Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Can I Protect My Elderly Parents?

Estate planning requires the ability to be realistic about current health and assets, while considering the inevitable changes to come. For adults with aging parents, having a well-thought out estate plan, regardless of the size of the estate, becomes more urgent as the time to use the documents draws closer. A recent article, “Accessing needs of aging parents,” from The News-Enterprise explains the steps adult children need to take to protect their parents.

There are four key factors to consider: medical needs, housing and care needs, finances and legal needs. All require candid, non-emotional assessments.

Start with medical, housing and care needs. Consider the next five years. Is it likely their medical condition may decline? How will their present home work, if they are unable to manage steps or need to sleep and toilet on the same level? If their home is not conducive for aging in place, will they consider moving to a better situation—or can they afford to make any changes?

Next, examine health and care needs. Do they have long-term care insurance or do they expect to apply for Medicaid? If one spouse will need memory care or one spouse dies, will the surviving spouse have the resources needed to remain in home and receive the care they need? An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to evaluate their financial situation with regard to becoming eligible for Medicaid, if this will be needed. There is a five-year look-back period for Medicaid, so advance action is necessary to protect assets.

Do they have any estate planning documents in place? Is there a will, and when was it prepared? Ask any estate planning attorney how many times seniors have told their children a will exists, only for the children to learn the will is forty years old, woefully out of date and declared invalid by the probate court. Deceased individuals may be listed as agents for Power of Attorney and Medical Power of Attorney. Funds left for heirs may no longer exist. Laws for power of attorney may not include required provisions as a result of changes to the law.

More complicated issues may exist. If appreciated real estate property has been deeded to loved ones to protect the property from nursing home costs, are the beneficiaries prepared to pay the resulting taxes? If deeded real estate property was intentionally left unrecorded, transferring property could become a legal quagmire.

The best solution is to have an experienced estate planning attorney meet with the parents, review any existing documents and prepare an updated set of documents to achieve the parent’s goals, protect them in case of medical emergencies and allow parents and children to gain the peace of mind of knowing they are ready for the future. This includes a will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, HIPAA release, living will and, depending upon the situation, may also include trusts.

Reference: The Times-Enterprise (Nov. 5, 2022) “Accessing needs of aging parents”

Major Blunders in Estate Planning

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “5 Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid” warns that if you overlook an important step or make a misstep in your estate planning, everything could be undone. You could instead burden your family with a challenging and headache-inducing estate.

There are many ways to get things wrong. Let’s look at a few:

  1. Not preparing for incapacity. The main reason to create a will is because we know that some day we’ll pass away. A will lets your family know how to distribute your property and other assets. A well-thought-out estate plan should identify the people authorized to make important decisions on your behalf regarding finances, health care and other critical matters. This is accomplished with powers of attorney. Once you are unconscious or afflicted with dementia, it will be too late. Make a list of decision-makers now, inform them of your wishes and create the necessary powers of attorney.
  2. Failing to include funeral and burial wishes. If you can purchase a burial plot and make funeral plans, put this in your estate planning documents. If you don’t, it may mean a lot of work for your family after your death. Name someone to be in charge of the funeral and burial arrangements and make sure that person understands your wishes. If you don’t detail your wishes prior to your death, it may become an issue for your loved ones.
  3. Ignoring the tax implications of transferring property. As generous as it may seem to give property to your family during your lifetime, it is usually much smarter – and far more generous – to delay the transfer until you’re deceased. If you convey the deed to property to your next of kin before you die, they may see a hefty tax bill whenever they sell the same property. That’s because the basis for that property will be tagged to the date on which you made your purchase, not the date you made your gift. As a result, it could leave your heirs scrambling to pay an enormous sum that would have been averted, had they been granted the deed after your death.
  4. Failing to designate backups for decision-makers. The best of plans can go south without a secondary beneficiary. This will address any unforeseen events. Name backups for your executor and other decision-makers. If they can’t fulfill their obligations, a court will name substitutes unless you’ve already planned for these contingencies.
  5. Not tracking beneficiary designations. In addition to stating the beneficiaries and their respective shares in your will, you must also communicate a directive to your bank that sets forth the interests in your account after your death. If you fail to do this, the bank’s rules will override anything you’re written in your will as to that account. That means your percentages will be different from those expressed in your will.

