Preparing for an Emergency Includes Power of Attorney

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Unexpected events can happen at any time. Without a backup plan, finances are vulnerable. The importance of having an estate plan and organized legal and financial documents on a scale of one to ten is fifteen, advises the article “Are you prepared to hand over your finances to someone in an emergency?” from USA Today. Maybe it doesn’t matter so much if your phone bill is a month late but miss a life insurance premium payment and your policy may lapse. If you’re over 70, chances are slim to none that you’ll be able to purchase a new one.

When estate plans and finances are organized to the point that you can easily hand them over to a trusted spouse, adult child, or other responsible person, you gain the peace of mind of knowing you and your family are prepared for anything. Someone can take care of you and your family, in case the unexpected happens.

A financial power of attorney (POA) gives another person the legal authority to take financial actions on your behalf. The person you give this responsibility to should be someone you trust and who will put your best interests ahead of their own. An estate planning attorney will be able to create a power of attorney that can be very specific about the powers that are granted.

You may want your POA to be able to pay bills and manage your investment accounts, for instance, but you may not want them to make changes to trusts. A personalized power of attorney document can give you that level of control.

Consider your routine for taking care of household finances. Most of us do these tasks on autopilot. We don’t think about how it would be if someone else had to take over, but we should. Take a pad of paper and make notes about every task you complete in a given month: what bills do you pay monthly, which are paid quarterly and what comes due only once or twice a year? By making a detailed record of the tasks, you’ll save your spouse or family member a great deal of time and angst.

Is your paperwork organized so that someone else will be able to find things? Most people create their own systems, but they are not always understandable to anyone else. Create a folder or a file that holds all of your important documents, like insurance policies and investment accounts, legal documents, and deeds.

If you pay bills online, naming someone else on the account so they have access is ideal. If not, then try consolidating the bills you can. Many banks allow users to set up bill payments through one account.

Keep legal documents and records up to date. If you haven’t reviewed your estate planning documents in more than three years, now is the time to speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan still reflects your wishes. Call your estate planning attorney to discuss your next steps.

Reference: USA Today (March 20, 2020) “Are you prepared to hand over your finances to someone in an emergency?”

Why Is Walt Disney’s Grandson Unable to Claim his $200 Million Inheritance?

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Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan recently claimed that Walt Disney’s grandson Bradford D. Lund had Down Syndrome—despite being presented with DNA evidence proving the opposite. The judge also ruled Lund to be “unfit” to receive his $200 million inheritance from Walt Disney and appointed him a temporary guardian to make all his legal decisions. This was all ordered without a hearing. Lund’s legal team is now trying to contest the rulings.

Inside the Magic’s recent article entitled “Walt Disney’s Grandson Sues Judge Claiming He Has Down Syndrome Without Evidence, Blocking $200 Million Inheritance” says that in the complaint, Lund’s attorney Lanny Davis alleges that the probate court’s action is “all too reminiscent of a perspective where facts do not matter but alternative facts do, where the constitution does not matter…”

The alternative facts Davis spoke of are from a 2016 court decision by Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig from a 10-day trial brought on by “disgruntled relatives” against Lund. The trial came after seven years of litigation questioning whether Lund was required to have a limited guardianship. In that trial, Lund was examined by two court-appointed physicians, one court-appointed expert and by Judge Oberbillig himself in open court.

From the investigation, Judge Oberbillig rejected the family’s claims that Lund needed guardianship and ruled that Lund was “not incapacitated.” However, Judge Cowan ignored Oberbillig’s ruling and the DNA evidence that showed Lund doesn’t have Down Syndrome. Instead, Cowan stated from the bench: “Do I want to give 200 million dollars, effectively, to someone who may suffer, on some level, from Down syndrome? The answer is no.”

From this statement, Lund’s legal team brought an additional cause of action that claims Judge Cowan and the Los Angeles Court violated an anti-discrimination law, when Judge Cowan made this “indisputably false” statement and “perception.” They claim this resulted in discrimination against Lund and his loss of freedom regarding the right to counsel and property rights without due process of law.

On Feb. 27, 2020, Lund’s counsel also filed a federal civil rights case in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Judge Cowan for alleged violation of Lund’s constitutional due process rights in the appointment of a limited guardian ad lit em.

Lund was supposed to have received his portion of his mother’s trust fund when he was 35, which was 15 years ago. He is now 50 years old.

