Why A Health Care Proxy Makes Sense
Why A Health Care Proxy Makes Sense

Why A Health Care Proxy Makes Sense

Why A Health Care Proxy Makes Sense. Having a Health Care Proxy or health care power of attorney in place before it is needed, is one of the best ideas of estate planning, along with having a Power of Attorney in place before it is needed. Why? This is because taking a pro-active approach to both of these documents, means that when the unexpected occurs and that is exactly how things occur—unexpectedly—the person or persons you have named for these important roles will be able to step in quickly and made decisions.

Why A Health Care Proxy Makes Sense. Time is often of the essence, when these documents are needed.

According to the article “Medical guardianship versus power of attorney” from The News Enterprise, a health care proxy is a document that grants another person the power to make medical decisions for you, when you no longer have the ability to make those decisions for yourself. It is known by a few other names, depending on the state where you live: health care proxy, a medical power of attorney or a health care surrogate.

It needs to have HIPAA-compliant language, which will allow the person you name the ability to review medical information and discuss protected health information with your health care providers.

A health care proxy may also include language for an advance medical directive, which gives instructions for end-of-life decisions. This is often called a “living will,” and is your legal right to reject medical treatment, decisions about feeding tubes and the number of doctors required to determine the probability of recovery and pain management.

A health care power of attorney does not generally empower another person to make decisions, until you are unable to do so. Unlike a general durable power of attorney, which permits another person to make financial or business decisions with you while you are living, as long as you are able to understand your medical situation, you are still in charge of your medical decisions.

A guardianship is completely different from these documents. A guardian may only be appointed, if a judge or jury finds you wholly or partially disabled in such a way that you cannot manage your own finances or your health. The appointment of a guardian is a big deal. Once someone has been appointed your guardian, you do not have any legal right to make decisions for yourself. A court will also appoint a legal fiduciary, who will make your financial decisions.

There are record-keeping requirements with a guardianship that do not exist for a power of attorney. The court-appointed representative is responsible for reporting to the court any actions that they have taken on your behalf.

To have power of attorney documents executed, the person must be capable of understanding what they are signing. This means that someone receiving a diagnosis of dementia needs to have these documents prepared, as soon as they learn that their capacity will diminish in the near future.

If the documents are not prepared and executed in a timely fashion, a guardianship proceeding may be the only option. Planning in advance is the best way to ensure that the people you trust are the ones making decisions for you. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney now to have these documents in place.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Oct. 13, 2019) “Medical guardianship versus power of attorney”

 

Should I Get an Attorney if I Have to Fight Over my Mom’s Estate?
Should I get an attorney if I have to fight over my mom's estate

Should I Get an Attorney if I Have to Fight Over my Mom’s Estate?

Should I get an attorney if I have to fight over my mom’s estate?

Blended families are common these days. With blended families may come some estate planning issues. One of these is when a step-sister is appointed as executor of your mom’s will.

nj.com’s recent article, “I’m fighting with my mom’s executor. What can I do?”, looks at this situation where there are two homes involved—one in which the executor sister lives and the executor’s other sister lives in the second house. The daughter here has been denied access to anything other than a few photos, she must share with her only full sister.

While many people believe they can’t afford an attorney, in a battle over an estate, you’re probably going to need one.

Let’s assume the daughter is an heir entitled to a portion of her mother’s estate.

While the daughter says she’s been denied access to the homes, an attorney will check to see if the will gives her a right to possession and/or ownership.

If the daughter doesn’t have a copy of the will, the executor must provide one to her.

She can also get a copy from the surrogate’s office or county court, where the will was probated.

The will likely describes what her rights are and the appropriate action the attorney can take on her behalf.

The will might provide her stepsisters with the right to live in the homes, it may provide them with ownership of the homes, or it may simply provide that the estate is to be divided between the beneficiaries in certain percentages or dollar amounts.

Should I get an attorney if I have to fight over my mom’s estate? Yes. The first step is to retain a qualified estate planning attorney and to take a look at the terms of the will.

Reference: nj.com (September 19, 2019) “I’m fighting with my mom’s executor. What can I do?”

