LegalJourney Blog

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Keeping an Eye on an Elderly Parent From Afar: Signs to Look For

How can you care for seniors who live independently when you are at a distance?

It is increasingly common for the elderly to "age in place," retaining as much independence as possible. Many seniors understandably do not wish to give up their homes and may even feel shame about being a burden to their families or having to move to an assisted living facility. 

Seniors May Not Realize How Much Help They Need

For a son or daughter concerned about an aging parent, making sure that all is well can be a challenge, especially if the parent is at a distance. A parent's assurances that "all is well" may not reflect difficult truths. Seniors may not be aware of all that is wrong with their health, hygiene, or nutrition.

Read more . . .

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ensuring Your Pet's Care after You're Gone

How can you protect your beloved pet through estate planning?

Many people, particularly those who live alone, are concerned about what will become of their pets after they pass away. While you cannot leave property to your pet, you can make sure that your pet's needs continue to be met and that your furry, feathered or scaled companion is able to enjoy life even without you present.

Estate Planning Options for Your Pet

In some cases, family members or close friends will commit to caring for your pet without any legal arrangement, but in many cases the pet's owner feels more confident if everything is down in black and white as part of a legal arrangement.

It is, of course, necessary to make sure that the chosen caretaker has the resources to handle your pet's expenses (food, healthcare, grooming, boarding). For this reason, most people who leave their pets to a trusted caretaker, leave that person sufficient funds to cope with the added expense.

Read more . . .

Friday, April 1, 2016

Florida Passes New Guardianship Laws to Protect Vulnerable Seniors

Florida’s guardianship laws are in place to protect vulnerable seniors and disabled adults from further physical and/or financial harm. Guardianship is a process through which a close family member or friend assumes the role of ensuring the health, safety and well-being of the “ward.
Read more . . .

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Estate Planning Essentials for New Parents

How can my estate plan protect my children?

Planning an estate seems daunting for many individuals, and changes that occur on the journey though life, especially having children, can complicate the process. That being said, having children is even more of a reason to put an estate plan in place. If you are a new parent, there are some essential steps  you should take in order to protect your family, including: preparing a will, buying life insurance, establishing powers of attorney, and designating beneficiaries of your retirement accounts. Let's take a brief look at each of these.

A Will

While many individuals are better served putting a trust in place as a means to protect their assets, having a will is necessary for naming a guardian of your children in the event both parents become incapacitated or pass away. Having a will is especially important if you are raising children without a partner. By failing to have a will, you leave open the possibility that the court will make decisions about guardianship you may not agree with. While writing a will is relatively easy and inexpensive, many people mistakenly believe a will can be created from forms on the internet. It is always best,  however, to consult with a highly skilled estate planning attorney.

Life Insurance

Life insurance serves two purposes: to provide funds for the expenses of death (funeral and burial or cremation), and, more importantly, to replace an individual's earnings so that the surviving parent has sufficient resources to help support the family. There are different types of life insurance policies available, including term life, whole life and hybrid insurance.

Durable Powers of Attorney and a Living Will

It is essential for every adult to have durable powers of attorney for health care and finances of his or her partner. In a durable power of attorney (DPOA) for healthcare, a trusted person is given the authority to carry out the wishes in your advance directive, and to make other medical decisions if you are unable to do so. A durable power of attorney for finances gives someone, such as your spouse, authority over your assets. Moreover, a living will can set forth the end-of-life care you desire.  

In the event your are seriously incapacitated, these documents clarify your wishes, relieving your family of the burden of making these decisions, minimizing the potential for disputes, and avoiding intervention by the court.

Designate Beneficiaries for Retirement Accounts

By naming a beneficiary for your retirement accounts, such as an IRA or a 401(k), the funds will go directly to the person(s) you select without going through probate.

Planning for Your Children

Many new parents mistakenly believe they have plenty of time to put an estate plan in place. But accidents happen, and not having a simple estate plan, starting with a will, can protect your family and ensure your wishes are carried out.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Estate Planning vs. Retirement Planning

What is the difference between estate planning and retirement planning?

Estate planning and retirement planning are closely related, and for this reason many people mistakenly believe that they are the one and the same, but it is important to remember that there are differences between them. Retirement planning relates to the time you will have after reaching a certain age and exiting the work force. Estate planning, on the other hand, relates to a time that you either become incapacitated or die. Retirement planning is broader and should include a comprehensive estate plan.

