Articles written by kenneth kirk


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  • What does a Miller Trust actually do?

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Apr 1, 2020

    I’m keeping a list of the most frustrating myths I run into. First on the list, without a doubt, is the belief that a will avoids probate (it doesn’t). A close second is the myth that a Miller Trust helps you to get qualified for Medicaid if you have too many assets to qualify. That, too, is completely wrong. People find the concept of a Miller Trust confusing because every other kind of trust you will ever run into involves holding assets. You set up the trust, you put the assets into the tru...

  • The sharpest (estate planning) tool in the shed

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Mar 1, 2020

    IPop quiz: What is the most powerful estate planning tool? Most people are thinking: “That would be a will, right”? And indeed, the good old Last Will and Testament is important, but it has its limitations. The biggest one is, the will only applies to assets that have to go through probate. Since many assets don’t go through probate, the will doesn’t apply to them. In fact, in a great number of cases, the will is never even used. Others might be thinking: “A living trust is more powerful...

  • A lump of coal, and the Stretch is gone

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Feb 1, 2020

    Well, they did it to you. Right before Christmas, too. Your Congress sent you a nice Christmas stocking, but inside was a nasty lump of coal. They eliminated the “Stretch IRA”. I guess I had better back up and explain. A stretch IRA is a device which estate planners have been using for many years, to minimize the income tax bite for your heirs. And now, except in limited situations, we can’t use it anymore. In fact, many people now desperately need to change their plans to avoid a huge incom...

  • With planning you can bypass the guardianship system

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jan 1, 2020

    I have had a lot to say about the problems with the probate system -- it’s expensive, it takes a long time, it is easy for a disgruntled heir or creditor to hold up the proceedings, it is very public -- and about how to avoid it. But today I want to talk about another imperfect system. If someone claims that you are not competent to handle your own affairs, the courts have an adult guardianship system to determine whether you need to have someone appointed to handle those affairs for you. T...

  • Make those final arrangements for yourself

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Dec 1, 2019

    By KENNETH KIRK For Senior Voice Since I finally got my TV antenna adjusted, I’ve been watching more of those higher-number UHF channels, the ones with numbers in the 30s and 40s. A lot of those channels run the same commercials over and over, which is why I want to talk to you today about reversing hair loss. No, wait! Wrong topic! I mean, final funeral and burial arrangements! Sorry. I see a lot of those commercials for small insurance policies which say you can’t be turned down, no mat...

  • Reader's question reveals legal complexities

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Nov 1, 2019

    In the last issue of the Senior Voice, a reader named Yvonne Gossett from Palmer asked what sounds like a simple question: When I die, will Medicaid take my life insurance? She complained that nobody, not even Medicaid, would tell her. Presumably her concern is, why should I keep paying the premiums if the government is going to take the proceeds? That’s a fair question to ask. And you would think that the answer would be simple. But it ain’t. To begin with, even for attorneys who deal with Medi...

  • Covering the expenses of bequeathed property

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Oct 1, 2019

    I have long been a fan of Robin Williams. From the first time I saw him, in "Mork and Mindy," to his wacky comedy routines on stage, to hilarious movies like "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Good Morning, Vietnam," to sensitive performances such as "The World According to Garp" and "Good Will Hunting," Robin never failed to deliver. And along with most of the world, I was shocked and saddened when, five years ago, he took his own life after being diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease. In terms of his estate...

  • The Class Act that was anything but

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Sep 1, 2019

    What I really wanted to write about this month was the legislation making its way through Congress which would dramatically change how inherited IRAs can be taken out over time. That is what I wanted to write about. But I won’t. Part of the problem is that by the time this column reaches print, even though that may be only a few weeks, the legislation may have morphed into something completely different, or may have died completely. The other problem is that the details will probably change, a...

