Why Do You Need a Health Care Directive? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Healthy adults often make the mistake of thinking they do not need a health care directive. However, the pandemic has made clear everyone needs this estate planning document, at any time of life, according to a recent article “Health care directive beneficial for anyone” from The Times-Tribune.

Anytime a person becomes severely incapacitated, even if just for a short time, and any time a young person becomes a legal adult, a health care directive is needed. In other words, everyone over the age of 18 needs to have a health care directive.

Several health care directives are prepared by an estate planning attorney as part of a comprehensive estate plan.

A Living Will or Advance Directive is used to express wishes for medical treatments, if you are not able to express them yourself.

A Power of Attorney for Health Care (also known as a Durable POA for Health Care or a Health Care Proxy) lets you name a trusted person who will make health care decisions on your behalf, if you cannot make the decisions or communicate your wishes.

A HIPAA Privacy Authorization makes it possible for health care providers to share medical information with a person of your choice. Otherwise, the health care providers are not permitted to discuss your medical history, medical status, diagnostic reports, lab results, etc., with family members.

Short term incapacity can result from illness or recovery from surgery or intense medical treatments. Having these documents in place permits a person you trust to have important conversations with your health care providers and to make decisions on your behalf.

Physicians will be permitted to discuss medical care with a named agent, who, in turn, will be able to discuss care or status with family members.

This documentation will also allow an authorized person to help you with insurance companies, billing departments at hospitals, pharmacies and to schedule medical appointments on your behalf.

If you are not married, this is especially important. Even a partner of many years has no legal right to act on your behalf.

For parents of young adults, having these documents in place will allow them to stay involved in an adult child’s healthcare. It is not a scenario that any parent wants to contemplate, but having these documents prepared in advance can save a great deal of stress and anguish, if and when they are needed.

Reference: The Times-Tribune (Aug. 15, 2021) “Health care directive beneficial for anyone”

 

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Your Will and Estate Planning Checklist – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Dying without a Last Will and Testament creates additional costs and eliminates any chance your wishes for loved ones will be followed after your death. Typically, people think about Wills when they marry or have children, and then do not think about Wills or estate plans until they retire. While a Will is important, there are other estate planning documents that are just as important, says the recent article “10 Steps to Writing a Will” from U.S. News & World Report.

Most assets, including retirement accounts and insurance policy proceeds, can be transferred to heirs outside of a Will, if they have designated beneficiaries. However, the outcome of an estate may be more impacted by Power of Attorney for financial matters and Medical Power of Attorney documents.

Here are ten specific tasks that need to be completed for your Will to be effective. Remember, if the Will does not comply with your state’s estate law, it can be declared invalid.

  1. Find an estate planning attorney who is experienced with the laws of your state.
  2. Select beneficiaries for your Will.
  3. Check beneficiaries on non-probate assets to make sure they are current.
  4. Decide who will be the executor of your Will.
  5. Name a guardian for minor children, if yours are still young.
  6. Make a letter describing possessions and who you want to receive them. Be very specific.

There are also tasks for your own care while you are living, in case of incapacity:

  1. Name a person for the Power of Attorney role. They will be your representative for legal and financial matters, but only while you are living.
  2. Name a person for the Medical Power of Attorney to make decisions on your behalf, if you cannot.
  3. Create an Advance Directive, also known as a Living Will, to explain your wishes for medical care, particularly concerning end-of-life care.
  4. Discuss these roles and their responsibilities with the people you have chosen, and make sure they are willing to serve.

Be realistic about the people you are naming to receive your property. If you have a child who is not good with managing money, a trust can be set up to distribute assets according to your wishes: by age or accomplishments, like finishing college, going to rehab, or maintaining a steady work history.

Do not forget to tell family members where they can find your Will and other estate documents. You should also talk with them about your digital assets. If accounts are protected by passwords or facial recognition, find out if the digital platform has a process for your executor to legally obtain access to your digital assets.