When you are planning for retirement, you are considering a time when you are no longer working, or are working very little. This means that you must examine how you will support yourself without the income you are currently receiving from your job. This might include Social Security payments or a pension. You should also think about how your healthcare needs will be met when you are no longer receiving benefits from your employer. Many like to consider how close (or far) they would like to be from family and friends during this time and how they will spend the time that they would previously have devoted to working. Remember, retirement planning should also include contemplating what type of estate plan you would like to put together.

Estate planning is very different from retirement planning. Estate planning relates to a time when you are either incapacitated or deceased. This means that you must give serious thought to what type of medical care you would like if and when you are unable to make decisions for yourself, and how you would like your assets to be distributed after your death. It also means speaking with an attorney to put your plan into effect.

While retirement planning is something you can do with the help of a financial advisor, only a qualified attorney can assist you with estate planning. Contact a qualified Tampa, Florida estate planning attorney to represent you today.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Keeping Your Estate Plan Up-to-Date

Why do I need to keep my estate plan current?

 Once you have an estate plan in place, it is essential to understand that your personal and financial situation may change over time. This means that it may be necessary to revise your estate plan to reflect those changes.

By reviewing your estate plan you can keep it up-to-date in the following circumstances:

  • Marriage -- A first or second marriage requires  changes  to the terms of your will or trust
  • Divorce -- Your estate plan should be revised promptly after your divorce
  • Having or adopting a child -- You should make changes to protect your children's financial future and appoint a legal guardian in case you and your spouse die or become incapacitated
  • Injury or illness -- If you or a family member becomes seriously ill, special needs may require changes in your estate plan
  • Buying or selling a business  -- This can significantly change the extent of your assets and require long-term asset protection for you and your family
  • Relocating --  Estate planning documents are portable, but differences in state law, such as those between separate and community property states, can have tax implications

What to Include in an Estate Plan

Whether or not you experience life changes, it is important to ensure that you have a comprehensive estate plan. A well-designed plan will name who you wish to manage your affairs in the event you become disabled, incapacitated or pass away. Planning for incapacity also requires planning for long-term care. Additional benefits of having an estate plan in place include:

  • Avoiding probate
  • Protecting children from a prior marriage
  • Protecting assets inherited by your heirs from lawsuits, divorces, or other claims

The Bottom Line

In the event you experience significant personal or financial changes, your estate plan must be revised to reflect those changes, as well as to protect your assets and your loved ones. Also, your plan could be affected by changes in state and/or federal law that you are not even aware of. This is why it is so important to work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan is up-to- date. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Veterans Sickened at Camp Lejeune to Receive Benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced that veterans who were sickened by contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina may be allowed to receive disability pay. While the VA has previously provided healthcare or medical cost reimbursements for illnesses connected to contaminated water in the past, the agency had yet to grant "presumptive status" to those injured at Camp Lejuene.

Now, the VA is considering service-related compensation for a wide range of diseases for veterans who served at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987, including: kidney cancer, liver cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, scleroderma, Parkinson’s disease, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes.

How many individuals were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejuene?

This decision has far-reaching implications as more than 750,000 people may have been exposed to chemicals like benzene and vinyl chloride that were found in the Marine Corps base's drinking water. Those exposed are not only veterans, but family members and civilian employees as well. The Marine Corps, moreover, first acknowledged the potential for these health issues back in 1985. At that time, the Corps notified residents in an enlisted housing area of "trace amounts" of contaminants in the drinking water. The pollution was subsequently found to be far more extensive and involved two major water treatment facilities.


The decision by the VA is due in large part to a law passed by Congress in 2012 requiring the agency to provide health care and cover out-of-pocket costs to veterans and their families who were harmed by contaminated drinking water. Now, however, the VA is taking that ruling a step further by making it easier for veterans and their families to obtain health care.


Delays in VA Benefits

Nonetheless, there are still problems plaguing the VA benefits system. One key issue is the long wait times many veterans endure in appealing denial of disability claims. This is largely the result of the backlog of claims making their way through the VA system. If you need help filing for disability benefits or appealing a denial from the Veteran's Administration, you should consult with a qualified attorney to protect your rights.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Special Needs Trusts Can Help Ensure Special People Are Well Taken Care Of

Anyone who takes care of a relative with special needs has probably laid awake at night worrying about what will become of their loved one after they are gone. It’s hard not to worry, but at the same time you have to remember that worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair - it gives you something to do, but it never gets you anywhere. If you really want to put your mind at ease, and put your worries to rest, it is time to talk to an attorney about setting up a special needs trust to benefit your loved one after you are gone.

