Building Legacies that Last Estate Planning and Elder Law

Why Is a Power of Attorney So Important?

Elderly couple looking concerned

“……we often receive community questions surrounding powers of attorney (POA), so we decided to take a look at some of the most common misconceptions surrounding a POA.”

Most people understand the basic concept of a last will and testament: a document that directs how assets are to be distributed after someone dies. However, according to an article from A Place For Mom, “5 Misconceptions About a Power of Attorney,” there’s a lot of confusion over this legal document.

Misconception #1–You can sign a power of attorney, even if you are legally incompetent.

Not true. This is one of the most common misconceptions. In fact, if you have a document from a medical doctor that says a person is not competent, that person is no longer able to sign any legal documents. Many people generally think about what they need to do, i.e., accessing a bank account, when an elderly parent can no longer do so.  However, if Dad lost his legal capacity just before a power of attorney or living trust was signed, that’s no longer an option. You’ll have to go through a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding through the court to have any control over Dad’s assets.

Misconception #2—You can find a power of attorney document online.

You might find such a document online but it most likely will not be suited to your circumstances. You need to have a power of attorney custom drafted, so it is legal in your state and addresses your family’s needs. Many online documents end up being useless. It’s a big risk to take.

Misconception #3—A power of attorney lets the agent do whatever they want.

The agent under a power of attorney has a legal and fiduciary duty to make decisions in the best interests of the person who named them as power of attorney. They have not been handed a free pass; on the contrary, they have a big responsibility to do the right thing.

Misconception #4—There is one power of attorney.

This is why an estate planning attorney is needed for the power of attorney. There are two main types: a general power of attorney and a limited or special power of attorney. They are named correctly: a general power of attorney allows for buying or selling property or managing assets. A limited or special power of attorney refers to a specific transaction or task. Which one you need, depends on the laws of your state and the circumstances.

Misconception #5—A power of attorney survives death.

All powers of attorney terminate on death. Once a person has passed, so has the authority for their agent to act on their behalf. A durable power of attorney allows the agent to act, in the event of incapacity but not death.

Power of attorney is an important part of an estate plan and requires the specific knowledge of an estate planning or elder law attorney. Don’t wait until it is too late for a family member (or yourself) to have this document prepared and signed.

Resource: A Place For Mom (July 11, 2018) “5 Misconceptions About a Power of Attorney”

 

Estate Planning Fundamentals You Need to Know

Fortune cookie broken open

“It’s easy to put off because it can be morbid and often doesn’t kick in until late in our lives, but it’s an important piece to be thinking about for those of us who want to make sure our families are provided for.”

A well-prepared estate plan can help you and your family reach many different goals. You may know that your estate plan provides for your spouse and children, including what should happen to them, if they are minors and need someone other than you and your spouse to rear them. In addition, says the Brainerd Dispatch in its article “Wealth Column: Estate Planning Basics,” an estate plan can also be used to dispose of the family business, minimize tax liability and empower an executor and trustees to act on your behalf.

First, you’ll need a will, which is the basic tool for estate planning. It prevents two very expensive and stressful issues: managing your wishes for your estate and possibly losing hefty sums through unnecessary taxes. However, that’s just the start.

You may also need trusts, depending on your family’s situation. You’ll want to have life insurance policies with beneficiaries. Life insurance proceeds are not governed by the will, so your heirs will receive any funds directly. Benefits from retirement funds fall into this same category. That’s why making sure that your beneficiary designations are up-to-date, is so important.

Working with a team of trusted advisors, is productive for most people. Remember that your estate plan touches on taxes and investments as well as your will, power of attorney and medical directive. Consider these steps to get your entire estate plan in order:

  • Gather personal data about yourself and your family,
  • Create a balance sheet of your assets and liabilities,
  • Review your will and any existing trusts,
  • Evaluate all estate tax options, such as the best method of disposing of your share of community property—considering the unlimited marital deduction and the use of tax-sheltered trusts,
  • Consider the optimal way to distribute your retirement plan benefits,
  • Calculate potential estate, gift and income tax liabilities,
  • Determine the availability of liquid assets to meet potential estate expenses and taxes.