Finally, do not neglect updating your Will every three to four years or anytime you have a major life event. An estate plan is like a house: it needs regular maintenance. Old Wills can disinherit family members or lead to the wrong person being in charge of your estate. An experienced estate planning attorney will make the process easier and straightforward for you and your loved ones.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (May 13, 2021) “10 Steps to Writing a Will”

 

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Get Estate Plan in Order, If Spouse Is Dying from a Terminal Illness – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Thousands of people are still dying from COVID-19 complications every day, and others are dealing with life-threatening illnesses like cancer, heart attack and stroke. If your spouse is ill, the pain is intensified by the anticipated loss of your life partner.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Your Spouse Is Dying: 5 Ways To Get Your Estate In Order Now,” says that it is frequently the attending physician who suggests that your spouse get his affairs in order.

Your spouse’s current prognosis and whether he or she is at home or in a hospital will determine whether updates can be made to your estate plan. If it has been some time since the two of you last updated your estate plan, you should review the planning with your elder law attorney or estate planning attorney to be certain that you understand it and to see if there are any changes that can and should be made. There are five issues on which to focus your attention:

A Fiduciary Review. See who is named in your estate planning documents to serve as executor and trustee of your spouse’s estate. They will have important roles after your spouse dies. Be sure you are comfortable with the selected fiduciaries, and they are still a good fit. If your spouse has been sick, you have likely reviewed his or her health care proxy and power of attorney. If not, see who is named in those documents as well.

An Asset Analysis. Determine the effect on your assets when your partner dies. Get an updated list of all your assets and see if there are assets that are held jointly which will automatically pass to you on your spouse’s death or if there are assets in your spouse’s name alone with no transfer on death beneficiary provided. See if any assets have been transferred to a trust. These answers will determine how easily you can access the assets after your spouse’s passing.

A Trust Assessment. Any assets that are currently in a trust or will pass into a trust at death will be controlled by the trust document. See who the beneficiaries are, how distributions are made and who will control the assets.

Probate Prep. If there is property solely in your spouse’s name with no transfer on death beneficiary, those assets will pass according to his or her will. Review the will to make sure you understand it and whether probate will be needed to settle the estate.

Beneficiary Designation Check. Make certain that beneficiaries of your retirement accounts and life insurance policies are current.

If changes need to be made, an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney can counsel you on how to best do this.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 26, 2021) “Your Spouse Is Dying: 5 Ways To Get Your Estate In Order Now”

 

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How Do You Plan for the Death of a Spouse? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The COVID pandemic has become a painful lesson in how important it is to having estate plans in order, especially when a spouse becomes sick, incapacitated, or dies unexpectedly. With more than 400,000 Americans dead from the coronavirus, not every one of them had an estate plan and a financial plan in place, leaving loved ones to make sense of their estate while grieving. This recent article from Market Watch titled “How to get your affairs in order if your spouse is dying” offers five things to do before the worst occurs.

Start by gathering information. Make all of your accounts known and put together paperwork about each and every account. Look for documents that will become crucial, including a durable power of attorney, an advanced health care directive and a last will. Gather paperwork for life insurance policies, investment portfolios and retirement accounts. Create a list of contact information for your estate planning attorney, accountant, insurance agent, doctors and financial advisors and share it with the people who will be responsible for managing your life. In addition, call these people, so they have as much information as possible—this could make things easier for a surviving spouse. Consider making introductions, via phone or a video call, especially if you have been the key point person for these matters.

Create a hard copy binder for all of this information or a file, so your loved ones do not have to conduct a scavenger hunt.

If there is an estate plan in place, discuss it with your spouse and family members so everyone is clear about what is going to happen. If your estate plan has not been updated in several years, that needs to be done. There have been many big changes to tax law, and you may be missing important opportunities that will benefit those left behind.