Take steps now to make certain there are no hidden issues that will haunt your family after you’ve passed.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 17, 2022) “5 Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid”=

Important Documents in Your Estate Plan

The Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) and a Health Surrogacy or Advanced Health Directive are used for situations where you can’t make decisions for yourself, explains Parent Your Parents recent article entitled “What You Should Know about Durable Powers of Attorney and Health Surrogacies.”

A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA). This is written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or legal matters. The person authorizing the other to act is the “principal” or “grantor.” The person given the power is called the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact.” There are two types of power of attorney: (1) a Springing Durable Power of Attorney, which “springs” into action when you become incapacitated; and (2) a General Durable Power of Attorney, which becomes effective as soon as it is signed and continues until you die.

If you live in a “Springing POA” state and move to a “Durable POA” state, the document is treated as a Durable Power of Attorney, and your agent can act without your consent. You should consider who you trust to be your agent.

It is typically a family member, a friend, or a professional agent. You should also have an alternate designated who can step in if something happens to your first choice and he or she is unable to serve.

Health Surrogacy or Advanced Directive. This document is called a variety of things: a Power of Attorney for Health, Designation of Health Surrogate, or a Living Will. No matter what it’s called, you’re appointing an adult to make healthcare decisions for you when you are unable to make them for yourself.

When you’re in an accident, unconscious, or injured and need a specific medical procedure, the designated agent steps in and makes important decisions in your stead.

If you’re in your 60s but still don’t have a legal document describing what you want to happen when you’re incapacitated, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Your family, close friends, and healthcare professionals should know how you feel about end-of-life treatments and have your detailed directions as to various circumstances and how you would like them handled.

Reference: Parent Your Parents (Sep. 15, 2022) “What You Should Know about Durable Powers of Attorney and Health Surrogacies”

 

How to Manage Aging Parent’s Finances

A day will come when age begins to catch up with your parents and they will need help with their finances. Even if your parents don’t want to feel dependent, when you think they need your assistance, you can approach the issue with sensitivity and extend your support for the management of their finances, says Real Daily’s recent article entitled “5 Tips to Manage an Aging Parent’s Finances.” Here are some tips:

  1. Start the conversation early. Your parents may not need your help with the handling of their financial matters right away. However, it is smart to begin the conversation early. Approach the issue of who will manage the financial responsibilities when they’re no longer able to do it. Parents should select a trusted family member by providing their advance written consent. This will let you to talk about your parents’ financial issues with financial advisors, doctors and Medicare representatives and carry out timely financial planning.
  2. Create a list of all pertinent legal and financial documents. Prepare a list of your parents’ important contacts, bank account details and locations of any stored documents, like wills, property deeds, insurance policies and birth certificates. Make certain all information and documentation is accurate and up to date. If information needs to be modified because of a change of circumstances, this is time to apprise them of it and help them do what’s needed.
  3. Consider executing a power of attorney. A competent adult can sign a power of attorney to authorize another person to make decisions on their behalf. A power of attorney for a specific purpose may cover medical, financial, or other decisions, and it may be designed to give limited or more sweeping powers. When your parents sign a power of attorney with you named as their attorney in fact, it will legally empower you to make key decisions when they can’t. An elder law attorney can help you draft an appropriate power of attorney according to your situation.
  4. Document your actions and keep others in the know. Transparent communication will help you avoid misunderstandings or controversy within your family. Keep your parents, siblings and any other loved ones involved with your family informed about your actions. No matter how noble your intentions may be, if others are kept in the dark, it can raise questions about your motives. Managing the finances of aging parents is a lot of work, and you can ask for the support of family members or at least keep the lines of communication open.
  5. Don’ comingle your finances with your parents’ plans. While it may look to be a convenient or cost-effective thing to do, it’s never a good idea to combine your parents’ finances with your own. Keep them separate. Using your parents’ money for your purposes or your own money to help them out is usually a slippery slope that should be avoided. Don’t forget about your own financial goals and retirement savings while you focus on helping your parents.

Reference: Real Daily (Sep. 9, 2022) “5 Tips to Manage an Aging Parent’s Finances”

Why Is a Will So Important?

