Anacapa Estate Planning & Elder Law is a boutique Estate Planning, Elder Law and Medi-Cal Planning firm serving the Central Coast.  We help families, just like yours, plan wisely and make sound decisions at all stages of life. While we offer all the services of a traditional estate planning firm, we focus on the increasingly important and complex area of Elder Law. We assist clients with Long-Term Care and Disability Planning, qualifying for Medi-Cal Benefits, avoiding Medi-Cal Recovery, Asset Protection, Veterans Aid & Attendance Benefits, and many other legal issues associated with growing older.

Our law firm serves clients in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties.  We also understand that for some, even a short trip to a lawyer’s office can become extremely difficult. For that reason, we set up video conferencing, go to our clients’ homes, or even to the hospital if we are invited, to take away that inconvenience.

Is your Estate Plan right for you and your family?

How we can help

Estate Planning

Extended Family Group In ParkWhile nobody wants to think about death or disability, establishing an estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Proper estate planning not only puts you in charge of your finances, it can also spare your loved ones of the expense, delay and frustration associated with managing your affairs when you pass away or become disabled.

Providing for Incapacity

If you become incapacitated, you won’t be able to manage your own financial affairs. Many are under the mistaken impression that one’s spouse or adult children can automatically take over for them if they become incapacitated. The truth is that in order for others to be able to manage your finances, they must petition a court to declare you legally incompetent. This process can be lengthy, costly and stressful. Even if the court appoints the person you would have chosen, the individual may have to come back to the court every year and show how he or she is spending and investing each and every penny.

If you want your family to be able to immediately take over for you, it’s essential that you work with an attorney to create the proper legal documents to designate a person, or persons, that you trust so they will have the authority to withdraw money from your accounts, pay bills, take distributions from your IRAs, sell stocks, and refinance your home. Many people mistakenly think that a simple will can effectively protect you in the event that you become incapacitated, but the truth is that a will does not take effect until you die.

In addition to planning for the financial aspect of your affairs during incapacity, it’s critical that you establish a plan for your medical care. The law allows you to appoint someone you trust – for example, a family member or close friend to make decisions on your behalf about medical treatment options if you lose the ability to decide for yourself. You can do this by using a durable power of attorney for health care where you designate the person to make such decisions on your behalf. In addition to a power of attorney for health care, you should also have a living will which informs others of your preferred medical treatments such as the use of extraordinary measures should you become permanently unconscious or terminally ill.

Providing for Minor Children 

It is important that your estate plan address issues regarding the upbringing of your children. If your children are young, you may want to consider implementing a plan that will allow your surviving spouse to devote more attention to your children, without the burden of work obligations. You may also want to provide for special counseling and resources for your spouse, if you believe they lack the experience or ability to handle financial and legal matters. You should also discuss with your attorney the possibility of both you and your spouse dying simultaneously, or within a short duration of time. A contingency plan should include a list of persons you’d like to manage your assets and name a guardian you’d like to nominate to raise your children in your absence. The person, or trustee, in charge of the finances need not be the same person as the guardian. In fact, in many situations, you may want to purposely designate different persons to maintain a system of checks and balances.

You should give careful thought to your choice of guardian, ensuring that he or she shares the values you want instilled in your children. You will also want to give consideration to the age and financial condition of a potential guardian. Some guardians may lack child-rearing skills you feel are necessary. If you fail to plan, the decision as to who will manage your finances and raise your children will be left to a court of law.

Another issue to consider during the planning process is whether you’d like your beneficiaries to receive your assets directly, or to have the assets placed in trust and distributed subject to conditions and circumstances such as age, need and even incentives based on behavior and education. All too often, children receive substantial assets before they are mature enough to handle them in a prudent manner.

Planning for Death Taxes 

The IRS will want to review your estate at death to ensure you don’t owe them that one final tax: the federal estate tax. Whether there will be any tax owed depends on the size of your estate and how your estate plan is structured. Many states have their own separate estate and inheritance taxes that you need to be aware of. There are many effective strategies that can be implemented to reduce or eliminate death taxes, but you must start the planning process early in order to properly implement many of these strategies.