If there is no estate plan, something is better than nothing. A trust can be done to transfer assets, as long as the trust is funded properly and promptly.

Confirm beneficiary designations. Check everything for accuracy. If ex-spouses, girlfriends, or boyfriends are named on accounts that have not been reviewed for decades, there will be a problem for the family. Problems also arise when no one is listed as a beneficiary. Beneficiary designations are used in many different accounts, including retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, stock options, restricted stock and deferred compensation plans.

Many Americans die without a will, known as “intestate.” With no will, the court must rely on the state’s estate laws, which does not always result in the people you wanted receiving your property. Any immediate family or next of kin may become heirs, even if they were people you with whom you were not close or from whom you may even have been estranged. Having no will can lead to estate battles or having strangers claim part of your estate.

If there are minor children and no will to declare who their guardian should be, the court will decide that also. If you have minor children, you must have a will to protect them and a plan for their financial support.

Create a master list of digital assets. These assets range from photographs to financial accounts, utility bills and phone bills to URLs for websites. What would happen to your social media accounts, if you died and no one could access them? Some platforms provide for a legacy contact, but many do not. Prepare what information you can to avoid the loss of digital assets that have financial and sentimental value.

Gathering these materials and having these conversations is difficult, but they are a necessity if a family member receives a serious diagnosis. If there is no estate plan in place, have a conversation with an estate planning attorney who can advise what can be done, even in a limited amount of time.

Reference: Market Watch (Jan. 22, 2021) “How to get your affairs in order if your spouse is dying”

 

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The Difference between Power of Attorney and Guardianship for Elderly Parents – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The primary difference between guardianship and power of attorney is in the level of decision-making power, although there are many intricacies specific to each appointment, explains Presswire’s recent article entitled “Power of Attorney and Guardianship of an Elderly Parent.”

The interactions with adult protective services, the probate court, elder law attorneys and healthcare providers can create a huge task for an agent under a power of attorney or court-appointed guardian. Children acting as agents or guardians are surprised about the degree of interference by family members who disagree with decisions.

Doctors and healthcare providers do not always recognize the decision-making power of an agent or guardian. Guardians or agents may find themselves fighting the healthcare system because of the difference between legal capacity and medical or clinical capacity.

A family caregiver accepts a legal appointment to provide or oversee care. An agent under power of attorney is not appointed to do what he or she wishes. The agent must fulfill the wishes of the principal. In addition, court-appointed guardians are required to deliver regular reports to the court detailing the activities they have completed for elderly parents. Both roles must work in the best interest of the parent.

Some popular misperceptions about power of attorney and guardianship of a parent include:

  • An agent under power of attorney can make decisions that go against the wishes of the principal
  • An agent cannot be removed or fired by the principal for abuse
  • Adult protective services assumes control of family matters and gives power to the government; and
  • Guardians have a responsibility to save money for care, so family members can receive an inheritance.

Those who have a financial interest in inheritance can be upset when an agent under a power of attorney or a court-appointed guardian is appointed. Agents and guardians must make sure of the proper care for an elderly parent. A potential inheritance may be totally spent over time on care.

In truth, the objective is not to conserve money for family inheritances, if saving money means that a parent’s care will be in jeopardy.

Adult protective services workers will also look into cases to make certain that vulnerable elderly persons are protected—including being protected from irresponsible family members. In addition, a family member serving as an agent or family court-appointed guardian can be removed, if actions are harmful.

Agents under a medical power of attorney and court-appointed guardians have a duty to go beyond normal efforts in caring for an elderly parent or adult. They must understand the aspects of the health conditions and daily needs of the parent, as well as learning advocacy and other skills to ensure that the care provided is appropriate.

Ask an experienced elder law attorney about your family’s situation and your need for power of attorney documents with a provision for guardianship.

