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Estate Planning Guardianship

Parents Want Their Children To Be Taken Care Of After They Die

There are many legal strategies involved in estate planning, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, durable powers of attorney, and health care documents. New clients often say that they do not have an estate plan. Most people are surprised to learn that they actually do have a plan. In the absence of legal planning otherwise, their estate will be distributed after death according to New York’s laws of intestacy. Of course, this may not be the plan they would have chosen. A properly drafted estate plan will replace the terms of the New York’s estate plan with your own. Reach out to your local Queens County estate planning attorney to create your estate plan.

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YOUR LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT – Your last will and testament is just one part of a comprehensive estate plan. If a person dies without a Will they are said to have died “intestate” and state laws will determine how and to whom the person’s assets will be distributed. Some things you should know about wills:

A will has no legal authority until after death. So, a will does not help manage a person’s affairs when they are incapacitated, whether by illness or injury.

A will does not help an estate avoid probate. A will is the legal document submitted to the probate court, so it is basically an “admission ticket” to probate.

A will is a good place to nominate the guardians (or back-up parents) of your minor children if they are orphaned. All parents of minor children should document their choice of guardians. If you leave this to chance, you could be setting up a family battle royal, and your children could end up with the wrong guardians.

TRUSTS: REVOCABLE LIVING TRUSTS, IRREVOCABLE TRUSTS, TESTAMENTARY TRUSTS, SPECIAL NEEDS TRUSTS, ETC. – Trusts come in many “flavors,” they can be simple or complex, and serve a variety of legal, personal, investment or tax planning purposes. At the most basic level, a trust is a legal entity with at least three parties involved: the trust-maker, the trustee (trust manager), and the trust beneficiary. Oftentimes, all three parties are represented by one person or a married couple. In the case of a revocable living trust, for example, a person may create a trust (the trust-maker) and name themselves the current trustees (trust managers) who manage the trust assets for their own benefit (trust beneficiary).

Depending on the situation, there may be many advantages to establishing a trust, including avoiding probate court. In most cases, assets owned in a revocable living trust will pass to the trust beneficiaries (or heirs) immediately upon the death of the trust-maker(s) with no probate required. Certain trusts also may result in tax advantages both for the trust-maker and the beneficiary. Or they may be used to protect property from creditors, or simply to provide for someone else to manage and invest property for the trust-maker(s) and the named beneficiaries. If well drafted, another advantage of trusts is their continuing effectiveness even if the trust-maker dies or becomes incapacitated.

POWERS OF ATTORNEY – A power of attorney is a legal document giving another person (the attorney-in-fact) the legal right (powers) to do certain things for you. What those powers are depends on the terms of the document. A power of attorney may be very broad or very limited and specific. All powers of attorney terminate upon the death of the maker, and may terminate when the maker (principal) becomes incapacitated (unable to make or communicate decisions). When the intent is to designate a back-up decision-maker in the event of incapacity, then a durable power of attorney should be used. Durable Powers of Attorney should be frequently updated because banks and other financial institutions may hesitate to honor a power of attorney that is more than a year old.

HEALTH CARE DOCUMENTS (OR ADVANCE DIRECTIVES) – An advance directive is a document that specifies the type of medical and personal care you would want should you lose the ability to make and communicate your own decisions. Anyone over the age of 18 may execute an advance directive, and this document is legally binding in NY. Your advance directive can specify who will make and communicate decisions for you, and it can set out the circumstances under which you would not like your life to be prolonged if, for example, you were in a coma with no reasonable chance of recovery.

A document that goes hand-in-hand with your advance directive is an authorization to your medical providers to allow specified individuals to access your medical information. Without this authorization, your doctor may refuse to communicate with your hand-picked decision maker.

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Estate Planning Guardianship

Top 6 Questions (and Answers) about Conservatorships and Guardianships

When someone becomes incapacitated due to illness, injury or disability, the court appoints a guardian to handle healthcare and certain non-financial decisions for that person. A guardian can be anyone over the age of 18, but must also be able to show that they are qualified to make these decisions for their loved one. A guardian is not necessarily the person who is the caregiver over the incapacitated individual.

What is a conservator?

