The New Year is a Great Time to Assess Your Estate Plan!

The New Year is a Great Time to Assess Your Estate Plan!

Many of us procrastinate about this task, sometimes until the very end of life. It is actually one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and our loved ones and should be given ongoing periodic attention.

Everyone over 18 should at least have a plan that helps protect them and their loved ones in the event that they become unable to make informed decisions regarding their property or care due to debilitating injury or illness. This plan should include at the very least Durable Powers of Attorney for Financial Affairs and Health Care, as well as authorizations for others to obtain records from health providers.

As a person goes through life and acquires more wealth and property it becomes more and more important to preserve that wealth for those whom we care about most. As time goes by Wills, Trusts and other estate planning documents become increasingly important to protect those whom we love. Those loved ones can change and often do due to death or other reasons. That is why it is important to take stock periodically and maintain a well-conceived estate plan. The new year is a perfect time to do so.

Arizona Mobile Attorneys will work with you to make sure you have a well-conceived estate plan that meets your needs and protects your loved ones.

© Michael G. Kelly


We often encounter single clients who have joint bank accounts with a child or a trusted friend. While these accounts are convenient and will avoid probate on death, we do not recommend them for the following reasons:

  1. Fraud. When an additional person is named as an owner on a joint account they have free access to that account and may treat the money as their own. Many older adults have found their accounts gutted by a child or a friend that they considered above reproach.
  2. Exposure to Legal Liability. If this person who has been named as an additional owner on an account runs into legal trouble the money in the account is considered their money for purposes of satisfying any lawsuit judgment.  This would include accident liability, creditor issues, divorce judgments and more.
  3. No Inheritances.  If the true owner of the account passes away all the money goes to the surviving joint owner. That is fine if it is what is intended. Often times however, the joint owner has promised to distribute the money to other heirs. Unfortunately that person has no obligation to distribute the funds and often does not honor that intent.

There are three steps every person can take to assure that they can avoid fraud and legal liability while assuring that their money goes to the persons  they want it to go to when they die:

  1. Remove the joint owner(s) from the account. They are not necessary if you merely need them to help you manage your finances and other business and aren’t providing them with a gift.
  2. Execute a Durable Financial Power of Attorney that allows the joint owner to fulfill those financial and business management functions you need them for. An effective Durable Power of Attorney will protect the maker from being financially exploited and protect against the problems discussed here.
  3. Complete beneficiary designations with the institutions holding the accounts to assure that those persons you wish to inherit the money will actually get it. These institutions typically have forms for you to fill out and sign. It is a fairly easy task that avoids the need to go through a probate proceeding in court to get the property distributed.

At Arizona Mobile Attorneys we can help you with these and other matters concerning estate planning and physical and mental capacity planning. Please contact us for more information

© 2021, Arizona Mobile Attorneys

Your Disabled Child’s Special Needs and Adulthood

Your Disabled Child’s Special Needs and Adulthood

Q.           My child with a disability is turning 18. Can he continue to get the publicly funded services we were able to get for him as a minor?

 A.            Once your child turns 18 your legal authority over him ends. For example, you were able to get involved in his education through development of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to assure that he received public benefits that enabled him to succeed at school. Now that he is an adult his financial and care needs are his legal responsibility.

 Q.           My child can’t do this by herself. What can I do to help assure that she gets the services she needs?

A.            A first recommended step is to have your child apply for benefits under the Social Security Income (SSI) program at your local Social Security Office if your child has less than $2,000 of property in her own name. Once SSI is obtained she will be automatically eligible for Medicaid coverage upon applying to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS). This will open the door to valuable community health services not otherwise available; particularly in regard to mental health.

Q.           My child is really not able to make informed decisions regarding his care and finances. How can I continue to step in and do that for him?

A.            There are a number of steps that can be taken to establish a continuing authority for you. In regard to Social Security, you should apply to the Social Security Administration to be a Representative Payee at the time SSI is applied for. This is the only agent for receipt of payments that Social Security will recognize.

