Estate Planning Blog Articles

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

Stay-at-Home Parents Need an Estate Plan

Any family’s estate plan must address all aspects of life, planning for incapacity and death. It’s easy to overlook the Stay-at-Home Mom (SAHM) or dad. They don’t have paychecks, raises, reviews, or PTO. But, overlooking the importance of what the SAH parent does for the family is a big mistake, and this includes neglecting estate planning, according to a smart article from The News Enterprise: “Stay-at-home parents must be deliberate about estate plans.”

For one thing, life insurance needs to be in place for both spouses. It may be easy to define the amount of insurance for the spouse working outside of the home, but the SAH parent’s tasks also need to be insured.

How long will the children be at home needing care, and what would daycare or a caretaker cost? How much would it cost to hire someone to cook, clean, do laundry, and run the household?

If children are home-schooled, how will the SAH parent be replaced? Will the children start attending public school, or is private school more aligned with the family’s values?

It’s easy to think the working parent will slide into these tasks, but unrealistic, as any single working parent will tell you. The children will be dealing with grief and emotional upheavals—adding a stressed parent to the mix who is also dealing with grief will make for a terrible situation.

In addition to having the right amount of life insurance, estate planning documents should be prepared with an eye on this possibility. The last will and testament is used to name a guardian for minor children, who will be responsible for raising the children if both parents are unable to care for them because of death or incapacity. A revocable trust should be considered, and a trustee should be appointed to ensure the funds are available for the children’s care and education.

The revocable trust can also ensure the children are not disinherited if the surviving spouse remarries.

This plan needs the review and guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure the will is correctly created to protect the children and set up any needed trusts.

Stay-at-home parents are often the glue keeping the family running. Replacing them isn’t possible—but preparing for life’s ups and downs will help the family adjust to any major changes.

Reference: The News Enterprise (May 25, 2024) “Stay-at-home parents must be deliberate about estate plans”

Essential Legal Documents for Graduating Seniors

As new legal adults transition from high school to college or the workforce, they must understand the significance of having essential legal documents in place. These documents can protect their interests and ensure their wishes are respected, especially in unexpected situations.

Why Do Young Adults Need Legal Documents?

Many young adults think estate planning is only for older people, but it’s crucial for everyone. Once young adults turn 18, they are legal adults, and parents or guardians no longer have authority over their health or financial accounts or information. Accidents and illnesses can happen at any age, and having the right documents can make a big difference.

There are five essential legal documents that every young adult should have:

  • Healthcare Proxy: This document allows a trusted person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can’t communicate your wishes. Choosing a reliable and nearby person is important for making quick decisions if needed.
  • HIPAA Authorization: This gives certain people access to your medical records. Without it, your loved ones might not be able to get the information they need to help you in a medical emergency.
  • Durable Financial Power of Attorney: This lets someone manage your finances if you cannot do so yourself. It can help ensure your bills are paid, and your finances are handled properly if you’re incapacitated.
  • Living Will: This outlines your medical treatment and end-of-life care preferences. It helps your family know your wishes regarding life support and other critical decisions.
  • Preneed Guardian Designation: This appoints someone to care for you or your dependents if you cannot do so. For young parents, it ensures that their children are cared for without waiting for court appointments.

A Story of Preparedness

Consider the story shared by the Financial Planning Association about a young adult who was in a car accident. Despite being healthy and active, the accident left them unable to make decisions.

However, they had a healthcare proxy and a durable financial power of attorney. This enabled their family to step in and make medical and financial decisions on their behalf. Good estate planning can make hard times a little more manageable, even for young and healthy people.

What Happens without These Documents?

Without these essential documents, your family might face delays in managing your affairs. Courts could appoint someone to make decisions for you. While this may work out, there’s no guarantee a court-appointed agent’s views would align with your wishes. Being unprepared can make difficult times even more stressful and challenging.

How can Young Adults Get Started?

Creating these documents is easier than you might think. Here are some steps to get started:

  • Talk to Your Parents or Guardians: Discuss your plans and get their input on who your healthcare proxy or financial power of attorney should be.
  • Consult an Attorney: Seek advice from an estate planning attorney who can draft these documents to ensure they meet legal requirements and accurately reflect your wishes.
  • Store Documents Safely: Keep your documents in a safe place, and make sure that your designated proxies know where to find them.
  • Review Regularly: Life changes might require updates to your documents. Events such as moving to a new state, getting married, or having a child should prompt you to revisit your documents.

