The holiday season is a time to give thanks, and to think about giving back and giving to others. We would like to thank all of the people that have made 2014 another successful year for Huck Bouma, PC, a year in which we were able to serve many of you.

In this article, we present twelve (12) gifts to you, in the form of short, simple articles that provide suggestions that you can use to enhance or improve your life. There’s something here for everyone. Some of these suggestions may require additional planning, but others are practical ideas that you and your family can implement on your own.

Shop ’til You Drop (securely)
Charity Begins at Home
Peace, Harmony and the Personal Property Memorandum
There’s No Place Like Home (for the Holidays)
S-T-R-E-T-C-H and Protect (your IRA for your beneficiaries)
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
End of Life – and End of Life?? Having “THE Talk”
Privacy (keeping your affairs out of the public eye and out of the courts)
Olaf Loves Summer – Someone Has to Tell Him!
Make Your List, Check It Twice!
Put Your Mask on First, then Help Others: A New Year’s Resolution
Your Child at College: Out of Sight, Out of Mind (whether we like it or not)

At this time of year, the two words, thanks and giving come to mind, not just because of the holiday incorporating those words, but also the holidays that follow, notably Christmas and Hanukkah. The presentation of gifts is a part of that season for many of us.

In this article, we present twelve (12) gifts to you, in the form of short, simple articles that provide suggestions that you can use to enhance or improve your life. There’s something here for everyone.

Some may require additional planning, but others are practical suggestions that you and your family can implement on your own.

Shop ’til You Drop (Securely)
Whether be it on Cyber Monday or simply the perfect online find, many Americans will find themselves shopping virtually this year. The ease online shopping brings as well as the wider reach of retailers available in the internet space entices many of us to shop solely online or to use the technology to find that one special gift. Be sure to shop securely and safely by following some of the tips below.

Some of the top tips for shopping online include:

  • Clean, Mean Shopping Machine: Be sure that your shopping device, such as a smartphone or tablet, has up to date security software.
  • Be Savvy about Wi-Fi Hotspots: Don’t share personal or financial information over an unsecured network, or a connection that doesn’t require a password for access.
  • To Legit or Quit: Be sure the website you are accessing is a legitimate website or leave immediately before providing any information. This includes a closed padlock on your web browser’s address bar or a URL address that begins with shttp or https. Be wary of links in email, posts and online advertising. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it’s best to delete or if appropriate, mark as junk email.
  • Think First, Act Last: Deals that sound too good to be true, are. They often want you to act fast – including those about a problem with an order or payment or ask you to view the website via a provided link. Don’t rush to click without verifying what you are clicking on.

See more tips at: https://staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online/resources/top-tips-for-safe-online-holiday-shopping/#sthash.YWACDX1T.dpuf.

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Charity Begins at Home
Thanks and giving mark this holiday season, and gifts to charity are usually motivated by both. There are, however, non-charitable consequences to making such gifts. Charitable gifts can be made outright, directly to a charity, or they can be made in trust. There are also indirect charitable gifts, such as those to a charitable or family foundation or to a Community Foundation. All such lifetime gifts will entitle the donor to an income tax deduction. Charitable gifts in trust must qualify under IRS rules and generally provide a stream of income to the donor (the person making the gift) during his or her life, with the remainder at the donor’s death being paid to charity. Understandably, these trusts are called Charitable Trusts.

So, you could say that charity begins at home, because a properly structured lifetime charitable gift benefits not only the charity, but also the donor.

If you are interested in making gifts to charities, we suggest that you consult your estate planning professional. Huck Bouma has attorneys experienced in counseling clients regarding lifetime gifts and their gift, estate and income tax consequences.

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Peace, Harmony and the Personal Property Memorandum
The most important gift that a parent can leave to his or her children is the gift of peace and harmony – providing an atmosphere that leaves no doubt about the parents’ intentions and no room for argument or disagreement. When an estate is divided equally among children, there is little opportunity for conflict.

The division of tangible personal property, however, is an area ripe for disagreement. Because each article of personal property is unique, leaving the allocation of personal items to chance is asking for trouble.

Most parents feel that their children “get along,” and that they would never disagree, argue, or fight over something as trivial as an article of personal property. “My children would never do that.” They fail to realize that parents are the glue that hold a family together, and when the parents are gone, other influences control. If it’s not the children themselves, it may be their spouses, or their children. But it is naïve to think that children, no matter their age, will not argue over what may seem to be trivial issues.

