Physician Assisted Suicide in California

Last year, the State of California enacted a controversial new law that allows doctors to prescribe medicine to terminally ill patients that will let patients decide when to end their lives. The state has recently issued its first report on how the law is being used.

Elder law advocates have been paying a lot of attention to California’s new law allowing terminally ill people to seek physician assisted suicide. The law was extremely controversial and remains so.

If it is deemed successful, then its advocates think the law can be used as a model for other states to follow. Those who are opposed to the law, are watching it closely to see if there are any problems with it that they can use to bolster their arguments.

The State of California recently issued a report about usage of the law in the first six months after it was enacted, The New York Times reports in “State: 111 Terminally Ill End Lives Under New California Law.”

Life ending drugs were prescribed to 191 terminally ill patients. A total of 21 of them passed away before taking the drugs, and 111 used them to end their lives.

The fates of the remainder were not known at the time that the report was issued.

The typical patient was a terminally ill elderly person diagnosed with cancer who was receiving hospice or palliative care. In total, 173 different doctors prescribed the drug to patients.

One thing the data shows, is that the median age of the patients was 73 and the majority were over 60.

Reference: New York Times (June 27, 2017) “State: 111 Terminally Ill End Lives Under New California Law.”

Train Your Heirs

If you want your wealth to last and be available for future generations of your family, then you need to make sure that your heirs are ready to handle the responsibility of maintaining your wealth.

The ability to manage and preserve a large amount of wealth is not something most people are born with. If it were, then there would be few stories about big lottery winners ending up with less money after a few years, than they had before they won millions.

There are many stories like that.

There are also numerous stories about families that once had a lot of wealth that was lost over the generations.

These stories are actually so common that the few families who successfully preserve wealth for generations, are considered the exceptions to the rule.

Recently, the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discussed ways to make sure your family might be one of the exceptions in “Preparing Heirs for Successful Wealth Stewardship.”

The key to such success actually seems relatively simple. In practice, however, it can be difficult.

Heirs need to be trained to handle the wealth.

They need to know how to make good investments and how to avoid bad ones. They also need to learn what good uses for the money are and what type of spending would be wasteful.

Perhaps, most importantly, heirs need to know who to turn to for advice.

A good estate plan is also vital to preserving family wealth.

The wealth cannot be maintained without the proper legal instruments, but estate planning is not enough by itself.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (June 29, 2017) “Preparing Heirs for Successful Wealth Stewardship.”

Life Insurance Is Simple and Can Benefit Estate Plan

Estate and capital gains taxes can be avoided.

Wall Street has an enhanced life insurance method that benefits wealthy people and is becoming increasingly popular, according to Barron’s in “New-ish Tax Planning Instrument Gathering Billions.”

Life insurance is a popular estate planning tool used as a relatively simple way to even out inheritances between heirs or to provide needed cash for family members, after the policy holder passes away.

A policy is purchased, premiums paid and upon the death of the policy holder, cash is distributed to the beneficiary.

Since life insurance is a death benefit, the beneficiary does not have to pay income taxes on it when it is paid out as a lump sum.

Wall Street has an insurance dedicated fund as a complicated investment tool that gets treated for tax purposes in the same way as life insurance.

It allows people to invest money that is then managed by hedge funds, without paying any capital gains tax on the investment. When the investor passes away, the accumulated funds in the account are distributed to beneficiaries and have the same tax benefits as life insurance.

Insurance dedicated funds are not new, but they have recently started becoming more popular.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on whether an insurance dedicated fund will fit your unique circumstances.

Reference: Barron’s (June 28, 2017) “New-ish Tax Planning Instrument Gathering Billions.”

Do You Need a Trust?

One of the biggest questions in estate planning today, is whether a trust is the best option for your family.

If you were to conduct a representative poll of middle class Americans about the best way to plan for your estate, it is almost certain that the majority of respondents would suggest getting a living trust.

It is the first piece of advice you will find almost anywhere you look for estate planning information. The reason for that is complex.

One reason is that many internet companies who sell trust creation documents have been very active in pushing the benefits of trusts to get more customers. Trusts are also often the best estate planning option for people.

Nevertheless, the key is to determine what the best estate planning option is for you personally, not for society generally, as Madison.com points out in “Is a Living Trust Right for You and Your Family?.”

Trusts do have many benefits over wills.