Reference:  Inside the Magic (March 25, 2020) “Walt Disney’s Grandson Sues Judge Claiming He Has Down Syndrome Without Evidence, Blocking $200 Million Inheritance”

Get a Medical Power of Attorney Now

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If you have not yet named someone with Medical Power of Attorney, stop procrastinating and get this crucial planning in place now.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney (also known as an Advance Healthcare Directive) is a legal document you use to give someone else the authority to make medical decisions for you when you can no longer make them yourself.  This person, also known as an agent, can only exercise this power if your doctor says you are unable to make key decisions yourself.

Other Terms for Medical Power of Attorney

Depending on the state where you live, the medical power of attorney may be called something else. You may have seen this referred to as a health care power of attorney, an advance directive, advance health care directive, a durable power of attorney for health care, etc. There are many variations, but they all mean fundamentally the same thing.

Be aware that each state has its own laws about medical powers of attorney, so it’s important to work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure your decisions will be enforced through legally binding documents. Also, some states may not honor documents from other states, so even if you made these decisions and created documents in another state, it’s wise to review with an estate attorney to ensure they are legally valid in your state now.

What Can My Medical Agent Do for Me?

Just like there are many different terms for the medical power of attorney, there also are different terms for the medical agent – this person may be referred to as an attorney-in-fact, a health proxy, or surrogate.

Some of the things a medical POA authorizes your agent to decide for you:

  • Which doctors or facilities to work with and whether to change doctors
  • Give consent for additional testing or treatment
  • How aggressively to treat
  • Whether to disconnect life support

We are ready to help walk you through these decisions, understand the ramifications of your choices, and memorialize your plans in binding legal documents. We are currently offering no-contact initial conferences remotely if you prefer. Book a call now and let us help you make the right choices for yourself and your loved ones.

If I’m 35, Do I Need a Will?

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Estate planning is a crucial process for everyone, no matter what assets you have now. If you want your family to be able to deal with your affairs, debts included, drafting an estate plan is critical, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate planning for those 40 and under.”

If you have young children or other dependents, planning is vitally important. The less you have, the more important your plan is, so it can provide as long as possible and in the best way for those most important to you. You can’t afford to make a mistake.

Talk to your family about various “what if” situations. It is important that you’ve discussed your wishes with your family and that you’ve considered the many contingencies that can happen, like a serious illness or injury, incapacity, or death. This also gives you the chance to explain your rationale for making a larger gift to someone, rather than another or an equal division. This can be especially significant if there’s a second marriage with children from different relationships and a wide range of ages. An open conversation can help to avoid hard feelings later.

You should have the basic estate plan components, which include a will, a living will, advance directive, powers of attorney, and a designation of an agent to control the disposition of remains. These are all important components of an estate plan that should be created at the beginning of the planning process. A guardian (or guardians) should also be named for any minor children.

In addition, a life insurance policy can give your family the needed funds in the event of an untimely death and loss of income—especially for young parents. The loss of one or both spouses’ income can have a drastic impact.

Remember that your estate plan shouldn’t be a “one and done thing.” You need to review your estate plan every few years. This gives you the opportunity to make changes based on significant life events, tax law changes, the addition of more children, or their changing needs. You should also monitor your insurance policies and investments because they dovetail into your estate plan and can fluctuate based on the economic environment.

When you draft these documents, you should work with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 21, 2020) “Estate planning for those 40 and under”

Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

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For some couples, getting married just doesn’t feel necessary. However, they need to know that they don’t enjoy the automatic legal rights and protections that legally wed spouses do, especially when it comes to death. There are many spousal rights that come with a marriage certificate, reports CNBC in the article “Here’s what happens to your partner if you’re not married and you die.” Without the benefit of marriage, extra planning is necessary to protect each other.

For one, taxes are a non-starter. There’s no federal or state income tax form that will permit a non-married couple to file jointly. If one of the couple’s employers is the source of health insurance for both, the amount that the company contributes is taxable to the employee. A spouse doesn’t have to pay taxes on health insurance.

More important, however, is what happens when one of the partners dies or becomes incapacitated. A number of documents need to be created, so should one become incapacitated, the other is able to act on their behalf. Preparations also need to be made, so the surviving partner is protected and can manage the deceased’s estate.