As I’m sure you are aware, providing care for someone with special needs can get quite expensive, and most people with special needs rely on government support from programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. When you leave money to someone with special needs outright, that money must often be used up before SSI and Medicaid will kick any funds. Your loved one is then put into a position where they are only being supported by government programs. This is unfortunate because their quality of life is likely to suffer under this arrangement. While government programs provide basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and medical care, they don’t provide enriching experiences or special things that let your loved one know someone cares about them.

A special needs trust is a special kind of trust that is designed to allow people with special needs to get the benefit of any funds left to them in addition to the benefits they get from government assistance programs.

The assets in a special needs trust can be used to provide your loved one with things that enhance their quality of life. For example, I have seen trust funds used to buy a trust beneficiary, who happened to be a huge football fan, tickets to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game as a special birthday treat. Trust funds can also be used to pay for practical things like special medical care or educational programs. 

It is important to note that one of the reasons the trust is able to preserve the beneficiary’s eligibility for benefits is that it is structured so that the funds cannot be distributed directly to the disabled beneficiary. Funds are instead managed by professionals, who then disburse money to third parties who provide goods and services for use and enjoyment by the disabled beneficiary.

Providing your loved one with a better quality of life while they are relying on government assistance is not unethical or fraudulent. In fact, both the federal government and the State of Florida have structured their laws to encourage families to tap into government resources, even when other resources are available, in order to provide a higher quality of life experience.

However, this private-public funding partnership is not automatic. If you want your loved one to have benefits beyond the basic necessities provided by funds left to them, working with an experienced attorney to set up a proper special needs trust is a necessity.


Monday, December 21, 2015

How a Second Marriage Affects Your Estate Plan

Are there any specific estate planning concerns for those that are getting married for the second time?

For someone who is entering a second marriage, it is imperative to establish an estate plan or review his or her  existing plan. Estate planning at the time of your second marriage is critical to ensure your wishes are carried out.  For someone entering a second marriage, estate planning concerns often stem from the competing interests of the new spouse and the children of the previous marriage.  You want to make sure both parties are treated fairly.  It is important to remember that in the State of Florida, you cannot disinherit your spouse and that he or she is entitled to receive one third of your estate (Section 732.2065).  

If you fail to put a trust in place or at least have a will, your assets will be subject to intestacy statutes and be divided accordingly.  The benefit of a trust is that it allows the surviving spouse to benefit from the trust income and the remaining assets to pass to the children after that person’s death.  Pre- and post-nuptial agreements are also used to address financial matters before or during the marriage.  These can limit the disagreements that might arise after your death.

The primary residence is an asset commonly at issue when there is a second marriage.  You want the surviving spouse to have somewhere to live but granting him or her a life estate makes it possible that the home will be run down or sold and your children will receive less than they should have or nothing at all.  Therefore, many attorneys use a right of occupancy instead of a life estate.  This allows the spouse to live in the home until certain conditions are met terminating the right.

If you are entering into your second marriage, you should consult an attorney to establish or modify your estate plan.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cost of Caregiving Involves Baby Boomers and Millennials

According to the Kaiser Health News Webinar "Who Are America's Caregivers? Nearly A Quarter Are Millennials" the commonly held belief that Baby Boomers are the only ones caring for older relatives is failing to consider the the role Millennials are taking on in the estimated $470 billion worth of work:

"Caring for older relatives is usually a task associated with Baby Boomers, the 50- and 60-somethings who find their aging parents need assistance. But almost a quarter of the adults who take care of older people — on top of their regular jobs and responsibilities — are between the ages of 18 and 34... About 40 million Americans considered themselves caregivers in 2013…[t]hose people are typically women, and their median age is 49. The work they do caring for older relatives…was estimated that same year to be worth about $470 billion.”

Source/more: Kaiser Health News

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Attorney Karnardo Garnett represents clients with their Estate Planning, Elder Law and Asset Protection needs throughout the Tampa Bay Area, serving all of the bay area, including but not limited to Tampa, Brandon, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Gibsonton, Riverview, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor, Hillsborough County, and Pinellas County, FL

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