Understanding Why a Will is Important – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

These questions presented by The Westerly Sun in the article “Making a will is an important legal step,” may seem very basic, but many people don’t really understand how wills work and why they are such an important part of estate planning. Let’s go through these fundamentals about wills.

A will is a legal document that must be prepared under very strict standards to explain your wishes about how you want your estate–that is, your property, money, tangible possessions, and real estate—distributed after you die.

A will also does more than that.

A will, which is sometimes referred to as a “Last Will and Testament,” also makes clear who you want to be in charge of your minor children, if both parents should die. It also is how you name a person to be in charge of your affairs after death, by naming them as executor of your estate.

A complete estate plan includes a will, and several other documents, including a power of attorney, trusts and a health care proxy. The goal of all of these documents is to make it easier for your surviving spouse or loved ones to take care of you and your possessions, if you become too ill to speak on your own behalf, or when you die.

Your will provides instructions about what happens to your estate. Who should receive your money and property? These instructions must be followed by the person you choose as your executor. The local probate court must give its approval, and then the estate can be distributed.

If you have a valid will, it is admitted to probate (a court process) upon your death, and then your wishes are followed. If you don’t have a will, you are said to have died “intestate.” The laws of the state, and not you, and not your loved ones, will decide what will happen to everything you own that is subject to probate. Usually this means that assets are distributed to family members, based on their degree of kinship with you.

This may not be what you wanted. If you have children, and especially if you have children with special needs, the court will appoint a guardian for those children. You may not want Aunt Jennifer raising your daughters, but that may end up happening.

Properly prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney, a will is a binding legal document that carries great significance. No one likes to think about dying, or becoming incapacitated, but by planning ahead, you can determine what you want to happen, and protect those you love.

Reference: The Westerly Sun (August 18, 2019) “Making a will is an important legal step”

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

What Does ‘Getting Your Affairs in Order’ Really Mean? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

That “something” that happens that no one wants to come out and say is that you are either incapacitated by a serious illness or injury or the ultimate ‘something,’ which is death. There are steps you can take that will help your family and loved ones, so they have the information they need and can help you, says Catching Health’s article “Getting your affairs in order.”

Start with the concept of incapacity, which is an important part of estate planning. Who would you want to speak on your behalf? Would that person be the same one you would want to make important financial decisions, pay bills and handle your personal affairs? Does your family know what your wishes are, or do you know what your parent’s wishes are?

Financial Power of Attorney. Someone needs to be able to pay your bills and handle financial matters. That person is named in a Financial Power of Attorney, and they become your agent. Without an agent, your family will have to go to court and get a conservatorship or guardianship. This takes time and money. It also brings in court involvement into your life and adds another layer of stress and expense.

It’s important to name someone who you trust implicitly and whose financial savvy you trust. Talk with the person you have in mind first and make sure they are comfortable taking on this responsibility. There may be other family members who will not agree with your decisions, or your agent’s decisions. They’ll have to be able to stick to the course in the face of disagreements.

Medical Power of Attorney. The Medical Power of Attorney  is used when end-of-life care decisions must be made. This is usually when someone is in a persistent vegetative state, has a terminal illness or is in an irreversible coma. Be cautious: sometimes people want to appoint all their children to make health care decisions. When there are disputes, the doctor ends up having to make the decision. The doctor does not want to be a mediator. One person needs to be the spokesperson for you.

Health Care Directive or Living Will. The name of these documents and what they serve to accomplish does vary from state to state, so speak with an estate planning attorney in your state to determine exactly what it is that you need.

Health Care Proxy. This is the health care agent who makes medical decisions on your behalf, when you can no longer do so. In Maine, that’s a health care advance directive. The document should be given to the named person for easy access. It should also be given to doctors and medical providers.

DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate Order. This is a document that says that if your heart has stopped working or if you stop breathing, not to bring you back to life. When an ambulance arrives and the EMT asked for this document, it’s because they need to know what your wishes are. Some folks put them on the fridge or in a folder where an aide or family member can find them easily. If you are in cardiac arrest and the DNR is with a family member who is driving from another state to get to you, the EMT is bound by law to revive you. You need to have that on hand, if that is your wish.