Why provide fertile ground for such disagreements? Why not provide certainty in the way that all manner of things are distributed among your children? Make lifetime gifts of articles of personal property that you will no longer use or, as an alternative, use a Personal Property Memorandum to indicate who is to receive which item of personal property at your death.

Once allocated, your children can “swap” items if they are unhappy with your allocation. But at least they won’t be “fighting over” those items.

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There’s No Place Like Home (for the Holidays)
The Holidays mean home in a different way to each of us. For many of us these days, part of the Holidays involves a trek across the state or country to reach “home.” For others, it may be simply a trip to the ‘ole neighborhood conjuring up memories of days past as you drive past the high school or roller rink hang out.

The Holidays may not seem like the opportune time to visit your Estate Planning attorney, but, perhaps, this is the best time to bring everyone together while they are “home” for a Family Meeting. The Family Meeting is conducted with those important to you, including the individuals who you have designated to carry out your plan during a period of incapacity and upon your passing.

The Family Meeting is the catalyst for the family to discuss the issues unique to your family as well as the legal tools you have put in place to address these issues. This is also an opportunity for those individuals to get a better understanding of what you are asking them to do and for you to provide them with some additional guidance; from your health care wishes to who gets the family heirlooms. This meeting further empowers the family to be in control of your property and financial affairs. Not the government, not the lawyers, but YOU and YOUR FAMILY.

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S-T-R-E-T-C-H and Protect (your IRA for your beneficiaries)
For many of us, our retirement savings constitute a substantial part, if not the bulk of, our estate. Coordination of retirement plan (IRA, 401(k), etc.) beneficiary designations with an overall estate plan has always been important. It is also one of the most difficult aspects of an estate plan for most people to understand because of the often arcane rules that the IRS imposes on distributions from those plans.

That chore has just been made even more difficult by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled earlier this year in Clark vs. Rameker that inherited IRAs are not “retirement funds.” In effect, the Supreme Court said that, once a beneficiary receives your retirement funds, those funds are not offered the same protection as retirement plans and therefore not protected in bankruptcy nor immune from the claims of creditors.

Proper designation of beneficiaries is critical for favorable income tax treatment and to preserve the ability of beneficiaries to “stretch” distributions from retirement plans. But those income tax benefits will become meaningless if inherited IRAs are lost to creditors through lawsuits or bankruptcy.

If you have a substantial IRA, 401(k) plan, or other retirement account, you should review your beneficiary designation and supporting estate planning documentation with a view to protecting those retirement accounts after your death. You may want to consider a Stand Alone Retirement Trust to safeguard distribution to your beneficiaries, while at the same time protecting their ability to “stretch” those distributions and preserve important income tax deferral.

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The Gift That Keeps on Giving
If you want to make a gift to an individual, such as a child or grandchild, you first have to decide its purpose. Then ask yourself, “Will the person use the gift for that purpose?” If so, you can consider an outright gift. An outright gift is unrestricted, and the donee can use it for whatever purpose he or she deems appropriate. Often, the purpose you had in mind isn’t how the gift is ultimately used.

For that reason, in most situations, a gift in trust makes more sense. The trust can either be revocable or irrevocable. For gifts in trust, the donor can set the rules for how the gift is used by the donee. Therefore, the “purpose” intended by the donor is certain to be achieved. Gifts to minors, likewise, should almost always be made in trust, although there are other vehicles available for gifts to minors (section 529 educational funds, UTMA and UGMA accounts, and others), although the donor in such situations loses control over the manner in which the gift is used.

A gift to a trust for the benefit of another family member keeps on giving because the beneficiary “gets” the gift when it is originally contributed to the trust, and he or she “gets” it again every time a distribution is made from the trust to the beneficiary. It is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

If properly structured, the amount of the gift is removed from the donor’s taxable estate, and a portion of it may qualify for the annual gift tax exclusion. Annual exclusion gifts do not require the filing of a gift tax return; gifts in excess of the annual exclusion require the filing of a federal gift tax return on or before April 15 of the year following the year in which the gift is made. Even though a gift tax return is required to be filed, no gift tax is actually due. The amount of the gift in excess of the annual exclusion simply reduces the lifetime exclusion amount available to the donor at the time of his death. For most of us, therefore, gifts in excess of the annual exclusion have no adverse gift or estate tax consequences.

The gift, therefore, keeps on giving to the donor, as well as the beneficiary. It’s a win-win for all concerned.

