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In last week’s post I was telling you about Mary and John’s do it yourself wills.  For less than $100 they purchased a software program that helped them assemble their wills.  When John died only then did Mary learn of the mistakes they made.  I already told you about the IRA which John intended to go to Mary but instead will go to the child from his first marriage.  There is, however, a bigger mistake. The residuary clause stated that the rest of the husband’s property is to be distributed to the husband and if he does not survive then to his children from his second marriage.  If I prepare my will and leave everything to me, that is obviously a mistake.  My guess is that John prepared Mary’s will first and then took her will and changed the names when preparing his own.  He overlooked this very important clause. Mary was quick to point out what he intended and I didn’t disagree with her assessment that he meant to leave everything to her.  The problem, however, is that we can’t substitute our own belief as to what he intended.  So, what options does Mary have? I told her that once we probate the will we would need to apply to the court for an advisory

I recent call I received from Mary illustrates the risks of do it yourself estate planning.  In this case  Mary and john, her husband prepared their wills using Quicken’s Willmaker software which can be purchased online for less than $100.  It couldn’t be easier, right?  Hiring an estate planning attorney could cost several hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the particular plan and what it includes, so just comparing the two costs it would appear that the smart and less expensive move would be to go with the software program. As I always point out, however, this way of viewing a will – as a fill in the blanks document – is dangerous.  A last will and testament is a legal document the product of proper legal advice, which requires understanding the laws of wills and trusts and then tailoring that knowledge to the particular client’s needs and desires. Mary called me because John had recently died and she needed to probate his will.  When I examined it, however, I found a number of troubling mistakes.  First, the will contained a paragraph specifically referencing IRAs and 401ks and the wish that those assets be left to Mary.  I explained that for tax purposes these accounts typically have beneficiary designations upon death which override any instructions contained in a will. Mary

A few weeks ago I wrote about Stimulus checks, the part of the CARES Act that gives one time payments of $1200 to every American whose adjusted gross income is $75,000 or less (and a smaller amount for those with income between $75,000 and $99,000).  Since then, some people have received the payments direct deposited into their bank accounts while others have received checks in the mail. Because of the scope of the program and the speed with which it has been implemented, problems were to be expected.  We have been contacted by family members and legal representatives of clients who have died and received payments.  In some cases checks have been issued to people recently deceased and in other cases  stimulus payments have been sent to people who died well before the COVID-19 crisis – in some cases 2 years before. I was interviewed for a CBS News story about this issue ( and stated that guidance would need to be provided regarding who is entitled to keep the payments and who must return them. That same day the IRS finally clarified the issue on its website.  Payments made to someone who died before receipt of the payment must be returned (including people alive when the law passed but died before receiving the payment).  In the case

Last week, I heard the statistic reported that the number of Covid-19 related deaths has now exceeded the number of people who died in the Vietnam War.  The Vietnam War, of course, spanned 11 years while the current pandemic has been ongoing for a few months at this point. The compressed time frame has caused many issues including, for example, putting stress on our health care system.  It has also caused backlogs for funeral homes and in making burial arrangements.  Understandably, our office has received an increase in calls from families who have buried loved ones and are seeking our assistance with estate administration issues.  With the state still in lock down until at least the middle of this month, how have the court systems been affected?  Is it possible to probate a will in these uncertain and unusual times? In New Jersey, probate of wills and estate administration in general are handled by the Office of the Surrogate, which is located in the county courthouse complex.  Each county has a surrogate who is the elected official charged with managing that process, however, there are variations from county to county in terms of some of the procedures. The complete shut down of

What we know about the Coronavirus is that seniors are at a higher risk of serious illness than younger age groups.  So how has Medicare, the primary health insurance program for Americans over 65, responded?                 Medicare will cover the cost of a Coronavirus test under Part B.  Additionally, co-pays and deductibles have been waived as well as the costs associated with the test, such as a doctor’s visit or hospital observation.  If and when a vaccine becomes available that too will be covered.                 If you need treatment for Covid-19, hospitalization is covered under Part A and outpatient services are covered under Part B.  This is no different than treatment for any other injury or illness.  Under normal rules if you are hospitalized for a minimum of 3 days and then discharged to a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation, Medicare will cover as much as 100 days, although for days 21 through 100  there is a co-pay of $176 per day. (Many Medigap policies cover the co-pay.)  Now, however, the 3 day hospital stay has been relaxed.  If the hospital needs to transfer you to make room for new patients, you can get subacute coverage in a nursing facility under

Last week I gave you an overview of the CARES Act and specifically how it affects seniors.  A few days later people began to receive their $1200 stimulus payments directly deposited into their bank accounts, the part of the aid package that gives a one time payment to anyone who had $75,000 or less (a lesser amount for those between $75,000 and $99,000) in adjusted gross income in 2019 (or 2018 if you haven’t yet filed your 2019 income tax return).  Since then we have received several calls asking how this payment affects Medicaid. As we know, Medicaid is a needs based program with strict income and asset limitations.  So we must consider whether this payment is income or an asset?  Assets must remain under $2000 at the end of each month to maintain eligibility for the next month so the concern is whether this payment would make someone ineligible if, when received, their bank account then exceeds $2000. If the payment is income then it must be included in calculating the amount of income that must be given to the nursing or assisted living facility as part of Medicaid’s cost share provision.  In the case of  home based Medicaid it would need to be turned over to the State of New Jersey.  It might also trigger the need to