Power of Attorney

Estate Planning Basics Everyone Should Know

The discomfort most people have with the knowledge of their own mortality makes it challenging for some people to do the estate planning that needs to take place before an emergency occurs. However, according to the Gettysburg Times’ recent article “Essentials necessary for estate planning,” the best course of action is to take care of the estate planning basics now, when there is no urgency. Having detailed plans in place to protect loved ones from possible complications, costs and added stress in the future, is a gift you can give to those you love.

Estate Planning Basics
Taking care of the estate planning basics is a simple but important step for everyone to take.

There are any number of legal documents and strategies used to accommodate the varied situations of life, including family dynamics and asset levels. An estate planning attorney licensed in your state will have the ability to create a plan and the documents that suit your personal situation. The three documents discussed in the following section are generally considered to be the most important for anyone to have.

Power of Attorney or POA—This document gives legal authority to another person or entity, referred to as your “Agent”, to perform certain acts on your behalf, when you cannot do so because of illness, injury or incapacity. There are many different types of POA, from a “full” POA with no limitations, to a “limited” POA that is created solely for a specific purpose. This document comes into action, when you are incapacitated and becomes void upon your death.

Living Will—This is a detailed health care directive that allows you to list your wishes regarding several medical procedures and life-sustaining treatments. These treatments include resuscitations, breathing assistance, feeding tubes and similar medical matters. You want to have this in place to spare your loved ones the emotional anguish of trying to decide what you would have wanted. They’ll know, because you specifically told them in this document.

Last Will and Testament—When prepared correctly, and that includes signed, witnessed, and notarized, a will is used by the “testator” (the person making the will) to provide the legal wishes regarding what should happen to their minor children (if any) and assets upon death.

What happens if you don’t have these documents? It is likely that your loved ones will need to go to court to have someone named as your agent or executor, which is the person who is in charge of your estate. Depending upon the laws of your state, that person may be a family member, or it may end up being a family member who you haven’t spoken to in decades. It is far better to take the time to have these estate planning basics taken care of by an estate planning attorney, so your family is protected, and your wishes are fulfilled.

The best time to do this, is when there is no crisis. Estate plans also require regular monitoring and updating. Life circumstances change, estate and tax laws change, and new opportunities may present themselves. Speak with your estate planning attorney now and create your plan for the future.

Reference: Gettysburg Times (July 27, 2019) “Essentials necessary for estate planning”

Prior Planning is Always a Better Alternative

None of us knows what kind of unexpected surprises will occur in our lives. We’d like to believe they will all be happy events, like winning the big Power Ball jackpot. However, unpleasant things like illness or a flood or fire often occur. We never think it will happen to us, says The Dalles Chronicle’s article “Prepare now for emergencies.” Unfortunately, these things do happen, and when they do, being prepared can make all the difference between a stressful situation and a really awful situation that could have been made, well, less awful.

For starters, have you met with an estate planning attorney to create a comprehensive estate plan that includes a last will and testament, a financial power of attorney and a health care power of attorney? The will concerns distribution of your possessions and property, the power of attorney gives a trusted person the ability to take financial and legal actions on your behalf, in the event that you become incapacitated and the medical power of attorney allows someone to make health care decisions for you, also if you become incapacitated. There are also many other tools that an estate planning attorney can help you with, such as a Special Needs Trust, if your family includes a family member with special needs, or other trusts, if they are needed.

Next, your emergency preparations should include having important documents assembled in a notebook, on a memory stick and/or a safe location. Imagine there was an emergency evacuation and you had to leave your home immediately. What documents would you need? Here’s a checklist:

  • Contact information for family members, doctors, attorneys, dentist, insurance broker, financial advisor.
  • Cash, so if ATMs are not working, you will have cash on hand.
  • Identification documents, including originals of your birth certificate, marriage license, divorce papers, passport, Social Security card, health insurance cards (or Medicare or Medicaid cards).
  • A video of your home and all of your possessions on your mobile phone. Consider emailing it to a family member or friend who lives in a different location.
  • Insurance policies for home, auto, disability, long-term care, etc. Include contact information for either 800-numbers or your local agent, if you need to file a claim.
  • A copy of recent financial statements for credit cards, banks, brokerage firms, retirement accounts, car loans, mortgage and similar types of accounts.
  • Copies of the last three years of tax returns. If you work with a CPA, they should have them on a secure portal, but a hard copy will be useful to have.
  • Legal documents for your estate plan, including the will, power of attorney and health care power of attorney, as described above.
  • Other legal documents, including car registration, car title and property deed to your home.

These documents should all be organized in a folder that is placed in your home where you and your spouse know where it is and can grab it on your way out the door.

One more item that should be noted in this digital age: if you use a laptop or tablet that contains websites that you use frequently for personal finance, investments, etc., be mindful of its location in the house, so you can grab it and a charger cable quickly. If you have passwords for accounts—and most of us do—you should print them out and include them in your file folder for easy access. You can almost always re-set a password, but how much easier will rebuilding your life be if you have them on hand?

If you do ever face a catastrophic emergency, having these materials will save you hours of time and stress.

Reference: The Dalles Chronicle (July 16, 2019) “Prepare now for emergencies”

Do I Need a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney is a legal document, also called a healthcare power of attorney or durable power of attorney for healthcare. This document lets you designate an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf. This can give you peace of mind, even if you don’t think you’ll need it, says SmartAsset in the recent article “How to Set Up Medical Power of Attorney.”  

Do I need a medical power of attorney
A medical power of attorney allows you to name another person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can’t speak for yourself.

A medical power of attorney isn’t the same as a living will. A living will is a document that directs what you’d want healthcare professionals to do if you become incapacitated. This could include the implementation of life support and tube feeding, resuscitation attempts and organ donations.

A medical power of attorney doesn’t simply record your wishes as a living will does. It appoints a specific person to make medical decisions for you if you can’t speak for yourself. You might have both a living will and a medical power of attorney. If decisions need to be made about resuscitation and life support, recording those wishes in a living will takes those difficult decisions out of your agent’s hands.

When you’re deciding on someone to serve as your healthcare agent, find a person with whom you’re comfortable talking about your health-related issues.  This person should be your advocate, follow your wishes and make sound decisions—even if family says otherwise.

The Commission on Law and Aging of the American Bar Association advises that you select an agent you truly trust. It also offers some general guidelines for agents that you should probably avoid. The ABA says don’t choose an agent:

  • Who owns a health or residential facility that is in charge of your care;
  • Who’s a spouse or employee of anyone that currently serves you medically, like a doctor or residential facility owner;
  • Whose job it is to medically evaluate you, like a doctor;
  • Who’s the same person as your court-approved guardian or conservator; or
  • Who is already a healthcare agent for more than 10 people.

Be sure to name a backup agent, in the event your medical power of attorney can’t make decisions on your behalf.

Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney to get help with this and other legal documents, and to be sure that your documents meet your state’s requirements.

Reference: SmartAsset (May 8, 2019) “How to Set Up Medical Power of Attorney”

Leaving a Legacy Isn’t Just About Money

A legacy is not necessarily about money, says a survey that was conducted by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Ave Wave. More than 3,000 adults (2,600 of them were 50 and older) were surveyed and focus groups were asked about end-of-life planning and leaving a legacy. The article, “How to leave a legacy no matter how much money you have” from The Voice, shared a number of the participant’s responses.

Leaving a Legacy
Most people would rather be remembered for how they lived their life instead of how much money they made.

A total of 94% of those surveyed said that a life well-lived, is about “having friends and family that love me.” 75% said that a life well-lived is about having a positive impact on society. A mere 10% said that a life well-lived is about accumulating a lot of wealth.

People want to be remembered for how they lived, not what they did at work or how much money they saved. Nearly 70% said they most wanted to be remembered for the memories they shared with loved ones. And only nine percent said career success was something they wanted to be remembered for.

While everyone needs to have their affairs in order, especially people over age 55, only 55% of those surveyed reported having a will. Only 18% have what are considered the three key essentials for leaving a legacy: a will, a health care directive and a durable power of attorney.

The will addresses how property is to be distributed, names a personal representative of the estate and, if there are minor children, names who should be their guardian. The health care directive gives specific directions as to end-of-life preferences and designates someone to make health care decisions for you, if you can’t speak for yourself. A power of attorney designates an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so, because of illness or incapacity.

An estate plan is often only considered when a trigger event occurs, like a loved one dying without the proper documents in place. That is a wake-up call for the family, once they see how difficult it is when there is no estate plan.

Parents age 55 and older had interesting views on leaving inheritances and who should receive their estate. Only about a third of boomers surveyed and 44% of Gen Xers said that it’s a parent’s duty to leave some kind of inheritance to their children. A higher percentage of millennials surveyed—55%–said that this was a duty of parents to their children.

The biggest surprise of the survey: 65% of people 55 and older reported that they would prefer to give away some of their money, while they are still alive. A mere 8% wanted to give away all their assets, before they died. Only 27% wanted to give away all their money after they died.

Reference: The Voice (June 16, 2019) “How to leave a legacy no matter how much money you have”

Power of Attorney: Why You’re Never Too Young

When that time comes, having a power of attorney is a critical document to have. The power of attorney is among a handful of estate planning documents that help with decision making, when a person is too ill, injured or lacks the mental capacity to make their own decisions. The article, “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney” from Lancaster Online, explains what these documents are, and what purpose they serve.

Everyone over the age of 18 needs to have a Power of Attorney in place.

There are three basic power of attorney documents: financial, limited and health care.

You’re never too young or too old to have a power of attorney. If you don’t, a guardian must be appointed in a court proceeding, and they will make decisions for you. If the guardian who is appointed does not know you or your family, they may make decisions that you would not have wanted. Everyone over the age of 18 should have a power of attorney.

It’s never too early, but it could be too late. If you become incapacitated, you cannot sign a POA. Then your family is faced with needing to pursue a guardianship and will not have the ability to make decisions on your behalf, until that’s in place.

You’ll want to name someone you trust implicitly and who is also going to be available to make decisions when time is an issue.

For a medical or healthcare power of attorney, it is a great help if the person lives nearby and knows you well. For a financial power of attorney, the person may not need to live nearby, but they must be trustworthy and financially competent.

Always have back-up agents, so if your primary agent is unavailable or declines to serve, you have someone who can step in on your behalf.

You should also work with an estate planning attorney to create the power of attorney you need. You may want to assign select powers to a POA, like managing certain bank accounts but not the sale of your home, for instance. An estate planning attorney will be able to tailor the POA to your exact needs. They will also make sure to create a document that gives proper powers to the people you select. You want to ensure that you don’t create a POA that gives someone the ability to exploit you.

Any of the POAs you have created should be updated on a fairly regular basis. Over time, laws change, or your personal situation may change. Review the documents at least annually to be sure that the people you have selected are still the people you want taking care of matters for you.

Most important of all, don’t wait to have a POA created. It’s an essential part of your estate plan, along with your last will and testament.

Reference: Lancaster Online (May 15, 2019) “Why you’re never too young for a power of attorney”

Complete Your Financial Plan with Estate Planning

Here at Mastry Law we’ve always referred to estate planning as the final piece of your financial planning puzzle.  If you are among those who haven’t put together a basic estate plan, you should make every effort to accomplish this in 2019. Your family and friends will thank you.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s recent article, “No financial plan is complete without a basic estate plan” reports that, while Americans are living longer, it was emphasized in a session at the American Society on Aging’s 2019 conference in New Orleans that 56% of Americans don’t have a will.

Estate Planning is the final piece of your financial planning puzzle.

The basic list isn’t particularly daunting. Talk to an experienced estate planning lawyer to create a will to get your affairs in order.

You should also sign a health care directive and a durable power of attorney. It is also important to decide where you want to be buried or cremated.

You should discuss your late-life goals and desires with your family, relatives and close friends. This gives everyone a better idea about your values and thinking. An estate plan makes things much less stressful on your family.

Many people want to leave at least some money to their loved ones. However, instead of waiting for death to pass on assets, more people are now deciding to “give while living.”

For example, grandparents can help to fund their grandchildren’s education expenses. Nearly two-thirds of people 50 years and older are giving some financial support to family members, according to a survey by the financial services firm Merrill Lynch and demographic consulting firm Age Wave.

Since you are already thinking about your life while devising an estate plan, it is important to understand that far more valuable than your money and assets is your accumulated experience, knowledge and skills. You can tap into your experience later in life to help others succeed.  Your experience and judgment can help family members decide how to have both purpose and a paycheck.

Perhaps you can serve as a mentor for those in your community in areas where you have some expertise?

The desire to leave our families with a legacy is powerful. Don’t leave them without an estate plan.  Remember that giving of our experience can make a significant difference to the community around us.

Reference: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (May 4, 2019) “No financial plan is complete without a basic estate plan”

Do I Need to Update My Estate Plan if I Relocate for Retirement?

Update my estate plan when I relocate
Anytime you relocate to another state you should have your estate planning documents reviewed to make sure they comply with the law in the state you’ve moved to.

Anyone who moves to another state, for retirement, a new job or to be closer to family, needs to have a look at their estate plan to make sure it is valid in their new state, advises the Boca Newspaper in the recent article “I’ve Relocated To Florida…Should I Update My Estate Plan?”  

If an estate plan hasn’t been created, a relocation is the perfect opportunity to get this important task done. Think of it as preparation for your new life in your new home.

Because so many retirees do relocate to Florida, there are some general rules that make this easier. For one thing, most wills that are valid in another state are recognized in Florida. There’s a specific law in the Florida statutes that confirms that “other than a holographic or nuncupative will, executed by a nonresident of Florida… is valid as a will in this state if valid under the laws of the state or country where the will was executed.”

In other words, if the estate plan was prepared by an estate planning attorney and is legally valid in the prior state, it will be valid in Florida. Exceptions are a holographic will, which is a handwritten will that is signed by the person with no witnesses, or a nuncupative will, which is a verbal statement made in front of witnesses.

However, just because your will is recognized in Florida, does not mean that it doesn’t need a review.

There are distinctions in Florida law that may make certain provisions invalid or change their meaning. In one well-known case, a will was missing one sentence—known as a “residual clause,” a catch-all that distributes assets that are otherwise not specified. The maker of the will wanted everything to go to her brother. However, without that one clause, property acquired after the will was created was not included. The court determined that the property that was acquired after the will was created, would go to other relatives, despite the wishes of the decedent.

Little details mean a lot when it comes to estate plans.

It’s important to ensure that the last will and testament properly expresses intentions under the laws of your new home state. As you review or begin the process, this might be the time to speak with your estate planning attorney about whether any trusts are applicable to your estate. A revocable living trust, for example, would avoid the assets placed in the trust having to go through probate.

This is also the time to review your Durable Power of Attorney, designation of a Health Care Surrogate, Living Will and nomination of a pre-need Guardian.

Estate planning gives peace of mind, knowing that the legal side of your life is all taken care of. It avoids stress and unnecessary costs and delays to your family. It should be reviewed and updated, if needed, at big events in your life, including a relocation, the sale or purchase of a home or when you retire.

Reference: Boca Newspaper (May 1, 2019) “I’ve Relocated To Florida…Should I Update My Estate Plan?”

Should I Use a DIY Will?

Sure, many of us would prefer to fill in the blanks on our computer at home, than have to talk to anyone about our questions. However, it’s better to get professional advice instead of using an online DIY will.

DIY Will
DIY estate planning packages often cause more trouble than they’re worth.

MarketWatch’s recent article, “Online wills may save you money, but they can lay these estate-planning traps,” says that if you prepare your taxes yourself and you make a mistake, you may need to meet with the IRS. However, you may never know the results of your work when it comes to a DIY will. Who will be the ones to find out if you made any mistakes, and need to pay the price? Your family.

You can find many DIY options for completing your own estate plan. With the ease and availability of these programs, along with lower prices, one would think more people would have an up-to-date estate plan. According to the AARP article, Haven’t Done a Will Yet?, only 4 in 10 American adults have a will or living trust.

The four basic estate planning documents are a will, a trust, power of attorney for financial matters and an advance health care directive. If you try to produce any or all of them through a DIY site, expect to be offered a fill-in-the-blank approach. However, each state has its own probate code and the program you use may have different names for the documents. They also may not address state-specific questions.

Some DIY sites have all these documents, but you must buy their higher-end packages to access them. Others offer what they call a “limited attorney consultation” in the form of a drop-down menu of questions with pre-written responses, not an actual conversation with an attorney.

The range of DIY services also has a range of prices. Some claim it’s $69 for just a will, and others charge hundreds of dollars for what may be described as a “complete plan.” Some sites have more information than others about their options, so you must dig through the website to be certain you’re getting a legally binding will or other estate planning document. It is important to read the fine print with care.

Most of these websites presume you already know what you want, but most people have no idea what they want or need. When you get into the complexities of family dynamics and trust language specific to your state and situation, these DIY estate planning packages can cause more challenges than working with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Remember: you don’t know what you don’t know. You may not know the case law and legislation that have evolved into your state’s probate code.

Play it safe and use an attorney who specializes in estate planning. Your family will be grateful that you did.

Reference: MarketWatch (May 3, 2019) “Online wills may save you money, but they can lay these estate-planning traps”

Why Do Singles Need These Two Estate Planning Tools?

Morningstar’s article, “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider” explains that a living will, or advance medical directive, is a legal document that details your wishes for life-sustaining treatment. It’s a document that you sign when you’re of sound mind and says you want to be removed from life supporting measures, if you become terminally ill and incapacitated.

Powers of Attorney for healthcare and finances are often overlooked as critical estate planning documents for singles.

If you’re on life support with no chance of getting better, you’d choose to have your family avoid the expense and stress of keeping you alive artificially.

Like a living will, a durable power of attorney for healthcare is a legal document that names an agent to make healthcare decisions for you, if you are unable to make them yourself.

A durable power of attorney for healthcare can provide your instructions in circumstances in which you’re not necessarily terminally ill, but you are incapacitated.

When selecting an agent, find a person you trust enough to act on your behalf when you’re unable. Let this person know exactly how you feel about blood transfusions, organ transplants, disclosure of your medical information and other sensitive topics that may arise, if you’re incapacitated.

A power of attorney eliminates any confusion, especially if this person is someone other than your spouse. Your doctors will know exactly who the decision-maker is among your relatives and friends.

These two documents aren’t all that comprise a fully comprehensive estate plan. Singles should regularly make certain that the beneficiary designations on their checking and retirement accounts are up to date.

You should also consider your life insurance needs, especially if you have children and/or a mortgage.

It is also important to understand that a living will doesn’t address the issues of a will. A will ensures that your property is distributed after your death, in accordance with your wishes. Ask for help from an experienced estate planning attorney.

These two documents—a living will and a durable power of attorney—can help ensure that in a healthcare emergency, any medical and financial decisions made on your behalf are in accordance with what you really want. Speak with to an estate-planning attorney in your state to get definitive answers to your questions.

Reference: Morningstar (April 23, 2019) “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider”

What Are the Six Most Frequent Estate Planning Mistakes?

It’s a grim topic, but it is an important one. Without a legal will in place, your loved ones may spend years stuck in court proceedings and spend a lot on legal fees and court costs to settle your estate.

The San Diego Tribune writes in its recent article, 6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid, that without a plan, everything is more stressful and expensive. Let’s look at the top six estate-planning mistakes that people need to avoid:

Estate Planning Mistakes
Estate planning is tricky to get right without the help of a trained professional.

No Plan. Regardless of your age or financial status, it’s critical to have a basic estate plan. This includes crafting powers of attorney for both healthcare and finances and a living will.

No Discussion. Once you create your plan, tell your family. Those you’ve named to take care of you, need to know what you’ve decided and where to find your plan.

Focusing Only on Taxes. Estate planning can be much more than just about tax avoidance. There are many other reasons to create an estate plan that have nothing to do with taxes, like charitable giving, special needs planning for a family member, succession planning in the event of incapacity and planning for children of a prior marriage, to name just a few.

Leaving Assets Directly to Children. If you leave assets directly to your children or grandchildren under age 18, it can cause unintended custodian or guardianship issues. Minors can’t own legal property, so a guardian will be appointed by the court to manage the property for them, until they reach age 18. If you don’t name a guardian, the court will appoint one for you and that person may have very different ideas about how your children should be raised.

Making Mistakes with Ownership and Property Titles. With many blended families, you may want to preserve assets from an inheritance as your own separate property or from a prior marriage for your children. There are many tax consequences and control issues in blended families about which you may not be aware.

Messing Up Your Trust. Many people don’t properly fund or update their trusts. An unfunded trust doesn’t do anyone any good. Assets that aren’t titled in the name of the trust don’t avoid probate.

Finally, the easiest way to avoid these frequent estate planning mistakes is by reviewing your estate plan regularly, as your circumstances change.

Reference: San Diego Tribune (April 18, 2019) “6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid”

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