Trusts do not have to go through probate and, therefore, are not subject to the commonly cited costs and delays associated with probate.

Trust provisions do not have to be made public, as most wills do. Trusts are also a great way to control what your heirs might do with their inheritances, but “testamentary trusts” under wills do so as well.

If you really want to know whether you should get a trust, the best thing to do is to ask an estate planning attorney. Tell the attorney what your needs are and let the attorney suggest the best ways to meet those needs.

Reference: Madison.com (June 27, 2017) “Is a Living Trust Right for You and Your Family?.”

Does the Senate Bill Cut Medicaid?

Even though a vote over the Senate’s bill to repeal Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) has been delayed, it is important to know whether or not it cuts Medicaid. The answer depends on how you look at it.

Very little in government is ever straightforward. One example is the Senate Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

A vote on the bill has been delayed. However, it is likely to still come at some point in the future. Therefore, what the bill proposes to do with Medicaid funding, is important for elderly people who rely on the program for their nursing home care.

On one side of the debate over the bill are Democrats, who claim that it will slash Medicaid spending. On the other side, are Republicans who claim that the bill will increase Medicaid funding, as Fox News reports in “Fact Check: Dem claims that Senate bill guts Medicaid ignore billions in new funding.”

Which side is right depends entirely on how you look at the issue. If the Senate bill passes and eventually becomes law, then Medicaid funding would increase by $71 billion by 2026. However, if the Senate bill does not become law and the current law remains in place, then Medicaid funding would increase by $231 billion during the same time period.

Under either scenario, Medicaid funding increases.

The argument is over how much it should increase and whether any increases are enough to meet future costs.

In the current highly partisan climate, it can be difficult to understand what is going on, as politicians and the media discuss policy changes. For that reason, it is important to look carefully at the facts to determine what the real question is.

For Medicaid that question is this: are politicians making sure the program can continue to do what it was designed to do without the country going broke?

Reference: Fox News (June 27, 2017) “Fact Check: Dem claims that Senate bill guts Medicaid ignore billions in new funding.”

Medicaid Facts

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act has been one the biggest news items in recent weeks. Changes to Medicaid in Republican proposals have received a lot of attention, but many people do not know exactly what Medicaid does.

You probably know that Medicaid is the federal government program that provides health care coverage to poor Americans. However, in the debate about the repeal of Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) and possible reductions to Medicaid in various appeal proposals, what often gets lost is exactly what that federal government program for the poor does.

Facts about the program get lost in the media noise.

It is important to know the facts, because only then can you really decide if you are for or against any changes.

NPR recently published a list of some lesser known facts about Medicaid in “From Birth To Death, Medicaid Affects The Lives of Millions,” including:

•It is very expensive. Medicaid currently takes up approximately 10% of the federal budget. State governments contribute even more on top of that to the costs of the program.

•Half of all births in the U.S. are covered by Medicaid. The program has been expanded multiple times to include more and more pregnant women.

•Some 62% of nursing home residents have their care through Medicaid.

•Disabled people and the people who take care of them are often eligible to receive their care through Medicaid.

•Medicaid is a major source of funding for the fight against opioid addiction.

Reference: NPR (June 27, 2017) “From Birth To Death, Medicaid Affects The Lives of Millions.”

Exhuming Dali’s Body

A Spanish court has issued an order to exhume the body of legendary artist Salvador Dali, almost a quarter of a century after he passed away.

Salvador Dali was well known both for his eccentric art and his eccentric lifestyle. He was not known to have any children, but one Spanish woman claims that she is likely Dali’s child.

The only problem is that she cannot prove her claims, since Dali passed away in 1989 at the age of 85.

The woman makes her living as a professional tarot card reader, so perhaps she could prove her paternity by reading the cards. However, she refuses to do such a self-reading. Instead, she has asked the Spanish courts to intervene.

A judge found enough basis for her claims, that Dali’s body has been ordered to be exhumed from its current resting place underneath a theater in Dali’s hometown so DNA testing can be performed, as the Washington Post reports in “Judge in Spain orders Salvador Dali’s body exhumed for paternity test.”

It is not clear what the woman hopes to gain from the testing. Dali’s estate has long been closed and all of his valuable artwork donated to the Spanish government.

Even though the artwork is valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, it is unlikely the woman could lay claim to any of that money. For her part, she seems uncertain of what she wants, if Dali does turn out to be her father.

