Is It Necessary to have a Medical Power of Attorney? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

There is no way around it, this is a difficult conversation to have with aging parents or loved ones. Who will take care of parents when they cannot take care of themselves? Do they have their estate plan in order? According to this article from Health, an important detail is often overlooked: “A Health Care Power of Attorney Is Essential for Aging Parents—Here’s Why.”

Referred to as a health care proxy or a medical power of attorney, a health care power of attorney allows a person to choose someone to make medical decisions on their behalf, if they are unable to do so. This is a different document than a living will, which serves to let a person outline their wishes if they cannot communicate for end-of-life care.

Naming a medical proxy in advance lets the person conduct their wishes, with full and complete knowledge of what those wishes are.

A health care power of attorney is also not the same as a last will and testament, which goes into effect after a person dies. There is nothing in a health care power of attorney concerning wealth distribution. The will and trusts address those matters.

Giving a trusted person the legal power to make medical decisions is a big step, but one that provides a sense of control and peace of mind. There should be a first choice and an alternate, in case the first person, usually a spouse, is unable or unwilling to serve.

Without a medical power of attorney, the family may need to go to court to get legal permission to make decisions. It is the last thing anyone wants to do when their loved one is in a critical medical situation. Imagine having to leave the hospital to go to court, when the minutes are ticking away and your parent is in the midst of medical crisis.

If someone fails to name a medical proxy and becomes incapacitated, the hospital itself will most often step in to make treatment decisions or rely on the rules of the state to pick a family member to make decisions. The person named by the hospital might not be the person the family wants, but it will have no choice.

Like having an estate plan in place, having a medical proxy in place eliminates a lot of unnecessary stress. Most parents name the adult children they feel will make decisions in their best interest. The responsible, dependable child, regardless of their age relative their siblings, is often named. If siblings do not get along and have a history of fighting, it may be best to name a cousin or trusted family friend.

An experienced estate planning attorney will make sure the health care proxy documents comply with the laws in the person’s state of residence. Every state has its own forms, and its own laws.

A discussion needs to take place between the person and the people they name in the health care proxy. Make sure the proxy is willing to take on the role and understands the person’s wishes.  The form should also be submitted to a health care facility or doctor’s office, so it is on file if it is needed. Unexpected events occur every day—being prepared makes it easier for loved ones.

Reference: Health (Dec. 1, 2021) “A Health Care Power of Attorney Is Essential for Aging Parents—Here’s Why”

 

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What’s the Best Way to Mess Up Estate Plan? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Forbes’ recent article entitled “5 Ways People Mess Up Their Estate Plan” describes the most common mistakes people make that wreak havoc with their estate plans.

Giving money to an individual during life, but not changing their will. Cash gifts in a will are common. However, the will often is not changed. When the will gets probated, the individual named still gets the gift (or an additional gift). No one—including the probate court knows the gift was satisfied during life. As a result, a person may get double.

Not enough assets to fund their trust. If you created a trust years ago, and your overall assets have decreased in value, you should be certain there are sufficient assets going into your trust to pay all the gifts. Some people create elaborate estate plans to give cash gifts to friends and family and create trusts for others. However, if you do not have enough money in your trust to pay for all of these gifts, some people will get short changed, or get nothing at all.

Assuming all assets pass under the will. Some people think they have enough money to satisfy all the gifts in their will because they total up all their assets and arrive at a large enough amount. However, not all the assets will come into the will. Probate assets pass from the deceased person’s name to their estate and get distributed according to the will. However, non-probate assets pass outside the will to someone else, often by beneficiary designation or joint ownership. Understand the difference so you know how much money will actually be in the estate to be distributed in accordance with the will.  Do not forget to deduct debts, expenses and taxes.

Adding a joint owner. If you want someone to have an asset when you die, like real estate, you can add them as a joint owner. However, if your will is dependent on that asset coming into your estate to pay other people (or to pay debts, expenses or taxes), there could be an issue after you die. Adding joint owners often leads to will contests and prolonged court battles. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Changing beneficiary designations. Changing your beneficiary on a life insurance policy could present another issue. The policy may have been payable to your trust to pay bequests, shelter monies from estate taxes, or pay estate taxes. If it is paid to someone else, your planning could be down the drain. Likewise, if you have a retirement account that was supposed to be payable to an individual and you change the beneficiary to your trust, there could be adverse income tax consequences.