Another step would be to establish a guardianship through the Superior Court. This approach does have the drawback of eliminating the rights of the disabled person to act independently, making them more vulnerable. It is a public record of developmental disability with a potential for stigmatization. Lastly, it is an expensive and time consuming court process. It should only be undertaken when necessary.

There are alternatives to guardianship which can eliminate these drawbacks and pave the way for an enhanced quality of life with the lowest degree of restrictions on an individual’s rights, such as Powers of Attorney for medical and mental healthcare and Durable Powers of Attorney for Finances. These legal documents serve much the same purpose as a guardianship and are strictly private, eliminating the potential for stigma and the added costs of a continuing court process.

 Q.           Can I continue to provide financial support to my child while he or she is receiving government benefits?

A.            A special needs individual receiving an inheritance, lawsuit settlement, or monetary gift can be disqualified from having Social Security and Medicaid benefits if proper planning is not done.  A special needs trust can be utilized to protect their money and keep their savings below the Social Security and Medicaid requirement of $2,000. There are several forms of Special Needs Trusts and the design and administration of the trust is critical in order to provide all of the protection and benefits needed. A Special Needs Trust enables you to appoint someone you trust to manage assets and advocate for the individual. It also provides for an enhanced quality of life for the beneficiary and as well as allows one to be self-reliant and independent to the maximum extent possible.

 Q.           I have seen standard forms on the internet and elsewhere. Can I use these forms?

 A.            While these forms can be helpful for families that simply cannot afford an attorney, they are often not suitable for a given set of circumstances. Both Arizona law and federal law provide special requirements for these documents to be valid and protect your child’s government benefits. A standard form may not conform to those requirements. It is best to consult a special needs attorney for assistance in most cases.

At Arizona Mobile Attorneys we provide assistance to families in obtaining and maintining government benefits for individulas with special needs.

My father is in need of more care. He wants to stay at home. How can we get help paying for homecare? He is a Korean War Veteran

Long-term care is a very expensive option whether you are in a nursing home or having the skilled nursing and other assistance coming into your home.

You may be able to get government assistance to help pay for long-term care if your father qualifies. As a veteran he may be eligible for Aid and Attendance assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) as well as assistance from the Arizona Long-Term Care System (ALTCS).

As a war veteran over the age of 65 your father may attain basic VA Aids and Attendance Pension financial eligibility, if he has combined assets and income of $130,773 or less. In addition he will have to show a need for assistance with two activities of daily living, or a showing Alzheimer’s disease, or a mental condition rendering him dependent on care.

In order to maximize benefits it is important to show that he is spending more on care than his income will cover. The VA benefit for Aids and Attendance for a single person is currently $23,238 per year, which is reduced dollar for dollar by any income that is in excess of care expenses.

ALTCS medical eligibility is similar to VA medical eligibility. ALTCS financial eligibility has an asset limit of $2,000 (Neither ALTCS nor VA count a residence, one car, and household goods and furniture as assets). ALTCS can provide additional care when needed, beyond what VA would provide for. In addition ALTCS has an income limit of $2,382.

In order to take advantage of these programs your father will likely need to reduce the assets that VA and ALTCS would count in determining eligibility. In addition income that is counted must also be dealt with to obtain eligibility. This typically is a complicated process that requires considerable planning and guidance in its execution. It is important to retain an attorney who is well versed in elder law, including VA and ALTCS benefits, in order to successfully become eligible for these programs while protecting assets for the veteran and his family. Arizona Mobile Attorneys has the experience and ability to help reduce countable assets and income in order to accomplish these goals.

Wills and Trusts – Which one do I use?

