Why a Healthcare Directive is More Critical Now than Ever

As we all adjust and adapt to a world with coronavirus, I wanted to check-in and let you know some of the issues that we are encountering. Today that is about Healthcare Directives.

First, my friends and associates in healthcare in Cape Girardeau and Poplar Bluff tell me that although they we haven’t seen many coronavirus cases yet, just wait. They think the wave is coming. Now that is just their opinion, but it is worth considering that I’ve had multiple physicians recently contact my office regarding getting their estate planning in order. Their reason – they believe it is only a question of “when” they will get coronavirus, not “if.”

My understanding of coronavirus is that most cases are mild. Some individuals have the virus and don’t even know it because they are asymptomatic. Yet, for the 10-20% of cases that require hospitalization, it is important for individuals to have a Healthcare Directive. A healthcare directive does just what its name suggests – directs what type of healthcare decisions you want made. The key here is that it puts you in control of your healthcare decisions.

Several clients have shared with me their personal experience with how helpful a healthcare directive can be during one of life’s most challenging times.

In the event that your health reaches a point where you are not able to make your own decisions, on top of all of the other emotions your spouse, children, or other loved ones will feel, they will feel a tremendous weight on their shoulders as they make healthcare decisions, sometimes literally life and death decisions, for you.

How much easier it is for your loved ones when you’ve put your decisions in writing! No guess work required. It is written in black and white.

Creating a healthcare directive takes the weight of your spouse or loved one’s shoulders. You decide what type of care it is that you want, freeing your spouse, children, or other loved ones from that burden.

*Healthcare Directives are also called Medical Directives or Living Wills. Healthcare Directives are often included as part of a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.

Estate Planning and Coronavirus

Over the last two weeks we have been receiving this type of phone call, “Hi, I’m calling because I don’t have any estate planning done and I need to get a Will.”

These potential clients are calling because they know they need a Will (actually they need more than a Will but that’s another conversation…) and they know that they have put it off for months or even years. It simply wasn’t a priority. It was easy to procrastinate.

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Then the black swan of 2020 arrived. The novel coronavirus. COVID-19.

Before this, most of us had never heard of coronavirus. And now it has changed our world.

Coronavirus went from being a problem in China and on cruise ships, to shutting down schools, restaurants, and other businesses right here in Southeast Missouri. And it may have gotten you to think, “maybe it is about time I stop procrastinating and get my affairs in order. Maybe it is time to get that Will or Trust done.”

If that is you, we are here to help. 573-334-5125.

How Can I Avoid Probate?

When people say probate, what they are really referring to is Probate Court. People typically want to avoid Probate Court because it wastes time & money and takes what most people consider private and puts it in the public record.

Probate Court sign

3 ways to avoid probate in missouri

So how can you avoid probate? There are a number of legal strategies you
can use. Here are 3 of the most common strategies used to avoid probate in Missouri:
1. Joint Tenancy & Tenancy by the Entirety. Adding another person to your assets as a joint owner or “joint tenant with rights of survivorship” will allow your property to pass to them upon your death without going through probate. There are pitfalls to this strategy, however, to include subjecting such assets to any claims (such as lawsuits) against the co-owner and making them available to the co-owner’s creditors — all while you are still alive and planning on using the assets yourself. So this strategy can work but it also comes with risks.
2. Beneficiary Designations. Missouri allows Transfer on Death (TOD) or Pay on Death (POD) beneficiary designations to be added to bank accounts. Beneficiary designations like these are preferable to joint tenancy in that they allow you to transfer property only upon your death without giving away current ownership. One of the drawbacks, however, is that it can be
difficult to obtain an equitable distribution of property among your heirs by utilizing beneficiary designations. Additionally, understand that if you have beneficiaries listed on your assets, those assets will be distributed upon your death to the listed beneficiaries, even if your last Will and Testament states otherwise.
3. Revocable Living Trust. A Revocable Living Trust is a legal document that allows you to establish a separate entity (the trust) to “hold” legal title to your assets while you are alive, and to name Trustees to manage those assets according to the trust terms. Typically, you serve as the trustee while you are alive, managing your assets for your own benefit. Upon your disability or death, the trust terms appoint your successor trustee who then continues to manage- or distribute — the assets held in trust. A properly drafted trust can accomplish many goals, including guardianship and probate avoidance for your estate and bloodline, as well as creditor protection (including from divorce) for your children.