  • Think you're covered? Not so fast

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Aug 1, 2019

    I don’t know how many times I have heard someone say “I don’t need to do any estate planning. I have a will and it does what I want”. Oh, I wish it was that easy. A will is a good and important thing to have, but it doesn’t do nearly what people think it does. For one thing, the will only controls assets that go through probate. So anything that does not go through probate, isn’t affected by the will. What doesn’t go through probate? For one thing, assets that have a designated beneficiary (...

  • Were you admitted as an inpatient?

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jul 1, 2019

    Here’s an interesting question: The last time you were admitted to the hospital, were you admitted to the hospital as in inpatient? “Kirk, you’re crazy as a loon,” you might respond, “of course I was an inpatient the last time I was an inpatient. What else would I be?” But that wasn’t my question. You were admitted, given. But were you admitted as an inpatient? “I was,” you say, “and I have a plastic wristband to prove it. They kept me for several days, poked my arm for blood a bunch of ti...

  • Oh no! Another holographic will

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jun 1, 2019

    Seated across the desk from me is the dejected widow. Arrayed around her are her children, there to give support. The mood is sad, as it always is in the days after a husband and father has died. “I’m very sorry to hear of your husband’s passing,” I say, “please tell me what I can do to help.” She sighs. “Apparently there were some assets which were just in my husband’s name. I understand we’ll have to go through probate. Can you tell us how to do that?” “Certainly,” I say, then ask a key questi...

  • Another Alaskan myth bites the dust

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|May 1, 2019

    I recently saw the movie "Bohemian Rhapsody", which tells the story of the rock band Queen and its lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Having come of age in the ‘70s, I found it interesting enough to look up some of the background. One of the more interesting stories told in the movie, and with fair accuracy, is Freddie’s relationship with Mary Austin. For many years, Mercury referred to Mary as his “common-law wife”. Even after they broke up, he referred to her as his “only true friend”. He even bou...

  • Another DIY estate plan gone wrong

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Apr 1, 2019

    I recently read an interesting case; it happened in British Columbia, but it could just as easily have happened in any U.S. state. The father owned his home. He put his daughter on the title as half owner, with right of survivorship, so that she would inherit it on his death. Later, though, he got remarried, and he decided he wanted to change that to make his new wife the joint owner. There was one little problem. When you make someone a joint owner, you can’t change that unless the joint o...

  • A new thing: Supported decision-making

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Mar 1, 2019

    I’m not a big fan of the adult guardianship system. I realize it’s necessary; there are a lot of cases in which guardianship or conservatorship is absolutely needed and there isn’t a reasonable alternative. But there are things that bug me about the guardianship system, and one of them is that it sometimes results in someone who is minimally competent, having a lot of their rights taken away. The statutes say that if someone needs a guardian, the judge is supposed to leave the person with as mu...

  • IRA? You've got some options

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Feb 1, 2019

    Very few people have to worry about estate taxes any more. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, only estates worth more than $11.4 million are subject to estate tax. However even fairly small estates can be subject to income tax. Most inherited assets do not count as income. If I inherit a house worth $400,000, I do not have $400,000 worth of income. I just get the house, tax-free. But if I inherit an IRA worth $400,000, I might very well have that much income. And that is because an IRA is...

  • Mortality: An ounce of preparedness

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jan 1, 2019

    As I write these words, it has been only a few days since the recent earthquake. By the time you read these words in the Senior Voice, though, it will probably be at least a month out, and most people will have forgotten about it. I don’t want to forget. Earthquake preparedness is a good thing. When something like this happens in a third world country, thousands of people can perish. We didn’t lose a soul. I’m convinced that part of that is the mercy of a loving God on our undeserving souls, but...

  • A jug of wine, a living trust, and thou

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Dec 1, 2018

    I’m not much of an oenophile. Occasionally I might enjoy a nice glass of wine with certain foods, but I can’t tell the difference between a Merlot and a Bordeaux. But despite my lack of sophistication in matters of the grape, I think about decanting quite a bit. To a wine connoisseur, decanting means pouring wine from one container to another. It is done either to remove sediment from the wine, or to let the wine breathe before drinking. But to an estate planner, decanting means something ver...