          There is often much confusion about the differences between a Living Trust and a Will. While both documents are used to transfer property upon the death of the owner of that property, the manner in which they work is actually quite different.
          A will is used to give instructions to a probate court regarding how a decedent ‘s (dead person’s) property is to be gifted out on their death. Generally, for a will to have full legal effect it must be processed by a court through a probate estate proceeding. Such a proceeding takes time, at least 8 to 12 months, and sometimes considerably longer depending on the facts and circumstances. This may involve some court supervision of the personal representative (executor) and often entails considerable attorney fees and administrative expenses. The will becomes a public document, as do all of the affairs of the estate.
          A living trust is a document that operates outside of probate. The person who creates the trust places their property with a trustee during their lifetime, or through executing a transfer-on-death document that also avoids probate, and the property is managed and distributed in accordance with the terms of the trust agreement. The trust agreement is essentially a private document which does not require any court involvement. While there are administrative expenses and an attorney may be retained if necessary, Trusts typically involve less expense while they are in operation (after the death of the owner) than a will requires. It is very important to follow through and actually transfer property you want to place into a trust over to the trustee.
          Trusts have added benefits in that they can avoid lump sum distributions to financially irresponsible beneficiaries, protect against divorce situations with ex-spouses of beneficiaries, and help manage post-death IRA and 401(k) distributions.
          Wills should be a part of an estate plan. In the event that a decedent has left property that is not in a trust, the will is a backstop measure to assure that there is some instruction on how that property is to pass to others. The will can even leave any such property to a living trust (called a pour over will). A Parent can also name a guardian for their minor child in a will. In situations with small estates (no more than $100,000 in real estate and $75,000 in personal property and money) a person named in a will who is not a natural immediate heir (i.e. a friend) can utilize an abbreviated method of probate and bypass court involvement to have property distributed much sooner.
          We recommend that both wills and trusts be included in an effective estate plan in order to avoid probate, and to effectively manage and distribute property after the death of the owner.

Should I leave my estate to my spouse who promises to leave my own children an inheritance?

When you leave your property to any person, including your spouse, they have no obligation to then assure that someone else inherits from them. If you want to make an arrangement that obligates someone to provide your property to another after your death you must make special legal arrangements to do that.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to create a living trust and move the property into the trust. The trust is called a living trust because it goes on living after you die and is not a part of your probate estate. The property passes in accordance with the terms of the trust, which states to whom the property is to be distributed.

If there was no trust or will then the property would be subject to state laws which would dictate that at least a significant portion, if not all of the estate, must be distributed to the surviving spouse. The only way to prevent such a result would be for the surviving spouse to sign a waiver of their statutory rights under state law.

If there is a will it must be probated.  If the will was made prior to marriage then it must indicate an intent that it stay intact in spite of any subsequent marriage.  Even if such intent is present the rules stated in the prior paragraph regarding absence of a will would apply, rendering a will an ineffective means for assuring that your children will receive an inheritance in lieu of a surviving spouse. A trust operates outside of any probate and the statutory rights guaranteeing a share to a surviving spouse do not apply.

Another alternative occurs in cases where a couple owns real estate together with a right of survivorship.  This right allows whichever spouse who survives the other spouse to inherit the property outside of probate. If one spouse wishes their children to inherit their own share of the property they can do so by severing the survivorship right and deeding it to the child/children. This can be done without obtaining permission from the other spouse.  This requires assistance from an attorney and is a less expensive means for accomplishing the inheritance by the children than a trust.

Any questions or need legal help please call 623-628-1110 Attorney Michael G. Kelly, Arizona Mobile Attorneys

Why should I consider a revocable living trust? Part 2

• It is important to know that many assets are not subject to probate even if they are not owned by a trust. Excluded assets are:
a. Property held as joint tenants with rights of survivorship passes by operation of law and is not subject to probate if one of the owners dies.
b. Proceeds of IRA accounts, pension plans and life insurance policies that have named beneficiaries are paid directly to the designated individual(s) without probate.

• A revocable trust provides for the orderly management of a grantor’s financial affairs, while retaining control.
• If a trustee become incapacitated, the trust will provide for a succession of the trustee position without the requirement of a court proceeding, e.g. guardianship or conservatorship. A guardianship may still be needed if there are assets outside the trust or for non-financial issues that may exist.
• Owners of trust need to develop thorough trustee instructions. This is a major advantage of revocable trusts- to provide specific rules to the successor trustee about post-disability events.
• Authority under a power of attorney will terminate at the death of the principal while the revocable trust agreement will continue after the death of the grantor at least through the final trust distributions and possibly with continuing trusts. If the bank account is in the name of the trust the house bills can continue to be paid and monetary assets can be added to prepare for final distribution after all the estate affairs are completed -eg. Payment of taxes and creditors.