A 2020 Gallup poll found that less than half of Americans have a will or have made plans regarding how they would like their money and estate handled in the case of their death. The poll also showed that Americans ages 65 and up are the most likely to have a will.

Yahoo News’ recent article entitled “How To Write A Will: The Importance Of A Will And Living Will” says that no matter your age, it’s important to have a will to be in control of what happens with your own assets. A will is a legal document that establishes a person’s wishes regarding the distribution of their assets — money, real estate, etc. — and the care of any minor children.

Without a will, state law may control who gets your “probate” assets and when. Having a will can save an enormous amount of time and money in estate administration and the process of having a guardian appointed for your minor children, if needed.

There’s a big difference between a will and a living will. A living will is a document that lets you state in advance how you want to be treated under certain medical situations, if you’re unable to make those decisions for yourself at a later time.

These differ by state law. However, they generally cover end-of-life decision-making and treatment options. General medical decisions unrelated to end of life care are typically covered in a health care power of attorney. Some states combine these two documents into one directive.

Unlike a living will, which specifically provides instructions for medical care during your lifetime, a will lets you to decide in advance who you want to receive your assets upon your death, and who you want to be in charge of handling the administration of your estate. If you have minor children, a will also allows you to nominate a guardian for them.

When creating a will, think about the “what,” the “who” and the “how.” To do so, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What assets do you have?
  • To whom do you want to leave them?
  • Who do you want to be in charge of making sure that happens?
  • Who do you want to be responsible for your minor children?
  • How do you want the assets transferred?

Reference: Yahoo News (Aug. 17, 2022) “How To Write A Will: The Importance Of A Will And Living Will”

Some Key Documents Should Be Considered Before Sending Your Child Off to College

In the United States, as soon as a minor turns 18, they’re typically considered a legal adult.

As a result, parents no longer have any authority to make decisions for their child, including financial and health care decisions.

Yahoo’s recent article entitled “Don’t Let Your Child Leave for College Without Signing Three Critical Documents” asks what if your adult child becomes sick or is in an accident and ends up hospitalized?

Because of privacy laws, known as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you wouldn’t have any rights to get any information from the hospital regarding your child’s condition. Yes, we know you’re her mother. However, that’s the law!

You also wouldn’t have the ability to access his or her medical records or intercede on your child’s behalf regarding medical treatment and care.

If your child’s unable to communicate with doctors, you’d also have to ask a judge to appoint you as your child’s guardian before being able to be told of his or her condition and to make any healthcare decisions for them.

While this is hard when your child is still living at home, it’s a huge headache if your child is attending college away from home.

However, there’s a relatively easy fix to address this issue:

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about drafting three legal documents for your child to sign:

  • A Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) for Health Care. This document designates the parent as your child’s patient advocate.
  • A HIPAA Authorization gives you access to your child’s medical records and lets you to discuss his or her health condition with doctors.
  • A DPOA for Financial Matters, designates the parent as your child’s agent, so that you can manage your child’s financial affairs, including things like banking and bill paying, in case your child becomes sick or injured, or is unable to act for any reason.

Reference:  Yahoo (Aug. 2, 2022) “Don’t Let Your Child Leave for College Without Signing Three Critical Documents”

Can We Prevent the Elderly from Being Scammed?

Just as parents guide their children through adulthood and teach them about finances and how to manage their money, adult children of aging parents need to be alert for their parents before they fall victim to those preying on the elderly. It’s become all too common, according to the article “The Best Way to Protect a Parent from Scammers” from Kiplinger.

There are a few common scams seen across the country. One is to call an elderly person and tell them their beloved grandchild has been arrested and cash needs to be sent immediately to get them out of jail. The grandparents are told the child has told the police not to call the parents, so the call is secret. No police department calls grandparents with a demand for cash, but in the stress of the moment, flustered people often comply.

Another is a thief posing as an IRS agent and telling a surviving spouse that their deceased spouse owed thousands in back taxes and penalties. The senior is told to make a payment or risk being arrested.  There is also the scammer claiming to be from the DEA and warning the person their Social Security number and credit card were used to rent a car found abandoned near the Mexican border with suitcases stuffed with drugs. The person is told they need to verify their information to clear their record, or they’ll be arrested for drug trafficking. The voice is always very convincing.

