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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What to Do after a Family Member Dies – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Consumer Reports’ article, titled “What to Do When a Loved One Dies,” outlines some good advice to keep a loved one’s death from becoming even more painful.

Immediately

Here is what you and your family should do right away:

  1. Obtain a legal pronouncement of death. If a doctor is not present, and the individual dies at home under hospice care, call the hospice nurse. He or she can declare the death and help facilitate the transport of the body. If the person dies at home unexpectedly without hospice care, call 911. If the person has a DNR or do-not-resuscitate document, show it to the first responders.
  2. Make the arrangements for transportation of the body. If no autopsy is required, the body can be released to a mortuary or crematorium.
  3. Notify the person’s physician or the county coroner.
  4. Notify family and friends.
  5. Make arrangements for the care of dependents and pets.
  6. Contact the person’s employer (if applicable). Ask for information concerning benefits and any pay due, as well as if there was a life-insurance policy through the company.

Within a Few Days After Death

After some of the dust has settled, and you are able to think clearly and make some bigger decisions, address the following:

  1. Arrange for funeral and burial or cremation. See if the individual had a prepaid burial plan. Take a friend or family member with you to the mortuary. You should also prepare an obituary.
  2. Determine if there are burial benefits. If the person was in the military or was a member of a fraternal or religious group, contact that organization because it may have burial benefits or conduct funeral services. A local VFW or American Legion may provide an honor guard, if requested.
  3. Secure the home. Make sure there is security or someone to keep an eye on the individual’s home. Have the phone forwarded, collect mail, throw food out, water plants and keep minimal heat on to keep pipes from freezing in a colder climate’s winter months.

Up to 10 Days After Death

Here is the next set of items to do in the 10 days after a loved one passes:

  1. Get copies of the death certificate. These are usually obtained from the funeral home. Get multiple copies because you will need them for banks, government agencies and insurance companies.
  2. Present the will to the appropriate government office for probate.
  3. Contact the following:
  • An experienced estate planning attorney;
  • Banks;
  • The life insurance company;
  • The Social Security Administration;
  • Agency providing pension services, to stop monthly checks and get claim forms;
  • Utility companies, to change or stop service;
  • The U.S. Postal Service;
  • The IRS, credit-reporting agencies and the DMV to prevent identity theft; and
  • Social media companies to memorialize or remove an account.

Reference: Consumer Reports (Jan. 5, 2021) “What to Do When a Loved One Dies”

 

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How Can I Easily Pass My Home to My Only Child? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

This estate planning issue concerns a single retired parent of an only adult daughter and how to transfer the home to the daughter. Should the daughter simply sell the house when her mother dies, or should the daughter be added to the deed now while her mother is alive?

Also, is there a court hearing?

In many states, there is no reason or requirement to go before a judge to probate your estate, says nj.com in its recent article “Should I add my daughter’s name to my home’s deed?”

In estate planning, there are two primary questions to answer about the transfer of the home. First, there would possibly be some significant capital gains if the mom adds her daughter to the deed prior to death.

Also, if the mother winds up requiring Medicaid, Medicaid might put a lien against the home after she dies for the value of the services it provided.

Generally, when a home has been owned for a long time, the mother should try to preserve the step-up in basis for tax purposes that happens, if the real estate is still in the mom’s name at her passing.

Whether that step up is preserved, depends on how the daughter is added to the deed.

Adding the daughter as a joint tenant or tenant in common will not preserve the step-up basis for taxes. Ask an elder law attorney what this means in your specific situation.

A better option may be to transfer the remainder interest in the property to the daughter in this scenario and withhold a life estate for the mom.

That will preserve the step-up in basis at death.

This can also get complicated when there is an outstanding mortgage, so speak to an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney.

Reference: nj.com (Dec. 15, 2020) “Should I add my daughter’s name to my home’s deed?”

 

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Do You Know Your Job as Executor, Agent or Trustee? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is not uncommon for a named executor or trustee to have some anxiety when they discover that they were named in a family member’s estate planning documents.

With the testator or grantor dead or incapacitated, the named individual is often desperate to learn what their responsibilities are.

It may seem like they are asked to put together pieces in a puzzle without a picture, especially when there is limited information to start with, says The Sentinel-Record’s recent article entitled “You’re an executor or trustee … Now what?”

Here is a quick run-down of the responsibilities of each of these types of agents:

An executor of an estate. This is a court-appointed person (or corporate executor) who administers the estate of a deceased person, after having been nominated for the role in the decedent’s last will and testament.

A trustee. This is an individual (or corporate trustee) who maintains and administers property or assets for the benefit of a beneficiary under a trust.

An agent named under a power of attorney. This person (or corporate agent) has the legal authority to act for the benefit of another person during that person’s disability or incapacity.

Each of these roles has different duties and responsibilities. For example, an executor, in most cases, is responsible for filing the original last will and testament of the testator with the probate court and then to be formally appointed by the court as the executor.

A trustee and executor both must provide notice to the beneficiaries of their role and a copy of the documents.

