Choosing the Right Fiduciary

Most people aren’t familiar with the terms professionals use in discussing who administers their estate and affairs and what those responsibilities are. The following are terms that are often used in estate planning:

Beneficiary: The beneficiary receives something of value from the estate. For that reason, choosing the beneficiary to administer the estate or trust may present a conflict of interest. Typically, this conflict of interest is not of primary concern. If you wish to put a check on the beneficiary/trustee/executor, you may wish to add someone to serve as co-trustee or co-executor.

Trustee: A trustee can be either an individual or a corporation who manages property or assets held in trust. Trustees must make decisions regarding investments and distributions, while fulfilling the terms of the trust. When choosing a trustee, it’s important to choose someone who is able to follow instructions. They should be willing to seek help and able to choose those who have the legal or financial expertise which they may not have.

Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs: Under this document, the “principal” can delegate to another person, called an “agent” or “attorney-in-fact,” the power to make decisions regarding assets, real estate, and other property titled in their own name, rather than the trust.

Medical Power of Attorney: Your “healthcare agent” will be making medical decisions for you when you are no longer able to do so. Choose someone you can talk openly and honestly with about your wishes beforehand and, most importantly, whom you trust to honor those wishes when the time comes.

Guardianship of Minor Children: A guardian makes decisions on behalf of an individual who is “legally incapacitated.” Someone who is not of legal age is a “minor” and is an example of someone who is legally incapacitated. While you can express whom you would like to act as guardian for a minor child, the ultimate decision lies in the hands of the court. The judge will make the determination guided by what is in the best interests of the child. Certainly, the judge will give your suggestion substantial weight.

With a little basic knowledge, most people are able to make informed decisions about who is best-suited to fill the various roles in their plan.


Value of An Estate Planning Attorney

What’s the true value of an estate planning attorney? I’ve been reading about the latest lawsuit against LegalZoom. This one is a class action filed in California by a woman who is the niece and executor of the estate of LegalZoom client Anthony J. Ferrantino. Mr. Ferrantino, in the last months of his life, used LegalZoom to draw up a will and a living trust. It turns out that the trust couldn’t be funded because Mr. Ferrantino’s financial institutions would not accept the LegalZoom documents.

Naturally, upon finding this out, Mr. Ferrantino and his niece, Katherine Webster, asked LegalZoom for help – to no avail. After Mr. Ferrantino passed away with his trust still unfunded, it turned out that his will was also invalid because it had not been properly executed. Ms. Webster’s lawsuit is based on LegalZoom’s alleged deceptive business practices and unlicensed practice of law.

So, the trust documents were flawed. Giving LegalZoom the benefit of the doubt, you could make the valid argument that even attorneys have been known to make mistakes in the drafting of estate planning documents. It’s less likely that a lawyer would let a will go out the door improperly executed. In my mind, though, these aren’t the real issues.

The problem is that when consumers use “services” like LegalZoom, they’re on their own. Even after fatal flaws were found in the trust documents, LegalZoom did nothing to remedy the situation. Would this have happened if someone had been unable to fund a trust that I had created? Nope.

The value that I as an estate planning attorneys offer to clients is not just the documents… although well-drafted and effective documents are intrinsically valuable. Instead, the value I offer is my role as knowledgeable and trusted counselors… my relationship with my clients. When clients come to me for an estate plan, I’m not just filling in the blanks on their behalf. I’m listening intently to their stories and their questions, and often reading between the lines, to help them discern their true needs. And I’m there for my clients as issues emerge and their needs evolve.

So, in the end, I’m not competing in the same market as LegalZoom and other companies of its ilk. I’m not providing a simple commodity – and my clients and prospective clients deserve to know this.

So, call me to discuss your estate planning.


Non-tax Reasons For Estate Planning

As an estate planning attorney, I know the many tax reasons to do estate planning. For example, doing annual exclusion gifts may reduce or eliminate state and federal estate taxes.

But, there are substantive reasons to plan, besides keeping the taxman at bay. It’s good to remember these reasons to need to plan, even if there are not concerns about taxes.

