Understanding Life Insurance

The current events of our world have made many of us think about our mortality and how to make sure our loved ones are taken care of especially if we die unexpectedly. Life insurance can be an affordable way to provide for our children, a spouse, a sibling, aging parents, and other loved ones. Life insurance can provide heirs numerous benefits: extra income to help pay ongoing household bills; funds to pay off a mortgage, credit cards and other debt; money to pay for college, or money to pay funeral costs and other final expenses. For business owners, life insurance also plays a vital role in business succession planning.

How Much Life Insurance Do I need?

A simple way to determine the amount of life insurance needed for income replacement purposes is to multiply the annual income to be replaced by the number of years it will be needed. If the insured is earning income, use the amount contributed to the household (after personal expenses and taxes). If the insured does not have income (perhaps a stay-at-home parent or caregiver), determine how much will be needed to pay someone to take over those responsibilities. For example, a dad who wants enough life insurance to replace his income for 20 years (until his children have completed college) would take the amount of annual income he wants to replace and multiply that by 20. He may want to add enough to pay for college and other expenses. The total amount is how much life insurance he needs. This is called the “face value” or “death benefit.”

Term Life Insurance VS. Permanent Life Insurance

Generally, there are two kinds of life insurance: term and permanent. Other “hybrid” life insurance policies can provide additional benefits, like long term care, however, this article will focus on general life insurance policies.

Term life insurance provides coverage for a set number of years or term. It can be a good choice when coverage is needed for a certain number of years; for example, until the kids are out of college or the mortgage is paid off. It is also less expensive than permanent life insurance and is least expensive when the insured is young and healthy. For these reasons, term life insurance is often a popular choice for young families.

Permanent life insurance, on the other hand, does not expire at the end of a specified term as long as the premiums are paid. Generally, the coverage stays in effect during the insured’s lifetime. The premium can either stay the same or fluctuate based upon the financial performance of the policy. Permanent policies also build cash value over time that can be borrowed from the policy can be used to help pay the premiums, or can be refunded if the policy is canceled. Any money borrowed will be charged against the proceeds paid at the insured’s death.

The amount a family pays for life insurance must be a reasonable and manageable expense. The cost will depend on the amount, kind (term vs. permanent), and the age and health of the person to be insured. If the cost to replace income for 20 or 30 years is too much for the family budget, one option is to cover five to seven years of expenses, which will give the family time to cope and adjust after the loss.

Incorporating life insurance into an estate plan can be vital to making sure family and loved ones are taken care of. We welcome the opportunity to help you with your planning, and to help you achieve peace of mind for you and your family contact our office by calling us at (405) 241-5994.

Considerations Before Heading South for the Winter

For many snowbirds, cooler weather means it is time to head south. If you are thinking about heading for warmer weather this winter, there are a few things you should consider before hitting the road.

What is happening in your destination state?

Because we are still in the midst of a pandemic, it would be prudent to do some research about your winter destination. How many COVID-19 cases has the state had? Are these numbers trending upward? Upon your arrival, will the local or state government require that you quarantine for a period of time? Lastly, are there any additional local orders that you should be aware of, such as a requirement that masks be worn indoors or restrictions on dining in restaurants?

Which state do you consider your home?

Your state of domicile impacts your estate planning, family law matters, and taxes. Due to differences in state tests for determining residency, you can be considered a resident of more than one state; however, you can only be domiciled in one state. Although state laws differ as to determining domiciliary status, the common elements are that your domicile is where you permanently live and where you intend to remain or return. 

Because you are spending time in two (or more) states, you should meet with your tax advisor to confirm that you are filing the appropriate tax returns and have a plan in place to maximize the potential differences in tax laws. For example, Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming do not have any personal income tax. You should also consider meeting with us to discuss the estate planning implications of owning properties in multiple states, especially if you own properties in both community and separate property states

Have you reviewed your estate plan lately?

Before you depart, locate and review your estate planning documents. Life changes are common and sometimes occur without warning. Having an up-to-date estate plan helps ensure that your wishes are carried out during your lifetime and upon your death. The following questions can help determine if your documents still meet your needs.

  • Do you still want your named fiduciaries (i.e., the trustee, personal representative, guardian for a minor child, and agents under a financial power of attorney or medical power of attorney) to act on your behalf, and are they still able to serve in that role?
  • Are your named beneficiaries still alive? Are there any additional individuals or charities you would like to leave something to? Do you want to make any adjustments to the amount of an inheritance or the manner in which you are leaving an inheritance to a beneficiary?
  • Do your beneficiary designations for retirement accounts and life insurance policies match the rest of your estate plan?
  • If you need to move for health reasons but cannot make the decision for yourself, does your agent have the authority to relocate you to another state?

Additionally, you may require assistance with financial matters or transactions while you are away. For this reason, you should review your financial power of attorney to determine if it is springing or immediate. A springing power of attorney allows your agent to act only when you are no longer able to act on your own (as determined by a physician or, in some instances, a judge). By contrast, an immediate power of attorney allows your chosen agent to act on your behalf right away, regardless of your current ability to act for yourself. 

