With living trust scams on the rise both nationally and in Georgia, many seniors are being tricked into buying costly and unnecessary financial products which jeopardize their long-term security. As an elder law attorney in Marietta, I want to expose these scams for National Consumer Protection Week (ncpw.gov).
Preying on loneliness and a common fear of the unknown among seniors, scammers and unscrupulous salesmen in the US and in Georgia have found a new way to defraud seniors out of thousands of dollars: living trust scams.
March 6-12 is National Consumer Protection week and as a Marietta elder law attorney, I am taking this opportunity to warn seniors of these costly living trust scams in the metropolitan Atlanta area.
Don’t get me wrong: Living trusts can be an excellent estate planning tool to avoid probate and ensure your wishes are honored after death, but they are not a one-size-fits-all document and certainly not right for everyone – especially seniors on fixed incomes with limited assets.
Yet through public seminars, phone, mail and door-to-door campaigns, seniors are being contacted by salesman outside of the legal field who offer to living trusts as the solution to all of their fears and financial worries.
High-pressure tactics such as gifts, companionship and exaggerations about death taxes and probate are used to make seniors believe that their assets will be tied up in court indefinitely and that their loved ones will be on the hook for thousands of dollars in taxes and legal fees after their death.
What the salesmen fail to tell these seniors is that they probably won’t even owe estate or ‘death taxes’ after their passing. Worse is that many of these “trust kits” sold to seniors only contain boilerplate language and really do nothing to avoid taxes or the probate court. The real goal of the scam is to gain access to the senior’s financial information through the Trust Kit so they can be railroaded into buying additional annuities or insurance products the senior does not need.
According to an AARP study published in 2000, about four million people older than 50 with less than $25,000 in annual income may have purchased costly, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous living trusts as a result of high-pressure sales tactics by firms falsely representing themselves as AARP affiliates. These numbers will continue to grow as seniors remain fearful about growing taxes and their future financial security.
To avoid becoming the victim of a Trust Scam, seniors should always shop around and check with a qualified estate planning lawyer before deciding on any type of will, trust or financial product such as an annuity or long-term care insurance plan. I also recommend that seniors:
- Never sign anything with options or terminology that you don’t understand.
- Don’t give into high-pressure tactics such as gifts, nagging phone calls, and limited-time offers.
- Verify any stated affiliations with senior organizations or government agencies. (Note: due to the high rate of senior trust scams, the AARP does not endorse ANY company that sells living trusts.)
- Know your rights under the FTC’s “Cooling Off Rule”. If you purchase a living trust in your home or any place other than the seller’s permanent place of business (such as a hotel seminar), you have three business days to cancel the deal.
For additional tips on how to avoid financial scams for National Consumer Protection Week, visit the government’s official website at ncpw.gov.
As a sandwich generation kid himself, Steve (Stephen M.) Worrall KNOWS the struggles you are facing as you raise children, balance the demands of your job, and take care of your aging parents, too! You can reach him at 770-425-6060 or email@example.com.
Many grandparents wish to leave a legacy behind for their grandchildren; however, they may run into some issues if those children are underage. A Cobb County Will and Trust lawyer can help you determine what the best options are for leaving assets to underage beneficiaries, whether those assets are held in a Will or Trust, financial accounts, or as part of a life insurance benefit.
Underage Beneficiaries in a Will or Trust
Cobb County Will and Trust lawyers will always ask their clients if any of their beneficiaries are underage, or even if they would like to keep younger beneficiaries from accessing their full inheritance until they’ve reached a certain age, which is usually 25. If the children are underage, an adult property guardian must be named since minors are not allowed to own property. If a significant amount of property is left to the minor, a Trust should be set up to manage the property until the child comes of age. In fact, Trusts can be used to ensure the minor only receives their full inheritance once they reach a certain age or milestone, such as graduating from college, while at the same time providing assets to make sure the child can achieve that milestone. A Marietta Wills and Trusts attorney can speak with you about leaving an inheritance to an underage child and will help you choose the best option for administering the distributions.
Underage Beneficiaries of Financial Accounts
Many people choose to make beneficiary designations directly on their financial accounts, such as savings accounts, annuities, and retirement plans. Cobb County Wills and Trusts attorneys urge their clients to carefully examine the details surrounding these beneficiary designations, as minor beneficiaries often cannot directly inherit assets after your passing. It is important to consult with a Cobb County Will and Trust lawyer to determine the best way for your underage beneficiaries to receive the inheritance you leave for them at the time when they can make informed financial decisions on their own. Directing the assets to a Will or Trust is often the best bet in these situations, but consulting with an attorney will give you a much better idea of how this should be done.