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End of Life – and End of Life?? Having “THE TALK”
The Holidays bring with them many joys, stresses and opportunities. The joy of celebrating with those who mean the most to us, the stress of cooking the perfect meal and the opportunity to make new memories and rehash the time Aunt Kathy played a classic prank on an unsuspecting Father Joseph (or whatever your favorite family memory is)!

But, really, the Holidays are a time of giving –giving thanks for the many blessings we have in our lives and the people we hold dear in hearts. It is a time when we spend hours picking out the perfect gift for others. This is not a selfish time of year.

One thing you may not want to do over this Holiday season is to have “THE talk.” Not the talk that first comes to mind if you are a parent, but the difficult talk you must have with your loved ones regarding your end of life wishes. We all know how important this talk is and the various reasons why we postpone the topic of our death, particularly during such a joyous time of year. However, most of us do not associate being selfish with not having “THE talk,” but designating an agent to make the health care decision you would otherwise make for yourself without having such a talk is just that. Putting your agent in a position where he or she is left to question such an important decision made on your behalf is an avoidable weight no individual should have to shoulder.

So this Holiday season, no matter your age, take the time to have “THE talk” despite how difficult it is as a special gift to not just your family, but to yourself as well. This may be the most important talk of your life.

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Privacy (keeping your affairs out of the public eye and out of the courts)
In today’s world, when virtually everything is in the public domain, it is more important than ever to keep certain things private. Because our court system is an open system, available to the general public, nothing that occurs in court can be counted upon to remain private. Guardianships for a disabled child or adult is a public proceeding; likewise, the judicial administration of a decedent’s estate, commonly known as probate, is open to the general public. We suggest that you give yourself the gift of privacy this holiday season.

Failing to plan appropriately, for both incapacity and death, opens your estate to the prying eyes of anyone who wants to peer inside. Whether your affairs remain private is totally within your control.

A big step toward avoiding Guardianship is to have a Living Trust-based estate plan. A Living Trust that is properly funded provides for the management and administration of your assets during a period of incapacity. No court order will be required in order to appoint and authorize a third-party to manage those assets. Combined with a Durable Power of Attorney for Property, you can “privatize” your financial affairs in the event that you suffer an event of incapacity. This is one of the most overlooked benefits of a Living Trust.

That same benefit extends to the management of your assets after your death. If you fail to plan, or if you do your planning with a Will, probate will be required (if your estate, at the time of your death, exceeds $100,000 in total value). On the other hand, if you use a Living Trust as the cornerstone of your estate plan, and if that trust is fully funded at the time of your death, there should be no need of a probate proceeding. Instead, your estate will be administered outside the judicial system and remain private.

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Olaf Loves Summer – Someone Has to Tell Him!
Disney’s hottest new flick, pun intended, is the blockbuster hit Frozen. If you have a child under the age of ten, you have no doubt seen this film at least a dozen times by now. Even if you have not yet seen the film, in typically Disney fashion, you likely can still belt out Idina Menzel’s ballad, “Let It Go,” and you’ve seen the goofy snowman, Olaf, plastered on every Target and Toys R Us ad.

Olaf sings a song with lyrics playing on innocence as to what the warm sun does to a snowman. In one of the lines Olaf sings, “Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle, But put me in summer and I’ll be a…” as he stands looking into a puddle. Kristoff then looks at Princess Anna and says, “Someone’s got to tell him.”

This is the scene that plays in my mind each time a family member asks me, “How do I tell Mom she can no longer drive?” or “How do I convince my Dad he needs a caregiver?” These conversations become more frequent after the Holidays as longer periods of time spent with aging loved ones brings these issues to light. These issues are very emotional and bringing in a professional can diffuse the emotion and provide some practical recommendations and options. There are various professionals who can assist with some of these difficult decisions, including an Elder Law attorney, Geriatric Care Manager or Geriatrician.

If you find yourself needing assistance on how to address the increasing care needs of a family member after your holiday visits, contact one of our Elder Law attorneys. We can help guide you regarding the options available and those tough conversations with your loved one.

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Make Your List, Check It Twice!
For many people, making an initial appointment with an attorney and executing estate planning documents brings with it a sigh of relief. A relief that this task is finally completed and checked off your growing “To-Do” list. Unfortunately, an estate plan is not a “do it and put it on the shelf” deal.