Charitable Bequests – Planned Giving 

Do you want to benefit a charitable organization or cause?  Your estate plan can provide support for such organizations in a variety of ways, either during your lifetime or at your death. Depending on how your planned giving is set up, it may also allow you to receive a stream of income for life, earn higher investment yield, or reduce your capital gains or estate taxes.

A well-crafted estate plan should provide for your loved ones in an effective and efficient manner by avoiding guardianship during your lifetime, probate at death, estate taxes and unnecessary delays. You should consult a qualified estate planning attorney to review your family and financial situation, your goals and explain the various options available to you.  Once your estate plan is in place, you will have peace of mind knowing that you have provided for yourself and your family.

Elder Law

Focusing on the needs of families and individuals as they age is and important aspect of Long-Term Care Planning. If you are thinking about Medi-Cal as an option, you should speak to qualified attorney as soon as possible.

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Elder Law is a term that includes Long-Term Care Planning, Conservatorships, Medi-Cal Planning, Veterans Benefits, and Essential Estate Planning. While the primary focus of Estate Planning centers on the question: ‘what happens when I die?’ Elder Law focuses on ‘what happens when/if I don’t die and need long term care?’ The goal in Elder Law is to ensure that you and your loved ones are adequately prepared to deal with the medical, financial and legal challenges you will face as you grow older. Specifically, we can help you put a plan in place to ensure that you have the maximum protection for, and flexibility in, dealing with your assets, should you become incapacitated or require an extended assisted living facility or nursing home stay. We also help you plan for the smooth, orderly transition of your affairs to your loved ones after you’re gone.

Why is preparing for the high cost of long-term care so very important? Consider the following statistics:

Almost one in two women and one in four men find themselves in nursing homes at some point in their lives. Skilled nursing home care in California averages around $90,000 a year, and in some cases, considerably more. Worse, the cost of long-term care is expected to rise dramatically in the future. Approximately two out of every three families run out of money within a single year upon entering a nursing home.

With a properly designed and implemented plan designed by an attorney who focuses on elder law, you can protect your life savings against the skyrocketing cost of long-term care. And, enjoy the peace of mind that comes from having an effective plan in place for whatever the future holds.

Medi-Cal Planning

Medi-Cal Planning for Long Term Care:

The high cost of long-term care has made planning a critically important issue for most middle class seniors and their families. In fact, most seniors will likely require some form of long-term care. Sadly, many of them are unprepared for the significant financial burdens it places on their family’s hard-earned savings. Financial devastation becomes an unwelcome reality for a family facing ongoing care at a rate of $10,000 or more per month.

We work with individuals, and their caregivers, to guide them through the challenging financial and legal decisions which occur as they grow older and require ongoing care. While there are significant federal and state benefit programs which were designed to assist the elderly, far too many people fail to understand how these programs function and what is required for eligibility. We work closely with our clients to ensure they have an understanding of the many legal options to protect assets and qualify for benefits that will help pay for long-term care.

Long-term Care Insurance 

While some seniors are able to afford private care, the cost of long-term care can easily wipe out savings of all but the wealthiest families in a matter of years. Those who have planned ahead by purchasing long-term care insurance have a degree of certainty and peace of mind, knowing that they have a lesser need to rely on other sources in the future. Unfortunately, many can’t afford the high cost of long-term care insurance or worse, because of age or medical conditions, cannot qualify for long term care insurance. If you do have long-term care insurance, you should be aware of what your policy covers. Many policies have high deductibles or a waiting period before it will provide a period of care in a medical facility. In fact, many who have long-term care insurance still have to resort to Medi-Cal to pay for their care.

Medi-Cal Eligibility

The other option to pay for care is Medi-Cal. A joint federal-state program, Medi-Cal provides medical assistance to certain individuals, including those who are 65 or older, disabled or blind. MediCal (known as Medicaid outside the State of California) is the single largest payer of nursing home bills in America and serves as the option of last resort for people who have no other way to finance their long-term care. Although Medi-Cal eligibility rules vary from state to state, federal minimum standards and guidelines must be observed.