Underage Beneficiaries on Life Insurance
Many parents and grandparents name their children or grandchildren as beneficiaries on their life insurance policies. As with the cases above though, an adult guardian or a Trust must be named in order to hold the life insurance proceeds until the minors come of age. It is generally not advised to name minors as beneficiaries to life insurance policies, as courts will often appoint an adult to look after the proceeds until the child comes of age – and that adult may not be someone you would have wanted appointed to such a role. Speaking with a Cobb County Will and Trust lawyer may help you determine the best way to handle your life insurance beneficiary designations.
If you have any questions about the best ways to leave an inheritance to underage beneficiaries, please contact us at 770-425-6060 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a complimentary, no obligation Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session.
Trusts lawyers in Atlanta have the important job of helping their clients create a legacy that is compliant with a number of different laws. For the most part, these laws will vary from state to state. Some differences are minor, while others can impact the trust significantly. Someone who already has established a trust in one state may very well want to at least review it with a trusts lawyer when relocating to another.
For example, if you have created a trust in Georgia but then move to Florida for retirement, it’s a good idea to meet with a trusts lawyer in your new city. Likewise, someone moving from somewhere else in the U.S. to metro Atlanta should contact a Georgia trust lawyer to review the documents and potentially amend them to meet the law here.
Most often, when a trust is administered, it is done so under the laws of the state where the person resides. This can get a little tricky if you have residences in two states—say, if you’re a “snowbird.” In those situations, it’s best to work with trusts lawyers in both states. The changes needed may be as small as a little wording, but they could also be more complicated.
There are some estate planning documents that should always be addressed with a trusts lawyer when moving to a new state. Powers of attorney are vital for determining who can represent you should you become incapacitated, and those are administered under state law. Powers of attorney drawn up by a trusts lawyer in Atlanta may be disregarded by the courts in another area.
A final consideration in the discussion of where to establish a trust is the tax implications. By working with a good trusts lawyer, you can uncover which state may hold the best benefits for you, your estate, and your heirs. It is possible to have trusts set up in more than one state, though the complexities of doing so are absolutely something that should be done with the guidance of a knowledgeable professional with plenty of experience in trusts administration.
To schedule an appointment for a complimentary Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session to help you review or create your estate plan, at one of our five metro Atlanta offices, we invite you to call 770-425-6060 to get started
If you’d like to give your loved ones and yourself the gift of peace of mind, please call Steve at 770-425-6060 or 770-421-0808 or email him at email@example.com.
Atlanta trust lawyers are abuzz following a recent US Supreme Court decision that will have big implications for clients. The fact that these professionals keep up-to-date on legislation and court decisions that affect their clients is one of the most important reasons not only to hire an estate planning lawyer in the first place, but also to check in with the attorney at least annually to see if any changes need to be made to a previous plan in light of new information.
While a person’s own IRA can be protected in the case of bankruptcy, the court has determined that an inherited IRA cannot. While that is big news for those who have already inherited an IRA, it is a call to action for those planning to leave one behind. Being aware of the consequences of the Court’s decision can drastically change the approach to planning in order to protect heirs from this new development.
It is common for estate planning lawyers in Atlanta to see clients who have much of their wealth in the form of an IRA or 401(k). During the planning process, they determine how that money should be used after their death. It often makes up a large part of the estate they intend to leave behind. As of recently, this was commonly done by placing it into a Revocable Living Trust. Now, however, if the heir declares bankruptcy, that money can be taken away.
A Real-Life Example of Savings and Loss
The possibility of losing an inherited retirement account in this manner is more common than you might expect. Take for example the case of Joan and Robert. Robert worked hard to save for retirement, accumulating $450,000 in his 401(k). Unfortunately he was also diagnosed with a serious medical condition and accumulated over $300,000 in medical debt before he passed away.
After his death, his wife transferred the funds of the retirement account into an “inherited” IRA so that she could access the money without having to pay a 10% penalty before age 59 ½ . That money was her lifeline.
However, the medical bills spiraled out of control and were eventually turned over to a collection agency. Unable to pay back the balance, Joan was forced into bankruptcy. Little did she know that the money in her “inherited” IRA could now be seized by creditors during the bankruptcy proceedings. Had Robert planned for this possibility, the funds would have stayed protected.
Protecting Wealth In An IRA For Beneficiaries
In order to protect money in an inherited retirement account, many estate planning lawyers in Atlanta are now recommending that their clients consider setting up a Standalone Retirement Trust. This type of trust can protect against other threats, too. Basically, it makes the money inaccessible to any future creditors of the trust’s beneficiary because the trust was not established or funded by the beneficiary. By naming an independent trustee rather than having the beneficiary play this role, there are even more protections in place. An Atlanta trust lawyer can offer a variety of suggestions on how to choose the appropriate trustee.