 

What Can I Do with Unspent Money in a 529 Plan?
What Can I Do with Unspent Money in a 529 Plan?

What Can I Do with Unspent Money in a 529 Plan?

What Can I Do with Unspent Money in a 529 Plan? Here are some ideas for how to spend money saved in a 529 plan to avoid taxes and the 10% penalty.

Los Altos Online’s recent article, “How to use up leftover money in a 529 college savings plan,” says there several ways to use unspent money in a 529 plan, while avoiding the taxes and/or penalties. Here are some options to consider.

Graduate school. If your child is interested in an advanced degree, the money can be used tax free, just as it was for college. Any school that gets financial aid qualifies.

Another child. You can change the beneficiary of the 529 plan to another qualifying family member, without any tax implications. If you have other children, the funds can be used to pay for their qualified expenses—even if you have other 529 plans for them. Money in 529 plans can now also be used for elementary and secondary education.

Another relative. You can change the beneficiary to parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, stepparents and even first cousins. There’s no deadline for using the funds, so you can keep it as a gift for a future grandchild. However, avoid skipping a generation, because that could trigger a tax penalty.

Your own or your spouse’s career. If you’re interested in changing your career or just want to get a new degree in retirement, using leftover 529 funds will let you avoid using other savings.

Estate planning. You can choose to give a 529 account to an heir. You keep control of the account until you pass away and can continue to make annual tax-free contributions up to the gift-tax exclusion amount, provided the account value doesn’t exceed the state’s maximum limit. After you die, the value isn’t counted as part of your estate for estate taxes.

Offset any scholarships. You can withdraw any amount from the 529 plan, up to the value of all scholarships and the 10% penalty is waived, even if you apply years after the scholarship was earned. The earnings are taxable, but because distributions include both earnings and contributions, only part of this will be taxed.

Give the money to your child or spend it yourself. You could just pay the taxes and the 10% penalty and use the money as you please. The earnings are taxed at your child’s rate.

Reference: Los Altos Online (September 18, 2019) “How to use up leftover money in a 529 college savings plan”

 

When are You Done with Estate Planning?
When are You Done with Estate Planning?

When are You Done with Estate Planning?

When are You Done with Estate Planning?

A family has set up their estate plan. Two sons are already in the farming business and are thriving. Their daughter will receive the proceeds from a second-to-die life insurance policy and their considerable savings. The amounts are not equal in amount, but they are an equitable inheritance, and it seems like the couple has done its homework.

However, asks an article in The Courier, “The will is done, you’re sitting pretty—but are you?”

Estate planning is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Like farming, it gets put together over time, piece by piece. Each piece represents something that needs to be done. For instance, a key part of the puzzle is having a last will and testament. That functions like building the outside frame of the puzzle, for those who start their puzzles by building the perimeter first. It frames the rest of your estate plan.

Other pieces are included within the will, like naming a personal representative, or executor. This is the person who is in charge of distributing your assets and making sure that the directions in your will are followed, when you pass away.

Do you have a plan for what happens when you die? For instance, if a husband dies, is there a plan for the wife to maintain the farm, or will she sell machinery and other transitory assets?

When are You Done with Estate Planning? For the couple mentioned above who has the will, a transition spelled out in the will and a second-to-die policy in place to supplement the daughter’s inheritance, congratulations: they have many pieces of the puzzle in place. However, that’s not everything.

The other parts of the puzzle have to do with issues while the couple is still living. What happens if one or both are injured, or become ill? Who should take over the farming in the short or long term? Who will care for the spouse or spouses? Will they depend on each other for caretaking, or their daughter?

The number one worry for seniors is whether they have enough money to last until they die. However, by taking a portion of their savings and investing in a long-term care insurance policy, they can rest assured that they or their spouse will get the care they need—in a nursing home or at home—without burning through the family’s savings.

This piece of the estate planning puzzle—preparing for illness or disability—is often missing, and it can turn the rest of the estate plan into a pile of unattached pieces.

Speak with an estate planning attorney today to make sure your estate plan does not have any missing pieces. If you have not recently reviewed your estate plan in the last three or four years, schedule a review. Changes in the law and changes in your own life may make your old estate plan out of date and may no longer achieve the goals you had in mind.