How Much Should You Tell Your Kids? While it’s really up to you as to how much you want to share with your kids, the more they know, the more they can help in an emergency. Some seniors bring their kids with them to the estate planning attorney’s office, but some prefer to keep everything under wraps. At the very least, the children need to know where the important documents are, and have contact information for the estate planning attorney, the accountant and the financial advisor. Many people create a binder with all of their important documents, so there are no delays caused in healthcare decisions.

Reference: Catching Health (May 28, 2019) “Getting your affairs in order.”

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

Power of Attorney: Why You’re Never Too Young – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

When that time comes, having a power of attorney is a critical document to have. The power of attorney is among a handful of estate planning documents that help with decision making, when a person is too ill, injured or lacks the mental capacity to make their own decisions. The article, “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney” from Lancaster Online, explains what these documents are, and what purpose they serve.

There are three basic power of attorney documents: financial, limited and health care.

You’re never too young or too old to have a power of attorney (POA). If you don’t, a guardian must be appointed in a court proceeding, and they will make decisions for you. If the guardian who is appointed does not know you or your family, they may make decisions that you would not have wanted. Anyone over the age of 18 should have a power of attorney.

It’s never too early, but it could be too late. If you become incapacitated, you cannot sign a POA. Then your family is faced with needing to pursue a guardianship and will not have the ability to make decisions on your behalf, until that’s in place.

You’ll want to name someone you trust implicitly and who is also going to be available to make decisions when time is an issue.

For a medical or healthcare power of attorney, it is a great help if the person lives nearby and knows you well. For a financial power of attorney, the person may not need to live nearby, but they must be trustworthy and financially competent.

Always have back-up agents, so if your primary agent is unavailable or declines to serve, you have someone who can step in on your behalf.

You should also work with an estate planning attorney to create the power of attorney you need. You may want to assign select powers to a POA, like managing certain bank accounts but not the sale of your home, for instance. An estate planning attorney will be able to tailor the POA to your exact needs. They will also make sure to create a document that gives proper powers to the people you select. You want to ensure that you don’t create a POA that gives someone the ability to exploit you.

Any of the POAs you have created should be updated on a fairly regular basis. Over time, laws change, or your personal situation may change. Review the documents at least annually to be sure that the people you have selected are still the people you want taking care of matters for you.

Most important of all, don’t wait to have a POA created. It’s an essential part of your estate plan, along with your last will and testament.

Reference: Lancaster Online (May 15, 2019) “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney”

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

End of Life Planning to Care for Loved Ones During Grief – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It’s definitely an uncomfortable thing to do. However, making funeral arrangements for yourself eliminates a lot of stress and anxiety for the family members, who are left to guess what you may have wanted. This, says the Leesville Daily Leader in the article Planning for the end of your life lets you make the decisions.

Here are some of the things to consider:

  • Do you want to be buried or cremated?
  • Do you want a funeral or a memorial service?
  • What music do you want played?
  • Do you want flowers, or would you prefer donations to a charity?
  • Do you want people to speak or prefer that only a religious leader speak?
  • What clothing do you want to be buried in?
  • Have you purchased a plot? A gravestone?
  • Who should be notified about your death?
  • Do you want an obituary published in the newspaper?

There are also estate matters that need to be attended to before you pass. Do you have a will, power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, or a living will? Make sure that your family members or your executor know where these documents can be found.

If you do not have an estate plan in place, now is the time to meet with an estate planning attorney and have a plan created.

Your family will also need to be able to access information about your accounts: investment accounts, credit cards, utility bills, Social Security, pension, retirement funds and other assets and property. A list of the professionals, including your estate planning attorney, CPA and financial advisor, along with the names of your healthcare providers, will be needed.

