What are the Different Kinds of Powers of Attorney?

If I asked you what you thought is the most important document in your estate plan, you may say it’s your last will and testament or your trust. However, that’s not always the case. In many situations, the most important planning document may be a well-drafted power of attorney, says The Miami News-Record’s recent article entitled “Power of attorney options match different circumstances.”

When a person can’t make his or her own decisions because of health, injury, or other unfortunate circumstances, a power of attorney (POA) is essential. A POA is implemented to help their loved ones make important decisions on their behalf. It helps guide decision-making, enhances comfort and provides the best care for those who can’t ask for it themselves. A POA permits the named individual to manage their affairs.

To know which type of POA is appropriate for a given circumstance, you should know about each one and how they can offer help. There are five power of attorney forms.

Durable and Non-Durable Power of Attorney. This is the most common. These leave a person with full control of another person’s decisions, if they’re unable to make them. A Durable POA continues to be in effect when you are incapacitated. That is what the “durable” part means. A Non-Durable Power of Attorney is revoked, when you become incapacitated. Be sure you know which version you are signing.

Medical Power of Attorney. Especially in a hospice setting, it permits another person to make medical decisions on the patient’s behalf, if they lose the ability to communicate. This includes decisions about treatment. In this situation, the POA takes the role of patient advocate, typically with the presiding physician’s consent.

Springing Power of Attorney. This POA is frequently an alternative to an immediately effective POA, whether it durable or non-durable. Some people may not feel comfortable granting someone else power of attorney, while they’re healthy. This POA takes effect only upon a specified event, condition, or date.

Limited Power of Attorney. This POA provides the agent with the authority to handle financial, investment and banking issues. It’s usually used for one-time transactions, when the principal is unable to complete them due to incapacitation, illness, or other commitments.

If you don’t have a power of attorney, ask a qualified elder law or estate planning attorney to help you create one. If you already have a POA, review it to be sure it has everything needed, especially if you have a very old POA or one that was drafted in a state other than the one in which you reside.

Reference: The Miami (OK) News-Record (July 7, 2020) “Power of attorney options match different circumstances”

Don’t Neglect a Plan for Your Pet During the Pandemic

If you have a pet, chances are you have worried about what would happen to your furry companion if something were to happen to you. However, worrying and having an actual plan are two very different things, as discussed at a Council of Aging webinar. That’s the subject of the article “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future” that appeared in The Harvard Press.

It’s stressful to worry about something happening, but it’s not that difficult to put something in place. After you’ve got a plan for yourself, your children and your property, add a plan for your pet.

Start by considering who would really commit to caring for your pet, if you had a long-term illness or in the event of your unexpected passing. Have a discussion with them. Don’t assume that they’ll take care of your pet. A casual agreement isn’t enough. The owner needs to be sure that the potential caretaker understands the degree of commitment and responsibility involved.

If you should need to receive home health care, don’t also assume that your health care provider will be willing to take care of your pet. It’s best to find a pet sitter or friend who can care for the pet before the need arises. Write down the pet’s information: the name and contact info for the vets, the brand of food, medication and any behavioral quirks.

There are legal documents that can be put into place to protect a pet. Your will can contain general directions about how the pet should be cared for, and a certain amount of money can be set aside in a will, although that method may not be legally enforceable. Owners cannot leave money directly to a pet, but a pet trust can be created to hold money to be used for the benefit of the pet, under the management of the trustee. The trust can also be accessed while the owner is still living. Therefore, if the owner becomes incapacitated, the pet’s care will not be interrupted.

An estate planning attorney will know the laws concerning pet trusts in your state. Not all states permit them, although many do. To find out about Utah’s pet trust laws, click here to set up a consultation with Calvin.

A pet trust is also preferable to a mention in a will, because the caretaker will have to wait until the will is probated to receive funds to care for your pet. The cost of veterinary services, food, medication, boarding or pet sitters can add up quickly, as pet owners know.

A durable power of attorney can also be used to make provisions for the care of a pet. The person in that role has the authority to access and use the owner’s financial resources to care for the animal.

The legal documents will not contain information about the pet, so it’s a good idea to provide info on the pet’s habits, medications, etc., in a separate document. Choose the caretaker wisely—your pet’s well-being will depend upon it!

Reference: The Harvard Press (May 14, 2020) “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future”

Nursing Home Care Costs and Applying for Medicaid

Medicaid provides several programs funded through a state-federal agreement, explains the article “Planning a must: Medicaid and paying for nursing homes” from The Dallas Morning News. One of the programs provides long-term nursing home care benefits to pay for nursing home or approved residential care facilities. However, requirements to qualify for Medicaid vary widely from state to state. It’s best to speak with an elder law attorney, who will be able to help you plan in advance.