While Medi-Cal eligibility with respect to long-term care was not overly restrictive in the past, there has been a steady drift towards more complex and limiting rules, the latest being the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 which went into effect in 2006. While California has not implemented all of its requirements, these changes have resulted in complex eligibility requirements for those in need of Medi-Cal benefits. It’s no longer as easy as reviewing one’s bank statements. There are a myriad of regulations involving look-back periods, income caps, transfer penalties and waiting periods to plan around.

Pre-Medi-Cal Planning 

Far too often, seniors wait until they fall ill and require care to seek the assistance of an attorney. Unfortunately, in waiting for a crisis, seniors and their caregivers often encounter more hurdles for qualification and high levels of stress during an already difficult time. We assist clients with pre-Medi-Cal planning, developing a long-term plan which seeks to protect assets through traditional estate planning functions (asset protection tools such as trusts, life estates and annuities) while coordinating private insurance, veterans benefits and other resources which may be available to pay for future care, without draining all of the family’s assets.

Helping You Qualify for Medi-Cal 

Even if you haven’t taken time to plan for Medi-Cal eligibility, there are a number of tools at your disposal to obtain eligibility. We assist clients who are just starting the process and need to qualify immediately. In these situations, we work directly with seniors, caregivers, social workers, care facilities and healthcare providers to identify the best environment for your ongoing care. We work with you to complete the Medi-Cal application and when necessary, “spend down to qualify” in a meaningful way which won’t waste your hard earned assets but instead benefit your loved ones for years to come.

We can help you avoid the financial ruin associated with the high cost of long-term care. Contact us today to learn more about the issues surrounding Medi-Cal eligibility and to begin the planning and application process.

Veterans Benefits Planning for Long-Term Care

Veteran’s Benefits Planning for Long Term Care

Unfortunately, too many veterans believe that government benefits are only available if they were wounded in combat or if their disability is related to their service. That’s simply not true.

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If you have honorably served our country, your country recognizes that. You deserve to receive the benefits the Veterans Administration has set aside exclusively for those veterans who are (i) over 65 years of age, and (ii) homebound, or in need of assisted/supportive living or a nursing home.

Veterans and their spouses may be eligible for special monthly pensions, if they can prove that their medical expenses are more than a certain level of income and assets. For many veterans and their spouses who are just getting by on Social Security and withdrawing as little as possible from their retirement money, the significant monthly stipend from the VA can make a major difference in their quality of life.

Many veterans wonder just how much money they can receive if they qualify for the Aid and Attendance Pension Program. While every family situation is unique, an eligible veteran can receive over $23,000 a year for assistance with medical expenses and long-term care. An eligible veteran’s widowed spouse can potentially receive over $12,500 per year. Another important aspect of the Aid and Attendance benefit is that it can allow an eligible veteran or widowed spouse to pay anyone, including his or her child, for home care. It can also be used to pay for professional care in the home, assisted living, nursing home care, insurance premiums, prescription drugs, and co-pays.

The Aid and Attendance Pension Program can help an eligible veteran or widowed spouse live at home for as long as possible while still receiving the care he or she needs and protecting hard-earned assets. In addition, depending on your specific circumstances, our planning can help you double or triple the time you can afford to live in an assisted living facility, while at the same time preserving Med-Cal eligibility if a future nursing home stay is needed.

The truth is that this is a tricky area of law. To receive the Veterans Administration’s Aid and Attendance benefits, you have to meet certain income and asset restrictions. Unlike Medi-Cal, asset transfers do not count against you in assessing whether you meet the requirements. However, most seniors requiring assisted living benefits will require a nursing home stay in the future. The asset transfer that was permissible for the VA Aid and Attendance benefits may count against you when assessing your eligibility for Medi-Cal benefits.

You deserve to have someone who focuses on these issues every day to assist you in evaluating your situation and helping you maximize your assets and income for the longest period of time.

Special Needs Planning

Some loved ones require more attention and care because they are particularly vulnerable. Whether it’s because of a physical or mental disability, you knew from the day they came into your life that you needed to provide for them while you are alive — and well after you leave them. Your child is special. That means, as you are all too aware, that the planning and protection of your child needs to be special.

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We understand you’re facing medical, financial, social, and legal issues. We can help you to ensure that your child receives the best possible care for the rest of his or her life. And help you experience greater peace of mind in the process.