A conservator is appointed by the court to make financial decisions for an incapacitated person. In some states, those who are appointed “conservator of the estate” are those who make financial decisions.

Those who are appointed “conservator of the person” handle the same issues as a “guardian.” Conservators can be expensive, as is the process to obtain one. There is also the potential that the incapacitated individual may be taken advantage of. To avoid a conservatorship, designate a power of attorney for your financial and medical care.
New York uses the frame of guardian for person or for the property and one person can be both.
Does my elderly loved one need a guardian?
If your family member is unable to make healthcare or financial decisions on her own, due to an injury following an accident, an illness, or disability, and she has not designated a healthcare power of attorney, she will need a guardian.
When is a conservator more appropriate than a guardian?
In some cases, someone may be perfectly capable of making her own healthcare decisions, but are unable to manage her finances. In this case, a conservator would be more appropriate. If an individual cannot make financial or healthcare decisions, both may be appropriate.
Who does the court appoint as guardian or conservator?
A court will appoint the person it deems most competent to fill the role of conservator or guardian. In general, the person must be over the age of 18. The court’s first choice is a spouse, or other close family member. If none of those is available or is unwilling to serve, then they may consider extended family or friends. If those are unwilling or unavailable, then the court will appoint a neutral third party, such as an attorney, to act as conservator or guardian. In New York, the Court maintains a list of qualified persons for that role.
How do I relinquish guardianship over my wife?
To relinquish guardianship over any loved one, you must go to court and petition to do so. It is best if you have someone else in mind to take over when you submit your petition, to ensure your loved one’s needs are met.

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Estate Planning Guardianship

Creating an Estate Plan for a Child with Special Needs

“As special needs parents we don’t have the power to make life “fair,” but we do have the power to make life joyful.” Anonymous

“All kids need is a little help, a little hope, and someone who believes in them” Magic Johnson.

Parents want their children to be taken care of after they die. But children with special needs have increased financial and care needs, so ensuring their long-term welfare can be tricky. Proper planning by parents is necessary to benefit the child with a disability, including an adult child, as well as assist any siblings who may be left with the caretaking responsibility.

Special Needs Trusts

The best and most comprehensive option to protect a loved one is to set up a special needs trust (also called a supplemental needs trust). These trusts allow beneficiaries to receive inheritances, gifts, lawsuit settlements, or other funds and yet not lose their eligibility for certain government programs, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The trusts are drafted so that the funds will not be considered to belong to the beneficiaries in determining their eligibility for public benefits.

There are three main types of special needs trusts:

A first-party trust is designed to hold a beneficiary’s own assets. While the beneficiary is living, the funds in the trust are used for the beneficiary’s benefit, and when the beneficiary dies, any assets remaining in the trust are used to reimburse the government for the cost of medical care. These trusts are especially useful for beneficiaries who are receiving Medicaid, SSI or other needs-based benefits and come into large amounts of money, because the trust allows the beneficiaries to retain their benefits while still being able to use their own funds when necessary.

The third-party special needs trust is most often used by parents and other family members to assist a person with special needs. These trusts can hold any kind of asset imaginable belonging to the family member or other individual, including a house, stocks and bonds, and other types of investments. The third-party trust functions like a first-party special needs trust in that the assets held in the trust do not affect a beneficiary’s access to benefits and the funds can be used to pay for the beneficiary’s supplemental needs beyond those covered by government benefits. The key distinction is that a third-party special needs trust does not contain the “payback” provision found in first-party trusts. This means that when the beneficiary with special needs dies, any funds remaining in the trust can pass to other family members, or to charity, without having to be used to reimburse the government.

A pooled trust is an alternative to the first-party special needs trust. Essentially, a charity sets up these trusts that allow beneficiaries to pool their resources with those of other trust beneficiaries for investment purposes, while still maintaining separate accounts for each beneficiary’s needs. When the beneficiary dies, the funds remaining in the account reimburse the government for care, but a portion also goes towards the non-profit organization responsible for managing the trust.