Once you have all this information together, you and your estate planning attorney can begin to put together a plan that will serve you and your family. Remember that an estate plan is not a one-and-done document. Over time, as your life and tax laws change, you’ll need to review the estate plan,  which includes beneficiary designations.

Resource: Brainerd Dispatch (Aug. 3, 2018) “Wealth Column: Estate Planning Basics”

Will SAFE Act Really Make Seniors Safe?

Elderly woman looking serious

“In an attempt to take a step toward countering some of the negative impact of elder financial abuse, the government recently passed the Senior Safe Act in May 2018, as part of a bipartisan banking reform set of laws. “

Elder abuse costs millions of Americans an estimated $2.9 billion annually. The expectation is that these numbers are only going to increase, as the scams targeting the elderly become more and more sophisticated. This is according to Forbes in ““After SAFE Act Passage, The Battle Against Elder Financial Abuse Remains Far From Over.”

The aim of the Senior Safe Act is to encourage financial institutions of all kinds to play a larger role in fighting against elder financial abuse. The law, which was modeled after the Senior$afe program created in Maine, requires financial institutions to train employees on detecting activities that may indicate elder abuse is occurring. If the employees are trained, the Senior Safe Act also provides a reporting process and liability protection for those who report the possible abuse.  It is thought that the liability protection would make those individuals reporting the possible abuse more proactive.  However, there are still some problems with this.

Some advisors report being reluctant to report any client who seems to be suffering from mental deficiencies or elder abuse. The problem, advisors say, is that they are not trained and won’t feel confident in making a judgement about competency. Some court cases have put the onus on the advisor, when selling certain products or strategies but advisors lack both the training and the ability to make a medical diagnosis of senior clients. Without the ability to identify competency, it is very likely that any reporting will only take place well after the elder financial abuse has taken place.

Another issue is that family members or friends are typically the ones who commit elder financial abuse. The victim usually does not want to press charges, fearing that the person will become angry with them and withdraw their emotional support. Being dependent upon the same person who may have perpetrated financial abuse, puts the elderly person in a no-win situation.

Elder abuse prevention, financial and otherwise, should start years in advance, at the first signs of declining physical and mental health. It should begin with a plan for managing financial assets and having the proper legal documents in place, including a will, power of attorney, general durable power of attorney, healthcare directive and other estate planning documents.

By being proactive while the individual is still relatively well and healthy, it may be possible to create protections that will be crucial later in life. Speak with your estate planning attorney now, to make sure that your estate plan is in place, so you and your family are protected.

Reference: Forbes (July 23, 2018) “After SAFE Act Passage, The Battle Against Elder Financial Abuse Remains Far From Over”

 

Why You Need an Estate Plan

If you think that you do not need an estate plan because you do not have very many assets, then you do not understand that estate planning is not just about your property. Mac-glasses

There are millions of Americans who do not have very many assets that need to be distributed after they pass away. It is not the case that they are all poor. Many of them are just younger people who have not yet lived long enough to accumulate assets.

People often think they do not really need estate plans, if they are young and with limited assets. In some sense they are correct.  If people do not own any real estate and do not have any other valuable property, it will not be too difficult for their families to handle their estates. However, estate planning is about more than that, as the Times Herald-Record discusses in "Everyone can benefit from an estate plan."

Almost all estate plans today also include some legal documents that are traditionally considered elder law documents. Despite the term "elder law", even young people need these documents because they are really about planning for disability.

That is planning for the possibility that you could have an accident or illness that does not kill you.  However, it can leave you legally incapacitated, even if it is only on a temporary basis. These documents include a health care power of attorney, so someone else has the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf.  It also includes a general durable power of attorney, so someone else can handle your finances, if you are unable to do so.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (May 17, 2018) "Everyone can benefit from an estate plan."

 

Tell Someone about Your Advanced Medical Directives

MP900448483If you have a health care power of attorney and living will, you should make sure that someone you trust knows where to find them.