Lay the Foundations of a Bright Future

If you’re a young adult or a parent of one, now is the time to start thinking about these important legal documents. Our law firm focuses on estate planning and can help you create a comprehensive plan suited to your wishes. Contact us today to request a consultation and get started.

Key Takeaways

  • Young People Need Estate Planning: Having your documents in order can make hard situations easier.
  • Key Estate Documents for Young People: HIPAA Authorization, a durable financial power of attorney, and preneed guardian designation are invaluable.
  • The Importance of a Will: Young parents need wills to provide for their children’s future in case the worst happens.

Reference: Financial Planning Association (Oct. 2023) “Essential Estate Planning for Young Adults”

Prevent Difficulties in Probate with Advance Planning

If you think gathering your papers, passwords, logins, account information and estate planning documents is a challenging task, consider your heirs trying to do it after you’ve passed and while they are grieving your loss. By preparing all the information they’ll need, you’ll make their inheritance process as easy as possible, says a recent article from Next Avenue, “6 Ways To Save Your Heirs from a Painful Probate.”

A List of Passwords for Hardware, Online Accounts and More Our cellphones, tablets, computers, online accounts and other technology all hold important information. If your executor tries to access information and accounts, they’ll need more than your passwords. If you have accounts with two-factor authentication, for instance, they’ll need to be able to access your email and/or cellphone to access other digital assets. The list should include things like social media usernames and passwords. The information must be kept somewhere safe where a spouse or executor can find it. Some tech platforms allow you to name a legacy contact with the right to access accounts after you pass. A password manager system might be helpful. However, this may add another layer of frustration for non-technical people.

List All Assets and Accounts with Contact Information. Whether you use a spreadsheet or a notebook, this is crucial information. Make sure to include investment accounts, checking and savings accounts, 401(k)s, IRAs, pension accounts, brokerage accounts, etc. Provide contact information for your estate planning attorney, accountant and financial advisor.

The information must be well organized because it will be a lot of data. Your executor will also need the accounts for running your household, paying utilities, mortgage, cable, etc. The same goes for health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid information, life insurance policies, car insurance and deeds to your home and car.

Tell the Executor and/or Heirs Where Your Information is Located. One estate planning attorney reports receiving a few monthly calls from grieving heirs who have no idea where the estate planning documents are, who takes care of the financial accounts, or how to access these accounts. Sometimes, the calls come from people who aren’t even clients but are hoping there might be some special resource known to estate planning attorneys to provide this information. There is no such thing.

Plan for the Unexpected A significant part of estate planning is planning for financial and healthcare decisions while you are still living. A living will details whether or not you want to be kept alive by heroic or artificial means, and a power of attorney authorizes someone to make decisions on your behalf. Without a POA, the person may recover from their medical emergency to find a financial mess of late bills, missed insurance premiums, or a host of issues that could have been dealt with on their behalf. Without healthcare surrogate documents and discussions of your wishes in difficult health situations, the family will need to make difficult healthcare decisions in highly stressful situations.

If the proper documents are not in place, the family must go to court to have someone named a guardian, who can then make health care decisions for you. The same process will be needed to have someone manage your financial affairs, called conservatorship. These are expensive and invasive court processes that can easily be avoided.

Talk with your estate planning attorney and family members to plan for the future. You’ll all feel better knowing that you’ll all be prepared when difficulties arise.

Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 9, 2024) “6 Ways To Save Your Heirs from a Painful Probate”

Guide to Incapacity Planning: Protecting Yourself and Your Estate

Incapacity planning is a crucial aspect of managing your estate and ensuring that your wishes are honored if you cannot make decisions for yourself. This article will examine the various components of incapacity planning, offering comprehensive advice for anyone looking to secure their future.

What Is Incapacity Planning?

Incapacity planning involves preparing legal documents and making decisions in advance should you become unable to manage your affairs due to illness, injury, or other reasons. This process ensures that your financial, health and personal preferences are respected and handled according to your wishes.

Understanding the Basics

Incapacity planning isn’t just for the elderly; unexpected life events can happen at any age. It’s about taking control of your future, regardless of what may happen. This planning includes choosing who will make decisions on your behalf and outlining your wishes for medical treatment and financial management.

The Importance of Early Planning

The best time to plan is now. Waiting until you’re incapacitated leaves your loved ones with difficult decisions and could lead to court involvement. Early planning ensures that your wishes are clear and legally documented.