In order to be prepared, an estate plan is necessary. Creating a plan for what happens to you and your estate is critical for unmarried couples who want their commitment to each other to be protected at death. The general default by law for a married couple (even a very unprepared one with no documents) is that everything goes to the surviving spouse. However, for unmarried couples, the default may be a sibling, children, parents or other relatives. It definitely won’t be the unmarried partner.

This is especially relevant when a person dies with no will. The courts in the state of residence will decide who gets what, depending upon the law of that state. If there are multiple heirs who have conflicting interests, it could become nasty—and expensive.

However, a will isn’t all that is needed.

Most tax-advantaged accounts—Roth IRAs, traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans, etc.—have beneficiaries named. That person receives the assets upon the death of the owner. The same is true for investment accounts, annuities, life insurance and any financial product that has a beneficiary named. The beneficiary receives the asset, regardless of what is in the will. This can be an easy way to include an unmarried partner in your estate plan.

Checking, savings and investment accounts that are in both partner’s names will become the property of the surviving person, but accounts with only one person’s name on them will not. A Transfer on Death (TOD) or Payable on Death (POD) designation should be added to any single-name accounts.

Unmarried couples who own a home together need to check how the deed is titled, regardless of who is on the mortgage. The legal owner is the person whose name is on the deed. If the house is only in one person’s name, it may be difficult to transfer to the other person. Change the deed so both names are on the deed with rights of survivorship, so both are entitled to assume full ownership upon the death of the other.

To prepare for incapacity, an estate planning attorney can help create a durable power of attorney for health care so that partners will be able to make medical decisions on each other’s behalf. A living will should also be created for both people, which states wishes for end of life decisions. For financial matters, a durable power of attorney will allow each partner to have control over the other’s financial affairs.

It takes a little extra planning for unmarried couples, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have prepared to care for each other until death do you part is priceless.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 16, 2019) “Here’s what happens to your partner if you’re not married and you die”

Why are Two Brothers Fighting Over Their Mother’s Life?

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An elderly mom is at the center of a court battle between her two sons. Her eldest son is set to face off against his brother in Nassau County Court, arguing he wants to keep their mother on a ventilator and feeding tube, while his sibling wants to pull the plug.

The New York Post’s recent article entitled “91-year-old LI woman mouths ‘I want to live’ on video amid legal battle” reports that the older brother, Edward, submitted the video he says was taken in November. It shows their mother even mouthing the words, “I want to live.’’

The mom, Arline, has been physically incapacitated since suffering a string of circulation and breathing problems over the past year, Edward said. His brother, Kyle, asked a judge to declare him her sole guardian, noting that he hopes to take her off life support. However, he contends that this is what their mom would want.

Kyle accuses Edward of keeping their mom alive against her will, so he can stay in her Long Beach home and “plunder” her assets, including the total $5,400 she collects every month from Social Security and her pension. Kyle requested that the hospital take Arline off life support pursuant to her 1999 living will, in which she’d asked not to be kept alive by machines if she ever became seriously ill.

Edward says that his mother clearly changed her mind and denies he has a financial stake in keeping her alive. In fact, if her health improves enough that she can be moved from the hospital into a nursing home, as he hopes, her income and estate (and both sons’ inheritance) worth approximately a quarter-million dollars to each of them, will soon be eaten up by nursing-home costs, Edward argues. Edward says that he gave up his career in Colorado as a mortgage and real estate broker to come back to New York to care for her.

In his mother’s “I want to live” video, filmed in November from her hospital bed, Edward asks Arline, “You have no leg, right?” referring to a recent amputation of her left leg due to circulatory problems. She nods yes.

“You understand that?” he asks.

Again, she nods yes.

“You have a feeding tube in you, you understand that, right? You have a tracheotomy and you have the thing breathing for you?” Edward asks his mom.

His mother nods yes, each time.

Edward then urges her to mouth the words, “I want to stay alive,’’ just to be absolutely clear. She does.

“With everything wrong with you, do you still want to stay alive?” he asks again, gently.

Yes, she nods.

A week after the video was taped, she executed a living will, with the help of an elder law lawyer, that states, “I wish to be treated aggressively for all conditions” and directs doctors “to continue to prolong my life as long as possible, within the limits of generally acceptable health care standards.”

Edward said that the hospital staff conducted a competency hearing administered by a psychiatrist, and she was determined to be competent. He insists that there’s still a chance their mother’s health will improve.

