PROBATE: Simple Overview of what needs to be done

By no means are we going to imply that the NC Probate Process is simple. There are many dates that need to be adhered to, forms and procedures that can create pitfalls for your family.

Here are the basics:

Step 1: File a petition to begin probate.

Step 2: Give notice to heirs, beneficiaries and creditors

Step 3: Inventory assets.  Bank, stocks, retirement, real estate and valuable personal property

Step 4: Handle all bills and debts including taxes

Step 5: Distribute remaining assets per the will

Step 6: Close the estate

Before moving forward with your NC Probate process, please contact us for a free phone consultation.   Our hope is a smooth transition to fulfilling your loved ones wishes.

Additional posts to follow on the topics of:

  • Probate if single
  • Probate if married    


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Estate Planning Possibilities (2) | Carolina Estate Counsel | Raleigh NC Elder Law Firm

Ever wonder if you may have missed some planning opportunity in your Estate Plan?

What about some of these:

  • Grantor Retained Annuity Trust
  • Annual Exclusion Trusts
  • Defective Trust Planning
  • Dynasty Trusts
  • Generation Skipping Transfer
  • Qualified Personal Residence Trust
  • Tax Free Exchange of Low Basis Stock
  • Stand Alone IRA Trust

If you have any questions about these or other Estate Planning techniques, please write us for additional information.


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Estate Planning Possibilities

You may have heard of different types of Estate Planning techniques, but here are a few that you may not be totally familiar with:

  • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust
  • Foundation Documents
  • Beneficiary Forms
  • Proper types of Property Ownership
  • Limited Family Partnership

These are just a few………. the important point if to first understand what your goal is, then let a professional Estate Planning Attorney guide you through the many possibilities to best achieve your legacy planning.

Kevin Huston, Estate, Elder and Probate Attoney

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Mom lives in Raleigh, you live in Utah. Long distance caregiving.

Your elderly mother still lives about two hours away in the home you grew up in. Ever since dad passed away two years ago, mom has been able to continue aging in place on her own. But lately her health has taken a turn for the worse. Mom’s always made it clear to you and your siblings that she wants to remain independent for as long as possible. You want to honor mom’s wishes, but how can you assist her when you live so far away? Long distance caregiving isn’t easy, but it will go more seamlessly when you take these steps.

Compile a Long Distance Caregiving Checklist

Just because you can’t physically be with mom doesn’t mean you can’t provide her with the daily or weekly assistance she needs. First, compile a list of caregiving tasks based on her physical limitations and needs. Don’t forget to include:

  • Modifying her home to make it safer
  • Taking care of her home and property
  • Coordinating care with her doctors and other medical providers
  • Food shopping and meals
  • Assisting with medication management and compliance
  • Devising an emergency plan
  • Designating a durable power of attorney
  • Money management and bill paying
  • Transportation

Build a Caregiver Team

Using your caregiving checklist as a guide, now it’s time to build your caregiver team. If you have siblings or other family members that live closer to mom than you do, that’s a great place to start. If not, consider recruiting team members from these sources:

  • Trusted friends
  • Mom’s neighbors
  • Clergy members and volunteers from her church
  • Other volunteers in the community
  • Senior transportation and meal services
  • Healthcare professionals
  • Licensed in-home caregivers
  • Experienced Elder Law, Estate Planning Attorney
  • Possibly a geriatric care manager

As the team’s leader, it’s important that you communicate with the other members on a regular basis via email, phone, FaceTime or Skype. Make-adjustments based on mom’s changing needs, along with team member availability and feedback. If a team member needs a break, take a few days off to fill in as their replacement.

Become Mom’s Medical Care Advocate

With your mom’s permission, fill out the appropriate forms for gaining access to her medical information, including records from doctors, medical facilities, health insurance companies and financial institutions. It’s also a good idea to request time off from work to accompany your mom on any important doctor’s appointments. As leader of the caregiving team, it also advisable for you to become her durable power of attorney (POA), which will allow you to make key medical and financial decisions on mom’s behalf in the event she is no longer able to do so.