Reference: The Courier (Sep. 4, 2019) “The will is done, you’re sitting pretty—but are you?”

 

How Do I Find a Great Estate Planning Attorney?
How Do I Find a Great Estate Planning Attorney?

How Do I Find a Great Estate Planning Attorney?

How Do I Find a Great Estate Planning Attorney?

Taking care of important estate planning tasks will limit the potential for family fighting and possible legal battles, in the event you become incapacitated, as well as after your death. An estate planning attorney can help you avoid mistakes and missteps and assist you in adjusting your plans as your individual situation and the laws change.

Next Avenue’s recent article “How to Find a Good Estate Planner” offers a few tips for finding one:

How Do I Find a Great Estate Planning Attorney? Ask for referrals from friends and family. Ask them questions about their attorney and the estate planning process. Were they satisfied with the communication they had with the attorney? Were their questions answered? Were there any concerns with the information, advice or length of time for the work to be produced?

Go with a Specialist. Not every lawyer specializes in estate planning, so look for one whose primary focus is estate and trust law in your area. After you’ve found a few possibilities, ask him or her for references. Speak to those clients to get a feel for what it will be like to work with this attorney, as well as the quality of his or her work. It is valuable to have an attorney that also handles related fields. It makes sense for an attorney that prepares wills to also handle will contests and litigation around will preparation. The litigation about preparing wills informs the internal office work and makes it more precise and more immune to family challenges.

Ask About Experience.  Ask about the attorney’s trusts-and-estates experience. Ask about the attorney’s estate planning practice and whether your situation is similar to past client experiences. Be sure your attorney can handle your situation, whether it is a complex business estate or a small businesses and family situation. If you have an aging parent, work with an elder law attorney.

Be Clear on Prices. The cost of your estate plan will depend on the complexity of your needs, your location and your attorney’s experience level. When interviewing potential candidates, ask them what they’d charge you and how you’d be charged. Some estate planning attorneys charge a flat fee. If you meet with a flat-fee attorney, ask exactly what the cost includes and ask if it’s based on a set number of visits or just a certain time period. You should also see which documents are covered by the fee and whether the fee includes the cost of any future updates. There are some estate-planning attorneys who charge by the hour.

It’s an Ongoing Relationship. See if you’re comfortable with the person you choose, because you’ll be sharing personal details of your life and concerns with them.

Ask for affiliations. Is your attorney part of the estate planning community? Your attorney should be active in the local and national estate planning scene. This way your attorney has the resources to interact with local colleagues about local issues and the ability to spot trends on a nationwide level.

Reference: Next Avenue (September 10, 2019) “How to Find a Good Estate Planner”

 

The Art of Being a Smart Snowbird
The Art of Being a Smart Snowbird

The Art of Being a Smart Snowbird

The Art of Being a Smart Snowbird. The interstates get busy in September, when retirees take to the highways to leave the north behind and head to their southern or southwestern homes, reports Next Avenue in “7 Tips for Being a Successful Snowbird.” Some snowbirds have a more enjoyable experience than others, in part because of their preparation.

Here are a few lessons from the experienced snowbirds:

The Art of Being a Smart Snowbird:

Choose a location that suits you. Don’t confuse a cold-weather home with a vacation spot. You’ll be living your daily life here. Therefore, you want to find the activities that you enjoy on a regular basis. If your regular life at home is busy and you like it that way, moving to a laid-back beach town or an isolated cabin in the woods may not be a good fit for more than a few days.

Look before you leap. Rent a place for a month or two, before committing to spending an entire winter there. You can’t know if you love a place before you live there for an extended period of time. If you’re not happy, you can try someplace else. Once you find the right spot, book the whole winter. Book the whole next winter as well. Good spots go fast.

Switch bills to be paid online. Before everything was online, it was tricky to take care of your home bills while living somewhere else. Make all your bills payable online or put them on autopay. If your bank doesn’t have a branch nearby, open an account in a nearby bank and link with your home bank, so you can easily move money between accounts.

Make new friends and new connections. One of the adjustments of snowbird life is leaving family and friends back up north. If you are in a community with lots of snowbirds, they are likely to be in the same position as you. Introduce yourself, join clubs and get active.