Life Insurance

Not everyone has a large chunk of money that can be left to a special needs trust, so life insurance can be an essential tool. If a special needs trust has been created, a life insurance policy can pay directly into it, and it does not have to go through probate or be subject to estate tax. Be sure to review the beneficiary designation to make sure it names the trust, not the child. You should make sure you have enough insurance to pay for your child’s care long after you are gone. Without proper funding, the burden of care may fall on siblings or other family members. Using a life insurance policy will also guarantee future funding for the trust while keeping the parents estate intact for other family members. When looking for life insurance, consider a second-to-die policy. This type of policy only pays out after the second parent dies, and it has the benefit of lower premiums than regular life insurance policies.

ABLE Account

An Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account allows people with disabilities who became disabled before they turned 26 to set aside up to $15,000 a year in tax-free savings accounts without affecting their eligibility for government benefits. This money can come from the individual with the disability or anyone else who may wish to give him money.

Created by Congress in 2014 and modeled on 529 savings plans for higher education, these accounts can be used to pay for qualifying expenses of the account beneficiary, such as the costs of treating the disability or for education, housing and health care, among other things. ABLE account programs have been rolling out on a state-by-state basis, but even if your state does not yet have its own program, many state programs allow out-of-state beneficiaries to open accounts. (For a directory of state programs, click here.)

Although it may be easy to set up an ABLE account, there are many hidden pitfalls associated with spending the funds in the accounts, both for the beneficiary and for her family members. In addition, ABLE accounts cannot hold more than $100,000 without jeopardizing government benefits like Medicaid and SSI. If there are funds remaining in an ABLE account upon the death of the account beneficiary, they must be first used to reimburse the government for Medicaid benefits received by the beneficiary, and then the remaining funds will have to pass through probate in order to be transferred to the beneficiary & heirs.

Get Help With Your desire to Create an Estate Plan for a Child with Special Needs.

Creating an Estate Plan for a Child with Special Needs takes forethought, patience and a willingness to include caregivers in your plan. you decide to provide for a child with special needs, proper planning is essential. Talk to your attorney to determine the best plan for your family.

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Guardianship

Britney Spears: Guardianship Case

The case of Britney Spears’s guardianship is a high-profile, widely-publicized matter. However, even though Ms. Spears has been the hot topic of conversation on the news and in the media recently, very little is actually known about the details of her situation.

I have held every attorney position in the field of guardianship, often I am appointed to a role by the Judge overseeing the case. Other times a private client hires me and I have been Petitioner’s Counsel, Counsel for the Alleged Incapacitated Person, Court Evaluator, Guardian, and Court Examiner. After the Hearing I have even been the Attorney for the Incapacitated Person and also as a Referee to hear and determine issues in the case. Over my twenty five years of experience, I have encountered a number of cases with the same general premise as this one. Although much of Ms. Spears’s case has not been revealed to the public, in many ways her circumstances are not unique. Let’s start with what we do know.

When a person faces certain “functional limitations,” and it is alleged that they are incapacitated, legal action is taken to obtain a guardian who can take care of this person when they are unable to take care of themselves.

A functional limitation is any incapacity that puts the person in question, or those around them, in a position of danger. This can be due to debilitating mental illness, cognitive or developmental disability, mental or physical decline due to old age, or any other impairment that has prevented that person from functioning safely and independently in daily life.

As a result of a functional limitation, a person may be susceptible to abuse or neglect, which is why the courts take legal intervention to protect such vulnerable people.

In this case, it is unknown what specific “functional limitations” the judge established for Ms. Spears – that is up for speculation. We do know that Judge Brenda Penny, determined that Ms. Spears poses a danger to herself or others, based on a thorough examination of her state of wellbeing. As a result, she has been under a Conservatorship for the past thirteen years. Conservatorship is a legal concept whereby a court appoints a person to manage an incapacitated person or minor’s financial and personal affairs. New York has modified their laws so that Conservatorships are now Guardianships.

In any case, we can reserve judgement or hasty condemnation of anyone involved, including Britney Spears’s father. It is easy to make assumptions based on the limited information available to us.

Very few are privy to the full story, and in the meantime I will empathize with Ms. Spears and her family and respect their privacy, and I urge you to do the same. I have seen some truly tragic guardianship proceedings – one thing I am sure of is that it is impossible to know what is going on behind closed doors.

I wish the best for Ms. Spears and her family, and will be eagerly awaiting a swift and just resolution for all involved.

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Elder Law Estate Planning Guardianship

What a Durable Power of Attorney Can Do?

