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

A power of attorney is a legal document that permits an agent or attorney-in-fact to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so.

WTOP’s recent article “How to Set Up a Power of Attorney” says that the rules for designating power of attorney vary from state to state. Because of this, you should speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about your state’s laws.

Power of attorney is revocable. Therefore, if you are mentally competent and believe you can no longer count on the person you designated as your agent, you can update your documents and select another person.

The individual you choose as your attorney-in-fact will depend to a large extent on the type of power you are granting — whether it is general or limited — and your relationship. For general power of attorney, people often go with their spouses or sometimes their children. However, you can choose anyone, as long as it is someone you trust.

In many cases, designating general power of attorney is a component of a larger estate plan, so when you talk to your estate planning lawyer about your estate plan, you can add this to the conversation.

You may want to have your attorney draft a limited or special power of attorney. This lets your agent complete restricted transactions, like selling a piece of property. It is limited in scope. In contrast, a general power of attorney lets your agent do about anything you could do. A general power of attorney is usually part of an estate plan, in the event you’re unable to handle your own financial matters as you age or become incapacitated.

A springing power of attorney goes into effect in a predetermined situation, and it will specify the circumstances under which the power takes effect. An immediately effective or non-springing power of attorney is in place once the paperwork is signed.

Powers of attorney typically end when the principal is unable to make decisions on his or her own. However, for some, becoming incapacitated is just the type of circumstances when they want someone they trust to have power of attorney.

A durable power of attorney continues after the individual is incapacitated. Therefore, if you are unable to make financial or medical decisions on your own after an accident or illness, the POA will remain in effect.

You are generally also able to name a medical power of attorney. That is a person who knows your wishes and can make health care decisions for you as a proxy. It is also known as a health care proxy. If you cannot make decisions on your own, the health care proxy kicks in. Your health care proxy should know your wishes, as far as how you would like doctors to treat you, if you cannot make decisions on your own. This may also accompany a living will, which expresses your wishes on continuing life support, if you are terminally ill or being kept alive by machines.

Reference: WTOP (May 21, 2020) “How to Set Up a Power of Attorney”

 

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Your Children Wish You Had an Estate Plan – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is the adult children who are in charge of aging parents when they need long-term care. They are also the ones who settle estates when parents die. Even if they cannot always come out and tell you, the recent article, “Why your children wish you had an Elder Law Estate Plan” from the Times Herald-Record spells out exactly why an elder law estate plan is so important for your loved ones.

Avoid court proceedings while living. In a perfect world, everyone over age 18 will have an advance directive, including a power of attorney, a health care proxy, and a living will. These documents appoint others to make financial, legal, and medical decisions, in case of incapacity. Without them, the children will have to get involved with time-consuming, expensive guardianship proceedings, where a judge appoints a legal guardian to make these decisions. Your life is turned over to a court-appointed guardian, instead of your children or another person of your choosing.

Avoid court proceedings after you die. If you die and assets are in your name alone, then your estate will go through probate, a court proceeding that can be time consuming and costly. Not having any assets in trusts leaves your kids open to the possibility of wills being challenged, disputes among family members and litigation that can drag on for years.

Wills in probate court are public documents. Trusts are private documents. Do you really want a stranger to access your will and learn about your assets?

An elder law estate plan also plans for the possibility of long-term care and costs. Nursing home care costs can run between $12,000—$18,000 per month. If you do not have long-term care insurance, you can create a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT) that protects assets in the trust from nursing home costs, once the assets are in the trust for five years. The MAPT also protects assets from homecare provided by Medicaid, called “community” Medicaid, once the assets are in the trust for 30 months under a new rule that starts on October 1, 2020.

The “elder law power of attorney” has unlimited gifting powers that could save about half of a single person’s assets from the cost of nursing homes. This can be done on the eve of needing nursing home care, but it is always better to do this planning in advance.

Having a plan in place decreases stress and anxiety for adult children. They are likely busy with their own lives, working, caring for their children and coping in a challenging world. When a plan is in place, they do not have to start learning about Medicaid law, navigating their way through the court system, or wondering why their parents did not take advantage of the time they had to plan properly.

You probably do not want your children remembering you as the parents who left a financial and legal mess behind for the them to clean up. Speak with an elder law estate planning attorney to create a plan for your future. Your children will appreciate it.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (May 23, 2020) “Why your children wish you had an Elder Law Estate Plan”

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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”

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Why Is Estate Planning more Complicated with a ‘Gray Divorce’? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The increasing divorce rates among Americans over the age of 50 is a problem, because minimizing discord among beneficiaries is one of the top three reasons why people engage in estate planning.