An agent named under a power of attorney may have authority to act immediately or only when the creator of the documents becomes disabled or incapacitated. This is often referred to as a “springing” power of attorney.

Each of these individuals is responsible for managing and preserving assets for the benefit of the beneficiary.

They also must pay bills out of the assets of the estate or trust, such as burial and funeral expenses.

Finally, they settle the estate or trust and make distributions.

Reference: The Sentinel-Record (Nov. 24, 2020) “You’re an executor or trustee … Now what?”

 

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What Is Involved with Serving as an Executor? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Serving as the executor of a relative’s estate may seem like an honor, but it can also be a lot of work, says The (Fostoria, OH) Review Times’ recent article entitled “An executor’s guide to settling a loved one’s estate.”

As an executor of a will, you are tasked with settling her affairs after she dies. This may sound rather easy, but you should be aware that the job can be time consuming and difficult, depending on the complexity of the decedent’s financial and family situation. Here are some of the required duties:

  • Filing court papers to initiate the probate process
  • Taking inventory of the decedent’s estate
  • Using the decedent’s estate funds to pay bills, taxes, and funeral costs
  • Taking care of canceling her credit cards and informing banks and government offices like Social Security and the post office of her death
  • Readying and filing her final income tax returns; and
  • Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will.

Every state has specific laws and deadlines for an executor’s responsibilities. To help you, work with an experienced estate planning attorney and take note of these reminders:

Get organized. Make certain that the decedent has an updated will and locate all her important documents and financial information. Quickly having access to her deeds, brokerage statements and insurance policies after she dies, will save you a lot of time and effort. With a complex estate, you may want to hire an experienced estate planning attorney to help you through the process. The estate will pay that expense.

Avoid conflicts. Investigate to see if there are any conflicts between the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate. If there are some potential issues, you can make your job as executor much easier, if everyone knows in advance who is getting what, and the decedent’s rationale for making those decisions. Ask your aunt to tell her beneficiaries what they can expect, even with her personal items because last wills often leave it up to the executor to distribute heirlooms. If there is no distribution plan for personal property, she should write one.

Executor fees. You are entitled to an executor’s fees paid by the estate. In most states, executors are allowed to take a percentage of the estate’s value, which can be from 1-5%, depending on the size of the estate. However, if you are a beneficiary, it may make sense for you to forgo the fee because fees are taxable, and it could cause rancor among the other beneficiaries.

Reference: The (Fostoria, OH) Review Times (Aug. 19, 2020) “An executor’s guide to settling a loved one’s estate”

 

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Is there a Better Plan than a Reverse Mortgage? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If you are 62 or older, one way to get a bit more cash, is to use the equity in your home in a reverse mortgage. It is a type of loan that allows you to borrow against the equity in your home and receive a set monthly payment or line of credit (or a combination of the two). The repayment is deferred until you move out, sell the home, become delinquent on property taxes or insurance, the home falls into disrepair, or you pass away. At that point, the house is sold and any excess funds after repayment belong to you or your heirs.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Alternatives to a Reverse Mortgage” explains that reverse mortgages can be troublesome, if you do not set it up right. They also require careful consideration for the rights of the surviving spouse, if you are married. Ultimately, with a reverse mortgage, you or your heirs give up your home, unless you are able to buy it back from the bank. There are some less than stellar reverse mortgage companies out there, so it can be risky.

There are a few other ways to generate cash for your living expenses in retirement.

Refinance Your Mortgage. You may be able to refinance your existing mortgage to lower your monthly payments and free up some cash. It is wise to lower the interest rate on your mortgage, which can save you money over the life of the loan, decrease the size of your monthly payments and help you build equity in your home more quickly. If you refinance rather than going with a reverse mortgage, your home remains as an asset for you and your heirs.

Get a Home-Equity Loan. This loan or second mortgage allows you to borrow money against the equity in your home. Note that the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act restricted the eligibility for a home-equity loan interest deduction. For tax years 2018 through 2025, you will not be able to deduct home-equity loan interest, unless the loan is used specifically for qualified purposes. Like refinancing, your home remains an asset for you and your heirs. Remember that because your home is collateral, there is a risk of foreclosure, if you default on the loan.

Use a Home Equity Line of Credit. A home-equity line of credit (HELOC) lets you borrow up to your approved credit limit on an as-needed basis. Unlike a home-equity loan, where you pay interest on the entire loan amount whether you are using the money or not, with a HELOC you pay interest only on the amount of money you actually take out. These are adjustable loans, so your monthly payment will change with fluctuating interest rates.

Downsize. The options previously discussed let you keep your existing home. However, if you are willing and able to move, selling your home allows you to tap into your equity. Many people downsize, because they are in a home that is much larger than they need without children around. Your current home also may be too difficult or costly to maintain. When you sell, you can use the proceeds to purchase a smaller, more affordable home or you might just rent, and you will have extra money to save, invest or spend as you want.