• A “pour-over will” is necessary for assets not transferred into the trust. This will should contain back-provisions in case the trust is revoked and not replaced.

• Does my trust end when I die?
Unlike a will, a trust doesn’t have to die with you. Assets can stay in your trust, managed by the trustee you selected, until your beneficiaries reach the age(s) you want them to inherit. Your trust can continue longer to provide for a loved one with special needs, or to protect the assets from beneficiaries’ creditors, spouses and future death taxes.

Summary of Living Trust Benefits
• Avoids probate at death, including multiple probates if you own property in other states
• Prevents court control of assets at incapacity
• Brings all of your assets together under one plan
• Provides maximum privacy
• Quicker distribution of assets to beneficiaries
• Assets can remain in trust until you want beneficiaries to inherit
• Can reduce or eliminate estate taxes
• Can be changed or cancelled at any time
• Difficult to contest
• Prevents court control of minors’ inheritances
• Can protect dependents with special needs
• Prevents unintentional disinheriting and other problems of joint ownership
• Professional management with corporate trustee
• Avoid circumstances where a will probate would require notifying distant relatives or difficult-to-find distributees (persons who must be served in probate)

• A trust can let you provide for your spouse without disinheriting your children, which can be important in second marriages. It can protect inheritances for children and grandchildren from the courts, creditors, spouses, divorce proceedings, and irresponsible spending.
• Lasts after death-no interruption
• Protection for vulnerable person-write check excessively
• Ease with financial institutions- banks want special powers of attorney
• Trustee has more clear and specific duties than the Power of Attorney
• You can require accountings from trustee
Knowing you have a properly prepared plan in place – one that contains your instructions and will protect your family and will give you and your family peace of mind. This is one of the most thoughtful and considerate things you can do for yourself and for those you love.

Joint revocable trusts allow married persons to combine their assets and control the disposition of those assets in a uniform manner. A portion of the trust becomes irrevocable upon the death of the first spouse, unless otherwise provided by the trust. The trust is always revocable upon the death of the surviving spouse.

Why should I consider a revocable living trust? Part 1

• The revocable living trust avoids probate. It lets you keep control of your assets while you are living — even if you become incapacitated — and after you die.
• Avoidance of probate. Probate process can be long and costly. The court allows a personal representative to collect the decedent’s assets, pay valid claims, debts and taxes and finally distributes the remaining assets to those names in the will to receive them.
• For small estates (personal property [cash, belongings etc.] valued under $75,000 and real property [real estate] under $100,000) a quick probate process using a small estate document can be used.
• Probate avoidance occurs with a revocable trust because assets owned by the trust at the decedent’s death pass to trust beneficiaries from the trustee who holds title to them, not according to the terms of the decedent’s will.
• Costs for probating a will include court costs, appraisal fees, attorney’s fees, and executor’s commissions.
• A valid reason for a revocable trust exists if an individual owns real property in more than one state which, at his or her death, would require a probate procedure in each state.
• Probate is a public process and all documents are part of the public record, including the will. A revocable trust does not require probate and does not become public. May want to keep private if providing only a minimum distribution to a spouse or disinheriting a child.
• A possible will contest may be reason to consider a revocable trust. A trust does not require to notice to next of kin like when a will is probated- a disgruntled heir can then contest the validity of the will. A trust avoids this notice requirement and can circumvent a potential will contest.
• A trust can be challenged but less vulnerable to an attack and therefore can prove to be a useful tool for same-sex couples, non-traditional families, and families with multiple children from prior marriages.
• The Revocable Living Trust generally DOES NOT require any court action! Your heirs have immediate access to your estate after your death to pay bills and distribute your assets as you want them to be distributed. You DO NOT lose control of your estate in any way. You can handle your affairs the same way you always did. All you need to do is keep your Trust updated!
• A revocable trust can be beneficial in a case where a will probate would require notifying distant relatives or difficult-to-find distributees (persons who must be served in probate). If the distributes are unknown or cannot be traced, a company may have to be hired to find them.

