Am I Cut Out to Be Your Power of Attorney?

Next Avenue’s article, “Saying ‘No’ to Power of Attorney Duty,” says that not everyone’s cut out to be a power of attorney (POA)., There are many reasons children and others may need to say no when asked. Becoming a power of attorney is a big job. This obligation shouldn’t be entered into without great consideration. With the POA legal instrument, a person named power of attorney is referred to as the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact,” and the person on whose behalf she’s acting is the “principal.”

While there are several combinations and varieties of power of attorney, there are two common ones. General durable power of attorney, also known as power of attorney for finances, allows the named agent to act on behalf of the principal to take care of that person’s finances like banking, paying bills, or selling a house. Health care or medical power of attorney allows the agent to make health care decisions, in the event the principal is incapacitated.

A common misconception about POAs, is that people think that if they’re named as an agent on a POA, they’ll wind up owing money for the principal’s unpaid medical bills. Not so. An agent is merely acting on behalf of another person, not making themselves personally liable. However, there are other reasons a person may want to decline being named power of attorney. Ask yourself these questions, when considering whether to commit to being someone’s power of attorney:

  • Can you drop everything for weeks or months and make critical medical decisions?
  • Do you have the emotional strength to make hard, life-and-death decisions?
  • How is the family dynamic? Do you have a sibling who’s quick to anger or who could be suspicious of your motives, when it comes to medical or financial decisions?

If you’re not up to it, and the person who appointed or plans to name you as POA is still capable, it’s best to talk directly with that person about your concerns. Be honest and let them know how you feel.

The possibility of a POA not being able to serve is highly likely, and that’s why everyone should designate successor agents. These alternates in a POA can cover the inability, or inevitability, that someone may not be able to serve.

If you really don’t want to be power of attorney, be honest with your family member and tell her, “I’m worried enough about you to tell you, that I’m not the right person.”

Reference: Next Avenue (September 11, 2018) “Saying ‘No’ to Power of Attorney Duty”

Spare Your Family From a Feud: Make Sure You Have a Will

If for no other reason than to avoid fracturing the family, as they squabble over who gets Aunt Nina’s sideboard or Uncle Bruno’s collection of baseball cards, everyone needs a will. It is true that having an estate plan created does require us to consider what we want to happen after we have died, which most of us would rather not think about.

However, whether we want to think about it or not, having an estate plan in place, and that includes a will, is a gift of peace we give to our loved ones and ourselves. It’s peace of mind that our family is being told exactly what we want them to do after we pass, and peace of mind to ourselves that we’ve put our plan into place.

A recent article from Fatherly, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know,” starts with the basic premise that a will prevents family squabbles. Families fight, when they don’t have clear direction of what the deceased wanted. That’s just one reason to have a last will and testament. However, there are other reasons.

A will is one way to ensure that your property is eventually distributed as you wish. Without a will, your estate is administered as an “intestate estate,” which means the state’s laws will determine who receives your assets after you pass. In some states, that means your spouse gets half of your estate, with your parents getting the rest (if there are no children). If the parents have died and there are no children, the rest of the estate may go to your siblings.

Most people—some studies say as many as 60% of Americans—don’t have a will. It’s hard to say why they don’t: maybe they don’t want to accept their own mortality, maybe they don’t understand what will happen when they die without a will, or perhaps they want to wreak havoc on their families. However, having a will is essential.

Don’t delay. If you don’t have a will in place, stop putting it off. Creating a will gives you the opportunity to effectuate your wishes, not that of the state. What if you don’t want your long-lost brother showing up just to receive a portion of your estate? If you don’t want someone to receive any of your assets, you need to have a will. Otherwise, there’s no way to know how the distribution will play out.

Be thoughtful about how you distribute your assets. If you have children and your will gives them your assets when they reach 18, will they be prepared to manage without blowing their inheritance in a month? A qualified estate planning attorney will be able to help you create a plan for distributing your wealth to children or other heirs in a sequence that will match their financial abilities. You may want to create a trust that will hold the assets, with a trustee who can ensure that assets are distributed in a wise and timely manner.