What Is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document allowing you to appoint someone to handle your affairs if you cannot. There are different types of POAs, each with specific functions.

Financial Power of Attorney

This document grants someone authority to manage your financial matters, from paying bills to handling investments. Choosing someone trustworthy and capable of managing your finances effectively is essential.

Medical Power of Attorney

Also known as a healthcare proxy, this allows someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. Discussing your wishes with this person is crucial, ensuring that they understand your preferences for medical treatment.

What Role Does a Trust Play in Incapacity Planning?

A trust is a legal arrangement where a trustee holds assets on behalf of a beneficiary. Trusts can be particularly useful in incapacity planning.

Revocable Living Trust

This type of trust allows you to maintain control over your assets while alive and capable. In the event of incapacity, a successor trustee can manage the trust assets according to your wishes.

Using Trusts to Avoid Guardianship

By setting up a trust, you can avoid needing a court-appointed guardian or conservator, since the trust’s instructions will guide how your assets are managed.

How Can I Ensure That My Medical Wishes are Respected?

Documenting your healthcare preferences is a vital part of incapacity planning. This ensures that your medical treatment aligns with your values and wishes.

Living Wills and Healthcare Directives

A living will or healthcare directive outlines your wishes for medical treatment, including end-of-life care. This can include specific instructions on issues, like life support and feeding tubes.

HIPAA Authorization

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), known as the Privacy Rule, gives individuals rights over their health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive a person’s health information. A HIPAA authorization is a legal document that enables your healthcare providers to share your medical information with the individuals you’ve designated.

Healthcare Surrogate or Medical Agent

While the HIPAA authorization allows chosen individuals to receive or view your healthcare information, a healthcare surrogate or medical agent is an authorized individual who can make decisions for your medical care when you cannot.

What Happens If I don’t have an Incapacity Plan?

Without a plan, your family may face legal hurdles and difficult decisions. They may need to seek guardianship or conservatorship, which can be time-consuming, expensive, and stressful.

The Risk of Court Intervention

Without proper documents, a court may appoint someone to make decisions for you who might not align with your preferences. This can lead to family disputes and added emotional stress.

Ensuring Your Wishes are Followed

An effective incapacity plan helps avoid these issues, ensuring that your wishes are known and respected and that someone you trust makes decisions on your behalf.

How Do I Choose the Right People to Act on My Behalf?

Choosing the right individuals to make decisions for you is crucial. They should be people you trust, who understand your values and are willing to act in your best interests.

Selecting a Health Care Proxy

Your healthcare proxy appointee should understand your medical preferences and be willing to advocate on your behalf, even under challenging circumstances.

Choosing a Financial Proxy

Selecting someone with financial acumen and integrity is essential for managing your financial affairs. This person should be organized, responsible and understand your financial goals well.

Can Incapacity Planning Reduce Estate Taxes?

While incapacity planning primarily focuses on managing your affairs during life, it can also affect estate taxes. Proper planning can help manage your estate efficiently, potentially reducing tax liabilities.

Summary: Key Points to Remember

  • Start Early: Don’t wait until it’s too late to start planning.
  • Appoint Trusted Individuals: Choose people you trust to make decisions on your behalf.
  • Document Your Wishes: Clearly outline your healthcare and financial management preferences.
  • Consider a Trust: Trusts can provide a streamlined way to manage your assets if you become incapacitated.
  • Legal Advice: Consult an estate planning attorney to ensure that your plan meets your needs and complies with legal requirements.

Incapacity planning is not just about protecting your assets; it’s about ensuring your wishes are honored and providing peace of mind for you and your loved ones. With the right planning, you can safeguard your future, no matter what it holds.

Top 5 Estate Planning Nightmares You Can Avoid with a Will

In the realm of estate planning, a common adage rings true: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” As an experienced estate planning attorney, I’ve witnessed firsthand the turmoil and heartache that can ensue when individuals neglect the crucial step of drafting a will. This blog post is a clarion call to take control of your future and protect your loved ones from the all-too-common nightmares that arise from inadequate estate planning.

Family Disputes and Conflicts

The absence of a will can be the catalyst for family disputes that echo for generations. Imagine a scenario where siblings are torn apart, not by grief, but by the ambiguity of asset distribution. A will acts as a clear voice from beyond, guiding your family during a time of loss and preventing disputes that can irreparably fracture familial bonds.