Talk to your estate planning attorney and review your estate plan, your assets and your beneficiary designations. Do not make these common mistakes!

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 26, 2021) “5 Ways People Mess Up Their Estate Plan”

 

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Do Grandchildren Get Some of the Estate If Their Dad Dies before Me? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is not that uncommon that a child dies before a parent. The question then arises about who gets that share. Is it the children of the decedent child (the will maker’s grandchildren), or do the will maker’s other children split the share of the decedent child?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Who gets this inheritance if a beneficiary dies?” explains that the language of the will itself governs what happens with each beneficiary’s share in the event one of the adult children dies before his or her parents.

Some wills divide the remainder among the will maker’s children who are still living. With this, the surviving siblings would receive the entire estate.

This is called “per capita,” which is a Latin phrase that translates literally to “by head.” In a per capita distribution, each designated beneficiary receives an inheritance only if they’re living when the inheritance vests (at the will maker’s death).

If a beneficiary dies before this, that beneficiary’s share is divided among the surviving named beneficiaries. As a result, the children of the decedent beneficiary get nothing, unless they are specifically designated as beneficiaries.

However, the more common approach is for a will to state: “I give, devise and bequeath my residuary estate to my descendants, per stirpes.”

Per stirpes is a Latin phrase that translates literally to “by roots” or “by branch.” A per stirpes distribution means that a beneficiary’s share passes to their lineal descendants if the beneficiary dies before the inheritance vests. Per stirpes effectively designates a class of beneficiaries to receive estate property, rather than designating only specific individuals to inherit property.

Therefore, providing this language in the will means that if a child predeceases the testator and the predeceased child has surviving descendants, that predeceased child’s share will go to that predeceased child’s descendants … that would be the will maker’s grandchildren.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about how each of these designations would work in your specific situation, when you draft or update your will.

Reference: nj.com (Oct. 28, 2021) “Who gets this inheritance if a beneficiary dies?”

 

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Can I Change My Estate Plan During Divorce? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Divorce is never easy. Adding the complexities of estate planning can make it harder. However, it still needs to be included during the divorce process, says a recent article entitled “How to Change Your Estate Plan During Divorce from the Waco Tribune-Herald.

Some of the key things to bear in mind during a divorce include:

Is your Last Will and Testament aligned with your pending divorce? The unexpected occurs, whether planning a relaxing vacation or a contentious divorce. If you were to die in the process, which usually takes a few years, who would inherit your worldly goods? Your ex? A trust created to take care of your children, with a trusted sibling as a trustee?

Are your beneficiary designations up to date? For the same reason, make sure that life insurance policies, retirement accounts and any financial accounts allowing you to name a beneficiary are current to reflect your pending or new marital status.

Certain changes may not be made until the divorce is finalized. For instance, there are laws concerning spouses and pension distribution. You might not be able to make a change until the divorce is finalized.  If your divorce agreement includes maintaining life insurance for the support of minor children, you must keep your spouse (or whoever is the agreed-upon guardian) as the policy beneficiary.

Once the divorce decree is accepted by the court, the best path forward is to have a completely new will prepared. Making a patchwork estate plan of amendments can be more expensive and leave your estate more vulnerable after you have passed. A new will revokes the original document, including naming an executor and a guardian for minor children.

The will is far from the only document to be changed. Other documents to be created include health care directives and medical and financial powers of attorney. All of these are used to name people who will act on your behalf, in the event of incapacity.

It is a good idea to update these documents during the divorce process. If you are in the middle of an ugly, emotionally charged divorce, the last person you want making life or death decisions as your health care proxy or being in charge of your finances is your soon-to-be ex.

Talk with your estate planning attorney so your attorney knows you are going through the divorce process. They will be able to make further recommendations to protect you, your children and your estate during and after the divorce.