Reference: Presswire (Jan. 14, 2021) “Power of Attorney and Guardianship of an Elderly Parent”

 

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How to Be an Effective Advocate for Elderly Parents – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Family caregivers must also understand their loved one’s wishes for care and quality of life. They must also be sure those wishes are respected. Further, it means helping them manage financial and legal matters, and making sure they receive appropriate services and treatments when they need them.

AARP’s recent article entitled “How to Be an Effective Advocate for Aging Parents” says if the thought of being an advocate for others seems overwhelming, take it easy. You probably already have the skills you need to be effective. You may just need to develop and apply them in new ways. AARP gives us the five most important attributes.

  1. Observation. Caregivers can be too busy or tired, to see small changes, but even slightest shifts in a person’s abilities, health, moods, safety needs, or wants may be a sign of a much more serious medical or mental health issue. You should also monitor the services your family member is getting. You can take notes on your observations about your loved one to track any changes over time.
  2. Organization. It is hard to keep track of every aspect of a caregiving plan, but as an advocate, you must manage your loved one’s caregiving team. This includes creating task lists and organizing the paperwork associated with health, legal, and financial matters. You will need to have easy access to all legal documents, like powers of attorney for finances and health care. If needed, you might take an organizing course or work with a professional organizer. There are also many caregiving apps. You should also, make digital copies of key documents, such as medication lists, medical history, powers of attorney and living wills, so you can access them from anywhere.
  3. Communication. This may be the most important attribute. You need communication for building relationships with other caregivers, family members, attorneys and healthcare professionals. Be prepared for meetings with lawyers, medical professionals and other providers.
  4. Probing. Caregivers need to gather information, so do not be shy about it. Educate yourself about your loved one’s health conditions, finances and legal affairs. Create a list of questions for conversations with doctors and other professionals.
  5. Tenacity. Facing a dysfunctional and frustrating health care system can be discouraging. You must be tenacious. Here are a few suggestions on how to do that:
  • Set clear goals and focus on the end result you want.
  • Keep company with positive and encouraging people.
  • Heed the advice of experienced caregivers’ stories, so you understand the triumphs and the challenges.
  • Be positive and be resilient.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 24, 2020) “How to Be an Effective Advocate for Aging Parents”

 

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How to Tell If Mom or Dad Need Caregiving Help – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A 2016 AARP article entitled, “5 Signs Your Loved One May Need Caregiving Support,” provides some great tips on what to look for when determining if an elderly loved one needs caregiving.

  1. Fall hazards. Does your parent have stairs without railings or poor lighting and other clutter that has caused a fall? You need to evaluate fall hazards in the home. A certified aging in place specialist (CAPS), an aging life care specialist, or a physical or occupational therapist can assist you in evaluating your parent’s needs, abilities and the home environment. They can also make recommendations for home modifications or exercises for balance and strength.
  2. Unfinished business. Piles of unopened mail and unpaid bills and financial and legal documents that have not been addressed can be a sign that your loved one may be cognitively, physically, or emotionally unable to deal with them. Examine the extent of the problem and whether it is temporary or ongoing. One solution may be to just help your parent sort and prioritize the mail. You can also offer to help with complicated matters and help him or her open another checking account that can be used for cash and basic needs. This lets the adult child pay bills from the primary account. You should also make certain that your loved one has her advanced directives and other legal documents in place, so you will be able to help manage his or her affairs in an emergency.
  3. Motor vehicle accidents and tickets. If you see that your parent has had multiple accidents—even fender benders or several warnings or citations, scrapes or dents on the car—you should discuss your parent’s continued driving. You can ride along with your parent and observe. You might suggest that he or she refresh his or her driving skills by taking a driver safety course. However, if it is time to hang up the keys, offer other viable transportation options, so they do not feel that they are giving up their independence.
  4. Isolation and disconnection. If your loved one appears to be disconnected from friends, family and the community, their support system may be deteriorating, and their physical and mental health are at risk. See if he or she is lonely and look for potential activities they would enjoy. Regular phone or video calls can also help them connect, as well as using social media. You should also check for health issues, such as untreated hearing impairment, which can hinder communication.
  5. A change in appearance. A weight change, wearing the same clothes every day or dirty clothes, or issues with personal hygiene are signs that something is off. You can suggest a thorough medical and psychological evaluation to see what’s normal for your parent because there may be several causes for these changes, such as depression or anxiety. You may find that changes in vision, sense of smell, or mobility are restricting the ability to care for himself or herself.