The Clare County Review’s recent article entitled “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated” notes that along with prolonged life expectancy and rising healthcare costs, this upward trend in couples divorcing after the age of 50 has created activity and interest in estate planning.

According to the CDC, the divorce rate in the United States is 3.2 per 1,000 people. The ‘first divorce rate,’ or the number of marriages that ended in divorce per 1,000 first marriages for women 18 and older, was 15.4 in 2016, according to research by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at the Bowling Green State University. As noted earlier, black women experience divorce at the highest rate, 26.1 per 1,000, and the rate is lowest for Asian women at 9.2 per 1,000.  In Michigan, the current divorce rate is 9%, but Tennessee is way up at 43%.

Gray divorce is adding another level of complexity to estate planning that already happens with blended families, designation of heirs and changing domestic structures. Therefore, it is more crucial than ever to proactively review and discuss the estate plans with your estate planning attorney on an ongoing basis.

According to the TD Wealth survey, 39% of respondents said that divorce effects the costs of retirement planning and funding the most. Another 7% said that divorce impacts those responsible for enacting a power of attorney and 6% said divorce impacts how Social Security benefits will be determined.

It is important to communicate the estate plan with family members to reduce family conflict during the divorce process.

The divorce process is complicated at any age. However, for divorcing couples over the age of 50, the process can be especially tough because the spouse is frequently designated as a beneficiary on many, if not all, documents. Each of these documents will need to change to show new beneficiaries after the divorce has been finalized. It means that wills, trusts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies and listed assets will need to be revised.

Reference: Clare County Review (Feb. 10, 2020) “Rising Gray Divorce Rates Are Making Estate Planning Problems More Complicated”

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Creating an End-of-Life Checklist – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Spend the energy, effort, and time now to consider your wishes, collect information and, most importantly, get everything down on paper, says In Maricopa’s recent article entitled “Make an end-of-life checklist.”

The article says that a list of all your assets and critical personal information is a guarantee that nothing is forgotten, missed, or lost. Estate planning attorneys can assist you and guide you through the process.

Admittedly, it is an unpleasant subject and a topic that you do not want to discuss, and it can be a final gift to your family and loved ones.

When you work with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can add any specific instructions you want to make that are not already a part of your will or other estate planning documentation. Make certain that you appoint an executor, one you trust, who will carry out your wishes.

Have ready for your attorney all of your vital, personal information. This should include your name, birthday, and Social Security number, as well as the location of key documents and items, birth certificate, marriage license, military discharge paperwork (if applicable), and your will, powers of attorney, medical directives, ID cards, medical insurance cards, house and car keys and details about your burial plot.

In addition, you need to let your family now about the sources of your income. This type of information should include specifics about pensions, retirement accounts, 401(k), or you 403(b) plan.

Be sure to include company and contact, as well as the account number, date of payment, document location, and when/how received.

You also need to include all medicine and medical equipment used and the location of these items.

And then double check the locations of the following items: bank documents, titles and deeds, credit cards, tax returns, trust and power of attorney, mortgage and loan, personal documents, types of insurance – life, health, auto, home, etc. It is wise to add account numbers and contact information.

Another area you may want to consider is creating a list of online passwords, in printed form, in a secure place for your family or loved ones to use to access and monitor accounts.

Be sure to keep your End-of-Life Checklist in a secure place, such as a safe or safety deposit box because it has sensitive and private information. Tell your executor where it is located.

Reference: In Maricopa (Feb. 14, 2020) “Make an end-of-life checklist”

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What Happens If I Don’t Have an Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is so much better to have a will than not to. With a will, you can direct your assets to those whom you wish to receive a legacy, rather than the default rules of the State. This is according to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle’s entitled “Elder Law: Will you plan now or pay later?”

You should also designate an independent executor. You may want to have an estate planning attorney create a special trust to provide for family members who are disabled, along with trusts for minors and even adult children.

Here are three major items about which you may not have considered that may require changes to your estate plan or motivate you to get one. Years ago, the amount a person could leave to beneficiaries (the tax-free exemption equivalent) was much lower. You were also required to either use it or lose it.

For example, back in 1987 when the exemption equivalent was $600,000 per taxpayer, a couple had to create a by-pass trust to protect the first $600,000 upon the first to die to take advantage of the exemption. The exemption is $11.58 million in 2020, and the “portability” law has changed the “use it or lose it” requirement. There may still be good reasons to use a forced by-pass trust in your will, but in some cases, it may be time to get rid of it.

Next, think about implementing planning to have some control over your assets after you die.

You could have a heart attack, a stroke, or an unfortunate accident. These types of events can happen quickly with no warning. You were healthy and then suddenly a sickness or injury leaves you severely disabled. You should plan in the event this happen to you.