Other Care Considerations

Ask for follow-up reports from care team members who are in the home about mom’s condition and care needs. Is she eating right? Can mom still drive? Is she taking her meds as prescribed? Use that “intel” to adjust the care plan so that mom’s quality of life remains good. Talk to your boss in advance about the possibility for taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if mom’s health grows worse. And, don’t forget to reach out to your mom via phone calls or video chats so that you can constantly remind her how much she’s loved.

Additional Professional Caregiving Resources

Here are some other long-distance caregiving resources that are available:

Thank you to

for writing the important article on Aging in Place with a Long Distance Caregiver.

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Aging in Place Home Modification vs a General Contractor

How does a home modification design specialist differ from an aging in place general contractor?

Are you looking to modify your home to age in place? Increase accessibility? Perhaps you are considering an aging in place general contractor, but have you considered a home modification design specialist? These specialists come from different backgrounds, but many are physical and occupational therapists. Physical and occupational therapists are uniquely qualified to assess your current mobility limitations and predict future mobility issues based on your movement and medical history. 

An aging in place general contractor is going to modify the home based on universal design. Universal design often follows ADA specifications, it is meant to increase accessibility for most people. Examples of universal design include level entry homes and wider doorways. 

Home modification design specialists often use some elements of universal design. However, the home is designed to fit your specific needs and not those of the general population. Not only will the home design fit your current needs, it will also predict your future needs. For example, if someone with a rapidly progressive condition (like ALS or Huntington’s Disease) has an upstairs bedroom, an aging in place general contractor might recommend a chair lift to manage the stairs. However, a home modification specialist – particularly one with a medical background – knows that it is very difficult to get on and off the chair lift. Particularly for those who will likely be wheelchair bound due to the progressive nature of their disease. In this case, the home modification specialist may recommend avoiding stairs completely by creating an accessible bedroom downstairs or even a wheelchair accessible elevator. 

Physical and occupational therapists working in home modification design are experts at finding solutions that fit your specific needs. After creating a plan with a home modification specialist, you can then meet with a general contractor to complete the recommended projects. You can have confidence that your money is well spent since it is tailored to your individual needs.

 Rachel Blackwood, PT, CAPS

Jane Sizemore, OTR/L, SHSS

Designing Independence, LLC

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Deducting the costs of home modifications for Senior-Proofing a home.

Article Highlights

  • Improvements for Medical Care or Treatment
  • Improvements That Increase the Home’s Value
  • Improvements That Do Not Increase the Home’s Value
  • Medical AGI Limitations

While Americans may argue about any number of hot-button political topics, there’s no disagreement on one issue: the country’s population is aging…fast. According to the Social Security Administration, 10,000 baby boomers a day are reaching the age of 65. Many individuals, for either themselves or an older family member, are senior-proofing their homes – adding grab bars in showers, modifying stairways, widening hallways to accommodate a wheelchair, and other projects to make the home safer and more accessible for older occupants. If you are planning to make such home improvements, you may be wondering whether any of the costs will be tax-deductible.

Generally, the costs of home improvements are not deductible except to offset home gain when the home is sold. But a medical expense deduction may be claimed when the primary purpose of the home modification is for a medical reason. The tax law says that deductible medical expenses are those paid for the “diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and the costs for treatments affecting any part or function of the body.”

So, if you are making the modification because you, your spouse, or a dependent has a medical need for doing so, then the modification expense may be deductible as a medical expense, but only to the extent that it exceeds any resulting increase in the property’s value. For example, a doctor recommends that a taxpayer with severe arthritis have daily hydrotherapy. The taxpayer has a hot tub installed at a cost of $21,000. A certified home appraiser determined the hot tub addition increased the home’s value by $20,000. The taxpayer’s medical deduction for installing the hot tub will only be $1,000. The other $20,000 of expenses will increase the home’s basis, meaning that it will add to the home’s cost and will offset the sales price when the home is sold.