Elderly victims are vulnerable for several reasons. One, the generation preceding the boomers was taught to trust others, especially people in positions of authority. As people age, their ability to think clearly when a dramatic and unexpected piece of bad news is easily shaken. Someone who would otherwise never have given out their personal information or sent cash or purchased gift cards becomes overwhelmed and complies with the scammer.

Taking control of a parent’s financial life is a hard step for both the aging parents and the adult children. No one wants to lose their independence and freedom, nor do adult children want to see their parents becoming vulnerable to thieves. However, at a certain point, adult children need to become involved to protect their parents.

A General Durable Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document giving another person, typically an adult child, the power to act on behalf of another person immediately, once the document has been signed. It may not be effective in stopping a parent from giving money to a scammer, since the parents still have control of their money. fI transactions are done online, the bank may not have an alert set up for questionable transactions.

That said, having a POA in place and alerting the bank to its use will give the financial institution more freedom to be in touch with an adult child about their parent’s accounts, if fraud is suspected.

Guardianship or conservator is another way to address this issue, although it is far more invasive and brings the court system into the life of the person who becomes a “ward” and requires regular reporting. Guardianship is usually sought when the aging parent is incapacitated.

While we often think of trusts as a means of passing wealth to the next generation, they are also useful for protecting people in general and seniors in particular from scammers. When an adult child or other trusted person becomes the trustee, they gain complete control of the assets in the trust. If the aging parent is a trustee, they have control but someone else can step in if necessary. The co-trustee can see any changes in spending habits or unusual activity and take immediate action, without the delay that applying for guardianship would create.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about your unique situation to learn which of these solutions would be appropriate for your loved ones.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 25, 2022) “The Best Way to Protect a Parent from Scammers”

Do Young Adults Need a Will?

Everyone, age 18 and older, needs at least some basic estate planning documents. That’s true even if you own very little. You still need an advance health care directive and a power of attorney. These documents designate agents to make decisions for you, in the event you become incapacitated.

The Los Angeles Daily News’ recent article entitled “Estate planning, often overwhelming, starts with the basics” reminds us that incapacity doesn’t just happen to the elderly. It can happen from an accident, a health crisis, or an injury. To have these documents in place, you just need to state the person you want to make decisions for you and generally what those decisions should be.

An experienced estate planning attorney will help you draft your will by using a questionnaire you complete before your initial meeting. This helps you to organize and list the information required. It also helps the attorney spot issues, such as taxes, blended families and special needs. You will list your assets — real property, business entities, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, cars, life insurance and anything else you may own. The estimated or actual value of each item should also be included. If you have life insurance or retirement plans, attach a copy of the beneficiary designation form.

An experienced estate planning attorney will discuss your financial and family situation and offer options for a plan that will fit your needs.

The attorney may have many different solutions for the issues that concern you and those you may not have considered. These might include a child with poor money habits, a blended family where you need to balance the needs of a surviving spouse with the expectations of the children from a prior marriage, a pet needing ongoing care, or your thoughts about who to choose as your trustee or power of attorney.

There are many possible solutions, and you aren’t required to know them before you move ahead with your estate planning.

If you are an adult, you know generally what you own, your name and address and the names of your spouse and children or any other beneficiaries you’d like to include in your plan. So, you’re ready to move ahead with your estate planning.

The key is to do this now and not procrastinate.

Reference: Los Angeles Daily News (July 24, 2022) “Estate planning, often overwhelming, starts with the basics”

Why Do I Need a Will?

Perhaps getting hit by a cement truck is too blunt for some, but unexpected things happen all the time. An estate plan, including a will and other important documents, is good preparation, especially for caregivers of people with special needs. A recent article from Forbes titled “Where There is a Will, There is a Way” explains the steps everyone, especially caregivers, need to follow.

Creating a last will and testament

This is the foundation of an estate plan. Without a will, the court will distribute assets to children equally. If a disabled person receiving government benefits receives an inheritance, they will become ineligible and lose access to services. The court will also assign guardianship to minors or disabled individuals, if there is no will. A will, in tandem with proper estate planning, ensures protection for an individual with special needs, including naming a guardian of your choice.