It is very easy to get advanced medical directives today. You can often get living wills and health care powers of attorney as part of the process of admission to a hospital. If you tell a doctor about your wishes, it is often good enough for the doctor to make a note of them in his or her notes. However, getting those documents at a hospital or by telling a doctor can be a problem.

The system of medical records used in the U.S. does not make it easy for doctors to know that you have expressed your wishes ahead of time, especially when they actually need the information as The New York Times reports in "You've Detailed Your Last Wishes, but Doctors May Not See Them."

There is a potential way to mitigate the possibility that this problem will happen to you. Get your living will and your health care power of attorney ahead of time, by going to an estate planning attorney. These documents are routinely created as part of the estate planning process.

Once you have created the documents, you should store them in a secure place.  However, do not stop there. Make sure that someone you trust knows where to find the documents. That person can then get them when needed, to the doctors providing care for you.

This is not a perfect plan that will work all of the time, but it is better than relying on the current system of medical records.

Reference: New York Times (March 27, 2018) "You've Detailed Your Last Wishes, but Doctors May Not See Them."

 

What You Should Have in Your Estate Plan

Bigstock-Financial-consultant-presents--14508974[1]There are a few things that every single estate plan needs to have regardless of the exact legal instruments that you end up using as your primary estate planning tools.

Estate plans can take a variety of shapes. Some estate plans are small and simple. Other estate plans are large and contain many complex legal instruments. However, there are a few things every single estate plan needs to have.

Recently, the Catholic Register discussed what is necessary for all Canadian estate plans in "The must-haves of estate planning." In the U.S. most of the same things are also necessary. They include:

  • Someone needs to be appointed as the executor of your will. Even if the primary instrument to distribute your property is a trust, your plan should still include a pour-over will for which you need to appoint someone trustworthy as an executor.
  • Your estate plan needs to include some basic tax planning, especially if you live in a state that has an estate tax of its own.  Both Maryland and the District of Columbia do, so you need some basic tax planning in both these states.
  • If you have any dependents, then your estate plan needs to provide for their care. While you have some flexibility in your estate, you cannot simply disinherit a spouse or a minor child.  Maryland and the District of Columbia, like other states, allow disinherited spouses to claim an elective share of the estate, regardless of an intent to disinherit.
  • Your estate plan should also include powers of attorney so you can appoint someone to look after your interests if you become incapacitated.

If you have an experienced estate planning attorney create your estate plan, then it will contain all of these things and much more that will make your estate plan as effective as it can possibly be. Schedule a consultation with Profit Law  Firm to get the peace of mind that comes with proper estate planning.

Reference: Catholic Register (Nov. 6, 2016) "The must-haves of estate planning."

 

What Is Your Estate Planning Attorney Talking About?


Bigstock-Financial-consultant-presents--14508974[1]Estate Planning Attorneys talk about a lot of different legal documents. You need to know what those documents are.

When you visit with an estate planning attorney, the attorney is likely to mention the names of several different legal documents. If you want to understand what the attorney is talking about, then you will need to know what those documents are.

Most attorneys would be happy for you to ask if you do not know. Answering questions is what the attorney is there for. However, if you are not comfortable asking basic questions, then you should learn some basics beforehand.

Recently, the Ventura County Star published a list of basic estate planning documents and what they do in "Get to know estate planning documents." The list includes:

  • Advance Directive – Tells doctors and other health care professionals what procedures not to perform if you are terminally ill and have no chance of recovery.
  • Asset Inventory – A list of all of your assets to let your estate executor know what you have after you pass away.
  • Beneficiary designations – Life insurance, retirement accounts, and other financial accounts you designate to go to a specific person after you pass away.
  • Power of Attorney – Allows for someone else to handle your finances if you are incapacitated.
  • Power of Attorney for health care – Allows for someone else to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated.
  • Record of Locations – A list of where your heirs can find all the important financial and legal documents after you pass away.
  • Trust agreement – A method of passing assets to others while having those assets maintained by a third person.
  • Will – The most common estate planning document that says how assets should be distributed after you pass away via probate.

A qualified estate planning attorney can help you decide the best legal documents to use for your unique circumstances.

Reference: Ventura County Star (Sept. 17, 2016) "Get to know estate planning documents."