  • How much is that probate in the window?

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Nov 1, 2018

    Sometimes when we talk about a particular subject a lot, we take it for granted that people know certain background facts. I realized this recently when I was talking about the high cost of probate (a subject I mention pretty regularly) and was asked whether it was in fact true that, as this person had heard, probate costs could run several thousand dollars. Several thousand dollars? That’s if you’re lucky. Probate costs money. A lot of money. In many states, the key players – attorneys and e...

  • Still true, forsooth, after 400 years

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Oct 1, 2018

    Ask people their favorite Shakespeare play, and chances are they will name Romeo and Juliet, or perhaps Hamlet or Macbeth. A few of the cognoscenti might name something else, but they’re just showing off. If you are an estate planner, however, your favorite is likely King Lear. In case you haven’t read it lately (or ever) the play features a king of England who decides he wants to retire. He has three daughters, and he sets out to divide his kingdom among the three of them. He plans to keep the...

  • Estate planning in the Trailerhood needs help

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Sep 1, 2018

    I liked Max Gruenberg. Max was a lawyer, and a long-time legislator. I did battle with him in both venues; as a trial lawyer, when we had cases against each other; and when he was in the State House of Representatives, and I was nominated to sit on a commission (Max grilled me for 45 minutes in committee, to the point that other committee members were asking him to hurry it up and finish, but then when my nomination came to the floor, he spoke in favor of it). Max was a sincere guy. Even though...

  • Alaska is a Filial Responsibility state? Really?

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Aug 1, 2018

    You can’t believe everything you read online. You knew that already, right? For instance, I don’t know how many times I have seen a list online, showing all the community property states, and Alaska is included on the list. ALASKA IS NOT A COMMUNITY PROPERTY STATE! Sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. But Alaska is not a community property state. We do have a statute which allows a married couple to opt into community property, by including certain provisions in a living trust or a specific agreement....

  • The stuff you don't get can hurt you

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jul 1, 2018

    One of the biggest problems with DIY estate planning (where you get a kit, or a program, or a form, and “do it yourself”) is that the stuff you don’t understand can ruin everything. But then, this happens even with estate planning you get from a lawyer. Sometimes. Case in point: up until 2011, there was some very complicated language, which was inserted into a lot of living trusts, splitting the trust when the first spouse died. It was a necessity in certain situations, but that language is st...

  • With estate planning, you gotta know the territory

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Jun 1, 2018

    You can bicker, bicker, bicker You can talk, you can talk You can talk all you wanna But it’s different than it was. I love a good musical, and one of my favorites is The Music Man. And the beginning always makes me think of estate planning. Bear with me. The first number in the show, which is actually named “Rock Island,” after a famous train line, features a bunch of traveling salesmen heading to their next destination. As the train itself beats out the time, they argue about the diffi...

  • An attorney is the guardian of a person's voice in court

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|May 1, 2018

    Adult guardianship cases are kind of a big deal. And sometimes, they’re difficult. On one side you have the Respondent. This is typically someone who has some kind of dementia, mental health issue, or medical issue which renders them unable to handle their own affairs. Oftentimes they are in danger of losing such essentials as housing, public benefits, or life savings, if someone doesn’t step in and help out. On the other side you have the Petitioner. This is typically a family member or fri...

  • That lawyer stuff at the end of the will

    Kenneth Kirk, For Senior Voice|Apr 1, 2018

    When you last signed a will, you might have noticed that after the main part of it, there was a bunch of added legal stuff. This is about that all-important added legal stuff. (Wait, you have signed a will before, right? Right? Please tell me you have. If not, quit reading this and go call a lawyer.) At the end of a properly-drawn will, following the signatures of the testator and the witnesses, there is typically a page or so of additional legalities, and then another set of signatures, followe...

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