An estate plan must be reviewed regularly in order to ensure its effectiveness. Depending upon the plan and its components, a plan may require an annual review; at a minimum, however, a plan should be reviewed every three to five years. For some, financial interests drive the need for an estate plan review. Estate taxes and planning to minimize those taxes is a traditional concern; that issue should be reviewed along with developments in tax laws affecting your plan. Income taxes are rising, and are a growing concern for estate planners; that issue must be analyzed as a part of every estate plan, regardless of the size of the estate.

For others, the driving force behind estate planning is to ensure the well-being of beneficiaries, whether that is for creditor protection or for those loved ones facing a disability. For plans incorporating Special Needs planning for a disabled beneficiary, the letter of intent, directing those responsible for the well-being of that family member, must also be updated and fine-tuned. A letter of intent is a direction to the next generation caregivers on the needs of the disabled beneficiary and your wishes for that individual.

Regular reviews of plans not only ensure that the plan will work as expected when called on but also provides you with peace of mind that your plan is current, addresses all the issues unique to you and your family and meets your objectives as they change over time.

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Put Your Mask on First, then Help Others: A New Year’s Resolution
As anyone caring for a disabled loved one can verify, caregiving is a selfless, stressful labor of true love. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unpaid caregivers provide an estimated 90% of the long-term care provided to Americans and the majority of those unpaid are family members of the disabled individual. Additionally, they report that 67% of caregivers do not go to the doctor because they put their family’s needs first and 57% said they put the care recipient’s needs over their own.[1]

We can all pretty much do the Southwest pre-flight ritual in our sleep, ok, ok, so maybe not Southwest where they sing and dance it, but all the other airlines anyways. During the emergency preparedness the steward will tell us to put your oxygen mask on before helping a child or the individual next to you. The same principal must be true for caregivers. It is essential that a caregiver take care of him or herself before the individual they are caring for. All too often, a caregiver client comes in to the office and it is obvious they are overwhelmed, stressed out and becoming ill themselves. While researchers have long known that caregiving can have negative mental health effects for caregivers, research shows that caregiving can have serious physical health consequences as well, 17% of caregivers feel their health in general has gotten worse as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.[2]

If you are a caregiver, here are some tips to maintain good health both physically and mentally[3]:

  • Acknowledge your priorities and actively build your life around them.
  • Get Help by attending a support group where you can share your concerns and feelings or seeking out a counselor or therapist for more extensive mental health support.
  • Take care of yourself by regularly feeding your body nutritious foods, obtaining sufficient rest and exercising routinely.
  • Use relaxation techniques, including:
    • Visualization (mentally picturing a place or situation that is peaceful and calm)
    • Meditation (which can be as simple as dedicating 15 minutes a day to letting go of all stressful thoughts)
    • Breathing exercises (slowing your breathing and focusing on taking deep breaths)
    • Progressive muscle relaxation (tightening and then relaxing each muscle group, starting at one end of your body and working your way to the other end)
    • Meditation (which can be as simple as dedicating 15 minutes a day to letting go of all stressful thoughts)
    • Breathing exercises (slowing your breathing and focusing on taking deep breaths)
    • Progressive muscle relaxation (tightening and then relaxing each muscle group, starting at one end of your body and working your way to the other end).

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Your Child at College: Out of Sight, Out of Mind (whether we like it or not)
The day that a son or daughter leaves for college is a bittersweet one for most parents. Your baby is leaving the nest, cutting the cord. From the child’s standpoint: “Free at last; I’m free at last.” The parent is no longer burdened with sitting up late at night, unable to sleep, waiting for the child to come home, hoping the child is safe. The child is no longer burdened with having to answer to his parents for where he or she went, what he or she did, and who he or she was with.

Out of sight, out of mind. Until something happens. You come to find out that there has been an accident, or that your child is ill; you call the school health center to get an update. That’s when you learn that, although you may be paying the bills for your child to attend school, you have no right to be advised of his or her healthcare situation or anything else about his or her health information. It’s an uncomfortable and frustrating turn of events.

And it is completely avoidable. Every college-bound child should have a HIPAA Authorization, naming his or her parents as agents. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) contains a privacy provision that prevents access to health care information by anyone other than as authorized. If your child signs a HIPAA Authorization naming you as agent, no healthcare provider can deny you the right to access his or her health care information.

Give your college-bound son or daughter (and yourself) the gift of a HIPAA Authorization. It will provide both student and parents with the peace of mind that comes with being prepared.

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[2] AARP Public Policy Institute, Valuing the Invaluable: 2008 Update. The Economic Value of Family Caregiving