While reviewing your existing estate plan, you should evaluate whether it includes all of the necessary documents. If you currently have a will-based estate plan, it may be time to add a revocable living trust to your estate planning portfolio. This is especially important if you own property in more than one state. Without a trust to consolidate ownership and administration, your loved ones may end up going through multiple probate administrations in different states. This can increase the time and cost of settling your affairs at your death. 

Are your estate planning documents compliant in both states?

Estate planning laws are state specific and for certain documents, such as the financial power of attorney and healthcare directive, each state may have its own statutory forms. While it is possible for one state to honor a document that was validly executed in another state, it will be faster for medical personnel to honor your wishes in an emergency if your instructions are in a familiar form. We suggest that you have an attorney licensed in your second state review your estate planning documents for compliance, and if necessary, prepare a second financial power of attorney and healthcare directive.

As you prepare for your upcoming travel, please do not hesitate to give us a call. We are here to answer any questions and to make sure you are properly protected no matter where you may roam. We are available to meet with you in person or via video conference. 

What a Personal Property Memorandum Can Do for Your Will or Trust

Avoid family feuds over heirlooms. Family members often end up arguing over mom or dad’s favorite items when that parent dies. Arguments can take place over things like a coffee mug, a piece of jewelry or a painting. These types of arguments can be eliminated by filling out a personal property memorandum and keeping it with your will or trust.

A personal property memorandum is designed to cover who should receive items owned that don’t have an official title record. Personal property includes furniture, jewelry, art, and other collections, as well as household items like china and silverware. Personal property memoranda may not include real estate or business interests, money and bank accounts, stocks or bonds, copyrights, and IOUs.

When writing your memorandum, it is best to keep things simple. Personal property memoranda generally resemble a list of items with the attached names of the inheritors. It can be handwritten or typed but should always be signed and dated.

All items should contain sufficient detail so that argument and confusion can be avoided. Complete contact information including address, phone, email, and a backup contact if possible should be included. Do not include items that you have already explicitly left in your will or trust.

The beauty of a separate list of personal items and their planned distribution is that if you later decide to change who receives what, you simply update your current list, or replace the list altogether. You can destroy an old record or maintain signature and dates on each of your personal property memoranda so that it is easy to identify your most current set of wishes.

A personal property memorandum for your tangible personal effects is a simple way to address how you want your personal property to be distributed. We would be happy to help you create a legal personal property memorandum along with any other estate planning documents you may need. Please do not hesitate to contact our office by calling us at (405) 241-5994.


The New Age of Long-Term Care Insurance

Nursing-home care can be extremely expensive if you become seriously ill or injured. You might also know that Medicare would cover only a minimal amount of those costs. Private insurance doesn’t seem like a good bet either, if you’ve heard horror stories about skyrocketing premium costs and difficulties in even obtaining long-term care (LTC) insurance in the first place.

There may be a better way. “Hybrid” policies essentially combine life insurance or an annuity with LTC coverage. (The benefits can be known as “accelerated death benefits” or “living benefits,” or the coverage can be called “life/long term care,” “linked benefits,” or a “combo” policy.)

This type of policy will pay if you need nursing care, but, if you never need that, then the policy functions like standard whole-life coverage. It’s a win-win. Say, for example, you buy a hybrid policy with a $100,000 death benefit. You eventually need $50,000 of that coverage to pay for LTC. Then, when you pass, your beneficiary would receive a $50,000 payout from what’s left of the original $100,000 coverage.

Some plans offer tax-free death benefits to your heirs if your LTC benefits are not fully used or needed. They may return your premiums if you change your mind down the road. Premiums can be locked in from the initial purchase date, with a guarantee that they will never increase. Those who already hold a legacy policy with a large cash value may be able to roll that value over, tax free, into a new hybrid policy.

For those who can afford to pay premiums in a lump sum in advance, LTC coverage could amount to as much as twice the face value of the policy. Compare that with simply setting money aside for LTC expenses at a rate of five percent interest. It could take as long as thirty years to save for what this policy offered on its face.

There is a wide range of coverage, depending on the policies. They may cover different services, delivered at-home, in a facility, or both. The monthly or daily benefits can vary. Some policies require an elimination period (a delay between the time a doctor qualifies you for coverage, and actual payment); some do not. Some provide inflation protection. Some provide adjustable rates, depending on how much the insured might need LTC as against the death benefit.

Always also remember that the carrier must have the long-term financial stability to pay claims, and to remain in business, for decades to come.

To sort through all these intricacies, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has issued a free and comprehensive Shopper’s Guide to LTC Insurance. It provides especially helpful shopping tips at pp. 31-36. Find the publication here https://www.naic.org/documents/prod_serv_consumer_ltc_lp.pdf

We can create a long-term care plan that incorporates a hybrid plan like this with an irrevocable trust that will protect all of your bank accounts and real property (like your home) in the event you need long term care. If you are interested in protecting your savings and your home, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss a plan that works for you. Please do not hesitate to contact our office by calling us at (405) 241-5994.

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