While the tax rules don’t require a prescription from a doctor for most medically related home modifications, the taxpayer, if questioned by the IRS, needs to be able to demonstrate how the expenditure is related to his or her medical care or that of a spouse or dependent. And having a letter from the individual’s doctor that explains the type of modifications that would be medically beneficial would help to prove a medical need.

Not all improvements result in an increased home value. In fact some, such as lowering cabinets for an occupant confined to a wheelchair, could actually decrease the home’s resale value.

The IRS has identified certain improvements as not usually increasing a home’s value and for which the cost can be included in full as a medical expense. These improvements include, but are not limited to, the following items:

  • Constructing entrance or exit ramps for the home;
  • Widening doorways at entrances or exits to the home;
  • Widening or otherwise modifying hallways and interior doorways;
  • Installing railings, support bars, or other modifications;
  • Lowering or modifying kitchen cabinets and equipment;
  • Moving or modifying electrical outlets and fixtures;
  • Installing porch lifts and other forms of lifts (but generally not elevators);
  • Modifying fire alarms, smoke detectors, and other warning systems;
  • Modifying stairways;
  • Adding handrails or grab bars anywhere (whether or not in bathrooms);
  • Modifying hardware on doors;
  • Modifying areas in front of entrance and exit doorways; and
  • Grading the ground to provide access to the residence.

Only reasonable costs to accommodate a home to a disabled condition or to an elderly individual are considered medical care costs. Additional costs for personal motives, such as for architectural or aesthetic reasons, are not medical expenses (but could be additions to the home’s tax basis).

Unfortunately, the total of all medical expenses can be deducted only to the extent that they exceed 10% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) and only if the taxpayer itemizes deductions. With tax reform’s higher standard deduction, only between 5% and 12% of taxpayers are expected to itemize their deductions in the years through 2025, down from 30% prior to 2018. So even if a medically needed home improvement is made and qualifies to be deducted, only a small percentage of taxpayers will end up with a tax benefit as a result of the expenditure.

All is not lost, though. To the extent that the taxpayer doesn’t claim the expense as an itemized deduction, the improvement costs, including those that might not meet the medically necessary standard, can be added to the home’s purchase cost to determine the home’s tax basis. Thus, when the home is sold, the capital gain from the sale will be lower.
Either to substantiate the currently deductible improvements or with a future home sale in mind, taxpayers should be sure to keep records of the home improvements they make, including the receipts for the costs.

If you have any tax questions about this article or tax concerns of an aging loved one, please contact:

GUARDIAN TAX SOLUTIONS, INC.        (919) 302-0336




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Bankruptcy in part due to Long Term Care costs

The research

Referred to as a “coming storm of broke elderly,” the study was able to identify that the rate of citizens over the age of 65 who are now filing for bankruptcy increased about 204% from 1991 to 2016. The study also pointed out that the number of older citizens among the total number of all individuals who filed for bankruptcy increased five times within the same 25-year period.

Data pulled from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, and so far, they have been able to discover that this increased trend of bankrupt seniors is caused in part by the extremely high health care costs, in addition to the lower incomes they receive and the nationwide decline in pensions.

What to do?

  1. If you are young enough, healthy enough and can afford it now, consider Long Term Care Insurance.
  2. Look into the growing number of insurance and annuity products that include a Long Term Care rider.
  3. Speak to an Elder Law Attorney about preparing for the 3 or 5 year “Look Back” period on Government plans like the VA Aid and Attendance, Special Assistance or Medicaid for Long Term Care.

Please contact us for a FREE, no obligation consultation to see how you can prepare for the possibility of needing some level of long term care. (Assisted Living, Memory, Skilled Care).

(Someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of longterm care services.





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Medicare for all……………. what does this really mean?

What are Medicare for All and Medicare for America, and how would these concepts change health care?