Every family is different, and today’s families, which often include children from prior marriages, require special planning. If you have remarried and have not legally adopted your spouse’s children from a previous marriage, they are not your legal heirs. If you want to make sure they inherit money or a specific asset, you’ll need to state that clearly in your will. If you are not married to your partner, they will not have any rights to your estate, unless a will is created that directs the assets you want them to inherit.

Parents of young children absolutely need a will. If you do not, and both parents pass away at the same time, their future will be determined by the court. They could end up in foster care, while awaiting a court decision. Battling grandparents may create a tumultuous situation. The court could also name a guardian who you would never have chosen. A will lets you decide.

Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have a will that is properly prepared and follows the laws of your state. You also want to have a power of attorney and a health care agent named. Having these plans made before you need them, gives you the ability to express your wishes in a way that can be legally enforced.

Reference: Fatherly (Feb. 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

Be Careful Granting Power of Attorney

Power of Attorney abuse has emerged as a serious problem for elderly people who are vulnerable to people they trust more than they should, reports the Sandusky Register in the article “Consumer beware: Understanding the powers of a Power of Attorney” The same is true for a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care document, which should be of great concern for seniors and their family members.

This illustrates the importance of a Power of Attorney document: the person, also known as the “principal,” is giving the authority to act on their behalf in all financial and personal affairs to another person, known as their “agent.” That means the agent is empowered to do anything and everything the person themselves would do, from making withdrawals from a bank account, to selling a home or a car or more mundane acts, such as paying bills and filing taxes.

The problem is that there is nothing to stop someone, once they have Power of Attorney, from taking advantage of the situation. No one is watching out for the person’s best interests, to make sure bank accounts aren’t drained or assets sold. The agent can abuse that financial power to the detriment of the senior and to benefit the agent themselves. It is a crime when it happens. However, this is what often occurs: seniors are so embarrassed that they gave this power to someone they thought they could trust, that they are reluctant to report the crime.

Similarly, an unchecked Health Care Power of Attorney can lead to abuse, if the wrong person is named.

The following is a real example of how this can go wrong. An adult child arranged for their trusting parent to be diagnosed as suffering from dementia by an unscrupulous psychiatrist, when the parent did not have dementia.

The adult child then had the parent admitted into a nursing home, misrepresenting the admission as a temporary stay for rehabilitation. They then kept the parent in the nursing home, using the dementia diagnosis as a reason for her to remain in the nursing home.

The parent had to hire an attorney and prove to the court that she was competent and able to live independently, to be able to return to her home.

Meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss your situation and figure out who might become named as Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of attorney on your behalf. The attorney will be able to help you make sure that your estate plan, including your will, is properly prepared and discuss with you the best options for these important decisions.

Reference: Sandusky Register (Feb. 5, 2019) “Consumer beware: Understanding the powers of a Power of Attorney”

 

Are You Ready to Retire? These Professionals Can Help

Are you thinking about retiring in 2019 or 2020? It seems like a simple concept: Just pick a month, run some numbers and turn off your weekly early morning wake-up alarm. However, it’s not that simple. According to an article titled “Professionals can ease a person into retirement” from the Cleveland Jewish News, most people need some help for both financial and non-financial planning.

A good place to start is with the financial side. Take inventory of all your assets to identify where you have assets and where you have liabilities. You’ll need to be brutally honest with yourself and your spouse. Are there gaps? Is your credit card debt bigger than you thought? Use this exercise to get a real sense of whether you can retire this year.

Next, take care of the legal aspects of retirement. You’ll need a will, durable power of attorney, health treatment directive (for end-of-life decisions) and a medical power of attorney. This last POA will give someone the legal authority to make care decisions for you, if you become incapacitated. If you already have a will but have not reviewed it in three or four years, it’s time for a review. Laws change, lives change, and what may have worked well for you and your family when the will was first created, may not work now. You’ll want to work with an estate planning attorney to create a plan, making sure assets are properly aligned with your estate plan and minimizing any tax liability for your heirs.