Don’t overbook your time with guests. You may love having friends come down, but being a frequent host takes a lot of time and energy. Don’t turn your winter residence into a bed and breakfast. Don’t be afraid to limit the number of nights for your houseguests. This is your home, not a hotel.

Make it a second home if you own it. If you buy rather than rent, it’s easier to keep some things there. Therefore, you are not lugging quite as much back and forth. However, even in a rental, you may be able to store some items, or rent a small storage unit nearby. Doing so will make travelling easier, and your snowbird nest will feel more like home.

Enjoy the ride back and forth. There’s no need to rush, if you’re going to be staying for a few months. If you’ve always travelled by interstate, maybe a side trip along local roads will break up the monotony and create some new memories. Stop by to visit with relatives along the way, or the national park that you’ve been meaning to experience. Make the ride an enjoyable part of your journey.

Reference: Next Avenue (Sep. 13, 2019)  “7 Tips for Being a Successful Snowbird.”

 

Why Advance Directives are Needed
Why Advance Directives are Needed

Why Advance Directives are Needed

Why Advance Directives are Needed and they should be accessible to the family.

There are two sad parts to this story. The first was that the family panicked and had a feeding tube put in, despite their mother’s wishes. The second, says WRAL in the article “Advance directives lift burden of tough decisions at end of life,” was that after the woman died several years later, her family found the advance directive.

Why Advance Directives are Needed: Without knowing about a loved one’s wishes for their end-of-life care, it’s hard to honor them. That’s why documentation, like advance directives, are so important. So is telling your family where your important legal documents are.

What is an advance directive?

An advance directive is a broad legal term that can include a few different documents, but mostly includes a Living Will and a Health Care Power of Attorney. These documents give a person the ability to express what medical care they want and don’t want.

Cases like the women mentioned earlier highlight the importance of this kind of document. While her advance directive was misplaced, many people don’t have them at all. These are important to address non-financial end-of-life issues, both for the person and for their families.

Most people would prefer not to have life-prolonging measures implemented. Without this document, the decision to remove a breathing machine or a heart machine can be even more difficult for a spouse or a child. The burdens are not just emotional.

If there is no decision maker named and family members disagree about what their loved one would have wanted, a battle may break out in the family that results in a court fight.

A few notes on advance directives:

  • They can be created at any time, but most people tend to consider them at midlife or close to retirement.
  • The document can be amended at any time and should be reassessed through the course of life.
  • One decision maker should be appointed to avoid arguments.

Health care agents, doctors and loved ones should all be provided with copies, and the originals should be accessible. Some people put them on the refrigerator, so first responders can find them quickly.

Talk with your estate planning attorney about including an advance directive and a health care power of attorney among your estate planning documents. This is a burden that you can make lighter for those you love.

Reference: WRAL (Sep. 18, 2019) “Advance directives lift burden of tough decisions at end of life”

 

How Do I Deed My Home into a Trust?
How Do I Deed My Home into a Trust?

How Do I Deed My Home into a Trust?

How Do I Deed My Home into a Trust?

Say that a husband used his inheritance to purchase the family home outright. The wife signed a quitclaim deed to him to put the property into his living trust with the condition that if he died before his wife, she could live in the home until her death.

However, a common issue is that the husband or the creator of the trust never signed the living trust. So what would happen to the property if the husband were to die before the wife?

This can be complicated if the couple lives out-of-state and it’s a second marriage for each of the spouses. They both also have adult children from prior marriages.

The Herald Tribune’s recent article, “Home ownership complications need guidance from estate planning attorney,” says that in this situation it’s important to know if the deed was to the husband personally or to his living trust. If the wife quitclaimed the home to her husband personally, he then owns her share of the home, subject to any marital interests she may still have in the home. However, if the wife quitclaimed the home to his living trust, and the trust was never created, the deed may be invalid. The wife may still own the husband’s interest in the home.

It’s common for a couple to own the home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. This would have meant that if the wife died, her husband would own the entire property automatically. If he died, she’d own the entire home automatically. She then signed a quitclaim deed over to him or his trust.