(An article originally from The Association of Certified Senior Advisors, July 2019)

As the 2020 presidential race heats up, voters are hearing more and more about Medicare for All. Yet, many of us aren’t sure exactly what that means. While Americans may fear letting go of the health care they currently have, they yearn for something better. What are the new proposals, and how would they affect citizens with different health care plans?

First, let’s define a term that often trips up those of us who aren’t in the health care industry. We’ve taken the description from Wikipedia, which expounds on meaning beyond a dictionary definition.

Single-payer health care is a type of universal health care financed by taxes that covers the costs of essential health care for all residents, with costs covered by a single public system. The system may contract for health care services from private organizations (as is the case in Canada) or may own and employ health care resources and personnel (as in the United Kingdom). “Single-payer” describes the mechanism by which health care is paid for by a single public authority, not the type of delivery or for whom physicians work, which may be public, private or a mix of both.

In the United States, the current single-payer insurance component is Medicare, which can include private insurance plans in Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid. Medicare covers all adults starting at age 65, but also provides benefits for those with specific disabilities and anyone with end-stage renal disease.

So what is the difference between a single-payer system and Medicare for All? They’re largely the same. But if you call a rose by any other name, it may not smell as sweet to the public. Kaiser Permanente went looking for opinions in a 2017 poll, and 48 percent of Americans gave a thumbs-up to single-payer health care. When Kaiser asked a question in the same poll about Medicare for All, approval went up to 62 percent.

Medicare for All

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders included Medicare for All as part of his campaign platform in 2018. Paired with the slogan “Health care is a right,” the concept appeals to many voters in spite of practical and political questions surrounding the issue. America is a health care paradox: despite having some of the world’s top hospitals, it is the only large, rich country without universal health coverage. In America, even if a health condition doesn’t kill you, it may leave you destitute.

Health care spending accounts for nearly one-fifth of the nation’s economy. As with any new proposal, it’s unknown exactly how taxes to support the system would balance against savings on premiums and care. However, there are plenty of prototypes of similar systems operating in other countries to offer guidance.

Sanders’ plan proposes a single program that would cover everyone who lives in the U.S. In the bill he introduced in 2017, nursing home and related care expand. Every medically necessary service, from annual doctor exams to mental health care to prescription drugs, would be covered. Dental and vision care would be paid for as well.

In spite of its moniker, the plan as described would expand benefits beyond those currently in Medicare. There would be no costs for individuals: no copays, no deductibles and no coinsurance. Certain drugs could require out-of-pocket payments of up to $200 per year, and long-term care might not be free. Every year, the government would set rates for services, drugs and medical equipment.

Medicare for All would replace all other health insurance, excluding that for elective surgery. Insurance provided by employers, Medicaid and ultimately Medicare would eventually disappear.

Paying for the plan requires increased revenue. Sanders proposed leaving taxes the same for those who earn less than $250,000, and increasing incrementally for incomes over this amount, with up to a 52 percent marginal rate on income over 10 million. Skeptics say this may not be enough. “No other developed nation has zero out-of-pocket costs,” according to analyst Drew Altman, who heads the Kaiser Family Foundation. Altman speculates that free coverage will drive an unsustainable increase in the use of the medical system. Picture someone with a stubbed toe showing up at the ER, or half of America in therapy.

Still, costs are going up no matter what. Government projections for our current system indicate combined health care spending by private and public sectors will near $45 trillion by 2026.

Many of the 2020 candidates are taking a more nuanced approach to health care. In spite of democratic countries such as Canada and England, which have single-payer systems, political conservatives will prefer to frame such health care policies under a “socialist” narrative. It’s an easy sell to many among the majority who are satisfied with the health care plans they get through their workplace. On the other side of the equation, the approximately one-quarter of Americans who have insurance and protections through the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid worry these will be stripped away as those on the right assault the plan.