She has only stated that she wants “what corresponds to her.”

It is not unheard of to reopen an estate or exhume a body to prove that the deceased had a previously unknown child. In this case, however, it probably is not going to do any good for the woman, beyond learning whether Dali really was her father.

Reference: Washington Post (June 26, 2017) “Judge in Spain orders Salvador Dali’s body exhumed for paternity test.”

Fiduciary Rule Confusion

The new fiduciary rule for financial advisers has caused a lot of confusion about what is and is not allowed with retirement accounts.

On June 9, a controversial new Department of Labor rule went into effect. The rule seems simple enough. Financial advisors who give investment advice to consumers about their retirement accounts, must act as fiduciaries of those consumers.

At least for attorneys, that is a very simple idea to understand.

Nevertheless, for consumers and their advisors the new rule has caused a lot of confusion, as the Washington Post details in “A new conflict-of-interest rule for retirement savers is causing a lot of confusion.”

The easiest way to understand what the new rule means, is that advisors have to act in the best interests of the people they are advising. Investment advice must be based on the best thing for the saver, not the advisor.

Therefore, if an advisor would earn a higher fee from suggesting one investment rather than another, he, or she cannot advise the saver on that basis. If the investment that pays the least to the advisor is better for the consumer, then that is the investment that must be recommended.

Many advisors are taking advantage of the new rule to make changes to how they manage retirement accounts.

The confusion surrounding the rule has given them the opportunity to make changes customers may not like and place the blame for them on the new rule.

If you are not sure if a change your advisor is making is really required by the new rule or if you should look for a different advisor, ask an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Washington Post (June 19, 2017) “A new conflict-of-interest rule for retirement savers is causing a lot of confusion.”

How Long Can You Put Off Estate Planning?

When it comes to estate planning, Americans procrastinate. However, it can only be put off for so long.

Even people who like to make detailed plans about everything else, are often tempted to put off estate planning for as long as possible. It is just human nature to prefer not to think too much about what will happen to our worldly possessions, after we pass away.

It can be difficult to imagine our things and our loved ones having a life after us. This leads to estate planning procrastination.

Truthfully, that is never a good idea. You do not know when you will pass away. It can happen suddenly and sooner than you want.

However, if you do procrastinate when it comes to your estate planning, you should know that the procrastination needs to end at some point.

This point was made by the Twin Cities Pioneer Press in “3 moves you should make in the first 3 years of retirement.”

If you have managed to put off estate planning until after you have retired from work, then now is the time to stop putting it off.

With any luck, you will still live many more years. On the other hand, estate planning is about more than just deciding what happens to your possessions and assets after you pass away.

It is also about securing your own final years and making sure you have powers of attorney and advanced health care directives in place, should you ever need them.

In the end, estate planning gives you peace of mind in knowing that your family will be okay after you pass away and that you will also be okay, should you ever need help.

If you have retired and still have no estate plan, then talk to an estate planning attorney as soon as you can.

Reference: Twin Cities Pioneer Press (June 17, 2017) “3 moves you should make in the first 3 years of retirement.”

You May Not Know What You Think You Do

People have a lot of false ideas about estate planning and how wills and trusts work. They should seek out people who do know what is correct.

We do not all like to admit it, but the truth is that we are all often wrong. Many of the things we thought were right, we later learn were incorrect.

Logically, that means many of the things we are “sure” about now, we will only learn to be less so later on.

There is no shame in this.

We cannot be experts in everything.

A physicist cannot be judged too harshly for getting the details of macroeconomics wrong, for example.

One area that many people are often very wrong about is estate planning, as pointed out in TCPalm in “Misconceptions about wills and trusts.”

The article mentions several things people are often wrong about when it comes to estate planning. What is specifically mentioned in the article, however, is not as important as understanding that you are probably wrong about estate planning.

You might not be wrong about everything that has to do with estate planning, but you are almost certainly wrong about more things than you think you are.

This suggests that you should not do your own estate planning.

You are wrong about some aspects of estate planning and you do not even know which aspects you are wrong about.

Consequently, you should seek out people who are experts in estate planning and those people are estate planning attorneys. Let them help you with your estate plan.

That would be the wisest thing to do, just as it would be wise for estate planning attorneys to seek out your advice in your line of expertise.

Reference: TCPalm (June 16, 2017) “Misconceptions about wills and trusts.”