Reference: Waco Tribune-Herald (Oct. 18, 2021) “How to Change Your Estate Plan During Divorce”

 

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Is Estate Tax Exemption Going to Change? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

In 2022, the estate and gift tax exemption increases from $11.7 million in 2021 to $12.06 million per individual, according to new inflation-adjusted numbers from the IRS. The gift tax annual exclusion also increases, from $15,000 to $16,000. The IRS announced these numbers, as well as tax brackets, standard deductions and more, as reported in the article “New Higher Estate And Gift Tax Limits for 2022: Couples Can Pass On $720,000 More Tax Free” from Forbes.

The estate tax is 40% on the biggest estates, but wealthy individuals use legal strategies, like transferring wealth to heirs while they are living, making big gifts and also making multiple $16,000 annual exclusion gifts that do not count against the $12 million lifetime limit.

In 2022, a wealthy person may leave $12.06 to heirs with no federal estate or gift tax. A married couple may leave $24.12 million. If by some chance a couple has maxed out their lifetime gifts, this latest increase means they have the option to give away another $720,000 in 2022.

A series of annual exclusion gifts of $16,000 can add up, especially when they are done in a planned method over an extended period of time. Since these gifts do not count toward the $12 million amount, they are especially valuable for managing estate tax liability.

Estate sizes may also be reduced by making direct payments for medical and tuition expenses, for as many people as desired, with no gift or tax consequences. There is no limit on the amount to be paid, as long as these payments are made directly to the institution.

There are any number of ways to take money out of an estate. These include outright gifts, loans to family members and special trusts. A variety of trusts are created to preserve family wealth, from simple to complex trusts used to extend wealth across many generations.

In addition to planning for the increased numbers for 2022, this is also the time to check on basic estate planning documents and be certain they are up to date. These include a will, any kind of revocable living trust, a durable power of attorney, a healthcare directive and a living will. If the family includes a special needs member or a disabled individual, there are other planning methods to be discussed with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Despite the good news of these increases, the $12 million estate tax exemption will be halved at the start of 2026. The historical high exemption was created under President Donald J. Trump by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which temporarily doubled the estate tax exemption from 2018 to 2025. While there was a lot of discussion about the Infrastructure Bill and funding through estate taxes, any provisions impacting estate planning were dropped before the bill was passed.

One more reason to gift now: state estate taxes and inheritance taxes are still alive and well in many states. If you live in a state with these taxes, the state tax bite could be just as bad, if not worse, than the federal tax.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 11, 2021) “New Higher Estate And Gift Tax Limits for 2022: Couples Can Pass On $720,000 More Tax Free”

 

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Do I Need a Living Trust? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “What Is a Living Trust in Real Estate?” says that a living trust is a legal document that makes it easier for you to pass assets to your loved ones after you die. It allows property to be transferred directly to your designated beneficiaries without needing to go through probate. A living trust will be managed by a trustee, while you are still living (that can be you).  You will name a successor trustee who will manage the trust, if you become incapacitated and distribute its assets after you pass away.

While the trust holds these assets, you are still considered in possession of them while you are alive (assuming you named yourself the trustee). Therefore, you can move assets in and out of the trust as you see fit. If you have a revocable trust, you can even cancel or change it at any time.

Creating a living trust can simplify the inheritance process for your family when you die. That is because any property you own is subject to the probate process when you die. Probate can be a very lengthy process.

While waiting, your family may be unable to manage, use, or sell the property you left behind. Until probate is complete, your executor will be responsible for maintaining the property, including paying taxes, making repairs and paying the bills (like insurance).

A living trust is a beneficial financial product for many reasons. First, it bypasses the probate courts. There are some types of assets that will pass on to your beneficiaries directly, and others will need to clear the probate courts before they can be disbursed to your beneficiaries. This probate process can take months or even years and can be both costly and complicated.

