What Should I know about Financial Powers of Attorney? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A financial power of attorney is a document allowing an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” to act on the principal’s behalf. It usually allows the agent to pay the principal’s bills, access her accounts, pay her taxes and buy and sell investments. This person, in effect, assumes the responsibilities of the principal and can act for the principal in all areas detailed in the document.

Kiplinger’s recent article from April entitled “What Are the Duties for Financial Powers of Attorney?” acknowledges that these responsibilities may sound daunting, and it is only natural to feel a little overwhelmed initially. Here are some facts that will help you understand what you need to do.

Read and do not panic. Review the power of attorney document and know the extent of what the principal has given you power to handle in their stead.

Understand the scope. Make a list of the principal’s assets and liabilities. If the individual for whom you are caring is organized, then that will be simple. Otherwise, you will need to find these items:

  • Brokerage and bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Mortgage papers
  • Tax bills
  • Utility, phone, cable, and internet bills
  • Insurance premium invoices

Take a look at the principal’s spending patterns to see any recurring expenses. Review their mail for a month to help you to determine where the money comes and goes. If your principal is over age 72 and has granted you the power to manage her retirement plan, do not forget to make any required minimum distributions (RMDs). If your principal manages her finances online, you will need to contact their financial institutions and establish that you have power of attorney, so that you can access these accounts.

Guard the principal’s assets. Make certain that her home is secure. You might make a video inventory of the residence. If it looks like your principal will be incapacitated for a long time, you might stop the phone and newspaper. Watch out for family members taking property and saying that it had been promised to them (or that it belonged to them all along).

Pay bills. Be sure to monitor your principal’s bills and credit card statements for potential fraud. You might temporarily suspend credit cards that you will not be using on the principal’s behalf. Remember that they may have monthly bills paid automatically by credit card.

Pay taxes. Many powers of attorney give the agent the power to pay the principal’s taxes. If so, you will be responsible for filing and paying taxes during the principal’s lifetime. If the principal dies, the executor of the principal’s will is responsible and will prepare the final taxes.

Ask about estate planning. See if there is an estate plan and ask a qualified estate planning attorney for help. If the principal resides in a nursing home paid by Medicaid, talk to an elder law attorney as soon as possible to save the principal’s estate at least some of the costs of their care.

Keep records. Track your expenditures made on your principal’s behalf. This will help you demonstrate that you have upheld your duties and acted in the principal’s best interests, as well as for reimbursement for expenses.

Always act in the principal’s best interest. If you do not precisely know the principal’s expectations, then always act with their best interests in mind. Contact the principal’s attorney who prepared the power of attorney for guidance.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 22, 2020) “What Are the Duties for Financial Powers of Attorney?”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How Do I Protect Property If I Need Long-Term Care? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Nearly 90% of those over age 65 would say they would prefer to stay in their home and live independently as they age. However, even if you are one of those people, you need to make certain that you have a plan in place to ensure your assets can go toward the things you want, rather than unexpected healthcare costs.

The Observer-Reporter’s recent article entitled “Protecting Your Assets is Only Half of Your Long-Term Plan” explains that there are many factors, like chronic conditions and lifestyle choices, that can increase healthcare expenditures as you get older. Understanding and planning for the potential costs now, could be the difference between spending your savings on health care expenses, instead of on the things you want.

You may be concerned about being a burden to family and friends as you age. That is common since nearly three-quarters (72%) of parents expect their children to become their long-term caregivers. However, just 40% of those children are aware they were tapped for that role!

Research shows that when family and friends assume the role of primary caregivers, they have a 60% chance of exhibiting clinical signs of depression—six times more than the general population. Having your family and friends become your caregivers may be best for you financially, but it probably is not in their best interest.

You should have a sound understanding of the cost and burden that long-term care can put on your family and friends. This is the first step to preparing your long-term plan. It is important to understand that there are a few different long-term planning options available, with varying levels of care coverage. One is Medicaid, which is a means-tested government health insurance plan that can cover some or all of the care you may need in a skilled nursing facility. However, what it covers is income- and asset-based. Medicare may cover some limited long- term care for rehabilitation but typically not custodial care.

There is also long-term care insurance which can fill many of the gaps that Medicare and Medicaid may leave. Most plans are customizable and have options for full or partial coverage for all of the types of long-term care. However, there may still be gaps in your coverage.

Ask an elder law attorney about other options and resources.

Reference: (Washington, PA) Observer-Reporter (Feb. 17, 2020) “Protecting Your Assets is Only Half of Your Long-Term Plan”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What are the Blind Spots in Social Security? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The SimplyWise survey also found that there are five areas that are especially confusing to people. Only one in 300 of those who took a five-question quiz answered all the questions correctly, reports Think Advisor in the article entitled “5 Common Blind Spots on Social Security.”

Here are some Social Security questions that might be relevant and not knowing the answers could cost you thousands of dollars a year in income.