“Make sure you visualize what you really want, not what someone else wants for you.” Jerry Gillies

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” Charles Dickens

Helping aging parents with daily tasks can become a challenge, if the parent has limited mobility. A trip to the bank, for example, will require coordinating the adult child’s responsibilities with the aging parent’s limitations. If the parent has more energy in the morning, for instance, but the adult child is working, this can become a bigger challenge than if the adult child can go to the bank on behalf of the parent, when it’s convenient for them — at a lunch break, for instance.

In this situation, as noted in The Daily Sentinel’s article “Tools to help your aging parent,” having a durable power of attorney will help. This type of power of attorney is a legal document that permits a child or other named individual to handle certain responsibilities, like banking. Granting a power of attorney to a child doesn’t mean giving up total control, which is often a concern of aging parents. It simply means that the child is now legally allowed to handle these tasks.

What a Durable Power of Attorney Can Do? A durable power of attorney is different than the “general medical power of attorney.” As implied by its name, this is limited to making decisions about the parent’s health care and is usually used only when the parent is not able to make these decisions on their own.

There are more serious situations, where neither of these types of power of attorney is enough, such as when the parent lacks capacity because of dementia or a medical decision. It is necessary to protect the parent from themselves or anyone who might try to take advantage of their lack of clear mental capacity. This may require that an adult child needs to be appointed as a guardian for their parent.

Being appointed a guardian can be a very emotional event, since the parent and child are not just switching emotional roles, but legal roles. The parent no longer has the capacity to make significant decisions, because a court has found that they no longer have that ability.

You may have heard the term “conservatorship” used. It is similar to guardianship, except that the conservatorship only allows for control over the parent’s financial affairs.

Guardianship is taken very seriously, as it should be. This removes an adult’s right to make any kind of decision on their own. In some states, including Colorado, the court must first be convinced that the parent is unable to effectively receive or evaluate information or to make or communicate decisions. They must be deemed incapacitated, before guardianship can be established. Once that standard has been met, then guardianship is established. If there is a doubt about incapacity, then no guardianship will be established, and the family is faced with finding other ways to help the aging parent.

What a Durable Power of Attorney Can Do is allow parents and their children to face many issues that are best addressed before incapacity becomes an issue. If the family does not have a plan for the aging parent’s care, it is recommended that the family make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to discuss the various options.

Reference: The Daily Sentinel (March 24, 2019) “Tools to help your aging parent”

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Elder Law Estate Planning Guardianship

Dementia and Advanced Directive

The Roanoke Times advises in the recent article “What to do in absence of advance directive” to talk to an experienced elder care attorney to coordinate the necessary legal issues, when dementia may be at issue with a parent or other loved one. Next, ask your physician for a geriatric evaluation consultation for your loved one with a board-certified geriatrician and a referral to a social worker to assist in navigating the medical system.

It’s wise for anyone older than 55 to have advance directives in place, should they become incapacitated, so a trusted agent can fulfill the patient’s wishes in a dignified manner. Think ahead and plan ahead.

As a family’s planning starts, the issue of competence must be defined. A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t necessarily indicate incompetence or a lack of capacity. At this point, a patient still has the right to make a decision—despite family members disagreeing with it. A patient’s competency should be evaluated after a number of poor choices or an especially serious choice that puts a patient or others at risk.

An evaluation will determine the patient’s factual understanding of concepts, decision-making and cogent expression of choices, the possible consequences of their choices and reasoning of the decision’s pros and cons. Healthcare professionals make the final determination, and these results are provided to the court.

If a patient passes the evaluation, she is deemed to have the mental capacity to make choices on her own. If she cannot demonstrate competency, an attorney can petition the court for a competency hearing, after which a trustee may be appointed to oversee her affairs.

The time to address these types of issues is before the patient becomes incapacitated. The family should clearly define and explore the topics of living wills, health care proxies, estate planning and powers of attorney now with an experienced elder law attorney.

Taking these proactive actions can be one of the greatest gifts a person can bestow upon herself and her loved ones. It can give a family peace of mind. If you put an advance directive in place, it can provide that gift when it’s needed the most.

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Elder Law Estate Planning Guardianship

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?”