who that is. However, some jurisdictions may require an original signed document — not a copy.

Facing Hard Facts

Writing a will means you have to envision a future you’re not a part of. It can also mean making difficult decisions about how to treat children and other relatives. But it’s important not to bury your head in the sand about preparing a will. Postponing those decisions will not make them any easier, and finalizing your wishes can take one more nagging “to do” item off your list and safeguard your final wishes.

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Long-Term Care Basics - Residential Care

Long-Term Care Basics - Residential Care

Sometimes as we get older, we require assistance to perform basic activities of daily living. This can result from normal aging or a progressive disease or condition. And while many seniors prefer to stay in their own home, many will require more help than can be offered in that setting and must be cared for in a residential facility. You can learn about home-based options for long-term care in part one of this article, but here we will discuss options for when care at home will no longer suffice.

Assisted Living Facilities

An Assisted Living Facility (ALF) is a residential facility where clients live full time. ALFs typically provide some health care services along with socialization, meals and activities. They can be a stepping stone between living at home and a nursing home or an alternative to nursing home care for someone who’s relatively healthy: ALFs often require clients to meet minimum standards of mobility and self-care, such as being able to get in and out of bed unassisted and feed themselves. State regulations vary widely, so ALF policies do too.

Some ALFs have dormitory-style housing or full apartments. Others provide transitional care with a residential wing for clients who are healthy and mobile and a medical wing for more advanced care. Nationally, the median monthly cost of an ALF is $4,051.

Nursing Homes

A nursing home is a residential facility that can offer the highest level of medical care outside of a hospital setting with skilled nursing available 24/7 and doctors that see residents on site. Other amenities can include meal preparation, laundry and housekeeping services, social activities and planned outings. Not everyone will end up in a nursing home, but for many seniors, this is a part of their long-term care journey. Nationally, the median cost is $280 a day, which works out to $8,516 per month or $102,200 annually.

Memory Care

Some facilities offer specialized care for patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s. The services offered in Memory Care Centers can run the gamut depending on the level of health and functioning of the patient. They can be a separate wing of a nursing home or ALF as well as independent residences — and their costs vary accordingly. Such facilities often incorporate physical safeguards to prevent wandering and safety protocols such as locking up potentially poisonous items, removing individual kitchens from residents’ rooms, and ensuring patients are eating a healthy diet.

Help Now, and Help When You Need it

More information is available from the federal government at In addition, your state should have one or more departments that assist with legal, financial and medical advice for seniors. Check your state’s health website as a starting point. Many counties and towns offer community programs and other services for the elderly. A phone call to city hall or the county administration office can put you in touch. And if you’re a veteran, there are programs — including nursing home assistance — available through the Veterans Administration.

No one expects you to be an expert on an industry — and make no mistake, eldercare is a big industry. Sit down with your doctor and a qualified financial planner to come up with a strategy to fit your budget and needs. Whether you’re planning for yourself or your parents, it’s important to have an open and frank discussion about everyone’s wishes and means so that you can make the best plans possible.

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Long-Term Care Basics - Home Care

Long-Term Care Basics - Home Care

Here’s the headline: $119,238. That’s how much a nursing home costs the average resident for an average stay of 14 months. And that’s just the last phase of care. Before entering a nursing home, most seniors previously receive care at home — and potentially in a less intensive assisted living facility. All of these arrangements are part of the long-term care continuum. Americans turning 65 today have a 70% chance of needing some form of long-term care during their lifetime: That’s why you need a basic understanding of how the system works while you still have time to plan and save for your future.

Many Paths, One Destination

Figuring out what your long-term care journey will look like and how much it will cost is guesswork. You may not stay in a nursing home at all. You may or may not have health conditions that require skilled nursing care. Based on your personal medical history, your doctor may offer some advice on conditions you may develop as you age, and the family history of close relatives can also offer some clues.

Long-term care ranges from having a minimally trained helper come in for a few hours of light housekeeping each week to receiving 24/7 custodial care in a dementia/Alzheimer’s unit. Each potential arrangement comes with its own regimen and associated costs.

Where you live has an enormous impact on price as well: The median cost of a private room in a nursing home is almost $362,000 a year in Alaska — more than three times the national median of $102,200 — while in Oklahoma, it drops to $67,000. Here are some options you might have for receiving long-term care at home.