Having a General Durable Power of Attorney for Finances

A POA allows you to name a person you trust to manage finances, real estate property, investments, or any aspect of your life, if you become incapacitated. A POA should be created for your needs, so you may decide in advance what you do and do not want your agent to be able to do for you.

Creating a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare

This important legal document, paired with a HIPAA release form, allows someone of your choice to take charge of your healthcare, talk with healthcare providers and make decisions based on your expressed wishes. You may name more than one person for this role but doing so could make it harder if the two people don’t agree on your care.

Naming a Guardian

This is a critical step if you are a caretaker for a person who will likely be unable to manage their own affairs, even after attaining legal age. By naming a guardian in your will, you can select the people who will be in charge of your special needs family member or minor children. Without a guardian named in your will, the courts will make this decision.

Drafting a “Letter of Intent”

A letter of intent is a guide with important information only you know. It is especially important for caretakers. Explaining in detail your disabled individual’s preferences can make a huge difference in the quality of their lives when you are no longer available. What are their likes and likes, what people do they enjoy spending time with and what foods do they prefer, etc. If your children are minors, this letter is an opportunity to describe your preferences for how they should be raised, including religious preferences, vocational choices and even nighttime rituals.

Providing Financial Security

If your family includes a loved one with Special Needs, you can protect their ability to have funds for things not covered by government benefits through a Special Needs Trust. Your estate planning attorney will create an SNT with a trustee and a secondary trustee to oversee the funds and ensure that they are used for qualified expenses.

Reference: Forbes (July 6, 2022) “Where There is a Will, There is a Way,”

Estate Planning Tips for Solo Seniors

The people who typically think the most about estate planning are those in a traditional nuclear family unit, with spouses, adult children, grandchildren and a clear idea of how they want to pass along assets and who can be trusted to carry out their wishes. It’s easier to plan ahead, reports a recent article titled “Elder Care: Estate planning when you are on your own” from The Sentinel, when the right person to put in charge is easy to identify.

When more and more families do not fall into the traditional nuclear family unit, how should they proceed with estate planning?

This can be a challenging scenario, especially if the person is not married and has no children. It’s hard to know who to name for important roles, like who will take charge if the person becomes ill or dies.

Some single people may think it doesn’t matter, because they don’t care about who inherits their possessions. However, estate planning is not just about distributing property. Planning for incapacity may be the most important part of estate planning—making legally enforceable decisions about medical care, end-of-life care and managing the business aspect of your life if you are incapacitated.

Two of the most important documents for a person who cannot speak for themselves are a Financial Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney. These are the critical documents giving the person you designate the ability to manage your affairs and be involved in your medical care.

Without them, someone will need to take over for you. Who will it be? The process begins in the court, with a legal proceeding called guardianship. There are any number of reasons to avoid this. First, it takes a long time and any actions or decisions requiring a legal guardian will not be made with any speed. Second, guardianships are expensive. The process of having a guardian named and the fees paid to the guardian will be paid by you, whether you are conscious or not. While many people who act as guardians for others are trustworthy and kind-hearted, there are many horror stories—including several true stories made into movies—where guardians are more focused on enriching themselves than their ward’s best interests.

Guardianship can be easily avoided. Meeting with an estate planning attorney to prepare your last will and testament, Power of Attorney and Power of Health Care Attorney gives you control over who will be in charge of your life if you are incapacitated. Having these documents properly prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney ensures that you can be admitted to a hospital or facility offering the care you need, your bills will be paid and if your situation requires filing for long-term care benefits or disability, someone can do it for you.

If you don’t have a spouse or children, you probably have a healthy network of friends and extended family members you trust and are your “family by choice.” If you don’t feel these people are trustworthy or capable, think further afield—someone from your community, a neighbor who you respect and trust, etc.

If possible, name a few people in succession (your estate planning attorney will know how to do this) so if one person cannot serve, then there will be a next-in-line to help.

The next step is to speak with these individuals and explain what you are asking them to do. They need to be comfortable with the responsibility you’re asking them to undertake. You’ll also want to tell them your wishes, perhaps drafting a letter of intent, so they will know what to do in different circumstances. Make sure they know where these documents are located, so they can find them easily.

Once your estate plan is in place, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief, knowing the future is taken care of.

Reference: The Sentinel (June 17, 2022) “Elder Care: Estate planning when you are on your own”