The Most Important Part of Estate Plan Is Planning for Living – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Most people think of estate planning as planning for death. However, a well-titled article “Planning for death probably isn’t the most important part of your estate plan” from Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press presents another reason for estate planning in clear terms. Estate planning is planning for the unexpected eventualities of life.

Estate planning documents address how things will work while you are still living but if you have become incapable of making your own decisions. In many cases, this is more important than distributing your worldly possessions.

Yes, you should have a Will (Last Will and Testament). But you should also have Power of Attorney documents—one for health care purposes and another for financial purposes.

The Power of Attorney (“POA”) document states who will be your substitute decision maker, or agent, if you are incapacitated or unable to make your own decisions while still living. This should be a personalized document prepared by an estate planning attorney to include the scope of tasks and the limits, if any, you want to set for your agent. The financial POA is an important one, as it gives your chosen agent the legal authority to make financial decisions on your behalf.

The health care POA gives your agent the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf.

With both of these documents properly prepared and available, someone you name will be empowered to serve as your decision maker if necessary.

The Will is used to state what happens to your possessions and assets when you die. It is also the legal document used to name your executor—the person who will be in charge of carrying out your instructions. The Will tells the probate court how you want your estate to be administered after death.

Why do you need these and other documents? Your Will only becomes effective after death. Your POA documents are effective if you become incapacitated. They are both part of your estate plan, which is a collection of legal documents and has nothing to do with whether you reside in a palatial estate.

Here’s how it might work. If you become seriously ill and cannot speak on your own behalf, but you have a Power of Attorney naming your daughter Carol to serve as your POA for healthcare and financial decisions, Carol will be able to pay bills, including paying the mortgage, keeping your car lease up to date, and taking care of all of the financial aspects of your life. If she is also named as your Health Care POA, she will be able to speak with your medical team, be involved in decisions about your course of care and follow the wishes you’ve expressed in your POA.

If you die, and Carol has also been named your executor, she will be able to transition into this new role by representing you through the probate process. She will be able to work with your estate planning attorney to have your will filed with the court and follow your directions for distribution of your assets.

Having only a Last Will and Testament would not protect you while you are living. Having only a Power of Attorney would not protect your wishes after you have died. All of these documents—and there are others not mentioned here—work together to protect you during life and after you’ve passed.

Contact us to design your estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press (Aug. 29, 2022) “Planning for death probably isn’t the most important part of your estate plan”

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

What Should Not Be Kept in a Safe Deposit Box? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A safe deposit box can be used to store important documents and items. It’s essential if you own gold or other valuables, and can be helpful in reducing the worry of owning different kinds of assets, according to a recent article titled “10 Items You Should Never Keep In a Safe Deposit Box” from yahoo! finance.

However, many documents should never be kept in a safe deposit box, even when it seems as if it is the perfect spot.

Your will should never, ever, be placed in a safe deposit box. When a person dies, the only person who can access the safe deposit box are those who are also owners of the box according to bank records and those individuals named in the will itself.

Don’t use your safety deposit box to stash cash. Unless your cash contains collectible bills or coins, this is not the place for it. An investment fund or, at the very least, an interest-bearing savings account, is a better option. Stashing cash may have made sense during the Great Depression, but not today.

Keys to anything of importance don’t belong in your safe deposit box. You are likely to need them when you can’t get into the bank’s vault, and you may forget their location. If you die and no one knows where the keys are and can’t get into the safe deposit box, you’ll be remembered as the person who made life harder for everyone.

Unless you own the Hope Diamond or jewelry like it, your jewelry doesn’t belong locked up in an airless safe deposit box. If you do have irreplaceable jewelry and don’t want it kept at home, make sure it’s insured. Most banks don’t automatically insure items in a safe deposit box.

Trust documents are in the same category as a will. If they are in a safe deposit box and the person who owns the box dies or becomes incapacitated, the only way to gain access will be to be listed on the documents—which will be in the safe deposit box. Keep them in a safe at home or on file with the elder lawyer who created them for you.

A Medical Power of Attorney won’t do you any good, if it’s secured in a safe deposit box. If someone needs these documents in an emergency situation, they need to be where you are and easily accessible. There’s no downside to having too many copies of a medical POA. Keep at least one in the house, give one to the person who is designated on the document, one to your primary care physician and one or more to loved ones who live nearby.

Passports are more likely to be needed and not retrievable from a safe deposit box than they are to be stolen from home. They are far more likely to be stolen when you are traveling, especially overseas.

Your COVID-19 vaccination card is going to be needed from time to time, so it’s best in a desk drawer, on the refrigerator or in your wallet.

Loaded weapons, liquids, and explosives. If you can’t take it on an airplane, you should not keep it in a safe deposit box.

Directions to loved ones about anything of importance should be kept at home and people who are expected to follow your instructions should be told where they are located. If a safe deposit box is sealed, and most are at death, a funeral or memorial service may be a distant memory by the time the instructions are read.

Bottom line: important documents belong in our home in a waterproof, fire safe box. Tell loved ones where the box is located and where they can find the keys.

Reference: yahoo! finance (Aug. 2, 2022) “10 Items You Should Never Keep In a Safe Deposit Box”

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What are Alternatives to Guardianship? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Guardianships are drastic and very invasive. They strip individuals of their legal autonomy and establish the guardian as the sole decision maker. To become a guardian requires strong evidence of legal incapacity, and approval by a judge, explains an article titled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort–Consider These Less Draconian Options First” from Kiplinger. They should not be undertaken unless there is a serious need to do so. Once they are in place, guardianships are difficult to undo.

If an elderly person with dementia failed to make provisions durable powers of attorney for health care and for financial matters before becoming ill, a guardianship may be the only ways to protect the person and their estate. There are also instances where an aging parent is unable to care for themselves properly but refuses any help from family members.

Another scenario is an aging grandparent who plans to leave funds for minor beneficiaries. Their parents will need to seek guardianships, so they can manage the money until their children reach the age of majority.

Laws vary from state to state, so if you might need to address this situation, you will need to speak with an estate planning attorney in the elderly parent or family member’s state of residence. For the most part, each state requires less restrictive alternatives to be attempted before guardianship proceedings are begun.

Alternatives to guardianship include limited guardianship, focused on specific aspect of the person’s life. This can be established to manage the person’s finances only, or to manage only their medical and health care decisions. Limited guardianships need to be approved by a court and require evidence of incapacity.

Powers of attorney can be established for medical or financial decisions. This is far less burdensome to achieve and equally less restrictive. A Healthcare Power of Attorney will allow a family member to be involved with medical care, while the Durable General Power of Attorney is used to manage a person’s personal financial affairs.

Some families take the step of making a family member a joint owner on a bank, home, or an investment account. This sounds like a neat and simple solution, but assets are vulnerable if the co-owner has any creditor issues or risk exposure. A joint owner also does not have the same fiduciary responsibility as a POA.

An assisted decision-making agreement creates a surrogate decision-maker who can see the incapacitated person’s financial transactions. The bank is notified of the arrangement and alerts the surrogate when it sees a potentially suspicious or unusual transaction. This does not completely replace the primary account holder’s authority. However, it does create a limited means of preventing exploitation or fraud. The bank is put on notice and required to alert a second person before completing potentially fraudulent transactions.

Trusts can also be used to protect an incapacitated person. They can be used to manage assets, with a contingent trustee. For an elderly person, a co-trustee can step in if the grantor loses the capacity to make good decisions.

Planning in advance is the best solution for incapacity. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney to protect loved ones from having to take draconian actions to protect your best interests.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort–Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

 

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What Is Power of Attorney and Is It Important? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Most people realize the importance of the last will and testament. However, they remain unaware of the importance of a durable power of attorney. This document authorizes another person to act on your behalf while you are alive and expires upon death, as explained in a recent article titled “Power of attorney likely to be first vital estate document” from The News-Enterprise.

The power of attorney is used to give authorization regarding legal and financial matters. It can be tailored to be as broad or as narrow as one wishes. A healthcare proxy, also known as a healthcare power of attorney, is used to give authorization for medical decisions.

The general POA is used when a person is unable to act for themselves due to illness or injury. It is also needed when a person is unable to act on their own behalf because of mental incapacity. The POA is also used for when someone prefers to have another person manage their financial affairs.

Spouses use POAs to handle day-to-day financial tasks, from dealing with insurance companies to managing bank accounts, loans, or other financial matters. If one spouse cannot attend a real estate closing, for instance, the other will need a POA so they may represent their spouse.

Some people think just adding another person to an account will work the same way as a POA. However, this is not accurate. A co-owner might be able to pay bills. However, their ability to do anything else will be limited. They will not be able to amend the account, unless both parties are present, for instance.

POAs are state-specific documents, so any POA, whether for healthcare or finances, should be created by an estate planning attorney in the state where you live and any state where you own property.

Some powers, including the ability to make gifts of the principal’s property or to change beneficiaries for retirement accounts or life insurance policies, may sound as if they are far beyond what is needed when these documents are first drafted. However, unexpected things happen at all stages of life, and situations arise where these powers are needed. Seemingly simple tasks become far more complicated, if the POA does not permit these types of additional powers.

If there is concern about broad powers, the document can include limited language. For instance, a POA can include a limit on gifting the principal’s property pursuant to any previously documented wishes. This will allow gifting to be completed, but only to the terms already indicated. However, be careful about broad limiting language, like limiting gifts to annual gift exclusions. Prohibiting an agent from acting in ways to protect the principal’s property and best interest could be counterproductive.

Drafted by an experienced estate planning attorney to suit the specific needs of the individual, a power of attorney can make it possible for a trusted individual to conduct your wishes and protect your best interests. Make sure that you have one and update it whenever you update your overall estate plan.

Reference: The News Enterprise (June 25, 2022) “Power of attorney likely to be first vital estate document”

 

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Should I Update My Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

An estate plan exists to accomplish three things.

  1. Preserving your accumulated wealth
  2. To specify who will inherit your assets after your death; and
  3. To indicate who will make health care and financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable.

Real Daily’s recent article entitled “4 Good Reasons to Update Your Estate Plan” says that as you age, you should consider updating your estate plan. Why? Well, your feelings may change over time, or you may experience a significant life event that requires you to update things. These are events such as a marriage or divorce, a new child or grandchild, or a significant change in your health, wealth and outlook on life.

In addition to your will and trusts, you need to review your power of attorney, healthcare directive, living will and HIPAA waiver.

It is critical to recognize the life events that may necessitate updating your estate plan.

For example, if you are recently married or divorced, according to some state laws, existing wills are nullified when someone gets married or divorced.

It is also possible that your wealth has increased significantly, which may affect the way you view how your assets should be distributed to your beneficiaries.

Another reason to update your plan, is if you want to give more (or less) to charity or to your heirs.

Your executor or trustees may change their minds about their roles, no longer live nearby, or they themselves have died. If an individual is no longer interested in assuming those responsibilities, no longer alive, or no longer in good health or of repute, then there is a need to revise the document.

Some other reasons to update your plan include if you are in the process of retiring, moving to another state, or buying or selling real estate.

Each of these events calls for a comprehensive estate plan review.

Finally, your goals may evolve over the years as a result of changes to your lifestyle or circumstances, such as an inheritance, career change, marriage, house purchase, or a growing family.

Reference: Real Daily (June 13, 2022) “4 Good Reasons to Update Your Estate Plan”

 

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How Do I Store Estate Planning Documents? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is a common series of events: an elderly parent is rushed to the hospital in the middle of the afternoon and once children are notified, the search for the Power of Attorney, Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney begins. It is easily avoided with planning and communication, according to an article from The News-Enterprise titled “Give thought to storing your estate papers.” However, just because the solution is simple does not mean most people address it.

As a general rule, estate planning documents should be kept together in a fire and waterproof container in a location known to fiduciaries.

Most people think of a bank safe deposit box as a protected place. However, it is not a good location for several reasons. Individuals may not have access to the contents of the safe deposit box, unless they are named on the account. Even with their names on the account, emergencies do not follow bankers’ hours. If the Power of Attorney giving the person the ability to access the safe deposit box is inside the safe deposit box, bank officials are not likely to be willing to open the box to an unknown person.

A well-organized binder of documents in a fire and waterproof container at home makes the most sense.

Certain documents should be given in advance to certain agencies or offices. For instance, health care documents, like the Health Care Power of Attorney and Advance Medical Directive (or Living Will) should be given to each healthcare provider to keep in the person’s medical record and be sure they are accessible 24/7 to health care providers. Make sure that there are copies for adult children or whoever has been designated to serve as the Health Care Power of Attorney.

Power of Attorney documents should be given to each financial institution or agency in preparation for use, if and when the time comes.

It may feel like an overwhelming task to contact banks and brokerage houses in advance to make sure they accept a Power of Attorney form in advance. However, imagine the same hours plus the immense stress if this has to be done when a parent is incapacitated or has died. Banks, in particular, require POAs to be reviewed by their own attorneys before the document can be approved, which could take weeks to complete.

Depending upon where you live, Durable General Powers of Attorney may be filed at the county clerk’s office. If a POA is filed but is later revoked and a new document created, or if a fiduciary needs to convey real estate property with the powers conferred by a POA, the document at the county clerk’s office should be updated.

Last will and testaments are treated differently than POA documents. Wills are usually kept at home and not filed anywhere until after death.

Each fiduciary listed in the documents should be given a copy of the documents. This will be helpful when it is time to show proof they are a decision maker.

Having estate planning documents properly prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney is the first step. Step two is ensuring they are safely and properly stored, so they are ready for use when needed.

Reference: The Times-Enterprise (June 11, 2022) “Give thought to storing your estate papers”

 

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Can I Make Decisions for My 18-Year-Old ‘Kid’ If She Becomes Incapacitated? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Press-Enterprise’s recent article entitled “Legal documents for young adults” describes some of the important legal and estate planning documents your “kid” (who is now an adult) should have.

HIPAA Waiver. This form allows medical personnel to provide information to the parties you have named in the document. Without it, even mom would be prohibited from accessing her 19-year-old’s health information—even in an emergency. However, know that this form does not authorize anyone to make decisions. For that, see Health Care Directives below.

Health Care Directive. Also known as a health care power of attorney, this authorizes someone else to make health care decisions for you and details the decisions you would like made.

Durable Power of Attorney. Once your child turns 18, you are no longer able to act on their behalf, make decisions for them, or enter into any kind of an agreement binding them. This can be a big concern, if your adult child becomes incapacitated. A springing durable power of attorney is a document that becomes effective only upon the incapacity of the principal (the person signing the document). It is called a “springing” power because it springs into effect upon incapacity, rather than being effective immediately.

A durable power of attorney, whether springing or immediate, states who can make decisions for you upon your incapacity and what powers the agent has. The designated agent will typically be able to access bank accounts, pay bills, file insurance claims, engage attorneys or other professionals, and in general, act on behalf of the incapacitated person.

They will always be your babies, but once your child turns 18, he or she is legally an adult.

Be certain that you have got the legal documents in place to be there for them in case of an emergency.

Remember a spring break, when they are home for summer after their 18th birthday, or a senior road trip are all opportunities when these documents may be needed.

Reference: The Press-Enterprise (April 2, 2022) “Legal documents for young adults”

 

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Do Single People Need Estate Planning? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In evaluating your needs for estate planning, look at what might happen if you die intestate – that is, without a last will and testament. Your assets will likely have to go through the probate process, which means they will be distributed by the court according to the state intestate succession laws, says Hood County News’ recent article entitled “Even ‘singles’ need estate plans.”

Even if you do not have children, you may have a few nephews or nieces—or children of cousins or friends— to whom you would like to leave some of your assets. This can include automobiles, collectibles and family memorabilia. However, if everything you own goes through probate, there is no guarantee that these individuals will end up with what you wanted them to have.

If you want to leave something to family members or close friends, you will need to say this in your will. However, you also may want to provide support to one or more charitable organizations. You can just name these charities in your will. However, there may be options that could provide you with more benefits.

One option is a charitable remainder trust. With this option, you would transfer appreciated assets – such as stocks, mutual funds or other securities – into an irrevocable trust. The trustee, whom you have named (note that you could serve as trustee yourself) can then sell the assets at full market value, avoiding the capital gains taxes you would have to pay if you sold them yourself, outside a trust. If you itemize, you may be able to claim a charitable deduction on your taxes. The trust can purchase income-producing assets with the proceeds and provide you with an income stream for the rest of your life. At your death, the remaining trust assets will pass to the charities you have named.

There is also a third entity that is part of your estate plans: you. Everyone should make arrangements to protect their interests. However, without an immediate family, you need to be especially mindful of your financial and health care decisions. That is why, as part of your estate planning, you may want to include these two documents: durable power of attorney and a health care proxy.

A durable power of attorney allows you to name a person to manage your finances, if you become incapacitated. This is especially important for anyone who does not have a spouse. If you become incapacitated, your health care proxy (health care surrogate or medical power of attorney) lets you name another person to legally make health care decisions for you, if you cannot do so yourself.

Reference: Hood County News (Dec. 17, 2021) “Even ‘singles’ need estate plans”

 

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Does an Elder Orphan Need an Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning for the future is even more important for elder orphans than for those with a spouse or family members, according to this recent article “Savvy Senior: How to get help as an elder orphan” from The Virginia Gazette. There is no one single solution, but there are steps to take to protect your estate, health and provide for long-term care.

Start with the essential estate planning documents. These documents will protect you and ensure that your wishes are followed, if you become seriously ill or when you die. These documents include:

A durable Power of Attorney to designate someone to handle financial matters in the event of incapacity.

An Advanced Health Care Directive, including a Living Will, to tell your health care provider what kind of care you want if you become incapacitated.

A Health Care Power of Attorney, naming a person of your choice to make medical decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so.

A Will to direct how you want your property and assets to be distributed upon your death and to name an Executor who will be in charge of your estate.

Your best option to prepare these documents is an experienced estate planning attorney. Trying to do it yourself is risky. Each state has its own laws for these documents to be valid. If the documents are not accepted, the court could declare your will invalid and your directions will not be followed.

People with families typically name a responsible adult child as their power of attorney for finances, as executor or for health care decisions. If you do not have adult children, you may ask a trusted friend or colleague. Name a person who is younger than you, organized and responsible and who will likely be available and willing to service.

If the person you name as executor lives in another state, you will need to check with your estate planning attorney to see if there are any special requirements.

If you do not have a friend or even a distant relative you feel comfortable assigning this role to, your estate planning attorney may be able to suggest alternatives, such as an aging life care manager. These professionals are trained in geriatric care and often have backgrounds in social work or nursing.

If you are reluctant to complete the legal documents mentioned above or start having them prepared and then fail to complete them, you may face some unpleasant consequences. A judge may appoint a guardian to make decisions on your behalf. This guardian is likely to be a complete stranger to you. They will be legally empowered to make all decisions for you regarding your health care, end-of-life care and even your burial and funeral services.

Unless you are comfortable with a court-appointed person making health care and other decisions for you, call an estate planning attorney and start making plans for the future.

Reference: The Virginia Gazette (April 1, 2022) “Savvy Senior: How to get help as an elder orphan”

 

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Taking Care of Dying Parent’s Financial Affairs Can Be Challenging – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is not uncommon for adult children to have to face a parent’s decline and a stay in hospice at the end of their life. The children are tasked with trying to prepare for his passing. This includes how to handle his financial matters.

Seniors Matter’s recent article entitled “How do I handle my father’s financial matters now that he’s in hospice?” says that caring for a sick family member is a challenging and emotional time. Because of this major task, it is easy to put financial considerations on the back burner. Nonetheless, it is important to address a few key issues.

If a family member is terminally ill or admitted to hospice – and you are able to do so – it may be a good idea to start by helping to take inventory of your family member’s assets and liabilities. A clear idea of where their assets are and what they have is a great starting point to help you prepare and be in a better position to manage the estate.

An inventory may include any and all of the following:

  • Real estate
  • Bank accounts
  • Cars, boats and other vehicles
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Life insurance
  • Retirement plans (such as a 401(k), a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA and a SEP IRA);
  • Wages and other income
  • Business interests
  • Intellectual property; and
  • Any debts, liabilities and judgments.

Next, find out what, if any, estate planning documents may be in place. This includes a will, powers of attorney, trusts, a healthcare directive and a living will. You will need to find copies.

This is hard to do while a loved on is dying, but it can make the aftermath easier and less stressful.

Reference: Seniors Matter (Feb. 22, 2022) “How do I handle my father’s financial matters now that he’s in hospice?”

 

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