Sometimes Happy Endings Really Do Happen!

As December comes to a close, we want to share some good news. A colleague of ours, Paul Hynes, took legal action and helped his elderly, widowed father recover more than $90,000 that he had lost to a common money scam. 

Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common story these days. Paul’s father received a letter in the mail, informing him that he had won second prize in a sweepstakes. But in order to claim his $250,000 jackpot, he would first need to send the company a “processing fee”. 

In fact, the then-85-year-old gentleman was conned not just once, but daily over a period of 44 days. Each time, the “sweepstakes company” would manipulate him into wiring them more money via his local Western Union. Eventually the total reached a whopping $91,000. 

Our friend Paul expressed dismay that his father would fall for what seemed like an obvious scam. “I was really shocked that my father could fall for this. He believed someone on the end of the phone that he’d never met more than he believed his own adult children.” While it seems unbelievable, the con artists who operate these scams are experts at manipulation. These operations are, essentially, what they do for a living. 

Luckily, Paul’s wife just happened to hear about a court case between the Department of Justice and Western Union. The DOJ accused Western Union of “turning a blind eye” to the scams that operated via their service. Eventually a settlement was reached, and Western Union established a fund of $580 million to compensate victims. 

Paul and his wife entered a claim with the system, and just recently his father received a check to compensate him for the $91,000 theft. 

Paul shared with us, “At the tender age of 92, my father, Mike, is living in Plymouth, Massachusetts, near my sister, Laurie. He’s in good hands with the staff at Newfield House skilled nursing facility. No doubt the recovered funds will help pay for his ongoing care.”

“In this season of light, let this be a bright spot to lift spirits and reaffirm that hope springs eternal… and happy endings aren’t just for the movies.”


Another Way to Protect Your Estate from Excessive Taxation

Upon your death, your heirs could owe estate taxes if your estate is valued at more than $5.45 million. That might sound like a problem that couldn’t happen to you, but remember that your estate will include things like the value of your home and the death benefit value of any life insurance policies that you own or control. Many people are “worth” far more than they think! Luckily, there are ways to remove some assets from your estate, meaning you can still pass them to heirs while keeping the value of your estate below the taxable minimum of $5.45 million.

An irrevocable life insurance trust, or “ILIT” is one such method of reducing estate taxes, and is often used when the value of a life insurance policy death benefit will push the value of the estate over the $5.45 million threshold. Under an ILIT, the insurance policy in question is actually owned by, and titled in the name of, the trust. The ILIT’s named beneficiaries are your heirs, and the value of the life insurance policy is excluded from your estate.

It’s a complicated legal maneuver, though, and there are three basic requirements to successfully implement an irrevocable life insurance trust.

It must be irrevocable. Once you’ve signed the documents, you cannot amend the trust. It’s a lifelong commitment, and you can neither borrow against nor remove funds from the trust.

Someone else must serve as trustee. You cannot be the trustee, but you can name another individual, professional fiduciary or even a corporate trustee.

The trust must exist for at least three years before your death. If you pass away before the trust has been in effect for three years, its value will still be include in your estate. This can present a tricky situation, since none of us know for sure how long we will live. There is one way around this problem, though: Have the trust purchase the life insurance policy from the start, rather than transferring an existing policy to the trust.

An ILIT can be a good estate planning option for some people, but there are also drawbacks to this maneuver. Call to set an appointment with our estate planning attorney, and we will discuss your situation and the best ways to protect your estate from excessive taxation.

Should You Give Someone Power of Attorney?

We often think of estate planning in terms of, “What will happen to my assets and property after I die?” However, there is another very important aspect to estate planning, and you should discuss it with your estate planning attorney: What will happen to your assets – and you – in the event that you are unable to care for yourself? What happens if you are incapacitated?

In many cases, people do not simply grow old and pass away in their sleep. Some of us will endure long, chronic illnesses, dementia, or other conditions that leave us unable to care for our basic needs or make important decisions. If you previously established a solid estate planning, you can rest assured that your assets and property will be divided as you intended upon your death. But have you addressed what happens in the event of you incapacity? If you don’t have this discussion now, you risk the courts making decisions for you in the even that you become unable to do so on your own.

If you act now, you have many estate planning options at your disposal, such as:

Select a General or Special Power of Attorney. This person can make decisions on your behalf, either in specific circumstances or in general. However, this privilege ends if you become incapacitated.

Select a Durable Power of Attorney. If you previously established a durable power of attorney prior to any incapacity, this authority will remain in effect even if you are unable to care for yourself or make decisions.

Select a Springing Power of Attorney. If you want to designate someone to act on your behalf, but only under specific circumstances or beginning on a particular date, you can establish a springing power of attorney. In other words, you can legally declare, “If I am incapacitated, I designate my daughter, Miranda, power of attorney over my affairs”.

Select a Limited Power of Attorney. When you establish power of attorney for someone, you have the ability to specify their exact rights and limitations. For example, you can designate someone to complete a real estate transaction, but have no other authority.

A power of attorney expires when you die, so this privilege will only allow someone to manage your affairs while you are living. Therefore, you should still consult with your estate planning attorney about post-death matters.

Keep in mind that giving someone power of attorney, even in a limited sense, grants them certain access and authority to your financial and business affairs. Make sure to choose someone you trust, and remember to investigate all terms of the agreement before you sign any legal documents.

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