Your Estate Plan Needs to Be Customized

The only thing worse than having no estate plan, is an estate plan created from a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ form, according to the recent article “Don’t settle for a generic estate plan” from The News-Enterprise. Compare having an estate plan created to buying a home. Before you start packing, you think about the kind of house you want and how much you can spend. You also talk with real estate agents and mortgage brokers to get ready.

Even when you find a house you love, you don’t write a check right away. You hire an engineer to inspect the property. You might even bring in contractors for repair estimates. At some point, you contact an insurance agent to learn how much it will cost to protect the house. You rely on professionals, because buying a home is an expensive proposition and you want to be sure it will suit your needs and be a sound investment.

The same process goes for your estate plan. You need the advice of a skilled professional–the estate planning lawyer. Sometimes you want input from trusted family members or friends. There other times when you need the estate planning lawyer to help you get past the emotions that can tangle up an estate plan and anticipate any family dynamics that could become a problem in the future.

An estate planning attorney will also help you to avoid problems you may not anticipate. If the family includes a special needs individual, leaving money to that person could result in their losing government benefits. Giving property to an adult child to try to avoid nursing home costs could backfire, making you ineligible for Medicaid coverage and cause your offspring to have an unexpected tax bill.

Your estate planning lawyer should work with your team of professional advisors, including your financial advisor, accountant and, if you own a business, your business advisor. Think of it this way—you wouldn’t ask your real estate agent to do a termite inspection or repair a faulty chimney. Your estate plan needs to be created and updated by a skilled professional: the estate planning lawyer.

Once your estate plan is completed, it’s not done yet. Make sure that the people who need to have original documents—like a power of attorney—have original documents or tell them where they can be found when needed. Keep in mind that many financial institutions will only accept their own power of attorney forms, so you may need to include those in your estate plan.

Medical documents, like advance directives and healthcare powers of attorney, should be given to the people you selected to make decisions on your behalf. Make a list of the documents in your estate plan and where they can be found.

Preparing an estate plan is not just signing a series of fill-in-the-blank forms. It is a means of protecting and passing down the estate that you have devoted a lifetime to creating, no matter its size.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (June 23, 2020) “Don’t settle for a generic estate plan”

 

Preparing for Alzheimer’s

Once there has been a diagnosis of dementia, there are a number of issues that families need to address, including legal issues. The best way to approach this task, says being patient in the article “Alzheimer’s and the Law” is to meet with an estate planning attorney who can guide the family in planning for the future, and creating the needed documents.

The conversation will start with who should be named to two different kinds of power of attorney. One is for the durable power of attorney, which will give the named person the ability to manage any business decisions, sign contracts and deal with insurance companies. This document will need to be inclusive, so the agent can act for the person who is going to be incapacitated.

Next, there will need to be a healthcare power of attorney. It should be complemented by a living will, which states what kind of lifesaving measures you would want, if you were to be declared terminally ill. The healthcare power of attorney also allows a person to be named to make medical decisions, if the person with dementia can no longer make good decisions on their own behalf.

As long as the doctor has not yet declared the person incapacitated, they can sign the power of attorney for financial and health care. If the person has been declared incapacitated, then the family will need to go to court for a guardianship proceeding, so the court can declare who will be in charge of the person with dementia.

Some families prefer to have one person in charge of the loved one’s financial affairs and a second person to be their healthcare power of attorney. If there is a family member who is good with money and business, that person will do a better job than someone whose heart is in the right place but doesn’t manage money well. A nervous or easily excitable family member may also not be the best choice for healthcare power of attorney, especially if important decisions need to be made in a crisis situation.

Make sure that the people who are being considered for these tasks live near enough, so they can be available when needed. A child who lives on the other side of the country may want to be the decision maker, but if they are too far away, it will create more problems than it solves.

Before naming anyone to the power of attorney roles, speak with them about the situation, and be clear about what they will be expected to do. Clarify the difference between the two roles, and that of the executor. The executor is the person who is in charge of the person’s estate after they pass. They do not have an active role, while the person is living.

People generally don’t like to think about times when they may not enjoy good health, but this is a situation where waiting to address the issue can become extremely costly. A skilled estate planning attorney who works with families with dementia will understand the situation. They can be a valuable resource of information about other related services that will become needed over time.

Reference: being patient (August 22, 2019) “Alzheimer’s and the Law”

Why You Need a Last Will and Testament

A will and testament is the document that allows you to describe how you want your belongings and assets to be distributed after you die. It’s different than a “living will,” explains The Daily Sentinel, in the article “It’s important to have a Last Will and Testament.” A living will is a document used to detail how someone wants their end of life matters conducted.

