Power of Attorney

Common Estate Planning Mistakes That You Can Avoid

The number one estate planning mistake is failing to have or to update an estate plan, says the Times Herald in the article “Top six estate planning mistakes.” Therefore, start by working with an estate planning attorney to create an estate plan, and you’ll be way ahead of most Americans. Why does this matter?

An estate plan allows you to stay in control of your assets while you are alive, provide for your loved ones and for yourself in the event you become mentally or physically incapacitated, and when you die, give what you have worked to achieve to those you wish. It costs far less to take care of all of this while you are alive. It’s a gift to those you love, who are spared a lot of stress and costs if it must be figured out after you have passed.

Once you have a plan in place, you have to keep it updated. An estate plan is like a car: it needs gas, oil changes, and regular maintenance. If your family experiences significant changes, then your estate plan needs to be reviewed. If you change jobs, have a change in your financial status, or if you receive an inheritance, it’s time for a review. When there are changes to the law, regarding taxes or non-tax matters, you’ll want to make sure your plan still works.

The second biggest mistake we make is failing to plan for retirement. If you start thinking about retirement when it is five or 10 years away, you’re probably going to be working for a long time. When you are in your twenties, it is the ideal time to start saving for retirement. Most people don’t start thinking about retirement until their thirties, and many don’t plan at all.

There are many different “rules” for how to save for retirement and how to calculate how much income you’ll need to live during retirement. However, not all of them work for every situation. Advisors are now telling Americans they need to plan for living until and past their ninetieth birthday. That means you could be living in retirement for four decades.

Mistake number three—failing to fund trusts. Trust funding is completely and correctly aligning your assets with your trust. If you don’t fund the trust, which means putting assets into the trust by retitling assets that include bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, insurance policies and other assets, adding the trust as an additional insured to home and auto insurance policies and have every change verified, you have an incomplete estate plan. Your heirs will have to clean up the mess left behind.

Fourth, failing to communicate your estate plan to your executor, beneficiaries and heirs is a common and easily avoidable mistake. Talk with everyone who is a part of your estate plan and explain what their roles are. Speak with the person you have named as Power of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy on a regular basis. Make sure they continue to be willing and able to perform the tasks you need them to do on your behalf. Make sure they know where your documents are.

Fifth, don’t neglect to make arrangements for bills to be paid and financial matters to be handled, when you are not able to do so. There are many studies which show that after age 60, our financial abilities decrease about 1% per year. Expect to need help at some point during your later years and put a plan in place to protect yourself and your spouse. If you are the main bill-payer, make sure your spouse can take care of everything as well as you, before any emergency strikes.

Finally, talk with your successors about what you would like to happen if and when you become mentally unable to make good decisions, including caregiving options. As we age, the likelihood of needing to be in a nursing home or other care facility increases. You can’t necessarily rely on your spouse living long enough to take care of you. Make sure that your financial power of attorney contains the appropriate gifting language, your assets are titled properly, and your successor financial agents know about the plan you have created. If you don’t have a long-term care policy now, try to buy one. They are less expensive than having to pay for care.

Protect yourself, your family and your loved ones by addressing these steps. You’ll be giving yourself, your spouse and your loved ones peace of mind.

Reference: Times Herald (Dec. 14, 2018) “Top six estate planning mistakes”

Estate Planning Checklist

A will is just one of a handful of documents every adult should have in place to protect themselves while they are living, and their heirs and families after they have passed away. Here are the “5 estate planning must-haves,” according to an article from the Augusta Free Press:

  1. Wills and Trusts. Your will directs the distribution of your assets. Without a will, the court will determine who gets your possessions, real property and any other assets, following the laws of your state. Depending on your situation, you and your heirs may benefit from setting up trusts to protect your assets from the probate process, maintain your privacy and possibly avoid some taxes. Keep in mind that if the will or trust is not created properly or doesn’t follow your state’s laws, it could be challenged or deemed invalid. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to protect your family.
  2. Many of your accounts—bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, insurance policies—may already have a named beneficiary, who will inherit the account upon your death. However, if you have not updated those names recently, you may find the wrong person inheriting your assets. Once that occurs, there is no legal means of transferring the assets to another person. Always make sure you have a contingent (or secondary) beneficiary named, so if the primary beneficiary dies before you, or for some reason declines to accept the asset, you will have had an opportunity to choose another person to receive the asset. If there is no contingent beneficiary, the court will make that decision.
  3. Letter of Intent. It must be said that this is not a legally binding document. However, the information it could provide to your loved ones might be very helpful, as they move through the process of settling your estate. It can explain why you structured your asset distribution the way you did, why you would want a given family heirloom passed to a specific family member, or what you would like to have happen at your funeral. If you are not able to discuss these matters in a face-to-face conversation with your loved ones, this is a useful alternative.
  4. Power of Attorney. Planning for incapacity is an important part of estate planning. If you become incapacitated, you’ll need to have already given someone the power to manage your financial affairs. If you do not have a power of attorney, your family will need to turn to the court system, which will create delays and added stress. You’ll also want to have a healthcare power of attorney in place. Most people assume their spouses will immediately take on this role, but not everyone is capable of making the hard decisions, especially during an emergency situation.
  5. Legal Advice. Estate planning laws are governed by your state of residence. Your best option is to make an appointment with a local estate planning attorney to learn whether there are any other documents and plans you need to put into place. Some law firms provide a means of documenting assets to ensure that, at the time of death, your family isn’t on a scavenger hunt to identify assets. In certain states, you can assign a funeral representative to make sure your funeral, burial or cremation and memorial service wishes are carried out. Your attorney will know what you and your family need.

Reference: Augusta Free Press (Nov. 27, 2018) “5 estate planning must-haves”

When Do I Need a Financial Power of Attorney?

A financial power of attorney is a document that provides a trusted individual with the authority to act on your behalf. The person who creates a power of attorney is called the “principal, and the person who receives this authority is called their “agent” or “attorney-in-fact.”

The Brainerd Dispatch recently interviewed Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson in its article, “Guest Opinion: Your legal rights – Financial powers of attorney.” The Attorney General explains that this person doesn’t have to be an attorney, but it should be someone the person trusts. This person should be responsible, honest and diligent.

A power of attorney is required to be in writing, signed before a notary, dated and clear on what powers are being granted by the principal (i.e., the person having the document prepared). If you want to make the power of attorney durable, meaning you want it to last even if you become incapacitated, then the document must have a statement like: “This power of attorney shall not be affected by incapacity or incompetence of the principal.”

You should talk to a lawyer when creating a power of attorney to be certain the power of attorney is drafted in a way that aligns with your wishes and with state law.

When creating a power of attorney, you must decide on the degree of authority you want your agent to have over your affairs. A general power of attorney gives your agent the ability to act on your behalf in all affairs.  However, a limited power of attorney grants your agent this authority only in certain circumstances.

A power of attorney is a wise move for every adult American, because each of us may become unable to manage our own financial affairs or make other decisions. Here are some examples of powers you can give to your agent:

  • To use your money to pay your everyday living expenses;
  • To manage benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs;
  • To conduct transactions with your bank and retirement accounts; and
  • To file and pay your income taxes.

A principal can revoke a power of attorney. A mentally competent person can remove a power of attorney at any point with a signed document. If a power of attorney isn’t removed, it ends with the principal’s death.

Note that some banks and investment firms have their own power of attorney forms. Preparing these organization-specific forms may make it easier for your agent to work with certain organizations with which you do business.

Reference: Brainerd Dispatch (November 20, 2018) “Guest Opinion: Your legal rights – Financial powers of attorney”

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