If you are a veteran, you’ll need to have a copy of your DD-214 in your documents or let family members know where this is located. They will need it, or the funeral home will need it, when applying for burial benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Cemetery Administration.

If you wish to be buried in a national cemetery, you’ll need VA Form 40-10007, Application for Pre-Need Determination of Eligibility for Burial in a VA National Cemetery. This must be completed and sent to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office. Include a copy of the DD-214 with the application.

Your family may find discussing these details difficult, but when the time comes, they will appreciate the care that you took, one last time, to take care of them.

Reference: Leesville Daily Leader (May 1, 2019) “Planning for the end of your life”

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

An Estate Plan Directs Assets According to Your Wishes – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Anyone who has any assets they want distributed should have an estate plan, regardless of the size of their estate.

Having a will and an estate plan created by an experienced attorney is the easiest place to start, says the Observer-Reporter in the article “Set up an estate plan so your assets go where you want.” Without a will, the state will decide what happens to your assets and it may not be what you wanted.

If your will was done more than four years ago and was never updated, it may lead to some unwanted results. If people you named as beneficiaries or executors have died or if there were divorces in your family, these are examples of changes that should be addressed in the estate plan.

Many people don’t know that insurance policies, annuities, 401(k), or IRA accounts that have a designated beneficiary are going to the designated beneficiary, regardless of what is in the will. If the will says everything in the estate should be divided equally between children, but one child was named the beneficiary on the life insurance policy, then only the named child will inherit the insurance policy.

Another part of an estate plan that is needed to ensure that your wishes are followed, is a financial power of attorney and a health care power of attorney. The financial power of attorney gives the person you name the legal ability to make financial decisions for you, if you are incapacitated. The health care power of attorney, similarly, gives the person you name the power to make health care decisions for you if you cannot do so for yourself. A living will is another part of planning for incapacity that is a part of a comprehensive estate plan. The living will lets your wishes for end of life care be known to others.

Assets that pass to heirs through beneficiary designations do not go through the probate process. However, assets distributed through your will do so. Probate administration of an estate takes some time to complete depending upon where you live. In some states, probate is more involved and time consuming than in others.

Another reason why people like to avoid probate is that documents, including your will, are filed with the court and become part of the public record. That’s why many people who lose a family member find themselves receiving direct mail and phone calls about buying insurance policy or selling their home.

There are ways to minimize the number of assets that pass through probate, which your estate planning attorney will be able to explain. Trusts are used for this purpose. There are a variety of trusts that can be used depending upon your circumstances. Some are used to protect inheritances if a person has an opiate addiction or cannot manage her own affairs. Others are used so individuals with special needs do not receive inheritances that would make them ineligible for government benefits.

An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances.

Reference: Observer-Reporter (April 19, 2019) “Set up an estate plan so your assets go where you want”

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

Figuring Out A Parent’s Financial Life, When They Cannot – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Imagine that your parent has had a minor stroke and is no longer able to manage their financial or legal affairs. For years your parent has been living independently, waiving off offers of help or having someone come in to clean. It seemed as if it would go on that way forever. What happens, asks the Daily Times, when you are confronted with this scenario in the aptly-titled article “Senior Life: What a nightmare! Untangling a loved one’s finances”?

After the health crisis is over, it’s time to get busy. Open the door to the home and start looking. Where’s the will, where are the bank statements and where’s the information about Social Security benefits? When you start making calls or going online, you run into a bigger problem than figuring out where the papers are kept, because no one will talk with you. You are not legally authorized, even though you are a direct descendant.

This happens all the time.

Statistically speaking, it is extremely likely that your parent will end up, at some point, in a nursing home or a rehabilitation center for an extended period of time. Most people have no idea what their parent’s financial situation is, where and how they keep their financial and legal records and what they would need to do in an emergency.

It’s not that difficult to fix, but you and your hopefully healthy parent or parents need to start by planning for the future. That means sitting down with an estate planning attorney and making sure to have some key documents, most importantly, a Power of Attorney.