Changes to VA Pension Benefits

The Department of Veteran’s Administration (VA) recently announced big changes to eligibility requirements for the VA pension and other needs-based benefit programs. The changes will be effective October 18, 2018.

Some of the very good planning options that are currently available will no longer be available beginning on October 18th. One change is that the VA is adding a three year “look back” period. This will affect transfers the veteran is able to make.

For example, any gifts that you made in the past 36 months, either to a family member or to an irrevocable trust, would be penalized. Likewise, an investment in an annuity would also be penalized. This means you could be prohibited from qualifying for VA pension benefits for up to 5 years, depending on the amount of the gift.

If you have questions about VA pension benefits (especially the Aid & Attendance benefit), call us. If this is something you have been considering to help pay for help at home or in an assisted living facility, the time to act is now.

Giving to a Charity through Will or Trust

Looking for a beneficiary? Consider a charity.

Recently a client of mine said, “Mark, we know that we should have done a Will or Trust a long time ago but we haven’t because we just don’t know who I want our property to go to. We don’t have any children, we’re not especially close to any of our nieces or nephews, and we keep putting this off because we’re just not sure what to do.”

My response was along the lines of, “You’re not the first client who has had this issue. I’ve seen clients do about everything you can think of – give it to children, give it to relatives, give it to charities, and even give it to a trust to care for their pet animals. You just tell me what you want to happen, and we can almost always find a way to get it done.”

After a week of thinking about it, the client called to say, “we’ve decided to give 20% to our relatives and to divide the rest of it among different charities that we like.” I said, “no problem. You give us the names of the charities and we’ll take care of the rest.”

We’ve helped clients with a variety of charities

Over the years, we’ve helped people design gifts to a number of charities – some local, some not. One website that we have found especially helpful in finding out more about charities is CharityNavigator.com. Their website aids clients in understanding the Financial Health and Transparency/Accountability of different charities.

Charity - St. Jude
I enjoy supporting ST. JUDE’S and running in their 1/2 marathon the first weekend of December

Here’s a list of some of the charities for which we have helped our clients design gifts.

  • Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • Humane Society of Southeast Missouri
  • Mac’s Mission
  • Animal shelters
  • Safe House for Women
  • Animal Legal Defense Fund
  • American Red Cross
  • Doctors Without Borders USA
  • Save the Children Federation
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Greenpeace Fund, Inc.
  • Sierra Club
  • Southeast Missouri University Foundation
  • A variety of churches and religious organizations (from Baptist to Catholic and Mormon to Unitarian)

There are some important considerations with giving gifts including how to ensure your gift goes to what you want and maximizing the tax benefits of your giving. We’re happy to help – especially when it comes to charitable gifts.

Why we Host Estate Planning Seminars

About every 6 weeks our firm hosts an Estate Planning Seminar for the community. These seminars are a great chance to learn more about estate planning and elder law. And better yet, they are FREE to you. There is absolutely no cost to attend.

What you will find at these seminars is useful information for you and your family. This useful information includes ideas that can save your loved ones thousands of dollars and months of wasted time.
Estate Planning Seminar

To learn a little bit more about our seminars, check out this video. Interested in attending? Call our office (573-334-5125) to save your seat for the next seminar.

When’s the Next Seminar?

The dates for our next seminars are:

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 at 11:30 a.m.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 at 11:30 a.m.

PUTTING OFF ESTATE PLANNING?

When it comes to Estate Planning, have you ever thought any of these?

It’s time that we set up a Will…
When dad died, he had a Living Trust – maybe I need a Trust as well?
I think it is time to get my affairs in order…
What do I have to do so my loved ones don’t end up in Probate Court?
If you’ve had any of these thoughts, then the next question becomes very important…

What have you done about it?
If the answer is nothing, we can help.

Procrastinating Estate Planning is common. In fact, one attorney even wrote a book  called “The Procrastinator’s Guide to Estate Planning.” If you’ve decided that you have procrastinated estate planning long enough and are ready to get moving forward, we’re here to help.

Stop Procrastinating Estate Planning

The Law Office of Mark McMullin is focused on “Estate Planning”. Typically, people think of Wills, Trust, and Beneficiary Designations when they think of Estate Planning. We do them all. If now is the right time for to take action, to get your affairs in order, we’d like to help.

We’ve helped a lot of other people just like you and would consider it an honor to work with you. You know this is important stuff. You also may not know just where to start or what questions to ask. We will help you with all of that.