Reference: New York Post (Jan. 5, 2020) “91-year-old LI woman mouths ‘I want to live’ on video amid legal battle” 

How Does a Conservatorship Work?

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Millennials, now in their 30s, need to begin thinking about caring for their boomer parents, as medical, financial and mental health needs come up. For lucky families, this will mean conversations with travel agents and financial advisors. For those not so fortunate, it will mean conversations with doctors, nursing home staff and, in some cases, with lawyers regarding conservatorships, says KAKE.com in the article “What is a Conservatorship and How Does It Work?”

A conservatorship is a form of legal guardianship of an adult. The conservator has legal authority over certain parts of the person’s life. It may be a “limited conservatorship,” where only specific matters are under the conservator’s control, like health or finances. The “full conservatorship” gives the conservator complete control over the person’s life, in the same way, that a parent has legal control over a child.

Conservatorship is granted when you can show the court that the person no longer has the capacity to make decisions on their own behalf. In almost all cases, this is based on their mental capacity. While it can happen, physical incapacity alone rarely is acceptable for a conservatorship to be awarded.

Some common reasons for conservatorship include if the person is in a coma, suffers from Alzheimer’s, dementia or severe mental illness, or has a permanent or genetic mental disability that prevents them from ever reaching the maturity or independence necessary for them to make all the decisions necessary to care for themselves.

Conservatorship is a legal proceeding, and the appointment of the conservator must be granted by an officer or appointee of the court. It is typically handled by a state probate court or family court. Hearings are usually held by a judge or a magistrate. A conservatorship may be part of estate planning. Most conservatorships require medical paperwork, but in all instances, the potential ward must have the opportunity to be heard by the decision-maker and to present their case, if they wish, as to why a conservatorship should not be granted. An individual also has the right to challenge the conservatorship in open court at any time, if they disagree.

If this sounds like a lot of complexity and trouble, that’s because it is. To avoid this, a Power of Attorney (“POA”) may be used to accomplish some of the things that would otherwise require a conservatorship. A POA gives a person the ability to make legally binding decisions for someone else, and the scope can be narrow or broad, depending on the person executing the POA. The person creating the POA can decide exactly how much power to give to another person, and it is depending on that person’s willingness to allow someone else to have control over their finances.

An estate planning attorney will be able to discuss all of the rights, responsibilities and fiduciary obligations of a conservator. Most have had experience with conservatorship and will be able to help the family and the individual make informed decisions in the best interest of the individual.

Reference: KAKE.com (December 11, 2019) “What is a Conservatorship and How Does It Work?”

The Biggest Estate Planning Errors

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The Biggest Estate Planning Errors
Young woman making a mistake on a pink background

Nobody likes to plan for events like aging, incapacity, or death. However, failing to do so can cause families burdens and grief, thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours. Fox Business’ recent article, “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid,” says that planning for life’s unexpected events is critical. However, it can often be a hard process to navigate. Let’s look at the top estate planning mistakes to avoid, according to industry experts:

1. Failing to have a will (or one that can be located). The biggest mistake is simply not having a will. Many people wait for “a more appropriate time” to put a will together. The truth is, we all need estate planning, no matter the amount of assets a person may have. In addition to having a will prepared and executed, it needs to be findable. The Wall Street Journal says that the biggest estate planning error is simply losing a will. Make sure your family has access to any estate planning documents you create.

2. Failing to name and update beneficiaries. An asset with a beneficiary designation supersedes any terms in a will. Review your 401(k), IRA, life insurance, and any other accounts with beneficiaries after any significant life event. If you don’t have the proper beneficiary designations, income tax on retirement accounts may have to be paid sooner and your heirs will have to pay a lump sum tax immediately. Without a life insurance policy, the proceeds will have to go through probate, which means they are subject to creditors’ claims.

Another mistake that impacts people with minor children is naming a guardian for minor children and then naming the guardian as the outright beneficiary of their life insurance. If money is left to the guardian, then the proceeds are now considered the assets of the guardian and do not transfer to the minors. The cash also now faces exposure to the creditors and spouse of the guardian named as a beneficiary Instead, parents should leave the money to a trust for the children and name the guardian, or another trusted and responsible person, as the trustee of the trust.