Special Needs Trusts

There are a wide range of special needs trusts, each of which is designed to accomplish a specific goal or address a particular family situation. In general, special needs trusts seek to maintain eligibility for means tested government assistance programs such as Medi-Cal and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) while providing supplemental services not provided by Medi-Cal and SSI. These services can dramatically improve the quality of life for your special needs child. With a properly designed, implemented and funded special needs trust, additional items may be provided for your without jeopardizing public benefits such as supplemental education and tutoring, specially-equipped van, motorized wheelchair, vacations, entertainment, computers, special dietary needs and/or a personal care attendant.

Together we can look at your child’s needs, your family’s financial situation, what benefits are available, and what legal strategies will help today — and tomorrow. We will also review your plan periodically to take into account any changes in your financial, family or medical situation.

Estate Planning for Parents of Young Children

As parents, we know full well that kids DO NOT come with a an Instruction Manual. It’s mostly on-the-job training. An often-neglected area is planning for the “what ifs,” especially the ones that we don’t even like to think about. Like, “What would happen to your kids if you went out to a movie, leaving them with a high-school babysitter, and did not come home because you were in a serious accident?” More than 70% of parents never implement a plan for that “what if” even though if it happened the lack of a plan would have enormous, perhaps tragic consequences for their kids.

And here’s some eye-opening information: Having a Will does not protect your kids if the unthinkable happens to you….

Kids Protection Plan

For parents of minor children, we’ve put together a special package of estate planning services, that helps them address their most important questions. We help them plan for who would help take care of their kids in the short term, the long-term, and how the money that they’ve left behind could be used to benefit their children the most. We make sure that their children’s inheritance is not subject to a later divorce, or some other catastrophe.

You’ve likely taken the step to put in place life insurance to cover the cost of raising your children if you died suddenly. That’s only half the work. You need to put a comprehensive estate plan in place to make sure that you don’t do more harm than good by just leaving a pile of cash behind if you were gone.

Probate and Trust Administration

iStock_000012684639_FullWhen a loved one passes away with just a will, or no estate plan at all, their families have to put the estate through a process called “probate. Probate is the court-managed proceeding where assets are retitled and distributed according to the will or the law of intestacy (when you pass away without a will). While most of our clients set up their estate via a living trust, which avoids this process entirely, the majority of estates will have to go through probate.

Unfortunately, it is a common misunderstanding that living trusts magically avoid all administrative expenses and chores. For instance, a joint trust of a married couple may provide for the division of the living trust into separate trusts following the death of one spouse. Thus, it often comes as a surprise to the surviving spouse, and the family, that that this division does not happen “automatically” and that the help of an attorney, CPA may be required, along with attendant legal and accounting fees.

We are often asked to help families go through this process and we meet a lot of new clients for the first time helping them with the estate of recently deceased family members. (Most of those families choose to do comprehensive planning with our law firm after having gone through the process once with a loved one.)

If there is a Will it must be lodged with court regardless of the existence of a living trust. After that, all of the heirs need to be formally noticed (in writing), where they will have the opportunity to review the trust and/or Will (if there will be a probate) and make any appropriate challenges or contests.

As you can imagine, accomplishing all of this takes an enormous amount of time and can be extremely frustrating. When you factor in the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one, the process can seem overwhelming.

As your trusted advisor, we can help you navigate the process and settle the estate as quickly and economically as possible. We will lift the burden off your shoulders, so you can focus on what is most important—coming to terms with your loss and preparing to move on with your life.

If a loved one has recently passed away and you would like a confidential consultation to discuss the next steps, please call our office to schedule a meeting.

Making Estate Administration Easier

One of the hardest things to do is deal with the estate of a loved one who has passed away. If that loved one hasn’t put proper planning in place, it can be doubly hard. In the midst of dealing with the grief that comes from losing a loved one, you may also have to deal with the mess that they’ve left behind by failing to put proper planning in place.

One of the most important gifts that you can give the people that you leave behind is in an estate as well organized, efficiently managed, and where you have an existing relationship with a trusted advisor who can help after you are gone.

Our planning focuses on becoming lifetime legal counselors for our clients and their families. One of the richest benefits that comes from joining our client family is the knowledge, and peace of mind, that someone who knows you and cares about your family is there to guide your loved ones after you’re gone