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives you permission to act on another person’s behalf as their agent. It must be properly prepared for your state’s laws.  It allows you to pay bills and make decisions on behalf of a loved one while they are alive. Without it, you’ll need to go to court to be appointed as legal guardian. That takes time and is much more expensive than having a POA created and properly executed.

If you have downloaded a Power of Attorney and are hoping it works, be warned: chances are good it won’t. Many financial institutions insist that the only POA they will accept are the ones that they issue.

Once you have a POA in place, it’s time to get organized. You’ll need to go through all the important papers, and set up a system so you can see what bills need to be paid, how many bank accounts or investment accounts exist and review her financial status.

Next, it’s time to consolidate. If your parent was a child of the Depression, chances are they have money in many different places. This gave them a sense of security but will give you a headache. Consolidate four different checking accounts into one. The same should be done for any CDs, investment accounts and credit cards. Have Social Security payments and any pension checks deposited into one account.

If you need help, and you might, don’t hesitate to ask for it. The stress of organizing decades of a loved one’s home, plus caring for them and managing the winding down of a home can be overwhelming. Your estate planning attorney will be able to connect you with a number of resources in your area.

Reference: Daily Times (April 9, 2019) “Senior Life: What a nightmare! Untangling a loved one’s finances”

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

What Happens Next, When You’ve Become a Widow? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The loss of a spouse after decades of marriage is crushing enough, but then comes a tsunami of decisions about finances and tasks that demand attention when we are least able to manage it. Even highly successful business owners can find themselves overwhelmed, says The New York Times in the article “You’re a Widow, Now What?”

Most couples tend to divide up financial tasks, where one handles investments and the other pays the bills.  However, moving from a team effort to a solo one is not easy. For one widow, the task was made even harder by the fact that her husband opted to keep his portfolio in paper certificates, which he kept in his desk. His widow had to hire a financial advisor and a bookkeeper, and it took nearly a year to determine the value of the nearly 120 certificates. That was just one of many issues.

She had to settle the affairs of the estate, deal with insurance companies, and handle banks and credit cards that had to be cancelled. Her husband was also a partner in a business, which added another layer of complexity.

She decided to approach the chaos as if it were a business. She worked on it six to eight hours a day for many months, starting with organizing all the paperwork. That meant a filing system. A grief therapist advised her to get up, get dressed as if she was going to work and to make sure she ate regular meals. This often falls by the wayside when the structure of a life is gone.

This widow opened a consulting business to advise other widows on handling the practical aspects of settling an estate and also wrote a book about it.

A spouse’s death is one of the most emotionally wrenching events in a person’s life. Women live longer statistically, so they are more likely than men to lose a spouse and have to get their financial lives organized. The loss of a key breadwinner’s income can be a big blow for those who have never lived on their own. The tasks come fast and furious in a terribly emotional time.

Widows may not realize how vulnerable they are after the death of their long-time spouse. They should hold off on any big decisions and attack their to-do list in stages. The first tasks are to contact the Social Security administration, call the life insurance company and pay important bills, like utilities and property insurance premiums. If your husband was working, contact his employer for any unpaid salary, accrued vacation days and retirement plan benefits.

Next, name your adult children, trusted family members, or friends as agents for your financial and health care power of attorney.

How to take the proceeds from any life insurance policies depends upon your immediate cash needs and whether you can earn more from the payout by investing the lump sum. Make this decision part of your overall financial strategy, ideally after talking with a trusted financial advisor.

Determining a Social Security claiming strategy comes next. Depending on your age and income level, you may be able to increase your benefit. If you wait until your full retirement, you can claim the full survivor benefit, which is 100% of the spouse’s benefit. You could claim a survivor benefit at age 60, but it will be reduced for each month you claim before your full retirement age. If both spouses are at least 70 when the husband dies, a widow should switch to taking a survivor benefit if her benefit is smaller than her husband’s.

Expect it to be a while until you feel like you are on solid ground. If you were working when your spouse passed, consider continuing to work to keep yourself out and about in a familiar world. Anything that you can do to maintain your old life, like staying in the family home, if finances permit, will help as you go through the grief process.