There are some fairly stringent guidelines that need to be followed to make sure the trust works as intended. A trust lawyer in Atlanta will need to make sure these regulations are adhered to so that the trust can qualify. When done properly, the trust’s distributions can be made similarly to how they would have from the IRA without the risk from the beneficiary’s creditors.
Whether you are just beginning the planning process or you have already created an estate plan, this big decision by the US Supreme Court can affect you and those you leave behind. Make sure to contact your trust lawyer in Atlanta to ensure that your IRA is protected for the next generation.
Will and trust lawyers in Marietta see plenty of situations where parents who love their children are not entirely in love with their children’s spouses. This can make the estate planning process a little tricky, because the spouse can add tension and stir up drama that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. While some people include their sons-and-daughters-in-law in the planning process, it’s not all that unusual to leave them out.
For the most part, the son-in-law or daughter-in-law isn’t even mentioned in the will. They don’t really even have any legal standing to inherit from the parent unless they are specifically named. So, the parent would name his or her own child, but not the child’s spouse. If the adult child was no longer living, the property would probably end up being inherited by the grandchildren, rather than the spouse.
That’s not to say that a child’s spouse couldn’t end up with an inheritance. If the parents were to leave assets to the adult child and then the adult child passed away, his or her property would likely go to the spouse, and that includes what was inherited from the parents. One would hope that this property would eventually be passed on to the grandchildren (assuming there are grandchildren), but this is not a given, as the spouse would have the legal right to do whatever he or she wanted with it. In fact, if the spouse remarried, his or her new spouse would be the legal choice to inherit any property that was left behind, including that which was inherited this way.
So, can a Marietta will and trust lawyer keep your child’s spouse out of your plan entirely? Yes! You can work with your attorney to develop an inheritance trust that will protect any money you leave your kids from divorce, lawsuits, and creditors and keeps your money in the family.
Creating an estate plan can be emotional and having the additional drama of a difficult personality certainly won’t help matters any. On the other hand, you may absolutely adore your son-or-daughter-in-law and want to make sure that they are taken care of by your estate. In those cases, you will want to make sure that your Marietta GA estate planning lawyer specifically mentions them and what they are inheriting for your own peace of mind.
Residents of Georgia often find themselves procrastinating, even if they know the importance of meeting with a wills and trusts lawyer. The whole subject just seems so complicated, and there are certainly more enjoyable ways to spend one’s time then pondering death and taxes. The fact that things can be really confusing seems to give us all the encouragement we need to just tell ourselves that we’ll take care of the estate planning stuff “later.”
Of course, you know what I’m going to say next! You never know when “later” is going to make an appearance, and if you’re not set up in advance, all the legal advice about wills and trusts in the world won’t be of any help. Yes, this truly is something you need to do in advance. Perhaps demystifying some of the terms involved with wills and trusts will give you the confidence you need to take the next step.
Will vs. Living Will
Most people probably get that “will” and “living will” are two different things, but a whole lot of them couldn’t actually tell you what exactly makes them different. The term “will” is likely most familiar, as we’ve all seen them discussed on TV and in the movies. It’s that document that is used to tell the courts what should be done with a person’s assets after he or she dies.
In the movies, there’s usually a dramatic reading of the will with close-ups of shocked widows and angry siblings who have been unceremoniously cut out of the family fortune. While wills and trusts lawyers in Georgia do see their share of hurt feelings and miscommunications, things are rarely as dramatic as they are on the big (or small) screen.
While a will is used after death, a living will is not. It’s actually a document that includes a variety of instructions to be followed if you are alive but unable to speak for yourself for some reason. This is usually referred to as being “incapacitated.” You could be too ill to communicate, in a coma due to an accident, or some other variant that renders you unable to let doctors and others know what your wishes are regarding healthcare and other major decisions.
Trust vs. Living Trust
You may see a bit of a pattern here. A trust is generally used as a way to disperse assets after the owner has passed away. A trustee is put in charge of following very specific instructions that have been put in place to direct how the money and other assets in the trust are to be used.
A living trust, on the other hand, is used to protect many different kinds of assets during the owner’s lifetime. A Georgia wills and trusts lawyer may recommend a living trust for many different reasons. For example, this kind of trust can be used to allow the individual to stay in his or her home while transferring ownership.
Each of these types of wills and trusts is something that should be discussed with a knowledgeable attorney in the state where you reside, as laws will differ throughout the country.
We are here to answer your questions and to help you create a plan to make things easier on your loved ones if the unthinkable happens to you. Please call us at 770-425-6060 and we’ll give you a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session, valued at $750, for NO CHARGE. This session will educate you so you can make the best decisions for your family.