Why would a person not take the opportunity to prepare documents such as powers of attorney for property, powers of attorney for health care, living wills and medical privacy documents?

It is good to know that becoming the subject of a court supervised guardianship proceeding is a matter of public record for everyone to see. There is also the unnecessary expense and frustration of a guardianship that could have been avoided, if you would have taken the time to prepare the appropriate documents with an estate planning or elder law attorney.

Why would you want to procrastinate making a will and then die suddenly without ever taking the time to make your will? Without a valid will, your family will have to pay more for a costly probate proceeding.

Reference: Houston Chronicle (Jan. 16, 2020) “Elder Law: Will you plan now or pay later?”

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If I’m 35, Do I Need a Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Estate planning is a crucial process for everyone, no matter what assets you have now. If you want your family to be able to deal with your affairs, debts included, drafting an estate plan is critical, says Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Estate planning for those 40 and under.”

If you have young children, or other dependents, planning is vitally important. The less you have, the more important your plan is, so it can provide as long as possible and in the best way for those most important to you. You can not afford to make a mistake.

Talk to your family about various “what if” situations. It is important that you have discussed your wishes with your family and that you have considered the many contingencies that can happen, like a serious illness or injury, incapacity, or death. This also gives you the chance to explain your rationale for making a larger gift to someone, rather than another or an equal division. This can be especially significant, if there is a second marriage with children from different relationships and a wide range of ages. An open conversation can help avoid hard feelings later.

You should have the basic estate plan components, which include a will, a living will, advance directive, powers of attorney, and a designation of agent to control disposition of remains. These are all important components of an estate plan that should be created at the beginning of the planning process. A guardian should also be named for any minor children.

In addition, a life insurance policy can give your family the needed funds in the event of an untimely death and loss of income—especially for young parents. The loss of one or both spouses’ income can have a drastic impact.

Remember that your estate plan should not be a “one and done thing.” You need to review your estate plan every few years. This gives you the opportunity to make changes based on significant life events, tax law changes, the addition of more children, or their changing needs. You should also monitor your insurance policies and investments, because they dovetail into your estate plan and can fluctuate based on the economic environment.

When you draft these documents, you should work with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (Jan. 21, 2020) “Estate planning for those 40 and under”

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Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

For some couples, getting married just does not feel necessary. However, they do not enjoy the automatic legal rights and protections that legally wed spouses do, especially when it comes to death. There are many spousal rights that come with a marriage certificate, reports CNBC in the article “Here is what happens to your partner if you are not married and you die.” Without the benefit of marriage, extra planning is necessary to protect each other.

Taxes are a non-starter. There is no federal or state income tax form that will permit a non-married couple to file jointly. If one of the couple’s employers is the source of health insurance for both, the amount that the company contributes is taxable to the employee. A spouse does not have to pay taxes on health insurance.

More important, however, is what happens when one of the partners dies or becomes incapacitated. A number of documents need to be created, so should one become incapacitated, the other is able to act on their behalf. Preparations also need to be made, so the surviving partner is protected and can manage the deceased’s estate.

In order to be prepared, an estate plan is necessary. Creating a plan for what happens to you and your estate is critical for unmarried couples who want their commitment to each other to be protected at death. The general default for a married couple is that everything goes to the surviving spouse. However, for unmarried couples, the default may be a sibling, children, parents or other relatives. It will not be the unmarried partner.

This is especially true, if a person dies with no will. The courts in the state of residence will decide who gets what, depending upon the law of that state. If there are multiple heirs who have conflicting interests, it could become nasty—and expensive.

However, a will is not all that is needed.

Most tax-advantaged accounts—Roth IRAs, traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans, etc.—have beneficiaries named. That person receives the assets upon death of the owner. The same is true for investment accounts, annuities, life insurance and any financial product that has a beneficiary named. The beneficiary receives the asset, regardless of what is in the will. Therefore, checking beneficiaries need to be part of the estate plan.

Checking, savings and investment accounts that are in both partner’s names will become the property of the surviving person, but accounts with only one person’s name on them will not. A Transfer on Death (TOD) or Payable on Death (POD) designation should be added to any single-name accounts.

Unmarried couples who own a home together need to check how the deed is titled, regardless who is on the mortgage. The legal owner is the person whose name is on the deed. If the house is only in one person’s name, it will not become part of the estate. Change the deed so both names are on the deed with rights of survivorship, so both are entitled to assume full ownership upon the death of the other.

To prepare for incapacity, an estate planning attorney can help create a durable power of attorney for health care, so partners will be able to make medical decisions on each other’s behalf. A living will should also be created for both people, which states wishes for end of life decisions. For financial matters, a durable power of attorney will allow each partner to have control over each other’s financial affairs.