What our Estate Planning clients say

Take a look at our Testimonials page and see what our other clients are saying. Notice the towns where these testimonials come from – our clients are your neighbors in Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Marble Hill, Scott City, Perryville, New Madrid, and Poplar Bluff. It’s not uncommon for clients to drive over an hour to meet with us at our office in Cape Girardeau because they want to make sure they are dealing with someone who knows what they are doing.

If you’re ready to get started, just give our office a call (573-334-5125). We would be happy to help you.

What Practice Areas do you Focus On?

Law firms typically focus on specific areas of the law called practice areas. Our primary practice areas are Estate Planning (Wills & Trusts) and Elder Law (medicaid planning & asset protection). We’ve chosen to limit our practice areas to better serve our clients. After all, if you wouldn’t go to an orthopedic doctor for a heart condition. Likewise in the law, most people would think twice before having their divorce attorney prepare a trust.

Practice Areas of Law Office of Mark McMullin
Practice Areas of Law Office of Mark McMullin

The Missouri Bar has Rules of Professional Conduct which we follow. One of the rules (Rule 4-7.4) states that “a lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is a specialist unless the communication contains a disclaimer that neither the Supreme Court of Missouri nor The Missouri Bar reviews or approves certifying organizations or specialist designations.” So most Missouri attorneys choose not to use the word “specialist”.

OUr PRactice AReas

What I will tell you is that for the past 5 years, my practice has been focused on two areas of law: estate planning and elder law. Often people refer to me as an “Estate Planning Attorney”. My firm is built to handle estate planning and elder law cases. You’ll notice that right away – it guides how we answer the phone, how we schedule appointments, and how work flows through our office. If you have another type of case (for example: a divorce) we’ll gladly refer you to another attorney in the area who handles that type of law. That said, if you are looking for an attorney to help you:

  • Get your affairs in order,
  • Prepare a Last Will & Testament,
  • Create a Living Trust,
  • Protect your life savings, or
  • Help you qualify for Medicaid

We are happy to help you. Just call to schedule an initial consultation.

Transferring Land to Revocable Living Trust

This afternoon I was able to visit with a client when he came in to pick up his estate planning portfolio. He remarked that “we sure did have to get a lot of things cleaned up. Thank goodness we found out about that. We would have hated to leave that mess for our daughter.” What he meant by that is that in the processing of transferring property to his trust, we discovered several issues with land he owned in Kentucky. Now I am a Missouri attorney and focus on Missouri law so when clients need a real estate deed drawn up to transfer land in a different state to their revocable living trust, we often work with attorneys in the state where the land is located to get the real estate transferred.

In this instance, the land was a vacation house located near Kentucky Lake. While working to transfer the lake house to the client’s trust, several issues with the current deed were discovered. It took a couple hundred dollars and about 3 weeks to get these issues cleared up. Yet, had my clients not taken care of these issues and left it for the daughter to deal with, it would have likely cost her thousands of dollars and taken months! There is an important lesson here – if not addressed by you, issues typically become more expensive and difficult to fix, not easier.

So often my clients tell me that they have procrastinated doing estate planning for years. Perhaps in part because of that procrastination, when they finally choose to get their affairs in order, they almost always report feeling relief! If the time is right for you or a loved one to get your affairs in order, we’re here to help. Each day we help educate individuals what their options are and help them implement solutions that make things easier on their spouse and children.

Save Time & Money by Skipping Probate

This afternoon I have a young client coming in. In fact, she just celebrated her 18th birthday. So you may be asking yourself, why would a young woman need to come see an estate planning and elder law attorney shortly after her 18th birthday?
The reason: because her deceased father didn’t do any estate planning, now his 18-year-old daughter has to handle getting his affairs in order. Perhaps that sentence is a little blunt, perhaps even harsh. Yet, it is also true.
An Estate Plan serves as a blue print for you and your family. It puts you in control. Yet, without it, you may leave a mess that your loved ones have to sort out.
As so often is the case, the father in this scenario didn’t have a great deal of wealth. By most economic standards, he would have been considered lower middle class. Yet, regardless of one’s wealth, there are a few foundational estate planning documents everyone needs: A Durable Power of Attorney, a Healthcare Directive, and some type of transfer instrument like a Will or Trust. By not having these, the little property he did pass on to his children created a legal mess… complete with underage beneficiaries, unintended beneficiaries, and completely unnecessary court costs and probate fees.
Planning is better – not only for you, but especially for your loved ones.