  1. What age do I claim to maximize my monthly earned Social Security benefit? The age is 70, although 62 years is when an individual can first make a claim. However, your benefits grow each year you wait—up to age 70. According to SimplyWise, only 42% of quiz takers got this answer right.
  2. What is the earliest age non-disabled people can get survivor benefits? A mere 9% answered this correctly. It is age 60. Many think it is age 62, the age people can begin claiming Social Security.That is correct for earned benefits and spousal benefits.
  3. Is a current spouse required to be getting Social Security benefits, for the other spouse to qualify for spousal benefits? Yes. Just 20% of respondents got this answer correct. It is important to understand that if both spouses are claiming Social Security, one can either receive their own benefit or 50% of their spouse’s amount, whichever is more.
  4. Is a divorced spouse able to get survivor benefits? Yes, and just 38% of people got this answer right. The criteria is somewhat different than for married people. The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, and there are certain rules that apply to remarrying. However, divorced spouses can collect survivor benefits under a deceased ex-spouse.
  5. Can divorced spouses get spousal benefits? Yes, and 67% got this answer correct. Divorced spouses who were married for at least 10 years and have not remarried can claim spousal benefits.

Reference: Think Advisor (Feb. 13, 2020) “5 Common Blind Spots on Social Security”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Do I Really Need a Health Care Proxy? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Pauls Valley Democrat’s recent article entitled “Advance directives and living wills” explains that an Advance Directive has three parts:

  •  A living will
  •  Naming of your health care agent; and
  •  Your directions for anatomical gifts.

The individual that you name as your Health Care Proxy will make decisions for your treatment and care, if you are unable to do so. These decisions may extend to all medical issues and are not limited to end-stage, life determining decisions that are mentioned in your living will. This is a form of power of attorney that authorizes your agent to act in your behalf to address issues like these:

  1. Accessing your medical information
  2. Discussing your treatment options with your healthcare providers
  3. Getting second opinions on your diagnosis
  4. Selecting and authorizing various medical tests
  5. Your placement in a hospital or care facility
  6. Transferring your care to a new physician; and
  7. Communicating your wishes on life support in terminal or unconscious situations.

For end of life decisions, your health care proxy is bound by your written wishes as expressed in your living will. Life support can be terminated, only if you so authorize in writing. Your healthcare proxy cannot make that decision for you, because that is “personal” to you. You may select one or more persons to act as your proxy, although if two are selected, you should predefine what to do in the event of a conflict.

A best practice is to choose a person who is younger than you and who is geographically close. A person with time to assist you and with whom you are willing to share in advance your wishes, likes and dislikes as to medical care. This person should be trusted to act and honor your wishes.

Because many decisions relate to your very personal concerns about religion, death and dying, these feelings should be shared with your health care proxy before any serious situation.

The Advance Directive is a very important document that pertains to your wishes, as they relate to medical care, end-of-life and death.

Parts I and II can discuss your wishes for care treatment, as well as your choice of a person to represent your wishes. These are two very important issues. Take the time to consider the advance written expression of your own wishes.

Reference: Pauls Valley Democrat (Feb. 12, 2020) “Advance directives and living wills”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What Medicare Mistakes can Ruin Retirement? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Healthcare expenses can loom large in retirement. Therefore, failing to totally understand Medicare could be a costly mistake. The Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “3 Medicare Mistakes That Could Wreck Your Retirement” warns that these three mistakes could throw a wrench in your retirement plan.

  1. Thinking that Medicare will cover all your healthcare costs. It is critical that you understand that Medicare will help cover some of your medical expenses in retirement—but it does not cover everything. You will still be liable to pay all your premiums, deductibles, co-insurance, and co-pays. Medicare Part A usually does not have a premium, but you will have a deductible of $1,408 per benefit period. Part B’s standard premium is $144.60 per month with a deductible of $198 per year. Note that Medicare Parts A and B do not cover prescription drugs or routine vision and dental care. For those things, you will have to purchase Medicare Part D or a Medicare Advantage plan at an additional cost.

It is also important that you understand that Medicare typically does not cover long-term care, a major expense. Prior to retirement, it is a good idea to add these costs into your plan.

  1. Failing to research your plan options each year during open enrollment. Medicare open enrollment is from October 15th until December 7th each year. In this period, retirees can make changes to their plans, such as switching from Original Medicare (Parts A and B) to a Medicare Advantage plan or vice versa. You can also change from one Advantage plan to another or add Part D coverage. After you have been on Medicare, you should look into options available to you and shop around to save money.
  2. Failing to enroll in Medicare when first eligible. When you become eligible for Medicare, you must enroll during your initial enrollment period (IEP). This begins three months prior to the month you turn 65 and ends three months after the month you turn 65. Failure to enroll could mean a penalty of 10% of your Part B premium. The longer you go without enrolling, the higher your penalty will be, and you usually must continue paying the penalty for as long as you have Part B coverage.