Reference: The New York Times (April 11, 2019) “You’re a Widow, Now What?”

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

Legitimate Power of Attorney Use Leaves Widow Impoverished – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

This is a cautionary tale about what can happen, when the wrong person is given power of attorney. The problem here is that a man changed his power of attorney without any review or oversight from any family members, including his own wife.

Why Dorothy Jorgenson’s husband changed his power of attorney just days before his death, is something that only he and the relative he named will ever know. However, the relative acted fast and took more than $70,000 from the couple’s joint bank account, says WPRI.com in the article, “Son questions power of attorney after mother’s bank account is drained.”

“When I went to pick up a prescription for my mother, there was insufficient funds to pick up a prescription,” Dorothy’s son, Gene Weston, said. “I can’t believe that someone would do that to an elderly woman.”

The couple had been married for almost twenty years. Both had added money to the account.

“My mother is still alive, and my mother needs to continue living,” Weston said.

The son called the police, because he claims there’s no way the power of attorney document for his stepfather was legitimate.

“He was on morphine at the time,” Gene Weston said.

According to a local police report, detectives interviewed several people and found Jorgensen’s husband was “only taking a minimal dose of meds.”

Police determined that Mr. Jorgensen “acted with his own free will” and ended their criminal investigation. However, these types of cases involving powers of attorney, often wind up in civil court. When people make a change to a power of attorney right before their death, it can raise concerns, especially when the person is elderly and on medication.

One thing that many people don’t know, is that they can limit the power of attorney document to protect a surviving spouse or family members.

It’s important to carefully choose an agent and make certain that the power of attorney is properly notarized. You should select a person whom you trust, and whom you know will do the right thing for you, in case you can’t make your own decisions.

Despite her actions, the relative who withdrew the money maintains her innocence.

Reference: WPRI 12 (April 15, 2019) “Son questions power of attorney after mother’s bank account is drained”

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

For Immediate Release

Contact: Jane Frankel Sims

410-828-7775

Contact: Frank Campbell

410-263-1667

Sims & Campbell Estates and Trusts

Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell
Merge to Form Sims & Campbell

Firm will offer comprehensive Trusts & Estates services through offices in Towson and Annapolis

TOWSON, Md. (April 26,2019)  Frankel Sims Law and Holden & Campbell have jointly announced the merger of their firms to create a boutique Trusts & Estates law firm providing comprehensive services in the fields of Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Trust Administration and Charitable Giving. The combined firm will be named Sims & Campbell and have offices in Towson, Md. and Annapolis, Md.  Jane Frankel Sims and Frank Campbell will lead and hold equal ownership stakes in the firm.

Sims & Campbell will have 9 attorneys and 15 legal professionals that handle every facet of estate and wealth transfer planning, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, estate and gift tax advice, and charitable giving strategies.  The firm will focus solely on Trusts & Estates but will serve a wide range of clients, from young families with modest resources to ultra-high net worth individuals.  This allows clients to remain with the firm as their level of wealth and the complexity of related estate and tax implications change over time. 

“By joining forces, we have expanded our footprint to conveniently serve clients in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia” said Jane Frankel Sims.  We are seeing some of the greatest wealth transfer in our country’s history, and we want to continue to be on the leading edge of helping our clients maintain and enhance their family’s wealth.  In addition, we aim to serve our clients for years to come, and the new firm structure will allow Sims & Campbell to thrive even after Frank and I have retired.”    

“Jane and I have always admired each other’s firms and recognized the need to provide even greater depth and breadth of focused expertise to help families amass and protect their wealth from generation to generation,” said Frank Campbell.  “Now we have even greater capabilities to make a real difference for our clients.” 

The Sims & Campbell Towson office is located at 500 York Road, on the corner of York Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of Towson.  The Annapolis office is currently located at 716 Melvin Avenue, and is moving to 181 Truman Parkway in August, 2019.  For more information, visit www.simscampbell.law.