Did someone steal and use your personal information? You must act quickly to limit the damage. Fortunately, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) provides detailed instructions on what you need to do at IdentityTheft.gov.
In a popular obituary scam, the con artist begins by searching obituaries from the local paper looking for a recent widow. A messenger then arrives at the home of the recent widow with a cash-on-delivery package. The messenger claims that the recently deceased spouse ordered it, and requires immediate payment.
Only after paying for the package, when the messenger is long gone, does the victim open the box and discover that it contains old magazines or newspapers that are worthless.
To avoid the scam, don’t be afraid to ask for more information (i.e. where package is from, etc.) so you can look into it before accepting delivery. A legitimate delivery service will give you information so you can make a decision about accepting the package. If you are still not sure, then don’t accept the package.
Here is a link to a Morningstar interview of Vanguard retirement expert Maria Bruno in which she discusses strategies for managing retirement withdrawals to minimize tax consequences. Maria explains which accounts (i.e. taxable investments, IRAs, 401ks, Roth IRAs) should be used before others in order to minimize your taxes.
You can help prevent a loved one’s identity from theft after their death by contacting the credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). You will have to provide their Social Security number, and tell the credit bureau that the person has died. Request that their credit report be flagged with the note “Deceased. Do Not Issue Credit.”
If you are in charge of settling the estate you can, also, request a copy of the deceased’s credit report so you know what accounts need to be closed. You might have to provide the credit bureau with a death certificate and your Letters of Authority.
As of August 2014, the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) has started rejecting “solely for the benefit of” trusts. There hasn’t been a change in the law, but in the way that DHS interprets policy. Previously, a married couple could utilize a “solely for the benefit of” trust for the spouse not entering a nursing home and preserve a majority of a couple’s estate, while the spouse entering the nursing home still qualified for Medicaid coverage. This tool was not employed until a married couple knew which spouse would need nursing home care (i.e. when said spouse went into the nursing home). However, DHS has begun treating assets in these trusts as countable for Medicaid eligibility purposes. This means that the assets are not excluded and may have to be spent before the spouse requiring care will qualify for Medicaid.
For now, planning with a “solely for the benefit of” trust is not a practical solution. As such, it is even more important to discuss and consider other Medicaid planning options ahead of time.
Although you are divorced, you may be surprised to know that you still may be entitled to receive social security benefits on your former spouse’s work record. Even if your former spouse has remarried! However, if you have remarried, you normally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your subsequent marriage ends. According to the Social Security Administration, you can receive benefits if:
• Your marriage lasted 10 years or more;
• You are 62 years of age or older;
• You are unmarried;
• Your former spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits; and
• The benefits that you are entitled to receive based on your own work record are less than the benefits you would receive based on former spouse’s record.
What if your former spouse hasn’t applied for benefits?
If your former spouse has not applied for benefits, you still may receive benefits on his or her record if (1) your former spouse qualifies for them, and (2) you’ve been divorced for at least two years.
What if you are eligible for benefits?
If you’re eligible for benefits, Social Security will pay that amount first. However, if your former spouse qualifies for a greater amount, you will receive a combination of benefits equivalent to the greater amount (reduced by age). If you have reached full retirement age and you qualify for a former spouse’s benefit and your own benefit, you will have a choice to receive only the former spouse’s benefits and delay receiving retirement benefits until later.
What if your former spouse is now deceased?
If your former spouse has died, you may still be able to receive benefits just as a widow or widower would. Your marriage to the worker must have lasted 10 years or more. If you care for a child who is (1) under 16 or is disabled and (2) is getting benefits on your former spouse’s record, the length of the marriage doesn’t matter. The child must be a natural child of your former spouse or legally adopted by your former spouse.
If you are about to send a child off to college, please consider having them sign a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney before they go. Without them, if your child is 18, you don’t have any authority to make health care decisions for them, or manage their money, if something happens to them. Once they are 18 they are adults under Michigan law. Without a Durable Power of Attorney or Health Care Power of Attorney, you can find yourself in probate court if they have an accident and need your help.
We would be pleased to meet with you and your child in order to have these important documents prepared. Or, alternatively, they can order them from us online at EstatePlansDitect.com.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that inherited IRAs are not protected in bankruptcy.
Although this ruling does not affect your own IRAs (your retirement funds are still protected if you file for bankruptcy) it will cause problems for any child who inherits an IRA from you and files for bankruptcy. The Court has ruled that the inherited IRA will not be protected from the child’s creditors.
Here is the link to my Estate Planning presentation “How to Avoid the Six Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes” that was on the Financial Fitness Show After Hours program on May 13, 2014.
I am pleased to report that as of February 24, I am now an accredited attorney for the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for veteran’s benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If you are the surviving spouse of a veteran, and in need financial assistance, please call and set a time for us to get together to see if veteran’s benefits might be available to you.