Note that if you are not ready to enroll in Medicare at 65, you may qualify for a special enrollment period. Say, for example, if you (or your spouse) are still working at age 65 and are covered by insurance through your employer, you can delay your Medicare enrollment until after you quit your job.

Medicare can be confusing. The better educated you are about the program, the wiser decisions you will be able to make sure your retirement fund lasts longer.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can save money and prepare for your senior years.

Reference:  The Motley Fool (March 20, 2020) “3 Medicare Mistakes That Could Wreck Your Retirement”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What Is So Important About Powers Of Attorney? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Powers of attorney can provide significant authority to another person, if you are unable to do so. These powers can include the right to access your bank accounts and to make decisions for you. AARP’s article from last October entitled, “Powers of Attorney: Crucial Documents for Caregiving,” describes the different types of powers of attorney.

Just like it sounds, a specific power of attorney restricts your agent to taking care of only certain tasks, such as paying bills or selling a house. This power is typically only on a temporary basis.

A general power of attorney provides your agent with sweeping authority. The agent has the authority to step into your shoes and handle all of your legal and financial affairs.

The authority of these powers of attorney can stop at the time you become incapacitated. Durable powers of attorney may be specific or general. However, the “durable” part means your agent retains the authority, even if you become physically or mentally incapacitated. In effect, your family probably will not need to petition a court to intervene, if you have a medical crisis or have severe cognitive decline like late stage dementia.

In some instances, medical decision-making is part of a durable power of attorney for health care. This can also be addressed in a separate document that is just for health care, like a health care surrogate designation.

There are a few states that recognize “springing” durable powers of attorney. With these, the agent can begin using his or her authority, only after you become incapacitated. Other states do not have these, which means your agent can use the document the day you sign the durable power of attorney.

A well-drafted power of attorney helps your agent help you, because he or she can keep the details of your life addressed, if you cannot. That can be things like applying for financial assistance or a public benefit, such as Medicaid, or verifying that your utilities stay on and your taxes get paid. Attempting to take care of any of these things without the proper document can be almost impossible.

In the absence of proper incapacity legal planning, your loved ones will need to initiate a court procedure known as a guardianship or conservatorship. However, these hearings can be expensive, time-consuming and contested by family members who do not agree with moving forward.

Do not wait to do this. Every person who is at least age 18 should have a power of attorney in place. If you do have a power of attorney, be sure that it is up to date. Ask an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney to help you create these documents.

Reference: AARP (October 31, 2019) “Powers of Attorney: Crucial Documents for Caregiving”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Planning for Long-Term Care Before It’s Too Late – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Starting to plan for elder care should happen when you are in your 50s or 60s. By the time you are 70, it may be too late. With the national median annual cost of a private room in a nursing facility coming in at more than $100,000, not having a plan can become one of the most expensive mistakes of your financial life. The article “Four steps you can take to safeguard your retirement savings from this risk” from CNBC says that even if care is provided in your own home, the annual median national cost of in-home skilled nursing is $87.50 per visit.

There are fewer and fewer insurance companies that offer long-term care insurance policies, and even with a policy, there are many out-of-pocket costs that also have to be paid. People often fail to prepare for the indirect cost of caregiving, which primarily impacts women who are taking care of older, infirm male spouses and aging parents.

More than 34 million Americans provided unpaid care to older adults in 2015, with an economic value of $522 billion per year.

That is not including the stress of caring for loved ones, watching them decline and needing increasingly more help from other sources.

The best time to start planning for the later years is around age 60. That is when most people have experienced their parent’s aging and understand that planning and conversations with loved ones need to take place.

Living Transitions. Do you want to remain at home as long as is practicable, or would you rather move to a continuing care retirement community? If you are planning on aging in place in your home, what changes will need to be made to your home to ensure that you can live there safely? How will you protect yourself from loneliness, if you plan on staying at home?

Driving Transitions. Knowing when to turn in your car keys is a big issue for seniors. How will you get around, if and when you are no longer able to drive safely? What transportation alternatives are there in your community?

Financial Caretaking. Cognitive decline can start as early as age 53, leading people to make mistakes that cost them dearly. Forgetting to pay bills, paying some bills twice, or forgetting accounts, are signs that you may need some help with your financial affairs. Simplify things by having one checking, one savings account and three credit cards: one for public use, one for automatic bill-paying and a third for online purchases.

Healthcare Transitions. If you do not already have an advance directive, you need to have one created, as part of your overall estate plan. This provides an opportunity for you to state how you want to receive care, if you are not able to communicate your wishes. Not having this document may mean that you are kept alive on a respirator, when your preference is to be allowed to die naturally. You will also need a Health Care Power of Attorney, a person you name to make medical decisions on your behalf when you cannot do so. This person does not have to be a spouse or an adult child—sometimes it is best to have a trusted friend who you will be sure will follow your directions. Make sure this person is willing to serve, even when your documented wishes may be challenged.

Reference: CNBC (Jan. 31, 2020) “Four steps you can take to safeguard your retirement savings from this risk”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys