Estate Planning Blog Articles

Estate & Business Planning Law Firm Serving the Providence & Cranston, RI Areas

Estate Plans Can Protect against Exploitation

Financial exploitation is far more common than most people think, especially of the elderly. There are several types of individuals more at risk for exploitation, according to a recent article from mondaq titled “How An Estate Plan Can Protect Against Financial Exploitation.” These include someone with a cognitive impairment, in poor physical health, who is isolated or has a learning disability.

Exploiters share common characteristics as well. They are often people with mental health illness, substance abusers or those who are financially dependent on the person they are exploiting.

There are warning signs of financial abuse, including:

  • Changes in patterns of spending, transfers, or withdrawals from accounts
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Unexplainable financial activity
  • An inability to pay for routine bills and expenses
  • Sudden changes to estate planning documents, beneficiary designations, or the addition of joint owners to accounts or property titles

One way to avoid financial exploitation is with an estate plan prepared in advance with an eye to protection. Instead of relying on a durable power of attorney, a funded revocable trust may provide more robust protection. A revocable trust-based plan includes safeguards like co-trustees and a requirement for independent party consent to any trustee change or amendment.

A support system is also important to protect a person if someone is attempting to exploit them. Estate planning attorneys team up with financial advisors, CPAs and other professionals to create a plan to avoid or end elder abuse. Other steps to be taken include:

  • Consolidating accounts with a trusted financial advisor, so all assets are easily observed
  • Have a family member or trusted person receive copies of account statements
  • Consider a credit freeze to avoid any possibility of being coerced into opening new credit card accounts or taking out loans.
  • Establishing a budget and sharing information with advisors and a trusted person, so any spending anomalies are easy flagged.

Elder financial abuse is an all-too common occurrence but taking proactive steps to safeguard the vulnerable family member is a good strategy to deter or thwart anyone intent on taking advantage of a loved one.

Reference: mondaq (Sep. 23, 2022) “How An Estate Plan Can Protect Against Financial Exploitation.”

Is Your Incapacity Plan in Place?

Wise incapacity planning usually includes the execution of a power of attorney.

This is a document that appoints an agent who can legally sign checks, pay bills and make other financial decisions on your behalf, as the principal, in the event you become incapacitated by illness or an accident.

A power of attorney is also used when the principal is unable to be present to sign necessary documents.

The designated agent can be given broad legal authority or limited authority to make decisions about the principal’s property, finances, or medical care.

FedWeek’s recent article entitled “Putting an Incapacity Plan in Place” suggests that, rather than a “regular” power of attorney, you may prefer one of the following:

A durable power of attorney can name a trusted friend, relative, or advisor to sign papers, if you are unable to make knowledgeable decisions.

These documents remain in effect if you become incapacitated.

Springing power is a durable power of attorney that will go into effect only if one or more doctors declare that you are incompetent or that you cannot perform some “activities of daily living,” such as being able to get dressed and go to the bathroom.

A springing power will not go into effect as long as you are competent.

Some financial institutions also may not accept your power of attorney because they require the use of their own forms.

Send a copy of your power to each of your banks, brokers and other accounts to see if there is an issue. Some companies will also not recognize old powers.

Add an expiration date on the document and update it every year or two, so it expresses your current wishes.

A power of attorney can also end for a number of reasons, such as when the principal revokes the agreement or dies, when a court invalidates it, or when the agent can no longer carry out the responsibilities outlined.

In the case of a married couple, the authorization may be invalidated if the principal and the agent divorce.

Reference: FedWeek (Feb. 1, 2022) “Putting an Incapacity Plan in Place”

Tackling Estate Plan Quarter by Quarter

Most of us know that a tax bill is typically due on April 15, and we know that our paychecks will include deductions for taxes, Social Security, and IRA or 401(k) contributions. If we are self-employed or retired, we make quarterly estimated tax payments. We plan throughout the year to be better prepared when April 15 comes around. The preparation takes place routinely over time, and the same can be done for estate planning and updating, says a recent article “Make quarterly payments to estate plan” from Victoria Advocate. It’s simple and sensible.

If we can make our plans today to make our eventual passing easier for loved ones and friends, why not divide and conquer, in a quarterly manner? Consider these quarterly “payments” to your estate plan and your family:

First Quarter: Review current estate plans with your estate planning attorney. Don’t have an estate plan? Get started. An estate plan includes a Will, Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Directive to Physicians document and any trusts you might need.

The Will, aka Last Will and Testament, is the only one of these documents to be used post-mortem. The will is used to designate an executor to carry out your wishes and designate a person or persons to serve as legal guardians for minor children.

Second Quarter: Let your family know your wishes. Open communication with family members is a gift, so they are not left guessing during critical times. Finding the right words is not always easy, so try writing out your thoughts as you prepare your estate plan. Document your wishes for burial arrangements, information they’ll need for a death certificate or obituary. Do you want to donate your organs, or will your pet need special care? Where are your important papers located? Once you’ve had all the necessary documents created and have thought through these wishes and written a memo about them, let your future executor know what your wishes are, and where they can find the information that they’ll need.

Third Quarter: Do some easy but important estate planning tasks. Review the beneficiaries listed on your accounts. Assets and accounts that pass through beneficiary designations are not controlled by the will, so this is extremely important if it’s been more than a few years since you last reviewed these documents. Your IRA, SEP, 401(k), life insurance and any accounts titled Transfer or Payable on Death probably have beneficiaries listed.

Fourth Quarter: Does your estate plan include a legacy to future generations or charities? Speak with your estate planning attorney about how to pass your estate to children or grandchildren. If you have a unique goal, trusts can be as individual as you are.

As systematically as you pay taxes and bills, work through your estate plan so that you are prepared for the two things we know will occur, regardless of how we feel about them—taxes and death.

Reference: Victoria Advocate (May 8, 2021) “Make quarterly payments to estate plan”

pets during pandemic

Don’t Neglect a Plan for Your Pet During the Pandemic

If you have a pet, chances are you have worried about what would happen to your furry companion if something were to happen to you. However, worrying and having an actual plan are two very different things, as discussed at a Council of Aging webinar. That’s the subject of the article “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future” that appeared in The Harvard Press.

It’s stressful to worry about something happening, but it’s not that difficult to put something in place. After you’ve got a plan for yourself, your children and your property, add a plan for your pet.

Start by considering who would really commit to caring for your pet, if you had a long-term illness or in the event of your unexpected passing. Have a discussion with them. Don’t assume that they’ll take care of your pet. A casual agreement isn’t enough. The owner needs to be sure that the potential caretaker understands the degree of commitment and responsibility involved.

If you should need to receive home health care, don’t also assume that your health care provider will be willing to take care of your pet. It’s best to find a pet sitter or friend who can care for the pet before the need arises. Write down the pet’s information: the name and contact info for the vets, the brand of food, medication and any behavioral quirks.

There are legal documents that can be put into place to protect a pet. Your will can contain general directions about how the pet should be cared for, and a certain amount of money can be set aside in a will, although that method may not be legally enforceable. Owners cannot leave money directly to a pet, but a pet trust can be created to hold money to be used for the benefit of the pet, under the management of the trustee. The trust can also be accessed while the owner is still living. Therefore, if the owner becomes incapacitated, the pet’s care will not be interrupted.

An estate planning attorney will know the laws concerning pet trusts in your state. Not all states permit them, although many do.

A pet trust is also preferable to a mention in a will, because the caretaker will have to wait until the will is probated to receive funds to care for your pet. The cost of veterinary services, food, medication, boarding or pet sitters can add up quickly, as pet owners know.

A durable power of attorney can also be used to make provisions for the care of a pet. The person in that role has the authority to access and use the owner’s financial resources to care for the animal.

The legal documents will not contain information about the pet, so it’s a good idea to provide info on the pet’s habits, medications, etc., in a separate document. Choose the caretaker wisely—your pet’s well-being will depend upon it!

Reference: The Harvard Press (May 14, 2020) “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future”

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