Unintended Beneficiaries

Imagine your hard-earned assets falling into the hands of a distant relative you barely know, or worse, someone you wouldn’t have chosen to benefit from your estate. This isn’t just a hypothetical situation—it’s a reality for many who pass away without a will. Your will is a beacon, ensuring that your assets find their way into the right hands—those you specifically choose.

Delays and Additional Expenses

The probate process without a will is akin to navigating a ship through a storm without a compass. The journey is longer, fraught with legal complexities, and often more costly. By drafting a will, you provide a map that steers your estate through the probate process swiftly and efficiently, sparing your loved ones from unnecessary financial and emotional burdens.

Loss of Control Over Asset Distribution

Without a will, you relinquish control over who inherits your assets. State laws, devoid of personal sentiment, take the helm. This loss of control is especially critical if you have minor children or dependents whose future you wish to secure. A will is your tool to ensure that your specific wishes for your children’s guardianship and the distribution of your assets are honored.

Increased Legal Challenges

An estate without a will is fertile ground for legal disputes. These battles can drain your estate’s resources and leave your loved ones embroiled in legal quagmires. A well-crafted will is a shield, protecting your estate from the arrows of litigation and providing a solid legal foundation that upholds your wishes.

In conclusion, the nightmares of estate planning can be easily avoided by drafting a will. It is a fundamental step in ensuring your peace of mind and the well-being of your loved ones. Remember, a will is more than just a document; it’s a testament to your life, wishes, and legacy.

Don’t let indecision today lead to turmoil tomorrow. I invite you to take the first step in securing your legacy and safeguarding your family’s future. Contact me for a free consultation to discuss your estate planning needs. Together, we can craft a will that reflects your wishes, protects your assets, and provides clarity and comfort to your loved ones in times of need.

Remember, planning today creates peace of mind for tomorrow. Let’s embark on this journey together.

Key Takeaways

  1. Prevent Family Disputes: A will is essential to avoid familial conflicts over asset distribution, ensuring your wishes are clearly understood and respected.
  2. Control Over Beneficiaries: It enables you to designate precisely who receives your assets, preventing unintended beneficiaries from inheriting your estate.
  3. Efficient Probate Process: Drafting a will streamlines the probate process, reducing delays, complexities, and additional expenses for your loved ones.
  4. Guardianship of Dependents: A will allows you to make critical decisions about the future of your minor children or dependents, ensuring they are cared for as per your wishes.
  5. Legal Protection: Having a will minimizes the risk of legal challenges, protects your estate from potential disputes, and preserves its value for your beneficiaries.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is a will important if I don’t have a large estate?

A will is crucial regardless of the size of your estate. It ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, no matter how modest. It also helps appoint guardians for minor children and can minimize legal complexities for your loved ones.

Can I write my own will, or do I need an attorney?

While writing your own will is possible, consulting an experienced attorney is advisable to ensure that it meets legal requirements and accurately reflects your wishes. An attorney can help avoid common pitfalls that might render your will invalid or ineffective.

What happens if I die without a will?

If you die without a will, your estate will be distributed according to state intestacy laws, which may not align with your personal wishes. This can lead to unintended beneficiaries receiving your assets and complicate matters for your loved ones.

How often should I update my will?

Reviewing and possibly updating your will every 3-5 years or after major life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or significant changes in your financial situation is recommended. This ensures your will remains relevant to your current circumstances.

Can a will reduce taxes on my estate?

A well-planned will can help in minimizing estate taxes. An estate planning attorney can guide you in structuring your will and other estate planning tools to maximize tax efficiency and preserve the value of your estate for your beneficiaries.

Don’t Gamble with Your Future: Why Choosing the Right Estate Planning Attorney Matters

Introduction

Estate planning: two words that encapsulate the entirety of your life’s work and the legacy you wish to leave behind. It is a profound yet often misunderstood aspect of personal finance and legal preparedness. As an experienced estate planning attorney, I’ve seen firsthand the turmoil and heartache resulting from inadequate or nonexistent estate plans. This post aims to illuminate the crucial role of a skilled estate planning attorney in securing your future and the well-being of your loved ones.

Understanding Estate Planning

Estate planning is not merely drafting a will; it’s a comprehensive approach to managing your assets, health directives, and your legacy after you pass away or if you become incapacitated. Common misconceptions, such as the notion that estate planning is only for the wealthy or that it can be postponed until later in life, often deter people from taking the necessary steps. In reality, estate planning is a vital process for everyone, regardless of the size of their estate.

The Risks of DIY Estate Planning

In the era of do-it-yourself solutions, it’s tempting to cut corners and opt for online templates for estate planning. However, this approach is fraught with risks. Personalized advice is crucial since every individual’s situation is unique. DIY estate plans often fail to account for state-specific laws, complex family dynamics, or future changes in assets. Real-life cases abound where such oversights have led to legal battles, unintended disinheritance, or significant tax burdens for heirs.

The Value an Estate Planning Attorney Adds

A dedicated estate planning attorney brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. We don’t just draft documents; we craft a plan tailored to your specific needs, considering intricate legal frameworks and tax implications. Our expertise ensures your estate plan is robust, flexible, and up-to-date with current laws. Furthermore, we navigate the emotional and complex aspects of estate planning, offering peace of mind that your affairs are in competent hands.

What to Look for in an Estate Planning Attorney

When seeking an estate planning attorney, consider the following:

  1. Experience and Expertise: Seek attorneys with significant experience in estate planning. They should have a strong track record in handling cases similar to yours.
  2. Communication Skills: Your attorney should be someone you can talk to openly and who can explain complex legal concepts in understandable terms.
  3. Reputation and Reviews: Research their reputation. Online reviews and referrals from friends or financial advisors can be valuable resources.

The Process of Working with an Estate Planning Attorney

Working with an estate planning attorney typically involves:

  • Initial Consultation: Discussing your goals, family dynamics, and financial situation.
  • Document Preparation: Drafting wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other necessary documents.
  • Regular Updates: Estate plans should evolve with your life changes. Periodic reviews are essential.

This process is not a one-time event but an ongoing relationship to ensure your estate plan remains relevant and effective.

Financial and Emotional Benefits of Proper Estate Planning

A well-constructed estate plan offers significant benefits:

  • Financial Savings: Minimize taxes, avoid probate costs, and prevent legal disputes.
  • Peace of Mind: Knowing your loved ones will be cared for and your wishes will be honored.

These benefits extend beyond the financial; they offer a sense of security and clarity for you and your family.

Key Takeaways

  1. Estate Planning is Essential for Everyone: It’s not just for the wealthy; everyone should have a plan to manage their assets and health directives.
  2. DIY Comes with Risks: Online templates and DIY solutions are often insufficient and may lead to legal complications.
  3. Professional Guidance is Key: An experienced estate planning attorney can provide tailored advice and ensure your plan is legally sound and up-to-date.
  4. Choose the Right Attorney: Look for experience in estate planning, strong communication skills, and positive client reviews.
  5. Ongoing Process: Estate planning is not a one-time task. It should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect life changes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why can’t I just use an online template for my will?

Online templates are generic and may not adequately address your specific needs or comply with state-specific laws. An estate planning attorney can provide a customized plan considering your unique situation and legal requirements.

At what age should I start thinking about estate planning?

It’s wise to start estate planning when you have any significant assets or responsibilities, such as owning a home, having children, or starting a business. It’s never too early to start planning for the future.

How often should I update my estate plan?

You should review and possibly update your estate plan every 3-5 years or sooner if you experience significant life changes like marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or substantial changes in your financial situation.

What happens if I don’t have an estate plan?

Without an estate plan, the distribution of your assets will be determined by state laws, which may not align with your wishes. This can lead to family disputes, unnecessary taxes, and legal complications.

Is estate planning only about distributing my assets?

No, it’s more than that. Estate planning also includes making arrangements for your healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated, designating guardians for minor children, and potentially reducing taxes and other expenses.

Estate Planning for Millennials and Gen Zers

Estate planning is increasingly on the mind of younger adults, far from the stereotype of being only of interest to older, affluent couples nearing retirement or dealing with health concerns. These younger generations have unique attributes, including pragmatic financial views and humanitarian concerns, according to a recent article, “Six Estate Planning Tips for Younger Generations,” from Kiplinger. Here are tips to make this process easier for any generation.

Start with a basic will, which guides how assets and possessions are distributed after one’s passing. Prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney, the will should minimize potential disputes, include a clear delineation of assets and beneficiaries and name an executor to manage the estate and guardianship for any surviving dependents.

Appoint a power of attorney and draft medical directives. Power of Attorney and Medical Directives are basic documents that state your preferences during incapacity. A POA grants a named individual the legal authority to act on your behalf for legal and financial matters, if you cannot do so. Medical directives establish your wishes regarding medical treatment and end-of-life care. While taking care of these matters, you may also want to consider becoming an organ donor.

Determine who you want to be your children’s guardian. Naming a guardian of your minor children isn’t pleasant. However, it ensures that you and your partner make this decision, not the court.

Consider a living trust. Living trusts offer a strategic means of managing assets and helping to ensure that your surviving loved ones maintain control of your assets after you have passed. The trust, established with the help of an estate planning attorney, grants ownership of certain assets or properties into the trust, which becomes their owner. A trustee is named to manage and distribute these assets in accordance with your wishes. In some instances, it makes sense to hire a professional trustee, especially if the trust will need to be managed for decades.

By taking assets out of your estate and placing them into a trust, these assets won’t go through the probate process. Probate involves your executor filing your will with a court after you die. The court reviews the will to validate it and grants the named executor the power to execute your final instructions. Probate can be lengthy, expensive and emotionally charged for the family. Your will is entered into the public record, so anyone who wants to can see your will and know your final wishes.

Don’t forget your digital assets. Younger generations are more aware of the value and footprint of their digital assets. They often name a specific digital executor in their estate plans to ensure that their many accounts and digital assets are managed after their passing.

Seek professional advice and update documents. Despite a plethora of online sites and apps, estate planning documents require the skillful handling of an experienced estate planning attorney. Estate laws are state-specific, so wills and trust documents must be created with local laws in mind. Your estate plan documents, from wills to insurance policies, should be reviewed every three to five years. Every time there’s a significant change in your life, like getting married, buying a home, having a child, or getting divorced, this should also be done.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 3, 2023) “Six Estate Planning Tips for Younger Generations

Essential Estate Planning Considerations for Minor Children

Estate Planning for Minor Children

It is paramount for parents to have an estate plan that not only takes care of their personal and financial matters but also addresses the well-being of their minor child or children. Delving into estate planning considerations can be overwhelming, especially when young children are involved. This guide will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of estate planning for minors.

Estate Planning: Why Is It Essential for Parents with Young Children?

Estate planning for parents with young children involves setting up mechanisms to ensure that, in the event both parents pass away, their children will be cared for in the desired manner. Many parents overlook this critical aspect. However,ensuring their children have the protection and support they need is vital.

What Is a Trust and Why Is it Important for Minor Children?

A trust is a legal entity that holds and manages assets for the benefit of certain persons or entities, typically the minor child or children. A trust may be established to ensure that your child receives the inheritance at an appropriate age. The trustee is also responsible for managing the trust assets for the child’s benefit until they reach the age of majority.

Appointing a Guardian: Who Will Care for Your Children in the Event Both Parents Die?

Choosing a guardian for your child is one of the most critical decisions in an estate plan. The guardian is entrusted with raising your child if both parents die or become incapacitated. Young parents, especially, need to decide who they would trust to raise their children if both parents are not around. Appointing someone you trust and discussing your wishes with them beforehand is essential.

Power of Attorney: Who Makes Decisions on Your Behalf?

A power of attorney is a legal document that allows a person to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated. There are different types of power of attorney, such as financial power and medical power. The former deals with financial matters, while the latter allows someone to make medical decisions for you.

Special Needs Planning: What If One of Your Children has Special Needs?

If you have a child with special needs, specific considerations should be included in the estate plan. A special needs trust is a tool parents can use to ensure that the inheritance does not disqualify the child from receiving essential government benefits. Estate planning for special needs children requires meticulous attention to detail to safeguard their interests.

Life Insurance: Ensuring Financial Security for Your Children

Life insurance plays a crucial role in estate planning for parents with minor children. In the unfortunate event that one or both parents pass away, the life insurance proceeds can provide financial stability for the children. This ensures that they have the means for education, healthcare and other essential needs.

The Last Will and Testament: A Fundamental Estate Planning Document

A last will and testament primarily directs how your personal property should be distributed after your death. Parents need to stipulate their desires, especially regarding their children’s inheritance.

Beneficiary Designations: Make Sure That Assets Go Where You Want

Ensuring the correct beneficiary designation on assets, like retirement accounts, is vital when drafting an estate plan. Incorrect or outdated designations can result in unintended consequences, potentially sidelining the intended benefits for your minor children.

Trusts for Children from Previous Relationships

For parents with children from previous relationships, establishing a trust can ensure that all children, irrespective of their biological ties, are treated equitably. This ensures that the inheritance and trust assets are distributed according to the parent’s wishes.

In Conclusion: Key Takeaways

  • Establishing an estate plan is vital for parents with minor children.
  • Setting up a trust can protect a child’s inheritance until they reach a suitable age.
  • Appointing a trusted guardian ensures that your children are in safe hands should anything happen to both parents.
  • Power of attorney is essential for someone to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
  • Parents with special needs children should consider setting up a special needs trust.
  • Life insurance is crucial for the financial security of your children.
  • Always ensure that beneficiary designations are updated and correct.
  • Trusts can be especially useful for parents with children from previous relationships.

To ensure that your estate plan aligns with your desires and the well-being of your minor child or children, consider consulting an estate planning attorney or law firm. They can guide you through the intricate details and help you make the best choices for your family’s future.

Protecting Elders from Guardianship Abuse

Issues Inherent in the Guardianship System

Elder law attorneys see firsthand the complexities and potential pitfalls of guardianship arrangements. The recent investigation into guardianship practices in Florida, as reported by the Washington Post, underscores the urgent need for vigilance and reform in this area. While guardianships are designed to protect the vulnerable, they can sometimes lead to significant abuses, including forced isolation and financial exploitation. This article aims to shed light on the complexities of the guardianship system, expose issues related to guardian-inflicted elder abuse and provide practical advice for avoiding guardianship by planning before becoming incapacitated.

What Is Guardianship?

Guardianship is a legal process where a court appoints an individual (the guardian) to make decisions for someone deemed unable to make decisions for themselves (the ward). This arrangement is often necessary for seniors who can no longer manage their affairs due to health issues like dementia or stroke. It’s estimated that more than one million Americans are in a guardianship, a number that will only grow as the U.S. population ages and elderly people no longer have family living nearby to provide the care and protections they need.

A Cautionary Guardianship Case

Douglas Hulse, a former pilot from Florida, was hospitalized due to a stroke. After his recovery period ended and his condition did not improve, Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital could not discharge him without having an assigned caretaker. Therefore, the hospital petitioned the court to assign him a guardian due to the inability to locate his family. His loss of control over his assets and personal decisions to a court-appointed guardian is a stark reminder of guardianship risks. His guardian, responsible for 19 other wards, made questionable decisions like selling his home without seeking to locate his family.

What Role Do Hospitals have in Guardianship Appointments?

Hospitals often play a significant role in initiating guardianship proceedings. Cases like Hulse’s in which the hospital petitions for a court-appointed guardian are becoming more common nationwide, especially when elderly patients have no known family or friends to care for them. While this process is meant to ensure the patient’s well-being, it can inadvertently lead to the appointment of guardians who may not act in the best interest of the ward or, worse, will exploit the senior ward through financial abuse or other ways.

Why Is the Adult Guardianship System Allowing Abuse and Exploitation of Wards?

The discrepancies in the guardianship appointment and training process further complicate this issue. There is often a lack of standardized procedures for appointing and monitoring guardians, leading to inconsistent practices and an increased risk of abuse. This situation calls for a more rigorous and standardized approach to guardianship appointments at the state level, ensuring that only qualified and ethical individuals are entrusted with such significant responsibilities.

How Do Guardianships Put Seniors at Risk of Abuse?

The Hulse case highlights several risks associated with guardianship:

  1. Loss of Personal Freedom and Fundamental Rights: Once under guardianship, individuals may lose basic rights, such as voting, consenting to medical treatment, managing their finances, or deciding where to live.
  2. Financial Exploitation: Guardians have significant control over the ward’s assets, allowing them to access financial accounts directly and conduct financial transactions without oversight. This access can lead to mismanagement or outright theft.
  3. Lack of Oversight: Guardianships often lack sufficient legal or administrative oversight, allowing unscrupulous guardians to take advantage of their wards. Because a judge appoints guardians, they often do not face punishment or legal recourse for abusive behavior.

How to Protect Yourself From Court-Ordered Guardianship

  1. Advance Planning: The best defense against guardianship abuse is advance planning. This includes setting up durable powers of attorney for health care and finances, which allow you to designate someone you trust to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
  2. Regular Monitoring: If guardianship is unavoidable, family members should stay involved and monitor the guardian’s actions. Regularly reviewing financial statements and staying in close contact with the ward can help detect any irregularities.
  3. Choosing the Right Guardian: If a guardian is necessary, choose someone trustworthy and capable. This could be a family member or a professional with a good reputation and credentials.
  4. Legal Oversight: Courts should have robust systems to monitor guardianships. This includes regular reporting by guardians and audits of their financial management.
  5. Awareness and Education: Seniors and their families should be educated about the risks of guardianship and the importance of advance planning. Community programs and legal clinics can provide valuable information and resources.
  6. Advocacy and Reform: Advocacy for better laws and policies around guardianship is crucial. This includes pushing for reforms that increase transparency, accountability and oversight in the guardianship process.