3. Failing to consider powers of attorney for adult children. When your children reach age 18, they’re adults in the eyes of the law. If something unfortunate happens to them, you may be left without any say in their treatment or even access to their medical records. In the event that an 18-year-old becomes ill or has an accident, a hospital won’t consult with their parents if a power of attorney for health care isn’t in place. Further, without a financial power of attorney, a parent may not be able to take care of bills, make investment decisions or pay taxes without the child’s signature. This could create an issue when your child is in college—especially if he or she is attending school abroad. It is very important that when your child turns 18 that you have powers of attorney put into place.

Reference: Fox Business (October 15, 2019) “Here are the top estate planning mistakes to avoid”

Why Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

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People often wonder why they would need a Power of Attorney, also known as a POA.

Fed Week’s article, “Giving Someone the Power of Attorney,” uses the example that you might suffer a stroke with no prior warning signals and be unable to sign your name. This could mean serious financial consequences. However, executing a POA can protect you in that kind of situation.

It’s important for just about everyone to have a POA. You can name more than one attorney-in-fact, stipulating if they are permitted to act alone or if they must act in concert.

Of course, the individual you designate must be someone you trust. This is typically a close (albeit younger) member of the family or a close friend. You might nominate both of your children as attorneys-in-fact, requiring that they agree to act on your behalf under a power of attorney.

If desired, you can assign different responsibilities to different individuals. For instance, you can name your spouse to make your housing decisions and your son to manage all your financial affairs.

You may not want to give power over your assets to a family member, while you’re still in command of your faculties (or have capacity). To address this, many states recognize what are called springing powers of attorney. These powers do not become effective until specified events take place, like incompetency (certified by a doctor) or when you go into a nursing home.

If your state doesn’t recognize springing powers, you often can see the same result with a durable power of attorney that’s accompanied by a letter saying that the power will go into effect, if certain events occur. For example, in Florida, contingent or “springing” powers of attorney are not permitted after legislation was passed in 2011.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney in your state, who can help you understand the type of POA your state laws allow. He or she can also keep these signed documents until they’re needed. Your attorney will also know if the law also provides that powers of attorney properly executed under the laws of another state are recognized in your state of residence.

Reference: Fed Week (October 3, 2019) “Giving Someone the Power of Attorney”

What is a Durable Power of Attorney?

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Those who have heard of a power of attorney generally understand that it gives another person the power to manage your money, but how does it work exactly? A durable power of attorney document must follow the statutory requirements, must delegate proper authority, must consider the timing of when the agent may act and a host of other issues that must be addressed, warns My San Antonio in the article “Guide to managing someone else’s money.” A durable power of attorney document can be so far-reaching that a form downloaded from the Internet is asking for major trouble.

Start by speaking with an experienced estate planning attorney to provide proper advice and draft a legally valid document that is appropriate for your situation.

Once a proper durable power of attorney has been drafted, talk with the agent you have selected and with the successor agents, you want to name, about their roles and responsibilities. For instance:

When will the agent’s power commence? Depending on the document, it may start immediately, or it may not become active until the person becomes incapacitated.

If the power is postponed, how will the agent prove that the person has become incapacitated? Will he or she need to go to court?

What is the extent of the agent’s authority? This is very important. Do you want the agent to be able to talk with the IRS about your taxes? With your investment advisor? Will the agent have the power to make gifts on your behalf, and to what extent? May the agent set up a trust for your benefit? Can the agent change beneficiary designations? What about caring for your pets? Can they talk with your lawyer or accountant?

When does the agent’s authority end? Unless the document sets an earlier date, it ends either when you revoke it, when you die, when a court appoints a guardian for you, or, if your agent is your spouse, when you divorce.

What does the agent need to report to you? What are your expectations for the agent’s role? Do you want immediate assistance from the agent, or will you continue to sign documents for yourself?

Does the agent know how to avoid personal exposure? If the agent signs a contract for you by signing his or her own name, the agent is now liable for the contract. Legally, that means that the cost of the services provided could be taken out of the agent’s wallet. Does the agent understand how to sign a contract to avoid personal liability?

All of these questions need to be addressed long before any power of attorney papers are signed. Both you and the agent need to understand the role of a power of attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to explore all the issues inherent in a durable power of attorney and make sure that it is the correct document.

Reference: My San Antonio Life (Aug. 26, 2019) “Guide to managing someone else’s money”