Another benefit of a trust is that you keep control of your estate, even after you pass away. A living trust lets you set rules, timelines and stipulations for your estate. This may be something like keeping your children from getting a substantial sum of money in their early 20s. With a living trust, you can state instructions for your trustee as to when your kids receive that inheritance. For example, you may provide that they receive their inheritance in stages, like a third at 30, 35 and 40.

Finally, a trust is private. Unlike a will, your trust can be kept as private as you want. Once you pass away, and your will is filed with the probate court, it becomes public record. However, if you would rather have your estate and your wishes kept out of the public eye, a trust can help you do so.  Because a trust skips the probate process, it is also much harder for someone to challenge your directives.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Oct. 7, 2021) “What Is a Living Trust in Real Estate?”

 

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How Long Is Probate? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Yahoo Finance’s article entitled “How Long Does Probate Take?” gives us an overview of the main things you need to understand about the probate process, so you can prepare.

During probate, a judge determines the way in which to distribute assets to heirs. The court will also authenticate the will (if there is one) and appoint an executor of the estate to supervise the probate process. Probate procedures depend to a large part on the state the decedent lived in and the type of estate he or she had.

After authenticating the decedent’s will and appointing an executor, the executor locates and assesses all the property owned by the deceased. If there are any debts, the executor uses estate assets to pay these. The remaining estate is then distributed to the heirs.

The probate process takes time to make certain that everything is done according to the law. As a result, it can take from a few months up to over a year. There is a long list of variables that can contribute to the duration. A few of the common factors are discussed below.

Estate Size. An estate’s size contributes significantly to the time in probate. Most states use the total value of the estate to determine its size. This depends on state laws and the type of assets included in the estate. Many states now have a small estate probate process, and some waive it altogether for low-value properties. The state may have a small estate limit of a certain dollar amount. The executor or beneficiaries can complete a Small Estate Claim Form or an Affidavit for Transfer of Personal Property to avoid probate for estates below that value.

Multiple beneficiaries. If an estate has a number of heirs, it may gum up the works. Multiple beneficiaries can slow down the probate proceedings because disputes can drag out an otherwise smooth legal process. Disagreements among family members or other heirs can result in delays or even a total halt.

No Will. If a person dies without a will, it means that there is no guidance from the decedent. As a result, the court and executor have to work through the estate and distribution from scratch.

Debts. Taxes and debts are major factors in the time needed to close an estate. Creditors must be paid before the beneficiaries can receive anything. When a person dies, his or her creditors must receive formal notice. They have a deadline to make a claim for money the estate owed. The longer the claims period, the longer the delay in the probate process.

Taxes. Taxes on an estate also can take a while to process. The estate must receive a closing letter from the IRS and the state taxing authority to close out the probate process. This can take up to six months.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Sep. 27, 2021) “How Long Does Probate Take?”

 

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Who Pays Mortgage When I Pass Away? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

No one automatically assumes your mortgage after your death, says Credible’s recent article entitled “What Happens to Your Mortgage When You Die?”

Your estate executor—the individual you name to carry out your will and manage your estate after you die—will continue to make payments using funds from the estate, while everything is being settled. Later, the person who inherits the home might be able to assume the loan.

If you are a co-borrower or co-signer with the decedent, you do not have to do anything to take over the mortgage because you are already responsible for paying it.

Mortgage loans have a due-on-sale clause, also called an acceleration clause. This requires the loan to be paid in full, if it transfers to a new owner. However, federal law prohibits lenders from accelerating a loan in the event of a borrower’s death.

Those who acquire ownership this way are considered “successors in interest,” and lenders must treat them as if they were the borrower. A successor in interest can assume the loan without having to apply or qualify, and continue making the payments. You also can modify the mortgage to avoid foreclosure, if you want to keep the home.

A significant step in estate planning is drafting a will stating exactly how you want your estate handled after you die and naming an executor.

When planning to bequeath a mortgaged home, you should disclose the mortgage to your executor and close relatives. If you fail to do so, they will not know how to make payments. As a result, the home could be inadvertently lost to foreclosure.

Finally, think about whether the person who inherits your home will be able to afford mortgage payments and upkeep.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you devise a strategy to keep your gift from becoming a burden to your loved ones.