“The ACA is popular at the 50 percent level, but it’s not energetic. It doesn’t get people who really like it,” says Bob Blendon, a political analyst at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “What they’re looking for is something that is exciting but isn’t threatening.”

Medicare for America

Enter “Medicare for America,” which lays out an incremental approach that avoids many of the political, budgetary and legal questions surrounding the Sanders plan. Medicare for America distances itself from many unknown pitfalls while answering the ever-louder call for health reform. First introduced as a bill in 2018, it was largely ignored until former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke endorsed the plan. Other presidential candidates have indicated approval of the measure without making official endorsements.

Under Medicare for America, health care would not be free. The out-of-pocket limit for individuals would be $3,500; a family would have a $5,000 limit. Premiums would be capped at 10 percent of a household’s income. Medicare Advantage plans operated by private insurers would remain. Currently, Medicare Advantage covers about a third of the program’s beneficiaries.

Employers would have to offer plans that matched or exceeded the generosity of the government program, or direct employees to Medicare and pay a Medicare payroll tax.

“Before policies get defined, what you see is people endorsing a plan that is a little, perhaps, less subject to early attack,” says Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. “A lot of candidates feel if they endorse a plan that leaves some private insurance, they get more time to say what their ideas are about.”

Opposition Remains

Medicare for America would doubtless change during the process to become a law. Even during the 2018 midterm election campaigns, candidates played with allowing people older than 55 to join Medicare, or letting those below 65 buy into it (the “public option” for Medicare). One thing that’s sure is a bloated health care industry would raise enormous opposition to Medicare expansion.

On the left, cost sharing is a concern. Fixed out-of-pocket costs hit those with lower incomes the hardest. Critics also question the government’s ability to negotiate reduced prices when the plan embraces most private insurance.

Conservatives say that the plan would be too expensive for the government, and too disruptive to the massively profitable health care system. This includes doctors, hospitals and insurers, who have lobbied hard to fight Medicare for All. They lose revenue under expanded Medicare.

Much of the determination for the future of health care will come down to voters, who must elect a Congress that favors expanded Medicare enough to overcome what would certainly be a filibuster in the current Senate. Thus far, the plan lacks bipartisan support. That could change depending on how well Republicans holding power in purple states will fare during the next election cycle.

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Adding someone to the DEED of your home

If you are thinking of adding someone to your deed, you may find some unforeseen consequences!

  • Once you’ve added someone, you cannot undo the deed unless the person you added consents.
  • Once on the deed, a person can take out a loan on the property.
  • Depending on local law, they may be able to sell their portion.
  • Could they tear down the property?
  • Make sure you mortgage allows and additional owner.  Some lenders may require an immediate pay-off (or at least a full credit check)
  • What if the person you added, predeceases you?   You may end up with a co-owner you don’t want.
  • You may open the property to the added owners tax, credit and family problems.
  • The added person may effect your ability to sell or refinance (also check reverse mortgage)

Understand that adding someone to your deed changes you from a “sole owner” to a “joint owner” and should never be done without legal advise and direction.

NOTE:  When gifting a share of real estate by way of adding a name to the deed, you may be subjecting the added person to capital gains taxes.  Property that is transferred by deed (as opposed to will or trust) will give the added owner your “cost basis” and not afford a “step up” in cost basis if obtained by will or trust.

Please ask us about better ways to transfer property, be it by will, trust, or TOD designations.

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Stay home longer. What products are out there?


What is it that you need to keep your loved one home a little longer?  Maybe it’s different walker or a giant type crossword puzzle.  Within the last few years, there have been many advances in technology that permit knows when someone is falling or when they get out of bed, the bathroom light goes on.

Able Data is not the “end-all” list of what is available, it’s a starting point to get your “juices” flowing on what is available and what is possible.

Simple math:  A removable wheelchair ramp may be up to several thousand dollars, a permanent wood ramp, maybe $5,000.   Hold this one time investment up against the on-going cost of an Assisted Living community at $5,000 every month.

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