In Colorado and some other states, the Living Will is referred to as an Advance Directive, which helps to avoid some confusion between what it accomplishes and the tasks of the will.

The will is also the document used to name the person who will be the personal representative, often referred to as the “executor”, to carry out the directions in the will.

When there’s no will, there is much more work to settle an estate. The distribution plan is determined by the laws of the state. It is not likely to be what the person had in mind, but by then, it is too late.

Every parent needs a will, because it is used to name a guardian for minor children or a child with special needs. This is not a decision that can be left to the law. There is no automatic solution based on state law, like there is for assets and belongings.

If there is a disagreement about who should care for the dependents, or how the assets should be used to care for the dependents, the only solution is to go to court and have the court decide what is in the children’s best interests. The time, expense and stress on the family is easily avoided, simply by having a properly prepared will.

There are occasionally questions about whether a general or special power of attorney can be used to name a person to handle affairs when someone dies. This is not true. The authority given to a person in a power of attorney automatically and legally terminates, when the person who gave that authority to another person has died.

Several years ago, a widow was preparing to create a will, but never did. She had no surviving parents or siblings, but she did have a son. She probably thought that the law would give him all her assets automatically.

Unfortunately, after the woman died, it was learned that the “son” was an informally adopted son who had never been legally adopted. According to the laws of the state, he had no legal right to her estate. She could have had a will prepared and he would have inherited everything. However, because she had no will, distant relatives who she did not even know, were the recipients of her estate.

This example may be a little extreme, but it is not uncommon. Many unexpected things occur when there is no estate plan, or an estate plan is prepared by an inexperienced person using a form they found online or at the local library.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (June 1, 2019) “It’s important to have a Last Will and Testament”

What Does ‘Getting Your Affairs in Order’ Really Mean?

That “something” that happens that no one wants to come out and say is that you are either incapacitated by a serious illness or injury or the ultimate ‘something,’ which is death. There are steps you can take that will help your family and loved ones, so they have the information they need and can help you, says Catching Health’s article “Getting your affairs in order.”

Start with the concept of incapacity, which is an important part of estate planning. Who would you want to speak on your behalf? Would that person be the same one you would want to make important financial decisions, pay bills and handle your personal affairs? Does your family know what your wishes are, or do you know what your parent’s wishes are?

Financial Power of Attorney. Someone needs to be able to pay your bills and handle financial matters. That person is named in a Financial Power of Attorney, and they become your agent. Without an agent, your family will have to go to court and get a conservatorship. This takes time and money. It also brings in court involvement into your life and adds another layer of stress and expense.

It’s important to name someone who you trust implicitly and whose financial savvy you trust. Talk with the person you have in mind first and make sure they are comfortable taking on this responsibility. There may be other family members who will not agree with your decisions, or your agent’s decisions. They’ll have to be able to stick to the course in the face of disagreements.

Medical Power of Attorney. The Medical Power of Attorney is used when end-of-life care decisions must be made. This is usually when someone is in a persistent vegetative state, has a terminal illness or is in an irreversible coma. Be cautious: sometimes people want to appoint all their children to make health care decisions. When there are disputes, the doctor ends up having to make the decision. The doctor does not want to be a mediator. One person needs to be the spokesperson for you.

Health Care Directive or Living Will. The name of these documents and what they serve to accomplish does vary from state to state, so speak with an estate planning attorney in your state to determine exactly what it is that you need.

Health Care Proxy. This is the health care agent who makes medical decisions on your behalf, when you can no longer do so. In Maine, that’s a health care advance directive. The document should be given to the named person for easy access. It should also be given to doctors and medical providers.

DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate Order. This is a document that says that if your heart has stopped working or if you stop breathing, not to bring you back to life. When an ambulance arrives and the EMT asked for this document, it’s because they need to know what your wishes are. Some folks put them on the fridge or in a folder where an aide or family member can find them easily. If you are in cardiac arrest and the DNR is with a family member who is driving from another state to get to you, the EMT is bound by law to revive you. You need to have that on hand, if that is your wish.

How Much Should You Tell Your Kids? While it’s really up to you as to how much you want to share with your kids, the more they know, the more they can help in an emergency. Some seniors bring their kids with them to the estate planning attorney’s office, but some prefer to keep everything under wraps. At the very least, the children need to know where the important documents are, and have contact information for the estate planning attorney, the accountant and the financial advisor. Many people create a binder with all of their important documents, so there are no delays caused in healthcare decisions.

Reference: Catching Health (May 28, 2019) “Getting your affairs in order.”