1.                 Incapacity.  This may be the most important reason to plan. Without planning, health care decisions may not default to the people you want. By doing a Health POA, or similar document, you can designate who will make decisions if you are unable to do so. Expressing your preference regarding end-of-life decisions typically is done in a separate document, which is also important. A Property POA would provide some incapacity planning for property, even in the absence of a trust.

2.                 Divvying Up Assets.  This is often the first thing that leaps to most people’s minds, so don’t leave this off our list of non-tax reasons. This is especially important if you are overriding the list of intestate heirs provided in the state legislation. For example, if a person wants to leave assets to their unmarried partner, friends, or a charity, this simply will not happen without an estate plan.

3.                 Avoiding Conflict.  A well-drafted estate plan can go a long way to prevent family discord, especially when the assets are being divvied up in a non-traditional manner.

4.                 Guardians.  A guardianship appointment is the proper place to nominate guardians to care for minors or incapacitated people (like parents or grandparents) close to them. While they may not care about taxes, they will likely want to protect those close to them.

5.                 Managers.  An estate plan is how you designate who is to control the assets left behind. This can be done with a continuing trust such as a testamentary trust. For example, they might leave assets in trust for a beneficiary until the beneficiary attains a certain age. Maybe they want their sister to manage the assets until the beneficiary reaches that age.

6.                 Probate.  In some states probate is a cumbersome process. It’s a very public process by its very nature. When people discover the disadvantages of the probate process, you will want to utilize a revocable trust during life to manage the assets. Many people know that an intervivos trust avoids probate at death. They may not know that a trust also assists with incapacity planning.

7.                 Coordination.  I always consider the coordination of the estate plan I draft for the client with beneficiary designations that have been or are suggested for certain assets. For example, if a client wants the assets to go 50% to A and 50% to B, simply stating that in the Trust is not sufficient. If beneficiary designations leave the assets in a different proportion or to someone else, those designations will control and the wishes expressed in the Trust will be thwarted. Most people are unaware of this fact.

While taxes are an important element of estate planning, especially for those subject to state or federal estate taxes, the most important reasons to plan are non-tax reasons.


Law Offices of Robert J. Mondo
P.O. Box 72668
Roselle, Illinois 60172
Fax: 630-894-8860
E-mail: [email protected]

Why Use a Special Needs Trust

To Preserve Governmental Benefits And Protect Assets…

A Supplemental Needs Trust (sometimes called a Special Needs Trust) is a specialized legal document designed to benefit an individual who has a disability. A Supplemental Needs Trust is most often a “stand alone” document, but it can form part of a Last Will and Testament. Supplemental Needs Trusts have been in use for many years, and were given an “official” legal status by the United States Congress in 1993.

A Supplemental Needs Trust enables a person under a physical or mental disability, or an individual with a chronic or acquired illness, to have, held in Trust for his or her benefit, an unlimited amount of assets.  In a properly-drafted Supplemental Needs Trust, those assets are not considered countable assets for purposes of qualification for certain governmental benefits.

 Such benefits may include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, vocational rehabilitation, subsidized housing, and other benefits based upon need. For purposes of a Supplemental Needs Trust, an individual is considered impoverished if his or her personal assets are less than $2,000.00.

A Supplemental Needs Trust provides for supplemental and extra care over and above that which the government provides.

Supplemental Needs Trusts had been used for years based upon case law. In 1993, Congress created an exception under the amendments to the Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act (OBRA-93) which specifically authorized the use of Supplemental Needs Trusts for the benefit of individuals who are under the age of 65 years and disabled according to Social Security standards. The Social Security Operations Manual authorizes the use of Supplemental Needs Trusts to hold non-countable assets.

Each Supplemental Needs Trust is its own “entity” with its own Federal Identification Number (Employer Identification Number) issued by the Internal Revenue Service. The Trust is not registered under either the Grantor’s or the Beneficiary’s Social Security Numbers.

According to Congress a Supplemental Needs Trust must be irrevocable. A properly-drafted Trust will include provisions for Trust termination or dissolution under certain circumstances, and will include explicit directions for amendment when necessary.


To Ensure That Your Disabled Family Member Has Every Opportunity For A Fulfilled And Happy Life . . .