Sell Your Home to Your Children. Another alternative to a reverse mortgage, is to sell your home to your children. You might think about a sale-leaseback. In this situation, you would sell the house, then rent it back using the cash from the sale. As landlords, your children get rental income and can take deductions for depreciation, real estate taxes and maintenance. You could also consider a private reverse mortgage. This works like a reverse mortgage, except the interest and fees stay in the family: your children make regular payments to you, and when it is time to sell the house, they recoup their contributions (and interest).

Reverse mortgages may be a decent option for people who are house rich and cash poor, with lots of home equity but not enough income for retirement. However, this article lays out some other options, that let you to tap into the equity you have built up in your home. Before making any decisions, do some research on your options, shop around for the best rates (where applicable) and speak with an experienced elder law attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2020) “Alternatives to a Reverse Mortgage”

 

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Do I Qualify as an Eligible Designated Beneficiary under the SECURE Act? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

An eligible designated beneficiary (EDB) is a person included in a unique classification of retirement account beneficiaries. A person may be classified as an EDB, if they are classified as fitting into one of five categories of individuals identified in the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. The bill passed in December 2019 and is effective for all inherited retirement accounts, as of the first of this year.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Eligible Designated Beneficiary” explains that these people get special treatment and greater flexibility to withdraw funds from their inherited accounts than other beneficiaries.

With the SECURE Act, there are now three types of beneficiaries. It is based on the individual’s connection to the original account owner, the beneficiary’s age, and his or her status as either an individual or a non-person entity. However, an EDB is always an individual. On the other hand, an EDB cannot be a trust, an estate, or a charity, which are considered not designated beneficiaries. There are five categories of individuals included in the EDB classification. These are detailed below.

In most instances, except for the exceptions below, an EDB must withdraw the balance from the inherited IRA account over the beneficiary’s life expectancy. There is optional special treatment allowed only for surviving spouses, which is explained below. When a minor child reaches the age of majority, he or she is no longer considered to be an EDB, and the 10-year rule concerning withdrawal requirements for a designated beneficiary applies.

Here are the five categories of EDBs.

Owner’s surviving spouse. Surviving spouses get special treatment, which lets them step into the shoes of the owner and withdraw the balance from the IRA over the original owner’s life expectancy. As another option, they can roll an inherited IRA into their own IRA and take withdrawals at the point when they would normally take their own required minimum distributions (RMDs).

Owner’s minor child. A child who is not yet 18 can make withdrawals from an inherited retirement account using their own life expectancy. However, when he or she turns 18, the 10-year rule for designated beneficiaries (who are not EDBs) applies. At that point, the child would have until December 31 of the 10th year after their 18th birthday to withdraw all funds from the inherited retirement account. A deceased retirement account owner’s minor child can get an extension, up until age 26, for the start of the 10-year rule, if he or she is pursuing a specified course of education.

An individual who is disabled. The tax code says that an individual is considered to be disabled if he or she is “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or to be of long continued and indefinite duration.” A disabled person who inherits a retirement account can use their own life expectancy to calculate RMDs.

An individual who is chronically ill. The tax code states that “the term ‘chronically ill individual’ means any individual who has been certified by a licensed healthcare practitioner as—

  • being unable to perform (without substantial assistance from another individual) at least two activities of daily living for a period of at least 90 days, due to a loss of functional capacity,
  • having a level of disability similar (as determined under regulations prescribed by the Secretary in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to the level of disability described in clause (i), or
  • requiring substantial supervision to protect such individual from threats to health and safety due to severe cognitive impairment.”

A chronically ill individual who inherits a retirement account can use their own life expectancy to determine the RMDs.

Any other person who is less than 10 years younger than the decedent. This is a catch-all that includes certain friends and siblings (depending on age), who are identified as beneficiaries of a retirement account. This also excludes most adult children (who are not disabled or chronically ill) from the five categories of EDBs. A person in this category who inherits a retirement account is permitted to use their own life expectancy to calculate RMDs.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2020) “Eligible Designated Beneficiary”

 

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How Is the Inheritance Tax on My Estate Paid? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

If your state has an inheritance tax, you should have an idea how it will be paid when you pass away.

Financial institutions may not withhold the tax before the inheritances are paid, and if there will not be enough in the residue of your estate to pay the tax, you need some options.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled, “How can I be sure the inheritance tax is paid when I die?” says that, while it is admirable to try to avoid trouble for your executors, there is a simple solution.

The article suggests that you can remove all beneficiary designations from your financial accounts. When you add beneficiary designations to your financial accounts, you create non-probate assets, or assets that are not distributed pursuant to your will.

If you do this, those assets will become probate assets, or assets that pass through your will. As a result, you can then state in your will how these assets should be distributed.

For instance, it can be based on percentages of your estate or based on which financial institution holds the assets, or another method.

With these assets now being probate assets, the executor of your will is now able to withhold the inheritance tax on each of the distributions, before distributing the rest.

The amount of inheritance tax paid by the beneficiary is the same whether the distribution is made as a probate asset or a non-probate asset, except for life insurance.

However, if the financial account is a retirement account, by having it paid to the estate instead of directly to a beneficiary, the payout period may be lessened. Therefore, you should speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: nj.com (May 5, 2020) “How can I be sure the inheritance tax is paid when I die?”

 

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