Start these discussions with love, concern and a supportive attitude. Emphasize that you are not trying to take over your parent’s life, but rather to help them be as independent as possible for as long as possible.

Reference: AARP (Dec. 12, 2016) “5 Signs Your Loved One May Need Caregiving Support”

 

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The Wrong Power of Attorney Could Lead to a Bad Outcome – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

There are two different types of advance directives, and they have very different purposes, as explained in the article that asks “Does your estate plan use the right type of Power of Attorney for you?” from Next Avenue. Less than a third of retirees have a financial power of attorney, according to a study done by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Most people do not even understand what these documents do, which is critically important, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Two types of Durable Power of Attorney for Finance. The power of attorney for finance can be “springing” or “immediate.” The Durable POA refers to the fact that this POA will endure after you have lost mental or physical capacity, whether the condition is permanent or temporary. It lists when the powers are to be granted to the person of your choosing and the power ends upon your death.

The “immediate” Durable POA is effective the moment you sign the document. The “springing” Durable POA does not become effective, unless two physicians examine you and both determine that you cannot manage independently anymore. In the case of the “springing” POA, the person you name cannot do anything on your behalf without two doctors providing letters saying you lack legal capacity.

You might prefer the springing document because you are concerned that the person you have named to be your agent might take advantage of you. They could legally go to your bank and add their name to your accounts without your permission or even awareness. Some people decide to name their spouse as their immediate agent, and if anything happens to the spouse, the successor agents are the ones who need to get doctors’ letters. If you need doctors’ letters before the person you name can help you, ask your estate planning attorney for guidance.

The type of impairment that requires the use of a POA for finance can happen unexpectedly. It could include you and your spouse at the same time. If you were both exposed to Covid-19 and became sick, or if you were both in a serious car accident, this kind of planning would be helpful for your family.

It is also important to choose the right person to be your POA. Ask yourself this question: If you gave this person your checkbook and asked them to pay your bills on time for a few months, would you expect that they would be able to do the job without any issues? If you feel any sense of incompetence or even mistrust, you should consider another person to be your representative.

If you should recover from your incapacity, your POA is required to turn everything back to you when you ask. If you are concerned this person will not do this, you need to consider another person.

Broad powers are granted by a Durable POA. They allow your representative to buy property on your behalf and sell your property, including your home, manage your debt and Social Security benefits, file tax returns and handle any assets not named in a trust, such as your retirement accounts.

The executor of your will, your trustee, and Durable POA are often the same person. They have the responsibility to manage all of your assets, so they need to know where all of your important records can be found. They need to know that you have given them this role and you need to be sure they are prepared and willing to accept the responsibilities involved.

Your advance directive documents are only as good as the individuals you name to implement them. Family members or trusted friends who have no experience managing money or assets may not be the right choice. Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you to make a good decision.

Reference: Market Watch (Oct. 5, 2020) “Does your estate plan use the right type of Power of Attorney for you?”

 

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What Does My Estate Plan Look Like after Divorce? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Planning an estate after a divorce involves adopting a different type of arithmetic. Without a spouse to anchor an estate plan, the executors, trustees, guardians or agents under a power of attorney and health care proxies will have to be chosen from a more diverse pool of those that are connected to you.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “How to Revise Your Estate Plan After Divorce” explains that beneficiary forms tied to an IRA, 401(k), 403(b) and life insurance will need to be updated to show the dissolution of the marriage.

