Planning for Long Term Care Is Important – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Elder law attorneys have far too many stories of people who fail to plan, plan incorrectly or incompletely, or plan to fail by doing nothing at all, as described in the article “Elder Care: People in a pickle” from The Sentinel. Here’s a sad story.

A woman calls the elder law office because her husband fell at home—a common occurrence among the elderly. He was hospitalized and is now receiving rehabilitation in a nursing home. The treating physician recommends that the husband remain in the nursing home because he has significant limitations and his wife, who has her own medical issues, isn’t physically able to care for him.

The wife agrees. However, she has a host of challenges to overcome that were never addressed. The husband took care of all of the finances, for decades telling his wife not to worry. Now, she has no idea what their resources are. Can they afford to pay for his nursing home care? She doesn’t know. Nor does she have the authority to access their accounts, because there are accounts in her husband’s name only and she does not have access to them.

Her husband’s insistence of being the only one in control of their finances has put her in a terrible predicament. Without the estate planning documents to give her access to everything, including his own accounts, she can’t act. Can he now sign a Power of Attorney? Maybe—but maybe not, if it can be shown he lacks capacity.

If the couple cannot pay the nursing home bill, they have given their children a problem, since they live in Pennsylvania, where the state’s filial support law allows the nursing home to sue one or more of the children for the cost of their parent’s care. (This law varies by state, so check with a local elder lawyer to see if it could impact your family). Even if the wife knew about the family’s finances and could apply for public benefits, in this case his eligibility would be denied, as they had purchased a home for one of their children within five years of his being moved to the nursing home. Medicaid has a five-year look back period, and any large transfers or purchases would make the husband ineligible for five years.

If this sounds like a financial, legal and emotional mess, it’s a fair assessment.

Unexpected events happen, and putting off planning for them, or one spouse insisting “I’ve got this” when truly they don’t, takes a big impact on the future for spouses and family members. All of the decisions we make, or fail to make, can have major impacts on the future for our loved ones.

Other situations familiar to elder lawyers: a parent naming two children as co-agents for power of attorney. When she began showing symptoms of dementia, the two children disagreed on her care and ended up in court.

A father has guardianship for a disabled adult son. He promised the son he’d always be able to live in the family home. The father becomes ill and must move into a nursing home. Neither one is able to manage their own personal finances, and no financial or practical arrangements were made to fulfill the promise to the son.

No one expects to have these problems, but even the most loving families find themselves snarled in legal battles because of poor planning. Careful planning may not reduce the messy events of life, but it can reduce the stress and expenses. By choosing to exert some control over who can help you with decisions and what plans are in place for the future, you can leave a legacy of caring.  Contact us and schedule a time to begin your planning with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: The Sentinel (Aug. 19, 2022) “Elder Care: People in a pickle”

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”

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

Medicaid Crisis Plans for Long Term Care Costs – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

To the estate planning attorney, the situation is known as “crisis planning.” It almost always involves two things happening at once: the immediate need for additional healthcare and for a family’s assets to be protected. The end goal of crisis planning is to protect assets for both spouses, while ensuring that the sick spouse receives the care they need, as explained in the article “Crisis planning for couples focuses on asset protection” from The News-Enterprise.

What is Medicaid Crisis Planning?

Crisis planning for married couples requires a three-step process. First, does the spouse in crisis have the documents in place to allow another person to act on their behalf? This includes a financial power of attorney and a healthcare power of attorney.

Powers of Attorney need to be checked to ensure that they include specific powers needed to take action on the person’s behalf. These documents are “state specific,” meaning each state has laws determining what the POA must contain and how it must be prepared. Crisis planning requires a POA providing a broad set of powers, so agents can access and change documents like deeds, bank and investment accounts.

Once the documents and POAs are in hand, the next step is to get a detailed breakdown of the couple’s financial position and the cost of care. This becomes easier if the couple is organized and has information readily available for each income stream and asset.

What Information Will the Agent Need?

The agent must find several different types of financial documents. Proof of income for each income stream is needed. The actual proof of income will show taxes withdrawn or other deductions taken from income, such as health insurance.

The agent will also need access to several months of statements for each account, including bank statements, investment accounts, retirement accounts and deeds and titles for property. Proof of other assets, including insurance policies, burial plot deeds and other assets must also be included.

Some types of income and assets are countable, and some are non-countable. However, the non-countable income and assets may need to be considered, so the estate planning attorney will need to have all the information.

Medicaid Resource Assessment Request

Step three is to determine eligibility for programs and make the necessary applications. This will depend on the type of care needed. However, a typical crisis case is for nursing home care, which almost always means Medicaid eligibility. All income and assets are reported to Medicaid through a Resource Assessment request. The Medicaid office creates a breakdown of what will be counted against the applicant.

The remaining amount is what must be “spent down” for a person to be eligible for Medicaid coverage.

The most common way to do this is through a Medicaid Annuity. This annuity takes the spend down amount and returns the full amount as income to the spouse at home, effectively preserving the couple’s assets.

Crisis planning is stressful but does not have to be hopeless. By working with an experienced estate planning attorney and providing documentation as quickly as possible, health care needs can be met without the well spouse being impoverished.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (July 23, 2022) “Crisis planning for couples focuses on asset protection”

 

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

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “What does becoming someone’s ‘power of attorney’ mean?” explains that a power of attorney (POA) is a legal document through which a principal states that his or her trusted agent may act on his or her behalf and for their benefit.

A power of attorney is usually centered on addressing the principal’s financial matters, such as banking, paying taxes and selling or buying property.

A power of attorney can be “springing,” so that it becomes effective only when the principal becomes incapacitated. A springing POA provides that an agent cannot act, until the principal is determined to be incapacitated based on the criteria listed in the POA.

The “springing POA” frequently says the determination of incapacity will be made by the principal’s spouse and a licensed physician, or two licensed physicians.

There is also what is known as a medical power of attorney or living will. This is a legal document through which a principal authorizes an agent to make medical decisions for him or her, when they are incapable of making the decisions for themselves.

In either event, the agent does not become personally responsible for the financial expenses incurred by the principal, unless the agent agrees to take such responsibility in his/her individual capacity.

It is, therefore, important to execute documents as an agent and indicate you are doing so as an agent.

For example, you, Jim Smith, would sign for principal Mary Smith as follows: “Mary Smith, by Jim Smith, attorney-in-fact,” or “Jim Smith, as agent for Mary Smith, under power of attorney.”

When signing a contract with respect to nursing home care, be wary of agreeing to individually be the “responsible party.” That term may be defined to assign additional obligations, meaning being responsible for the bill.

Remember to sign everything as agent under the power of attorney.

Reference: nj.com (April 12, 2022) “What does becoming someone’s ‘power of attorney’ mean?”

 

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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”

 

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