This is also the time to consider how you’ll pay for long-term care. Do you have a long-term care insurance policy in place? Speak with a reputable insurance agent, or if you don’t know one, ask your trusted advisors to make a recommendation. People don’t like to think about going into a nursing home for an extended period of time, but it happens often enough that it makes sense to have this type of insurance. It’s not cheap—but neither is paying out-of-pocket for care at a nursing facility.

When you’ll retire, and what you’ll do with your retirement years, which could last two or even three decades, is a big question. The answer may be based on your finances—can you realistically stop working full time, or do you need to continue to work for a few more years? Would part-time work fill any savings gaps? These are questions that can’t be answered, without a thorough financial analysis of your retirement income.

If you stop working, what will you do? Some experts advise asking a bigger question: Who are you, now that your work identity is gone? If you’ve planned well, or if you’re lucky, your retirement can be a time of great fulfillment, spending time with family, volunteering in the community and devoting time to taking better care of yourself. For some people, retirement from one career is an opportunity to spring into a new career, one that they’ve always put to the side, in order to earn a paycheck.

How much you can achieve of your dreams, depends on putting down a solid foundation of legal and financial resources. An estate planning attorney and a financial advisor are important members of your retirement success team.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (Jan. 9, 2019) “Professionals can ease a person into retirement”

Here’s Why You Need an Estate Plan in 2019

The New Year sees young adult clients calling estate planning attorney’s offices. They are ready to get their estate plans done because this year they are going to take care of their adult responsibilities. That’s from the article “Estate Planning Resolutions for 2019: How To Be A Grown-Up in The New Year” in Above The Law. It’s a good thing, especially for parents with small children. Here’s a look at what every adult should address this year:

Last Will and Testament: Talk with a local attorney about distributing your assets and the guardianship of your young children. If you’re over age 18, you need a will. If you die without one, the laws in your state will determine what happens to your assets, and a judge, who has never met you or your children, will decide who gets custody. Having a last will and testament prevents a lot of problems, including costs, for those you love.

Power of Attorney. This is the document used to name a trusted person to make financial decisions if something should happen and you are unable to act on your own behalf. It could include the ability to handle your banking, file taxes and even buy and sell real estate.

Health Care Proxy. Having a health care agent named through this document gives another person the power to make decisions about your care. Make sure the person you name knows your wishes. Do you want to be kept alive at all costs, or do you want to be unplugged? Having these conversations is not pleasant, but important.

Life Insurance. Here’s when you know you’ve really become an adult. If you pass away, your family will have the proceeds to pay bills, including making mortgage payments. Make sure you have the correct insurance in place and make sure it’s enough.

Beneficiary Designations. Ask your employer for copies of your beneficiary designations for retirement accounts. If you have any other accounts with beneficiary designations, like investment accounts and life insurance policies, review the documents. Make sure a person and a secondary or successor person has been named. These designated people will receive the assets. Whatever you put in your will about these documents will not matter.

Long-Term Care and Disability Insurance. You may have these policies in place through your employer, but are they enough? Review the policies to make sure there’s enough coverage, and if there is not, consider purchasing private policies to supplement the employment benefits package.

Talk with your parents and grandparents about their estate plans. Almost everyone goes through this period of role reversal, when the child takes the lead and becomes the responsible party. Do they have an estate plan, and where are the documents located? If they have done no planning, including planning for Medicaid, now would be a good time.

Burial Plans. This may sound grim, but if you can let your loved ones know what you want in the way of a funeral, burial, memorial service, etc., you are eliminating considerable stress for them. You might want to purchase a small life insurance policy, just to pay for the cost of your burial. For your parents and grandparents, find out what their wishes are, and if they have made any plans or purchases.

Inventory Possessions. What do you own? That includes financial accounts, jewelry, artwork, real estate, retirement accounts and may include boats, collectible cars or other assets. If there are any questions about the title or ownership of your property, resolve to address it while you are living and not leave it behind for your heirs. If you’ve got any unfinished business, such as a pending divorce or lawsuit, this would be a good year to wrap it up.