It takes a little extra planning for unmarried couples, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have prepared to care for each other, until death do you part, is priceless.

Reference: CNBC (Dec. 16, 2019) “Here is what happens to your partner if you are not married and you die”

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A 2020 Checklist for an Estate Plan – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The beginning of a new year is a perfect time for those who have not started the process of getting an estate plan started. For those who already have a plan in place, now is a great time to review these documents to make changes that will reflect the changes in one’s life or family dynamics, as well as changes to state and federal law.

Houston Business Journal’s recent article entitled “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution” says that by partnering with a trusted estate planning attorney, you can check off these four boxes on your list to be certain your current estate plan is optimized for the future.

  1. Compute your financial situation. No matter what your net worth is, nearly everyone has an estate that is worth protecting. An estate plan formalizes an individual’s wishes and decreases the chances of family fighting and stress.
  2. Get your affairs in order. A will is the heart of the estate plan, and the document that designates beneficiaries beyond the property and accounts that already name them, like life insurance. A will details who gets what and can help simplify the probate process, when the will is administered after your death. Medical questions, provisions for incapacity and end-of-life decisions can also be memorialized in a living will and a medical power of attorney. A financial power of attorney also gives a trusted person the legal authority to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated.
  3. Know the 2020 estate and gift tax exemptions. The exemption for 2020 is $11.58 million, an increase from $11.4 million in 2019. The exemption eliminates federal estate taxes on amounts under that limit gifted to family members during a person’s lifetime or left to them upon a person’s passing.
  4. Understand when the exemption may decrease. The exemption amount will go up each year until 2025. There was a bit of uncertainty about what would happen to someone who uses the $11.58 million exemption in 2020 and then dies in 2026—when the exemption reverts to the $5 million range. However, the IRS has issued final regulations that will protect individuals who take advantage of the exemption limits through 2025. Gifts will be sheltered by the increased exemption limits, when the gifts are actually made.

It is a great idea to have a resolution every January to check in with your estate planning attorney to be certain that your plan is set for the year ahead.

Reference: Houston Business Journal (Jan. 1, 2020) “An estate planning checklist should be a top New Year’s resolution”

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Do You Want to Decide or Do You Want the State to Decide? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A will allows you to direct your assets to the people you want to receive them, rather than the alternative, which is relying on the laws of your state to direct who receives your assets, says the article “Will you plan now or pay later?” from the Chron.com.

A will is also the document used to name an independent executor with successors, in the unlikely chance that the first executor fails, refuses or becomes unable to serve. Your estate planning attorney will discuss the use of special trusts to provide for family members who are disabled, trusts for minors or special needs family members or even adult children.

There are three big considerations you may not have even considered that would require you to have an estate plan created in recent years to be reviewed or revised. Years ago, the federal tax exemption, which allows a person to leave a certain amount of money to beneficiaries, was much smaller than it is now.

This was a “use it or lose it” exemption. Here is an example of how things have changed. In 1987, when the exemption was $600,000 per taxpayer, a couple would use a by-pass trust to shelter the first $600,000 upon the first to die to take advantage of the exemption. In 2020, the exemption is $11.58 million. The “use it or lose it” law is different. Therefore, if your will still has a by-pass trust for this reason, it may be best to discuss it with your estate planning attorney. It is likely that you don’t need it anymore.

You also want a will to have some control over what happens to your assets when you die. Let us say Betty and Bob have three children. Bob dies, leaving his assets to Betty, then Betty dies and leaves all of her assets to her three children. One of the children, Bea, dies shortly after Betty dies. Bea’s will leaves all of her assets to her husband Bruce.

Bruce remarries. When Bruce dies, the share of the family’s assets that Bruce inherited from his wife Bea may be left to Bruce’s second wife, or the couple may spend them all during their marriage. If Bruce divorces his second wife, she may win those assets in a divorce settlement. Would Betty and Bob have wanted their assets to go to their grandchildren, instead of their son-in-law’s second wife and children?

An estate plan can be created to protect those assets, so they remain within the family, going to grandchildren or to the children of Betty and Bob.

While most people think of an estate plan as a plan for death, it is also a plan for illness and incapacity. A perfectly healthy person is injured in a car accident or suffers a stroke. Without having documents like a power of attorney, power of attorney for health care, living will and medical privacy documents, the family will spend a great deal of time and money trying to establish legal control over the estate.

Speak with an estate planning attorney today to update your current will or create a will and the necessary documents to protect yourself and your family.

Reference: Chron.com (January 16, 2020) “Will you plan now or pay later?”

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