Do I Really Need a Will?

Our clients have often asked us “Do I really need a will? This question often comes up because the client feels that “the law will take care of it when I die”, or the client doesn’t think they have a lot of property or money to worry about, or because the client thinks that they have already disposed of their property by other means such as a deed, a beneficiary designation for an account, a trust, or some other transfer besides a will that, unlike a will, allows the client to avoid a probate procedure in Superior Court.

The law will only take care of distributing your property if the law follows the way you want the property distributed. People who want their property distributed in a specific fashion should not depend on state law to do that job for them.

The other reasons stated above may be reasons for believing that a will is not needed for the purpose of distributing their property on death, when looked at very narrowly; however, a will has other purposes as well.

First, a will is used to identify a person’s heirs under the law. It is important to do so because will contests are often based on a failure of the testator to adequately state who his or her natural heirs are. This indicates that the testator may lack capacity to make a will. Stating who would legally receive your property if you had no will and died immediately is an important way to lessen the likelihood of any contest, even if some or all of these heirs will not be receiving anything from the will. Stating who your heirs are together with a statement in the will that specifically disinherits any or all of them can be very effective in disinheriting heirs if that is desirable.

Persons with minor children can nominate a guardian for them in their will. Such a nomination will be prioritized by the court over others who might be asked to be so appointed.

Even in the case of a small estate (in Arizona this would mean personal property of $75,000 or less and Real Estate of $100,000 or less) being named in a will entitles a person to utilize a much abbreviated probate procedure for small estates.

Finally, a will is a fail-safe document for property that is never placed in a trust or otherwise transferred outside of the jurisdiction of a probate court. A great example of using a will in this manner in conjunction with a trust is through a pour-over will. This type of will transfers any property subject to a probate proceeding into an existing trust to ensure that the trust provisions for distribution of the property will be applied.

© 2020, Michael G. Kelly Attorney at Law
Arizona Mobile Attorneys

Should I Put My Home in A Trust?

A trust is a legal entity that is created when one person, referred to as a “Trustor” or “Grantor”, and another person, referred to as a “Trustee”, enter into a contract called a Trust Agreement. The trust agreement states that the trustor will provide the trustee with certain property which the trustee agrees to hold for the benefit of persons or entities that are specified in the trust agreement as beneficiaries.

Often, a trustor will place their home in a trust. This is most often done in order to avoid including a home in a probate estate in order to avoid the time and expense of a probate court procedure to determine heirs and distribute property.  Another reason for doing so is to try to move the property out of the trustor’s individual name in order to protect the property from any legal exposure the trustor may have in his or her own affairs. Unfortunately this action can cause more problems than it solves.

While a trust will effectively avoid probate, it will only remove exposure to any personal legal liabilities of the trustor if the trust agreement is one that fully removes his ownership control of the property. Trust agreements very often fail to do this because the trustor continues to maintain ownership control over the property.

One problem that elder law attorneys frequently encounter when trusts are used for a home is in obtaining Medicaid assistance for elders to receive skilled nursing.  The problem occurs frequently because most elders cannot afford the extremely high cost of skilled-nursing care without Medicaid assistance. When a home is owned by a trust the home becomes an asset of the trustor that the Medicaid Agency (ALTCS in Arizona) counts in deciding whether the individual is “poor enough” to be eligible for the Medicaid assistance. In Arizona a single person is prohibited from having more than $2,000 in property in order to be eligible for such assistance. If the house is in a trust that does not completely remove all ownership control from the trustor these persons are deemed ineligible for such assistance. In such cases it is best to leave the house in the name of the person rather than moving it into such a trust.

There are effective ways for an elderly homeowner to maintain ownership control of a home, maintain eligibility for skilled-nursing Medicaid assistance, and avoid probate of the home on the owner’s death. An elder law attorney can help a homeowner attain all three of these goals, and at much lower cost than an approach which may leave the homeowner unable to obtain the needed Medicaid assistance. At Arizona Mobile Attorneys we can assist you with estate planning and health planning issues like these.

© Michael G. Kelly, Attorney at Law, Arizona Mobile Attorneys