First, the wife should see if the deed was even filed or recorded. If it wasn’t recorded or filed, she could simply destroy the document and keep the status of the title as it was. However, if the document was recorded and she transferred ownership to her husband, he would be the sole owner of the home, subject to her marital rights under state law.

If the trust doesn’t exist, her quitclaim deed transfer to an entity that doesn’t exist would create a situation, where she could claim that she still owned her interest in the home. However, the home may now be owned by the spouses as tenants in common, rather than joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

To complicate things further, if the husband now owns the home and the wife has marital rights in the home, upon his death, she may still be entitled to a share of the home under her husband’s will, if he has one, or by the laws of intestacy. However, the husband’s children would also own a share of his share of the home. At that point, the wife would co-own the home with his children.

How Do I Deed My Home into a Trust? Well, you can see how crazy this can get. It’s best to seek the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney to guide you through the process and make sure that the proper documents get signed and filed or recorded.

Reference: The (Sarasota, FL) Herald Tribune (September 8, 2019) “Home ownership complications need guidance from estate planning attorney”

 

Estate Planning Is for Everyone at Every Age
Estate Planning Is for Everyone at Every Age

Estate Planning Is for Everyone at Every Age

Estate Planning Is for Everyone at Every Age.

As we go through the many milestones of life, it’s important to plan for what’s coming, and also plan for the unexpected. An estate planning attorney works with individuals, families and businesses to plan for what lies ahead, says the Cincinnati Business Courier in the article “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.” For younger families, having an estate plan is like having life insurance: it is hoped that the insurance is never needed, but having it in place is comforting.

For others, in different stages of life, an estate plan is needed to ensure a smooth transition for a business owner heading to retirement, protecting a spouse or children from creditors or minimizing tax liability for a family.

Estate Planning Is for Everyone at Every Age: here are some milestones in life when an estate plan is needed:

Becoming an adult. It is true, for most 18-year-olds, estate planning is the last thing on their minds. However, at 18 most states consider them legal adults, and their parents no longer control many things in their lives. If parents want or need to be involved with medical or financial matters, certain estate planning documents are needed. All new adults need a general power of attorney and health care directives to allow someone else to step in, if something occurs.

That can be as minimal as a parent talking with a doctor during an office appointment or making medical decisions during a crisis. A HIPAA release should also be prepared. A simple will should be considered, especially if assets are to pass directly to siblings or a significant person in their life, to whom they are not married.

Getting married. Marriage unites individuals and their assets. For newly married couples, estate planning documents should be updated for each spouse, so their estate plans may be merged, and the new spouse can become a joint owner, primary beneficiary and fiduciary. In addition to the wills, power of attorney, healthcare directive and beneficiary designations also need to be updated to name the new spouse or a trust. This is also a time to start keeping a list of assets, in case someone needs to access accounts.

When children join the family. Whether born or adopted, the entrance of children into the family makes an estate plan especially important. Choosing guardians who will raise the children in the absence of their parents is the hardest thing to think about, but it is critical for the children’s well-being. A revocable trust may be a means of allowing the seamless transfer and ongoing administration of the family’s assets to benefit the children and other family members.

Part of business planning. Estate planning should be part of every business owner’s plan. If the unexpected occurs, the business and the owner’s family will also be better off, regardless of whether they are involved in the business. At the very least, business interests should be directed to transfer out of probate, allowing for an efficient transition of the business to the right people without the burden of probate estate administration.

If a divorce occurs. Divorce is a sad reality for more than half of today’s married couples. The post-divorce period is the time to review the estate plan to remove the ex-spouse, change any beneficiary designations, and plan for new fiduciaries. It’s important to review all accounts to ensure that any controlling-on-death accounts are updated. A careful review by an estate planning attorney is worth the time to make sure no assets are overlooked.

Upon retirement. Just before or after retirement is an important time to review an estate plan. Children may be grown and take on roles of fiduciaries or be in a position to help with medical or financial affairs. This is the time to plan for wealth transfer, minimizing estate taxes and planning for incapacity.

Reference: Cincinnati Business Courier (Sep. 4, 2019) “Estate planning considerations for every stage of life.”