Key Takeaways:

  • Guardianship can lead to significant abuses, including loss of autonomy and financial exploitation.
  • Hospitals often initiate guardianship proceedings for incapacitated patients without family, which can lead to inappropriate guardian appointments.
  • Advance planning, such as establishing durable powers of attorney, helps prevent guardianship abuses.
  • There is a need for increased legal oversight and reform in the guardianship system to protect the rights and well-being of the elderly.

Work with an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney to ensure that someone you love does not fall prey to abuse but has a legally documented estate plan to protect them and their financial well-being.

Florida Guardianship Case Raises Red Flag for Estate Planning

No one likes to think of themselves as being older and vulnerable. However, for one Florida man, a medical crisis and the lack of family nearby led to a terrible series of events. The article’s title, from The Washington Post, sums it up: “The retired pilot went to the hospital. Then his life went into a tailspin.”

The former pilot pulled his Ford Mustang convertible into a gas station and appeared so distressed that someone called 911. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where doctors said he had a stroke. He lived alone, as three out of five Americans in their 80s now do. There didn’t seem to be any family members to call. The hospital went to court and argued that the pilot needed a guardian. The judge agreed.

This is not an unusual situation. More than one million Americans are under guardianship, which has been widely criticized for inviting abuse and theft. As Americans age, there is more focus on this arrangement, but few solutions. This man was like many seniors who relocate far from family, and when they show up alone in emergency rooms, they are at risk of falling into the guardianship system.

The court-appointed guardian sold his home for a very low price to a neighbor who was a realtor. An inspector general’s investigation later found “probable cause” for the exploitation of an elderly person and a scheme to defraud. However, the guardian denied any wrongdoing, and there was no criminal investigation.

As it turned out, the pilot, who never married or had children of his own, did have a family. In the past, he had regularly visited his sister, her spouse and a niece and nephew in the Philadelphia area. The visits stopped when his sister developed dementia and died in 2018. His niece said he became harder to reach but eventually would respond to calls and emails until he entered the hospital and no one heard from him.

After the stroke, he was unable to tell anyone to call his family. It’s not clear how hard the hospital tried to reach any relatives.

Like most senior patients, the pilot was covered by Medicare, which pays the hospital by diagnosis, not by length of stay. Generally, in this part of Florida, Medicare pays $23,000 for an elderly stroke patient, assuming a five-day stay. After that, the hospital begins to lose money. Putting a new patient in the same bed would bring in thousands of dollars a day.

The guardian began liquidating his possessions, selling his cars, gun collection, camera equipment and more at an estate sale. She then sold his home before it even went on the market with a private arrangement with a husband and wife real estate team who lived in her community. She sold it to them for at least $100,000 under market value.

While this was happening, a woman who had become an unpaid citizen watchdog after her own father’s horrible guardianship experience uncovered the case, finding court papers about the sale of the house and seeing the undervalued sale. She filed a complaint with the office regulating guardians, hoping it would draw scrutiny to the situation.

At the same time, the pilot’s niece and nephew were searching for their uncle, including writing a letter to the court. However, months went by without a response. Their letter to the court finally got to someone, and the guardian called the nephew. They were happy to establish contact with their uncle, talking with him on FaceTime calls, but had questions the guardian did not answer.

In July 2022, the inspector general’s office issued a critical report stating the guardian had used a “deficient, deceptive and fraudulent” market analysis submitted by the real estate agent. The home was “undervalued and not publicly advertised.” The inspector general’s office urged law enforcement to look into the handling of this home and two other homes the guardian had sold with the same real estate agents. Sadly, the pilot died two days after the state declined to pursue a criminal investigation.

To protect yourself and your family, speak with an estate planning attorney about the documents you need during life: Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, trusts, a will and, equally importantly, creating a plan for contact with family members, no matter the status of your relationships.

Reference: The Washington Post (Nov. 4, 2023) “The retired pilot went to the hospital. Then his life went into a tailspin”

Search
Join Our eNewsletter

Recent Posts
Categories