In-Home Caregivers

For most seniors, staying in their own home — or in the home of an adult child or relative — is their first choice. A homemaker is a person who comes in to do light housekeeping and run errands but is not medically trained and remains “hands off” with the client. An assistant who provides some direct care to the patient, like mobility and toileting, is a home health aide. The median national wage for homemakers is $22.50 an hour, whereas it’s $23 an hour for a home health aide.

For those who need professional medical support on a limited basis but are otherwise able to move about, make their own meals and tidy the house, in-home skilled nursing provided by an RN, LPN or other trained healthcare worker is also available at a median national cost of $87 per visit.

Having a live-in helper is popular with those who have space in their home. Costs vary widely depending on where you live, what hours and duties are required, whether the helper needs medical training and whether you hire them through an agency, community program or private agreement.

Community-Based Programs

Especially for a family caring for an older relative, having a safe place he or she can go during the day can be a good option. Adult Day Health Care (ADHC) programs vary by the facility but can include transportation, medical management and meals. The median rate nationally is $75 a day, and some programs offer half-day sessions at a lower cost.

Senior Housing Options

Independent living and senior housing facilities provide additional on-site services for residents, sometimes at an additional cost. Individual apartments are often equipped with grab bars, call buttons and other amenities and safety features geared toward an aging population. They might also offer a visiting nurse service, on-site social activities or transportation to local stores and other destinations.

Many seniors (and younger people with certain conditions) sustain semi-independent living for many years, if not their entire lives. However, once there is a need for greater assistance with medication management and activities of daily living, a residential care program may be needed — these options are discussed in part two.

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In the Long Term, Medicare Falls Short

In the Long Term, Medicare Falls Short

Americans turning 65 now have about a 70% chance of needing long-term care in the future. You might assume that Medicare will pay for all your long-term care needs, but you’d be wrong. Medicare does provide some benefits, but only under very specific conditions.

So What Does Medicare Cover?

Medicare does cover some long-term care if you meet the following criteria:

  • You have had a hospital admission with an inpatient stay of at least three days

  • You are admitted to a Medicare-certified nursing facility within 30 days of that inpatient hospital stay

  • You need skilled care, such as skilled nursing services, physical therapy, or other types of therapy

If you meet all their conditions, Medicare pays a portion of the costs for up to 100 days for each benefit period. After day 100, Medicare typically does not pay anything.

If your doctor prescribes it to help treat an illness or injury, Medicare can also cover physical, occupational or speech therapy as well as durable medical supplies such as walkers, wheelchairs and oxygen — typically, Medicare pays 80% with you responsible for 20%.However, a Medicare supplement plan could pay some or all of that difference.

The assistance is good for 60 days, but your doctor may reauthorize it. If you’re otherwise pretty healthy but need a home care aide to help with meals and take you for a walk, that form of support is typically not covered even though it’s the type of help that seniors commonly benefit from.

The Alternatives

Family Assistance.Many older Americans get through this period with help from friends and family. Unfortunately, this trend creates a period of “sandwich” years for middle-aged people as they juggle helping parents while raising their own children and managing a career. And sadly, some seniors have no family willing or able to help out.

Private Insurance. Others may have invested in long-term care insurance, paying premiums over a number of years in order to receive payments to help with their long-term care. However, the high price tag associated with such policies can make them cost prohibitive for many.

Medicaid. For some, their only resort is Medicaid, the medical assistance program run jointly by the federal government and the states. Rules vary by state, and some states are more generous in who they cover and how much they pay. Check your state’s Medicaid website to find out what the rules are where you live or where you’ll be when you retire.

In many cases, single applicants can have no more than $2,000 in assets to qualify for Medicaid. These typically don’t include your primary residence or one car, but they generally include bank accounts, large insurance policies and the like. There are also certain kinds of trusts that can protect assets that would otherwise disqualify you, but the rules are very specific, and it’s advisable to seek out counsel from an elder law attorney before going down that route.

Be aware that Medicaid also has what’s known as a “look back” period: Any assets you transfer to someone else within a certain number of years (depending on the state) prior to your Medicaid application will create a “penalty period,” a number of months in which you cannot receive Medicaid even if you would otherwise qualify.

The Importance of Planning Ahead

The cost of long-term care can be considerable; it can deplete your hard-earned nest egg and wipe out assets you may have hoped to give to your children. Take the time to have an in-depth discussion with your financial advisor, as early as possible, to sort out what kinds of care you may require, how much it could cost and how you could afford it. Your options will become decidedly more limited once you actually have a medical need. As Ben Franklin reminded us, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is the time to expend the effort to prevent an old-age calamity.

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