Let’s take Texas as our example. To qualify in the Lone Star state, you must have a medical need and fall under the income and asset caps, which change yearly. In 2020, the income limit for an individual is $2,349 and the asset (resource) amount is $2,000. For a married person, your spouse can have income and resources that are protected, $25,728 is the minimum SPRA (the minimum resource protected amount) and the maximum is $128,640. The monthly maintenance needs allowance for a spouse is $3,216.50. If they sound like low levels, they are. However, there are some assets that Texas does not count. The well spouse may continue to maintain the family home, as long as its value is less than $595,000. A car, burial plots and prepaid funeral arrangements are also permitted.

For most people, this presents a bad situation. Their assets are too high to qualify for Medicaid, but they don’t have enough money to pay for nursing home care. That’s where Medicaid planning with an elder law attorney comes in. The attorney will know where assets can be shielded to protect the well spouse and how to work within the Medicaid requirements.

A word of advice: Don’t start giving away assets because you think that you can do this yourself. The first rule: there is a five-year lookback period, and if assets have been distributed within a five year period of the person applying for Medicaid, their eligibility will be delayed. The rules about gifting assets are complicated and mistakes are non-negotiable.

Be careful of elder exploitation. Planning for Medicaid is one thing, being convinced to impoverish yourself so someone else can have a luxurious lifestyle is another. There’s a fine line between the two. Be aware of the difference. An attorney can play an important role here, since they have a legal and ethical responsibility to protect their client’s interests.

Be certain that you have a Durable Power of Attorney in place. Why? If you become incapacitated during the process of Medicaid planning, your agent will be able to help with Medicaid planning and file for the Medicaid application.

Don’t sell your home. In most states, the primary residence is a protected asset for Medicaid. Once it is sold, however, the proceeds of the sale are considered a personal asset and will be counted.

It’s also important to understand that Medicaid does not pay for all nursing home stays. Medicaid pays for a nursing-home designated “Medicaid bed” in a semi-private room. Depending on where you live, there may not be as many Medicaid beds as there are people who need them.

An elder lawyer will be able to help you and your family with planning for Medicaid, and with an application. You’ll be better off relying on the help of an experienced attorney.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (March 15, 2020) “Planning a must: Medicaid and paying for nursing homes”

Living Together Isn’t as Simple as You Think

One reason for the popularity of living together without marriage, is that many in this generation have experienced one or more difficult divorces, so they’re not always willing to remarry, says Next Avenue in the article “The Legal Dangers of Living Together.” However, like many aspects of estate planning, what seems like a simple solution can become quite complex. Unmarried couples can face a variety of problematic and emotionally challenging issues, because estate planning laws are written to favor married couples.

Consider what happens when an unmarried couple does not plan for the possibility of one partner losing the ability to manage his or her health care because of a serious health issue.

If a spouse is rushed to the hospital unconscious and there is no health care power of attorney giving the other spouse the right to make medical decisions on his or her behalf, a husband or wife will likely be permitted to make them anyway.

However, an unmarried couple will not have any right to make medical decisions on behalf of their partner. The hospital is not likely to bend the rules, because if a blood relative of the person challenged the medical facility’s decision, they are wide open to liability issues.

Money is also a problem in the absence of marriage. If one partner becomes incapacitated and estate planning has not been done, without both partners having power of attorney, an illness could upend their life together. If one partner became incapacitated, bank accounts will be frozen, and the well partner will have no right to access any assets. A court action might be required, but what if a family member objects?

Without appropriate advance planning, courts are generally forced to rely on blood kin to take both financial and medical decision-making roles. An unmarried partner would have no rights. If the home was owned by the ill partner, the unmarried partner may find themselves having to find new housing. If the well partner depended upon the ill partner for their support, then they will have also lost their financial security.

Unmarried couples need to execute key estate planning documents, while both are healthy and competent. These documents include a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and a living will, which applies to end of life decisions. A living trust could be used to avoid the problem of finances for the well partner.

Another document needed for unmarried couples: a HIPAA release. HIPAA is a federal health privacy law that prevents medical facilities and health care professionals from sharing a patient’s medical information with anyone not designated on the person’s HIPAA release form. Unmarried couples should ask an estate planning attorney for these forms to be sure they are the most current.

If one of the partners dies, and if there is no will, the estate is known as intestate. Assets are distributed according to the laws of the state, and there is no legal recognition of an unmarried partner. They won’t be legally entitled to inherit any of the assets.

If a married partner dies without a will in a community property state, the surviving spouse is automatically entitled to inherit as much as half the value of the deceased assets.

Beneficiary designations usually control the distribution of assets including life insurance policies, retirement accounts and employer-sponsored group life insurance policies. If the partners have not named each other as beneficiary designations, then the surviving partner will be left with nothing.

The lesson for couples hoping to avoid any legal complications by not getting married, is that they may be creating far more problems than are solved as they age together. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to make sure that all the correct planning is in place to protect both partners, even without the benefit of marriage.

Reference: Next Avenue (Aug. 28, 2019) “The Legal Dangers of Living Together.”