Reference: Credible (Sep. 24, 2021) “What Happens to Your Mortgage When You Die?”

 

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

Will Gift to Heir Be a Benefit or Burden? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Research shows that getting a lot of money can have harmful consequences. According to MarketWatch, a study found that a third of people who received an inheritance had negative savings within two years of the event.

Watertown Public Opinion’s recent article “How to make sure you leave inheritances that are helpful, not harmful” says that, on average, an inheritance is gone in about five years because of careless debts and bad investment behaviors.

However, a minority of heirs do not mishandle their inheritances. Nonetheless, it is good to explore exactly what you intend the gift to accomplish, prior to leaving money or property to someone. It is also important to consider the possible negative consequences of a gift.

Determine if the gift will actually cost the recipient time or money. As an example, leaving the family home, vacation property, land, or a ranch to someone can often cost them money they may not have in maintenance or taxes.

You should also consider if it results in causing difficult emotional issues between siblings, and whether it might encourage bad financial behavior. If a beneficiary has not developed healthy financial behaviors, a significant inheritance might actually create new financial troubles instead of addressing existing ones.

A good way to make certain that your bequests are helpful is to explore your own intentions. Ask yourself if you want to leave enough money for the beneficiary to become financially independent and if you would you like your bequest used in a specific way, like to pay off debt or fund education.

Do you care how they spend the money?

Another way to provide for thoughtful, conscious inheritances, is to speak with the intended recipients.

Ask them directly whether someone would want a bequest, such as a valuable art or coin collection or perhaps an expensive vacation home. Discuss the options and possibilities and do not simply take for granted what your heirs might want or what they might do with an inheritance.

Leaving a family member an inheritance can be helpful in some instances, but may be exceedingly destructive in others. No two situations are alike, and if you want to increase the chances that your bequests will be helpful, explore and improve your own relationship with money. Examining that relationship can help make sure that what you leave to heirs will be a benefit not a burden.

Reference: Watertown Public Opinion (Nov. 1, 2021) “How to make sure you leave inheritances that are helpful, not harmful”

 

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Can My Power of Attorney Change My Will? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A power of attorney cannot change a properly written will. But note that an agent can make many changes to the assets in the estate, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled “Can a Power of Attorney Change a Will?”

A power of attorney is a document that grants a person, known as the attorney in fact or agent, the authority to make legally binding decisions on your behalf. This can mean managing financial assets, making choices regarding medical care, signing contracts and other commitments.

Your attorney in fact can access confidential materials and their decisions are as binding as if you had made them yourself. In some instances, you may want your power of attorney to be broad and at other times you may want to limit the authority under your power of attorney by time, scope, or both.

Provided a will is valid, an attorney in fact under a power of attorney cannot modify or rewrite it. It is not within their scope of authority, even if it specifically says otherwise in their power of attorney assignment.

A will written by a power of attorney is invalid on its face.

The authority of a power of attorney typically ends once the principal (the person granting authority) dies. At that point, the principal’s legal rights transfer to their estate. The executor of the estate takes over and manages all of the deceased’s affairs from that point forward.

Thus, an attorney in fact appointed under a power of attorney cannot change a will while the principal is alive because they do not have the authority to do so. In addition, they cannot change an estate once the principal dies because their role as attorney in fact under the power of attorney ends with his or her death.

It is important to understand that a person with a general power of attorney can still change the circumstances surrounding a will. He or she can make changes to your estate—essentially, before it becomes your estate. For example, an attorney in fact can make significant financial decisions on your behalf. As a result, they may be able to restructure your personal finances according to their own best judgment. The effect is that it may invalidate sections of your will if the power of attorney dissolves or changes assets that you had assigned to various heirs. This does not always require bad faith and unfair dealing, but that can also occur.

If you include a general power of attorney as part of your elder care plan, you should discuss your estate wishes with your attorney in fact in advance. Remember that issues such as power of attorney and estate law are highly specific to each state. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about a power of attorney.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Sep. 17, 2021) “Can a Power of Attorney Change a Will?”

 

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