The overall goal of these tasks is to take care of your personal business. Therefore, should something happen to you, your heirs are not left to clean up the mess. Talk with an estate planning attorney about having a will, power of attorney and health care proxy created. They can help with the other items as well.

Reference: Above The Law (Jan. 8, 2019) “Estate Planning Resolutions for 2019: How To Be A Grown-Up in The New Year”

 

What if Your Heir Dies Before You?

The idea of a child dying before a parent is a heartbreaking thing to consider. However, these sad events do take place. The difficulty of discussing this might lead you away from thinking about it when doing your estate plan, but that’s not a productive response. The article “Legal Matters: If predeceased by an heir in a valid will, what happens with that inheritance?” from Carroll County Times tackles this topic without flinching.

First, review your will with your estate planning attorney to see if your will has already made a provision for this event. Your will should be reviewed from time to time anyway, especially when there has been a major tax law change. If there is nothing in your will currently addressing this situation, you can change the will to what you would want to happen.

If you don’t make this change and a child predeceases you, the laws of your state will govern what happens.

In Maryland, the law of the Estates and Trusts Code says that your child’s estate will still receive the share you had designed in your will, regardless of whether they died before you. Therefore, whoever is an heir to your child’s estate, will receive what your deceased child was awarded in your will.

The law also states that the legatee—your deceased child—must be identified in the will to receive whatever share of your estate you directed. If you don’t want to leave a portion of your estate to the heirs of your deceased son or daughter, you must specify exactly how you want your estate to be divided, if one of your children should die before you do.

Is it worth getting into these specifics? Yes. For one example, if you’ve had a bitter feud with a son-in-law for decades and you don’t want to leave him anything, then you’ll want to make sure to specify that in your will.

Each state has its own laws governing what occurs when an heir predeceases the parent. For example, in the past in Maryland, a legatee’s right to receive a share of the estate did not enjoy any protection, if he died before the author of the will. If the will did not contain specific directions on how that share should be distributed if the legatee died before the author of the will, the share simply remained in the estate, and the legatee’s heirs did not receive any assets.

Speak with a local estate planning attorney to clarify what would happen to your assets and what you would like to have happen.

Reference: Carroll County Times (Dec. 21, 2018) “Legal Matters: If predeceased by an heir in a valid will, what happens with that inheritance?”

Who Will Cover My Debt When I Die?

Did you know that we’re dying in this country with an average of $62,000 in debt? What happens to that debt?

Fox Business recently published an article that asks “What Happens to Your Debt When You Die?” As the article explains, the answer depends on a few different factors, including the type of debt, whether there was a cosigner and the value of the deceased person’s estate. Let’s look at some possible outcomes:

In many cases, any debt you owe during your lifetime will have to be paid by your estate when you pass away. Creditors can make claims against your estate during the probate process. If you died with a will and named an executor, he or she will usually use the assets you left behind to pay off your debt. If you don’t have enough assets, creditors are typically without recourse, if you had unsecured debt without a cosigner. However, if you had a secured loan, like a mortgage or a car loan, the debt would need to be paid for your family to keep the asset. For instance, if you leave your home to your family, they’d have to pay your mortgage to keep the house.

Creditor claims take precedence over your instructions as to what happens to your assets. If you stated in your will that your bank account is to pass to your children, but you owed money to a creditor, the money in the bank would first be used to pay the creditor, before your children could inherit.

If your estate doesn’t have enough assets to satisfy your debts, creditors may seek the payment from any cosigners on the loans. Cosigners share legal responsibility for debt and will be held 100% responsible for paying the remaining balance.

One potential exception to this general rule, is for certain types of student loans. For example, a Parent PLUS loan can be dischargeable due to a student’s death, and some private student loans offer a death discharge. However, it is rare. If the primary borrower on student loan debt dies, the surviving cosigner should read the loan terms to determine if he’ll still be held responsible for paying it. Federal student loan debt is typically forgiven, when the borrower dies.

Creditors can also attempt to collect from co-borrowers, if you had a joint account. Therefore, if you and your spouse had a mortgage together or shared a credit card, your spouse would be expected to continue paying the bills after your death.

