On Top of It: Latest Trends and Strategies in Estate Planning

I believe it is important to make sure that I am up-to-date on the latest trends and strategies in order to provide my clients with the best service possible.  One of the best ways I ensure that I am up-to-date is through my membership in WealthCounsel, a national organization of attorneys who are dedicated to Estate Planning, Elder Law, and Asset Protection. 

Each year, WealthCounsel hosts its annual "Planning for the Generations Symposium" which provides stimulating classes and networking opportunities.  This year's Generations Symposium was held in Chicago from July 20 through July 22 and I had the privilege of attending.

Below is a summary of some of the classes I attended as well as my observations and comments.

1.  Piping Hot Planning

This class discussed taking advantage of the $5 million estate and gift tax exclusion that is set to expire in 2013 unless Congress takes further action.  It also covered the use of a "Trust Protector," someone who has the power to update a trust even after it is irrevocable.  Trust Protectors are becoming increasingly common and I often incorporate provisions for naming a Trust Protector even in basic Revocable Living Trusts.  They allow trusts to be flexible and adaptable years down the line which can be extremely valuable.

2.  Who Should You Name as the Beneficiary of Your IRA?

I've discussed this issue many times in my column.  It's a very important topic but one to which most clients and their advisors pay very little attention.  The class covered the specific steps you must take to name a trust as the beneficiary of your IRA while allowing your beneficiaries to "stretch out" inherited IRA's for as long as possible.  The specific wording of the beneficiary designation as well as "conduit provisions" are a must!  The class also discussed the reasons why it sometimes is prudent to draft a separate, stand-alone "Retirement Trust."

3.  Taking the Mystery Out of Drafting and Administering Special Needs Trusts

This class focused on the specific requirements in drafting either a "first party" or a "third party" Special Needs Trust, a trust that allows someone to keep his/her public benefits while still benefiting from an inheritance or settlement.  The class also focused on the role of the Trustee in administering Special Needs Trusts in accordance with the various complex rules and considerations involved with these kinds of trusts.

4.  When is Aid and Attendance Better than Medicaid?

When planning for long-term care benefits for seniors, Medicaid ("Medi-Cal" in California) is often the primary focus.  While often Medicaid is the only option, for certain veterans and their spouses, they might be entitled to a program known as "Aid and Attendance" benefits.  This class focused on the difference between the two programs and when one might be more appropriate than the other.