Can I Protect My Family after Death? Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning involves a close look at personal and financial goals while you are living and after you have died, as explained in a recent article titled “Professional Advice: Secure your future with estate planning” from Northwest Indiana Business Magazine. Having a comprehensive estate plan ensures that your wishes will be carried out and loved ones protected.

Your last will and testament identify the people who should receive an inheritance—heirs—who will manage your estate—executor—and who will take care of your minor children—guardian. Without a valid will, the state will rely on its own laws to distribute assets and assign a guardian to minor children. The state laws may not follow your wishes. However, there won’t be anything your family can do if you didn’t prepare a will.

Assets with beneficiary designations can be passed to heirs without going through probate. Certain assets, like life insurance policies and retirement accounts, allow a primary and secondary beneficiary to be named. These assets can be transferred to the intended beneficiaries swiftly and efficiently.

Many people use trusts to pass assets for a variety of reasons. For example, a trust can be created for a family member with special needs, protecting their eligibility to receive government benefits. Depending on the type of trust you create, you might be able to eliminate estate taxes. Certain trusts are also useful in protecting assets from creditors and lawsuits and ensure that assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Revocable living trusts provide protection in case of incapacity, avoid probate and ancillary probate and may provide asset protection for beneficiaries. If you are the creator of a trust—grantor—you will need to appoint a successor trustee to manage the trust if you are the original trustee and become incapacitated. Upon death, a revocable trust usually becomes irrevocable. Assets placed in the trust avoid probate, the court proceeding used to settle an estate, which can be both time-consuming and costly.

A Power of Attorney allows you to name a person who will handle your financial affairs and protect assets in the event of incapacity. That person—your agent—may pay bills, sell assets and work with an elder law estate planning attorney on Medicaid planning. The POA should be customized to your personal situation. you may give the agent broad or narrow powers.

Everyone should also have a Health Care Proxy, which gives the person named the legal right to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to. You’ll also want to have a HIPAA Release Form (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), so your agent can speak with all health care providers, access medical records and speak with the health insurance company on your behalf.

A Living Will is the document used to convey your wishes regarding end-of-life care if you are unable to do so yourself. It is certainly not pleasant to contemplate. However, it should be thought of as a kindness to your loved ones. Without knowing your wishes, they may be forced to make a decision and will never know if it was what you wanted. A Living Will also avoids conflicts between health care providers and family members and makes a stressful time a little less so.

Having a comprehensive estate plan provides protection for the individual and their family members. It avoids costly and stressful problems arising from the complex events accompanying illness and death. Every three to five years (or when life or financial circumstances warrant), meet with an estate planning attorney to keep your estate plan on track.

Reference: Northwest Indiana Business Magazine (Dec. 27, 2022) “Professional Advice: Secure your future with estate planning”

 

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How Does Guardianship Work? – Annapolis and Towson Planning

For family members of the estimated 6.5 million dementia patients in the U.S., it is crucial to understand whether guardianship may be an option for their loved one. A recent article from Next Avenue titled “Thinking of Becoming a Guardian?” explains how the guardianship process works and what factors go into the decision-making process.

Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Guardianship is the position of being responsible for someone else. State courts usually appoint a guardian to make decisions for a person, if the court finds that person to be incapacitated or unable to make safe and reasonable decisions for themselves. People who are placed under guardianship, known as “wards,” often lose their independence in making financial, legal and health care decisions.

If full guardianship is awarded, the person cannot make decisions about whether they may vote, marry, where they live, or make their own end-of-life decisions.

Two tasks that are evaluated when considering guardianship are a person’s ability to manage personal finances and to take medications as prescribed.

The court may call on a geriatrician or psychiatrist to evaluate the person’s functional behavior, cognitive function, disabling conditions and ability to meet their essential needs.

There are benefits to guardianship for someone who is not able to care for themselves. It ideally creates a safety net for a person who cannot make informed decisions for themselves.

this, of course, assumes that the guardian is honest and accountable, which is not always the case. The inconsistencies plaguing the guardianship system include minimum standards for guardians, lack of regular independent reviews of the need for guardianship and lack of educational requirements for guardians.

Once guardianship is assigned, there is a tendency for the person to become lost when no follow-up is done. The very same person who lacks capacity to care for themselves is not going to be able to advocate for themselves, contact an attorney or access funds for court proceedings.

There is also a tendency to assign full guardianship for a person, rather than less restrictive alternatives.

There are alternatives, but they require planning and discussion. More than 40% of Americans have not discussed their wishes for end-of-life care with their loved ones, according to an article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Families should have a conversation at the first sign of memory loss or when preparing for retirement regarding wishes for end-of-life care and write them down as part of an Advanced Directive—also known as a Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney—when preparing their estate plan.

Another important document, although not legally binding, is a “Value History,” where you share your values and beliefs as they may impact care choices.

Designate a Power of Attorney and list two or even three back-up candidates. This person will be responsible for financial, legal and personal matters, avoiding the need for guardianship.

Appointing a family member or friend as a guardian is the ideal solution. However, there are instances when the best person to be a guardian is not a family member, but a court-appointed outsider. This relieves the family of being the ones who need to inform a person suffering from dementia with the news of having to move into a nursing home facility or sifting through financial records to learn that the family home is in foreclosure. The family can focus on being supportive and loving, while the guardian deals with the sometimes harsh realities of the person’s life.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to learn about how guardianship works, and whether it may be the right move for your family.

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

Reference: Next Avenue (Dec. 23, 2022) “Thinking of Becoming a Guardian?”

 

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The Basics of Estate Planning – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

No matter how BIG or small your net worth is, estate planning is a process that ensures your assets are handed down the way you want after you die.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Estate Planning Basics” explains that everybody has an estate.

An estate is nothing more or less than the sum total of your assets and possessions of value. This includes:

  • Your car
  • Your home
  • Financial accounts
  • Investments; and
  • Personal property.

Estate planning is the process of deciding which people or organizations are to get your possessions or assets after you’ve died.

It’s also how you leave directions for managing your care and assets if you are incapacitated and unable to make financial or medical decisions. That is done with powers of attorney, a healthcare directive and a living will.

Your estate plan details who gets your assets. It also designates who can make critical healthcare and financial decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. If you have minor children, your estate plan also lets you designate their legal guardians, in case you die before they reach 18. It also allows you to name adults to safeguard their financial interests.

Your estate plan directs assets to specific entities or people in a legally binding manner. If you want your daughter to have your coin collection or your favorite animal rescue organization to get $500, it’s all mapped out in your estate plan.

You can also create a trust to safeguard a minor child’s assets until they reach a certain age. You can also keep assets out of probate. That way, your beneficiaries can easily access things like your home or bank accounts.

All estate plans should include documents that cover three main areas: asset transfer, medical needs and financial decisions. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you create your estate plan.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 16, 2022) “Estate Planning Basics”

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Important Documents in Your Estate Plan – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) and a Health Surrogacy or Advanced Health Directive are used for situations where you can’t make decisions for yourself, explains Parent Your Parents recent article entitled “What You Should Know about Durable Powers of Attorney and Health Surrogacies.”

A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA). This is written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or legal matters. The person authorizing the other to act is the “principal” or “grantor.” The person given the power is called the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact.” There are two types of power of attorney: (1) a Springing Durable Power of Attorney, which “springs” into action when you become incapacitated; and (2) a General Durable Power of Attorney, which becomes effective as soon as it is signed and continues until you die.

If you live in a “Springing POA” state and move to a “Durable POA” state, the document is treated as a Durable Power of Attorney, and your agent can act without your consent. You should consider who you trust to be your agent.

It is typically a family member, a friend, or a professional agent. You should also have an alternate designated who can step in if something happens to your first choice and he or she is unable to serve.

Health Surrogacy or Advanced Directive. This document is called a variety of things: a Power of Attorney for Health, Designation of Health Surrogate, or a Living Will. No matter what it’s called, you’re appointing an adult to make healthcare decisions for you when you are unable to make them for yourself.

When you’re in an accident, unconscious, or injured and need a specific medical procedure, the designated agent steps in and makes important decisions in your stead.

If you’re in your 60s but still don’t have a legal document describing what you want to happen when you’re incapacitated, contact us to speak with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Your family, close friends, and healthcare professionals should know how you feel about end-of-life treatments and have your detailed directions as to various circumstances and how you would like them handled.

Reference: Parent Your Parents (Sep. 15, 2022) “What You Should Know about Durable Powers of Attorney and Health Surrogacies”

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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”

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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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