However, if there’s no cosigner and not enough assets in the estate to pay the bills, creditors will charge off the debt because there’s no way to collect. Beware that creditors may attempt to guilt family members into paying after their deceased loved one’s death. However, generally there’s no requirement that you pay debt that belonged to a loved one. An exception is in states with community property laws that require spouses to pay off debt belonging to a deceased spouse using community property.

If your loved one has already passed away and you’re worried about what will happen to their debts, speak to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Fox Business (December 27, 2018) “What Happens to Your Debt When You Die?”

Think Your Estate Plan is Done? Think Again!

Putting your estate plan in place is a big first step in the process. However, it is only the first step for many people, according to this article “So You Think You’re Done with Your Estate Plan…” from the National Law Review. Here’s an excellent checklist of items that are commonly overlooked and that can undo all your good efforts.

Beneficiary Designations. These assets generally do not pass through the will, so the beneficiary named receives the asset, whether it’s proceeds from a life insurance policy or the entire contents of your investment accounts. These forms must be prepared and filed with the account custodian or the insurance company, so beneficiaries are properly identified. If you have not looked at these designations for more than a few years, it’s time to look at them again to make sure the ones you originally selected are still the ones you wish to receive your assets.

Trust Funding and Form of Ownership of Assets. You can easily wreck your entire plan by failing to fund trusts or retitle assets. If you’ve executed a Revocable Trust with probate avoidance in mind, for instance, and then fail to fund the trust, your beneficiaries will need to probate your assets. Assets owned jointly with rights of survivorship will not pass according to your will. If your estate plan was done with taxes in mind, you could put the entire plan at risk.

Talking with Family and Trusted Professionals. Having a plan no one in the family knows about, can lead to an estate disaster. Speak with family members, so they know you have an estate plan and who they should be in touch with when the time comes. Your accountant and/or financial advisor should be brought into the discussion.

Accessibility of Estate Plan and Related Information. If your documents are locked up in a safe deposit box or an encrypted file or secure portal, no one will be able to access them. Your estate planning attorney will be able to advise you, as to the best way to ensure that paper and electronic documents are available to family and fiduciaries when needed. The same holds true for burial and health care instructions. Prepare a list with the contact information of your estate planning attorney, basic information about your assets and other information that will be needed by family and fiduciaries.

Keeping Up with Change. Tax laws change and lives change. If you have been divorced, had a serious illness, or any major change to your assets, you’ll need to speak with your estate planning attorney to see if any of those changes need to be incorporated into your estate plan.

Reference: National Law Review (Oct. 18, 2018) “So You Think You’re Done with Your Estate Plan…”

Am I Too Young to Start Thinking About Estate Planning?

Many people believe they’re too young to begin thinking about estate planning. Others say they don’t have significant enough assets to make the process of planning worthwhile.

However, the truth is that everyone needs estate planning. If you have any assets, and you intend to give those assets to a loved one, you need to have a plan.

Forbes’s article, “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist,” examines some important topics in estate planning.

The first of topic is a durable power of attorney for property, finances and health care. This document allows you to designate a trusted individual to make decisions and take action on your behalf with matters relating to each of the three areas above.

In addition to the importance of having all powers of attorney readily available, in case you become incapable of making decisions, beneficiary designations should also be looked at frequently to update any changes to family situations, like a birth or adoption, death, marriage or divorce.

Another topic to address is a living trust. A trust will give direction regarding where and how the assets are dispersed when you die. A great reason to use a living trust is that the assets in a trust do not pass through probate court, which can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

Another area is digital assets. It’s critical for your heirs to have access to digital files, passwords and documents. This can be easy to overlook. Create a list of your digital assets, including social media accounts, online banking accounts and home utilities you manage online. Include all email and communications accounts, shopping accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you manage. This list should be clear and updated for your heirs to access.

If we fail to plan for these somewhat uncomfortable topics, the outcome will be stressful and expensive for our heirs.

Reference: Forbes (January 4, 2019) “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist”