Power of Attorney

Why Do I Need Estate Planning If I’m Not Rich?

Most people spend more time planning a vacation than they do thinking about who will inherit their assets after they pass away. Although estate planning isn’t the most enjoyable activity, without it, you don’t get to direct who gets the things you’ve worked so hard for after you pass away.

Estate Planning isn't only for the rich
An Estate Plan will protect your assets and your loved ones

Investopedia asks you to consider these four reasons why you should have an estate plan to avoid potentially devastating results for your heirs in its article “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important.”

Wealth Won’t Go to Unintended Beneficiaries. Estate planning may have been once considered something only rich people needed, but that’s changed. Everyone now needs to plan for when something happens to a family’s breadwinner(s). The primary part of estate planning is naming heirs for your assets and a guardian for your minor children. Without an estate plan, the courts will decide who will receive your property and raise your kids.

Protection for Families With Young Children. If you are the parent of small children, you need to have a will to ensure that your children are taken care of. You can designate their guardians, if both parents die before the children turn 18. Without a will with a guardianship clause, a judge will decide this important issue, and the results may not be what you would have wanted.

Avoid Taxes. Estate planning is also about protecting your loved ones from the IRS. Estate planning is transferring assets to your family, with an attempt to create the smallest tax burden for them as possible. A little estate planning can reduce much or even all of their federal and state estate taxes or state inheritance taxes. There are also ways to reduce the income tax that beneficiaries might have to pay. However, without an estate plan, the amount your heirs will owe the government could be substantial.

No Family Fighting (or Very Little). One sibling may believe he or she deserves more than another. This type of fighting happens all the time, and it can turn ugly and end up in court, pitting family members against each other. However, an estate plan enables you to choose who controls your finances and assets, if you’re unable to manage your own assets or after you die. It also will go a long way towards settling any family conflict and ensuring that your assets are handled in the way you wanted.

To protect your assets and your loved ones when you no longer can do it, you’ll need an estate plan. Without one, your family could see large tax burdens, and the courts could say how your assets are divided, or even who will care for your children.

Reference: Investopedia (May 25, 2018) “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important”

Market Volatility Got You Worried? Here’s Something You Can Control

When investors are faced with turbulent markets, there’s a human response to want to do something—sometimes, anything. We’re hardwired to try to take control. That doesn’t always help us make the best investment decisions. However, as reported in this Daily Camera’s article, there is something that you can do that may make you feel better: “Freaked out about the market? Resolve to get your estate in order.”

If you care about your health care, financial affairs, minor children and even your beloved pets, this is an important task to take care of. An estate plan includes legal documents that help you, when you are living and helps your heirs, when you die. In addition to a will, powers of attorney that will give your loved ones the ability to manage your affairs, if you become incapacitated. An updated will ensures that your assets go to the inheritors you chose. Don’t forget your beneficiaries.

Your beneficiaries are the people who are named on several accounts and life insurance policies. You may have named people on investment accounts, life insurance policies, IRAs, bank accounts, annuities and other assets. If you have not done a full review of those documents in a while, you want to take care of this right away. Life and relationships change over time, and the people you originally named as your beneficiaries, may no longer be the ones you would select today. Note that any changes must be made while you are living—when you are passed, the beneficiaries receive the asset, regardless of what is written in your will.

If you’re not sufficiently motivated to make an appointment with an estate planning attorney, you should be aware that if you don’t have a will, the laws of your state will determine who gets your assets and even, lacking a will that names a guardian, who rears your minor children. You may or may not be a fan of court proceedings, but if you don’t have a properly prepared will, the court is going to be making a lot of decisions on your behalf.

Contact an estate planning attorney to begin the process of putting your affairs in order. An attorney whose practice focuses in this area of the law, is most likely a better choice than one who does wills on the side. There are many complex laws in estate planning, and there are many opportunities available to make the most out of your assets and grow your legacy. An estate planning attorney will know what will work best for you and your family.

Reference: Daily Camera (Jan. 6, 2019) “Freaked out about the market? Resolve to get your estate in order”

Choose Power of Attorney Agents Wisely

For nearly four years, John Jerome O’Hara took charge of his mother’s care at a Kentucky nursing home. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

O’Hara gained power of attorney over her affairs in June 2014. He was expected to manage thousands of dollars in income a month. In addition, O’Hara was supposed to use that income for his mom’s living expenses at Wesley Manor in Louisville.

However, reports The Washington Post in the article “He had power of attorney over his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother—and stole $332,000, grand jury says,” for nearly four years, O’Hara robbed his mother instead. The charges contained 18 counts—ten of bank fraud, four of wire fraud and four of “access device fraud.”

The charges carry a maximum of several lifetimes in prison, the indictment said.

Each bank fraud count carries a maximum of 30 years in prison. In addition, there’s the potential for hefty fines and restitution.

O’Hara took the funds, in part, by writing checks to himself, according to the indictment.

He also wrote checks out to cash or signed “POA” for power of attorney. He withdrew money from her bank accounts to use for his expenses, prosecutors allege.

O’Hara’s alleged theft left a trail of financial distress, which was clear to investigators. Most significantly, he failed to pay his mother’s living expenses, the indictment said. This forced other family members to pay more than $100,000 to keep her cared for at the nursing home.

In addition, O’Hara left other obligations unpaid. He missed mortgage payments at his mother’s home in Lexington, the indictment said, and the home was foreclosed in March, as a result.

Reference: The Washington Post (December 9, 2018) “He had power of attorney over his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother—and stole $332,000, grand jury says”

Here’s More Insight into Why Estate Planning is Critical

Fox 5 NY says in the article “Why estate planning is important regardless of your age or wealth” that this is great time to begin talking to your loved ones about estate planning, especially older relatives and parents.

The key to a successful discussion depends upon the right approach.

Try to always make suggestions, rather than demands. One great way to start the conversation with family members, is to mention what you’re doing. You might say something like, “I just took care of my own estate planning. Have you done anything? Maybe we should talk about it.” That might get the conversation rolling.

Many people believe that, as they get older, they need a will. However, that’s just one piece of the puzzle: core estate planning includes a will, power of attorney, health care surrogate and asset protection.

For most of us, the asset we most want to protect is our home. One of the best ways to do that is through a trust. Depending upon the type of trust you use, it may also have tax advantages, could protect your home during a healthcare crisis and protect your home from your children’s creditors.

You also need to find people you trust to help with finances and health care. A power of attorney is a legal document in which you grant a person the authority to handle finances on your behalf.

Similarly, a healthcare surrogate is an individual who makes healthcare decisions, if you get sick or are in an accident and can’t make decisions for yourself.

You can use one person to do both or separate individuals for each role. You can opt for a family member or a trusted friend. However, either way it should probably be a younger person, who won’t be dealing with the same aging issues as you.

You should also note that your will doesn’t cover everything. Make certain that any beneficiaries designated in your retirement plans or life insurance and any additional names on joint bank accounts are current. The beneficiaries you appointed by a designation form will get the money in those accounts, no matter what it says in your will.

If all of this sounds a bit complex, don’t worry because an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney can help you with all of the forms and all of your questions. Just understand these three things before you visit an elder law firm: your assets, whose names are on the accounts and your wishes.

Reference: Fox 5 NY (December 12, 2018) “Why estate planning is important regardless of your age or wealth”

Here’s Why You Need an Estate Plan

It’s always the right time to do your estate planning, but it’s most critical when you have beneficiaries who are minors or have special needs, says the Capital Press in the recent article, “Ag Finance: Why you need to do estate planning.”

While it’s likely that most adult children can work things out, even if it’s costly and time-consuming in probate, minor young children must have protections in place. Wills are frequently written, so the estate goes to the child when he reaches age 18. However, few teens can manage big property at that age. A trust can help, by directing that the property will be held for him by a trustee or executor until a set age, like 25 or 30.

Probate is the default process to administer an estate after someone’s death, when a will or other documents are presented in court and an executor is appointed to manage it. It also gives creditors a chance to present claims for money owed to them. Distribution of assets will occur only after all proper notices have been issued, and all outstanding bills have been paid.

Probate can be expensive. However, wise estate planning can help most families avoid this and ensure the transition of wealth and property in a smooth manner. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about establishing a trust. Individuals can name themselves as the beneficiaries during their lifetime, and instruct to whom it will pass after their death. A living trust can be amended or revoked at any time, if circumstances change.

With a trust, it makes it easier to avoid probate because nothing’s in an individual’s name, and the property can transition to the beneficiaries without having to go to court. Living trusts also help in the event of incapacity or a disease, like Alzheimer’s, to avoid conservatorship (guardianship of an adult who loses capacity). It can also help to decrease capital gains taxes, since the property transfers before their death.

If you have minor children, an attorney can help you with how to pass on your assets and protect your kids.

For more information about how to best protect your minor children, download a copy of Mastry Law’s FREE report, A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Children Through Estate Planning.

Reference: Capital Press (December 20, 2018) “Ag Finance: Why you need to do estate planning”

Get Estate Planning Details Done in 2019

Are you ready to resolve some of the things in 2019 that you really, really, did plan on doing in 2018? This article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “As a new year closes in, resolve to get those pesky estate details resolved,” offers to act as a reminder—or a kick in the pants—to get you to take care of these frequently overlooked estate planning details.

Health Care Plans. If you’ve got health care issues or a chronic condition, get your advance directive for health care done. The name of the documents vary by state (in Florida they’re called a Designation of Healthcare Surrogate and a Living Will), but whatever you call it, work with your estate planning attorney to create the documents that convey your wishes, if and when you are not able to communicate them yourself. That means your end of life wishes, so if you end up in the hospital’s intensive care unit your family or health care providers aren’t making decisions based on what they think you might have wanted, but what you have actually declared that you want.

Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs. You’re not giving up any power or control over your finances in having this created. Instead, you are preparing to allow someone to act on your behalf for financial matters, if for some reason you are unable to. Let’s say you become injured in an accident and are in the hospital for an extended period of time. How will your bills be paid? Who will pay the mortgage?

For both of these documents, talk with the people you want to name first, and make sure you are both clear on their responsibilities. Have at least one backup, just in case.

A will and if appropriate, trusts. If you don’t have a will or a trust, why not? Without a will, the state’s laws determine who will receive your assets. Your family may not like the decisions, but it will be too late. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to get your will and other documents properly prepared.

Check how your assets are titled. Are they in your name only, jointly titled, etc.? If you have trusts, have you retitled your assets to conform to the trusts? If you have beneficiaries on certain accounts, like life insurance policies and 401(k)s, when was the last time you reviewed your beneficiaries? Don’t be like the doctor who did everything but check beneficiaries. His ex-wife was very happy to receive a large 401(k) account, and there was no recourse for his second wife of 30 years.

Make a list so assets can be located. To finalize these details, you’ll need a list of assets, account numbers and what financial institution holds them. The information will need to be gathered and then organized in a way so key people in your life—your spouse, children, etc.—can find them. Some people put them on a spreadsheet in their home computer, but if your executor does not have a password, they won’t be able to access them. If they are in a safe deposit box that only has your name, they won’t be accessible.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Dec. 24, 2018) “As a new year closes in, resolve to get those pesky estate details resolved”

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”

Spiderman Creator Stan Lee’s Estate Needs Untangling

It’s going to take more than a super hero to unravel the mess that Stan Lee left behind.

The passing of Stan Lee, famed Marvel Comics publisher and chairman, was sad for his legions of fans. For his 68-year-old daughter J.C., there’s grief and a challenging estate to be settled. His last years were hard, with ill health, the passing of his wife of nearly 70 years and accusations of sexual harassment from nurses and home aides.

Stan-leeIn addition, Lee reportedly said that $1.4 million dollars was missing from his bank accounts and that a large chunk of the money had been used to purchase a condo.

MarketWatch’srecent article, “Stan Lee’s tangled web of estate planning and how to avoid it in your own life,”reports that Lee had also hired and fired several business managers and attorneys in this time.

“I learned later on in life, you need advisors, if you’re making any money at all,” he told the Daily Beastin a 2018 interview. He also remarked that he’d done much of his own money management at the start of his career.

“But then, a little money started coming in, and I realized I needed help. And I needed people I could trust. And I had made some big mistakes. And my first bunch of people were people that I shouldn’t have trusted.”

It’s not known at this point, if Lee had a will or any trusts in place. If he did not, then he’s joining other late celebrities like performers Aretha Franklin and Prince who failed to draft these documents. As a result, their heirs and potential beneficiaries have had to go to court to straighten things out.

Keeping track of an estate plan can become harder as a person ages, because he or she could suffer cognitive decline, or a professional or family member may think he or she is suffering from this. Stan Lee was the subject of this type of inquiry: in February, he signed a document declaring that his daughter spent too much money, yelled at him, and befriended three men who wanted to take advantage of him, the Hollywood Reporterreported. However, a few days later, Lee took it back.

Seniors can become get less confident in what they’re doing, and they are more susceptible to the influence of others who may not have the best of intentions. However, you can easily create an estate plan with which you’re comfortable, with the help of an experienced estate panning attorney.

A big rat’s nest that will need to be addressed by Lee’s daughter will be dealing with the many business documents that may be floating around from his current and past business managers and attorneys. To avoid this, work with an estate planning attorney and ask some specific questions, such as:

  • How do we organize and simplify my assets?
  • Will we need a trust, and how will they be managed?
  • How will you coordinate with my executor and/or attorney-in-fact while I’m well, and after I’m sick or gone?
  • How do you determine cognitive decline in an individual? What would you do, if you believed my ability to answer questions and manage my funds was diminished? What would you do once you’ve made this decision?
  • How often will we review my beneficiary designations and estate planning documents?
  • How should we coordinate a team of financial and legal professionals to make sure all are working towards the same goals?
  • How much or how little information about my estate should be discussed with family members?

Reference: MarketWatch(November 17, 2018) “Stan Lee’s tangled web of estate planning and how to avoid it in your own life”

Funeral Instructions in Michigan Get an Assist from New Law

Now you can direct your funeral from the great beyond, if you live in the Wolverine State.

Here’s a concept that is perfect for people who like to be in charge: about two years ago, Michigan enacted a law that lets you name a funeral representative, a person who is empowered by law to make decisions about your memorial and where your remains, cremated or not, will rest.

Irish-handsThe Detroit Free Press’ recent article, “Law helps ensure your family follows your funeral wishes in Michigan,” suggests that a funeral representative can make sure there won’t be a disagreement among family members about funeral planning.

The issue arose recently when a Grosse Pointe Park funeral home attempted to return cremated remains left at Cantrell Funeral Home in Detroit to families of the deceased. Some family members said they would’ve claimed them before, but they weren't next of kin. In that case, a funeral representative could have settled a family fight over where the person would be buried. The deceased, who remarried later in life, made plans to be buried next to his deceased first wife. However, his new spouse wanted him to be buried in another cemetery. Her wishes prevailed, creating hard feelings for his survivors.

Michigan’s law recognizes the deceased’s representative authority to make decisions about the funeral and resting place after death. This agent can solve any issues and ease the stress among surviving relatives.

When a person agrees to be a rep, they should understand that it's a significant responsibility which includes making certain the deceased's funeral expenses are paid. In addition, consider this valuable information about funeral representatives:

A funeral representative is an individual who, under state law, is "designated to have the right and power to make decisions about funeral arrangements and the handling, disposition, or disinterment of a decedent’s body." This entails all decisions about cremation and "the right to possess cremated remains of the decedent." A representative signs an acknowledgement of duties and the authority is only effective after death and can’t be assigned to someone else. The order for someone having legal authority to make decisions is a person designated under federal law, usually if the person is serving in the military; your designated state funeral representative; a surviving spouse, adult children, adult grandchildren, parents, grandparents and then siblings.

A funeral representative can be designated in your will, health care power of attorney or a separate document that has two witnesses or is notarized. Funeral homes in the state should have a document that can be filled out designating a representative. Unless the person is a spouse or close relative, the law prohibits these individuals from being named a representative:

  • a licensed health professional;
  • an employee of a health or veterans’ facility that provided you care;
  • an officer or employee of a funeral home, crematory or cemetery providing you services; or
  • anyone charged with murdering you.

This authorization can be revoked with a written notice that is notarized or has two witnesses. The law automatically revokes the power to a named ex-spouse.

If you do not live in Michigan and you want to be sure that certain things happen with your memorial service, know where you wish to be buried or what you want to have happen with your remains if you want to be cremated, speak with an estate planning attorney to document your wishes. Speak with family members also, so they know what you want.

Reference: Detroit Free Press(November 2, 2018) “Law helps ensure your family follows your funeral wishes in Michigan”

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