According to the law, a Supplemental Needs Trust can be used for “supplemental and extra care over and above what the government provides.” A properly-drafted Supplemental Needs Trust will work on a “sliding scale”; that is, in the impossible event that the government provides for 100% of the disabled beneficiary’s needs the Trust will provide 0%. If there are no governmental benefits available, the Trust can provide 100%. Most people fall somewhere along the scale, and the Trust supplements governmental coverage. If a beneficiary falls into a Medicare “doughnut hole” for example, it becomes the Trust’s job to cover the shortfall.

Although there are Medicaid rules that say that the Trust cannot be used for housing or food, these rules have to be interpreted carefully. For example, there is no restriction on purchasing an accessible home or making accessibility adaptations to an existing home and having the Trust own or pay for them.  Likewise, although foodstuffs are not strictly allowable under the rules, social events such as dinner parties  are; likewise, vacations and entertainments are permitted.

It is important to remember that a Supplemental Needs Trust is a living legal document that is meant to not only maintain benefits eligibility, but also to bring enjoyment and new, positive experiences to the beneficiary.  


Supplemental  Needs Trusts Need Special Language…

At a bare minimum, the Trust should state that it is intended to provide “supplemental and extra care” over and above that which the government provides.

The Trust must state that it is not intended to be a basic support Trust. It should not contain an estate tax provision called a “Crummey Clause.”

A properly drafted Supplemental Needs Trust should reference the Social Security Operations Manual and the relevant portions from within the Manual that authorize the creation of the Trust. It must contain the required language regarding payback to Medicaid.

The Trust should also have language explaining the exception to the Omnibus Budget and Reconciliation Act (OBRA-93) provisions which authorize the creation of the Trust, and a copy of the relevant provisions from the United States Code (USC).

An FDIC Cheat Sheet

FDIC insurance is confusing, especially when it comes to entities. Clients often ask about it, especially since the financial crisis of 2008. Here’s a quick breakdown of the current rules affecting common types of deposit accounts:

The Basics: The FDIC insures deposit accounts at most – but not all – banks and savings associations. Account holders can call 1-877-ASK-FDIC if they’re not sure whether their financial institution is covered. FDIC insurance covers checking accounts, savings accounts, money market accounts, CD’s and NOW accounts. It does not cover investments such as mutual funds, annuities, stocks, bonds, and life insurance policies.

Coverage Amounts: The default rule is that a depositor can have up to $250,000 in fully insured funds on deposit at a single insured bank. Different branches of one financial institution are considered the same bank for FDIC purposes. However, a depositor may qualify for more than the default amount of FDIC coverage if he owns accounts in different ownership categories at the same bank.

Single Ownership: An account owned by one person with no co-owners and no beneficiaries is insured for up to $250,000. If the same person owns multiple accounts in the same manner at the same institution, the same $250,000 maximum applies.

Joint Ownership: An account with more than one owner and no beneficiaries is insured for up to $250,000 per owner.

Revocable Trusts: The FDIC recognizes two categories of revocable trust accounts. Informal trust accounts include payable on death (“POD”), in trust for, Totten trust, and testamentary trust accounts. Formal trust accounts are those established pursuant to living trust or family trust documents. Both categories of revocable trust accounts are subject to the same rules, and coverage depends not only on the number of account owners, but also on the number of trust beneficiaries.

For trust accounts with five or fewer beneficiaries, each owner’s share of the account is insured for up to $250,000 for each trust beneficiary – regardless of the beneficiary’s interest under the trust agreement.

For trust accounts with six or more beneficiaries, each owner’s share of the account is generally insured for the total of the beneficiaries’ actual interests in the trust account (not to exceed $250,000 per beneficiary) or $1.25 million, whichever is greater.

Irrevocable Trusts: For irrevocable trust funds, FDIC insurance is tied to the trust beneficiary rather than to the account owner. In general, the FDIC adds together a beneficiary’s shares of all the irrevocable trust funds on deposit by the same settlor at a single bank and insures the beneficiary’s portion of the deposited funds for up to $250,000. However, the exact extent of coverage depends heavily on the terms and conditions of the trust itself.

For a firsthand look at how deposit insurance rules work for different types of accounts, you can use the FDIC’s Electronic Deposit Insurance Estimator (EDIE) tool.

Call me with any questions,