Estate Planning Smooths Life’s Bumpy Road

It’s too bad that this happened to the Franklin family, but it happens often. A family member dies unexpectedly or becomes incapacitated at a young age and they never did the right planning.  Sometimes worse, they did the right estate planning, but the documents are decades old, out of step with current laws and the power of attorney is so old, that no financial institution will recognize it.

The problems that these scenarios create for loved ones are stressful, expensive and take a fair amount of everyone’s time. Solutions are offered in the article “Planning for the unexpected–4 Steps to get your affairs in order” from the Post Independent.

These four steps will help make the unexpected events of life a little less challenging.

Have a will and other estate planning documents prepared.

A will is a list of instructions to the court that details how you want your possessions to be distributed after you die. It should be drafted by an estate planning attorney who is licensed to practice law in your home state. The will goes through the probate process, which takes care of your legal and financial matters. In some states, the probate process is a simple process. In others, it can be problematic. Your estate planning attorney will be able to advise you about the probate process in your area.

A revocable living trust is a useful estate planning document that is used to establish more control over your assets, while you are alive. It should also be created by an experienced estate planning attorney. At your death, assets held in your trust then pass to heirs and avoid the probate process.

Make sure you title your assets properly.

Once you have a will and any trusts in place, any assets you wish to have placed in the trust need to be titled correctly. If you own a property with someone else and want to be sure your share of that property goes to the other owner, you’ll need to title it jointly.

Don’t forget to review the beneficiary designations that are usually a part of your bank and investment accounts, retirement accounts and insurance policies. Any beneficiary designation will override the will. If you haven’t reviewed beneficiary designations in a long time, now is the time to do so. There is no way to undo a beneficiary designation, once you have died.

Have power of attorney agreements created.

These documents give another person, the “agent,” the power to act on your business, financial and legal affairs, if you are incapacitated. The laws vary from state to state, which is another reason to work with an estate planning attorney licensed in your state. You’ll need these documents:

  • A durable power of attorney
  • A medical durable power of attorney
  • A living will

Prepare a letter of instruction.

This is not a legally binding document, but it can provide loved ones with a great deal of clarity when you have passed. Consider including this information:

  • A list of financial accounts and account numbers and any online usernames and passwords.
  • A list of important documents and where they can be found.
  • The names and contact information for the legal and financial professionals with whom you work.
  • Your final burial and/or funeral wishes.

Once you’re done, review the documents every few years and when there are major events in your life, including births, marriages, divorces, deaths and other “trigger” events. Remember that the laws change, so don’t let too much time go by without a thorough review of your estate plan.

Reference: Post Independent (July 22, 2019) “Planning for the unexpected–4 Steps to get your affairs in order”

Why You Need a Power of Attorney in Your Estate Plan

A power of attorney is an important legal document that allows a person, known as the principal, to designate a person of their choice to become their agent, acting on their behalf. This is usually done when the principal is unable to manage their financial affairs due to disability, illness or incapacity. It must be done while the principal is still competent, notes Delco Times in the article “What’s the difference between guardianship and power of attorney?” There are also instances when power of attorney is used when the principal is unable to conduct their own affairs, because they are traveling or are deployed overseas.

Related documents are the health care power of attorney and the durable power of attorney. A durable financial power of attorney is a document where the principal designates the powers that the agent may exercise over their finances. The powers granted by this document can be used by the agent, regardless of the principal’s capacity or disability.

The principal has the option to grant very broad authority to their agent. For instance, the principal could give their agent the authority to gift all their assets, while they are still living. That’s why it is very important for the specific provisions in the power of attorney to be carefully reviewed and tailored to the principal’s wishes. There are risks in naming an agent, since they are able to exercise complete control over the principal’s assets. The agent must be 100% trustworthy.

A health care power of attorney allows an agent to make decisions about the principal’s health. Note that this document is operative only when a copy is provided to the attending physician, and the physician determines that the principal is incompetent.

Both health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney may be revoked by the principal at any time and for any reason.

If the principal has not had these documents prepared in advance and then becomes incompetent by reason of injury, illness, or mental health issues, they may not have the legal right to sign the power of attorney. When this happens, it is necessary for a guardianship proceeding to occur, so that other people may be named to take charge of the person’s financial and health affairs. Advance planning is always preferred.

If an individual is born with a disability that impacts their capacity and upon attaining legal age, does not have the capacity to sign a power of attorney, then a guardianship proceeding will be necessary. The court must determine if the person is truly incapacitated and if there might be an alternative to appointing a guardian. Once the guardian is appointed, the principal no longer has the legal right to make decisions on their own behalf.

A guardianship is a much more restrictive tool than a power of attorney. For one thing, the power of attorney generally does not need the involvement of the court. There is always the possibility that a guardian is appointed who does not know the family or the individual. A durable power of attorney allows a person to appoint someone they know and trust to help them and their family, if and when they become incapacitated.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about how power of attorney works, and when guardianship issues might arise. Being prepared in advance by having the right documents in place, is always better than having the family going to court and hoping that the right decisions are made.

Reference: Delco Times (May 8, 2019) “What’s the difference between guardianship and power of attorney?”