There are usually estate planning terms that are included in agreements created during the separation and divorce. These may call for the removal of both spouses from each other’s estate planning documents and retirement accounts. For example, in New York, bequests to an ex-spouse in a will prepared during the marriage are voided after the divorce. Even though the old will is still valid, a new will has the benefit of realigning the estate assets with the intended recipients.

However, any trust created while married is treated differently. Revocable trusts can be revoked, and the assets held by those trusts can be part of the divorce. Irrevocable trusts involving marital property are less likely to be dissolved, and after the death of the grantor, distributions may be made to an ex-spouse as directed by the trust.

A big task in the post-divorce estate planning process is changing beneficiaries. Ask for a change of beneficiary forms for all retirement accounts. Without a stipulation in the divorce decree ending their interest, an ex-spouse still listed as beneficiary of an IRA or life insurance policy may still receive the proceeds at your death.

Divorce makes children assume responsibility at an earlier age. Adult children in their 20s or early 30s typically assume the place of the ex-spouse as fiduciaries and health care proxies, as well as agents under powers of attorney, executors and trustees.

If the divorcing parents have minor children, they must choose a guardian in their wills to care for the children, in the event that both parents pass away.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with the issues that are involved in estate planning after a divorce.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (July 7, 2020) “How to Revise Your Estate Plan After Divorce”

 

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How to Plan for Incapacity – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Planning for incapacity is just as important as planning for death. One is certain, the other is extremely likely. Therefore, it makes sense to prepare in advance, advises the article “Planning ahead for incapacity helps you and family” from The Press-Enterprise.

Let us start by defining capacity. Each state has its own language but for the most part, incapacity means that a person is incapable of making decisions or performing certain acts. A concerned adult child is usually the one trying to have a senior parent declared incapacitated.

A person who has a mental or physical disorder may still be capable of entering into a contract, getting married, making medical decisions, executing wills or trusts, or performing other actions. However, before a person is declared incapacitated by medical professionals or a court, having a plan in place makes a world of difference for the family or trusted person who will be caring for them. Certain legal documents are needed.

Power of Attorney. This is the primary document needed in case of incapacity. There are several kinds, and an estate planning attorney will know which one will be best for your situation. A “springing” power of attorney becomes effective, only when a person is deemed incapacitated and continues throughout their incapacity. A POA can be general, broadly authorizing a named person to act on different matters, like finances, determining where you will live, entering into contracts, caring for pets, etc. A POA can also be drafted with limited and specific powers, like to sell a car within a certain timeframe.

The POA can be activated before you become incapacitated. Let us say that you are diagnosed with early-stage dementia. You may still have legal capacity but might wish a trusted family member to help handle matters. For elderly people who feel more comfortable having someone else handle their finances or the sale of their home, a POA can be created to allow a trusted individual to act on their behalf for these specific tasks.

A POA is a powerful document. A POA gives another person control of your life. Yes, your named agent has a fiduciary duty to put your interests first and could be sued for mismanagement or abuse. However, the goal of a POA is to protect your interests, not put them at risk. Choosing a person to be your POA must be done with care. You should also be sure to name an alternate POA. A POA expires on your death, so the person will not be involved in any decisions regarding your estate, burial or funeral arrangements. That is the role of the executor, named in your will.

Advance health care directive, or living will, provides your instructions about medical care. This document is one that most people would rather not think about. However, it is very important if your wishes are to be followed. It explains what kind of medical care you do or do not want, in the event of dementia, a stroke, coma or brain injury. It gets into the details: do you want resuscitation, mechanical ventilation or feeding tubes to keep you alive? It can also be used for post-death wishes concerning autopsies, organ donation, cremation or burial.

The dramatic events of 2020 have taught us all that we do not know what is coming in the near future. Planning in advance is a kindness to yourself and your family.

Reference: The Press-Enterprise (July 19, 2020) “Planning ahead for incapacity helps you and family”

 

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