Downs Law Firm, P.C.

Basic estate planning tools

Four Basic Estate Planning Tools

It was reported on the news recently that some of Aretha Franklin’s family members have found what they believe to be her will. It was handwritten, stained, and crumpled up in a couch. The courts may or may not choose to honor it, depending on whether or not they are able to verify its authenticity.

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Prove you're an adult

Prove You’re an Adult with 10 Actions

I’m planning a major trip in 2020: It’s the year I turn 50, and I’m going to visit 50 places I’ve never been before. Among the fun itinerary research, I’m also taking care of more serious things, such as drafting a will and buying life insurance.

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Estate plan

An Estate Plan Should be in Writing

Make plans for handling an issue, before it becomes an issue. A plan not written down is really just a wish. I wish my son could handle my affairs. I wish my friend could speak for me in the hospital if need. I wish my special needs child would be eligible for needed government aid. Without committing something property to writing, these become more of what paves the road to hell. The legal issues that may surround a health problem, can go from bad to worse if you are not protected by legal documents expressing your wishes, according to the New Jersey Herald in “The importance of putting plans in writing.” The message hits home especially hard, when the friends experience problems that could have been resolved earlier with correct planning. In one example, a woman’s friend began to experience unexpected health problems. Her husband is incapacitated and there are no children to step in and help. The couple’s lack of legal documents has made a difficult situation even worse. Although discussing concepts like end-of-life care can be challenging, all adults should have specific plans in place, even if their estate plan is basic: a last will and testament, a living will and a power of attorney. It is never to early to put these documents into place. If you are a student about to enter college, your parents ability to help or get information may disappear legally at age 18. That newly minted adult should at least have a designated power of attorney and a medical directive, in case they are unable to manage their own affairs or make healthcare decisions. Unfortunately, many people still think estate planning is only for wealthy people who want to pay less taxes. Tax planning can help lighten tax liability for some. However, there are far more important reasons to do estate planning. The main reason for estate planning is to set down expectations and wishes, while you are alive and after you pass. An estate planning attorney will help review the benefits of having a power of attorney and a healthcare directive. They can help, if the situation occurs where your loved ones have to make decisions for you. The amount of time, expense and frustration of going through a guardianship process can be avoided, if these items are in place. An estate planning attorney can also help you with completing beneficiary forms for non-probate assets, preparing a funeral plan, planning a personal property memorandum and discussing elder care and planning for incapacity. Making decisions in advance regarding who will care for minor children, if young parents cannot and who will be the person’s executor and handle all the details of their estate, are all necessary. Many couples choose joint ownership and consider that their estate planning. However, that’s not enough. What happens when the last “surviving” joint owner passes? There are many other issues that need to be addressed. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan

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Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney

Advanced Directives Help Loved Ones Making Tough Choices

An advanced directive can give you as well as your loved ones peace of mind. Do you want your preferences known, even if you are lack the capacity to communicate them? Then you need to create an advanced directive, according to the Valley News in “Advance Directives Provide Clear Guidance for Care.” The two components that make up an advance directive are a durable power of attorney and a treatment preferences section. The durable power of attorney for health care allows you to appoint someone to make medical decisions, if you lack the capacity to make those decisions for yourself. The treatment preference, which is sometimes referred to as a living will, lets you specify what kind of treatment you would want in a difficult circumstance. Treatment and care preferences usually focus on what you would want at the end of life or if you were in a permanently unconscious state. There are other preferences that can be expressed, including pain control, blood transfusions, mental health care and spiritual care. Another preference: who should—and should not—be involved in discussions about treatment. Most people want to express their wishes to avoid aggressive measures being taken to extend their lives, when the end result will be suffering and a delay of their passing. Others chose to avoid the financial burdens that may or may not result in any kind of change in their health or the quality of their life. Some have these documents prepared to make it clear that they want to spend their final months, weeks or days at home with loved ones with care only to relieve pain or care, so they can be conscious and able to speak with those around them. Advance directives are a blessing to loved ones, since they do not have to make hard choices in a crisis situation. They know what their aging parent or spouses wishes. It’s important to choose the person you want to be responsible for your care well in advance. Make sure it’s someone you trust, who knows you well and will be able to make hard decisions in a highly emotional time. They’ll also have to be able to communicate with your doctors and family members. It’s also important that you deliver the documents to your decision makers in a way they can be easily retrieved. We will scan and email the documents to our clients and suggest they forward the email to their decision makers. With smart phones today, they can be at a persons fingertips when needed. Also, telling young adult children that they are not the decision makers, or at least not yet, is also necessary. If an 18 year old is not aware that an aunt or uncle is to make these decisions, they may be thrust into the role simply because they don’t know better. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and can include an advanced directive. Reference: Valley News (Sep. 1,

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Growing Older

Growing Older-Don’t Avoid a Conversations

The talk may be difficult but may turn out to be necessary. When someone dies or becomes disabled, the people who support and love that person are often in the position of walking into the middle of a movie and trying to figure out “What is going on?” As we age, sharing information ahead of time can be a big help. It might not be the easiest conversation you have ever had. However, it is a good idea to have a talk with your loved ones about what steps to take as you go through the aging process, according to The Des Moines Register in “In 2019, resolve to have a difficult conversation.” The person who is contemplating needing help, may want to start the conversation but the person who may be called on to help may find it too difficult to consider. Who wants to think about their parents getting frail and needing help going to the bathroom? No one. The person who is starting to feel the impact of aging may already be aware of some limitations. However, talking with their children or potential caregivers may change the conversation from “someday” to “soon.” The loss of independence is one of the big milestones, just as gaining independence is a milestone earlier in life. That’s a hard thing to accept for both sides. Those who have lived through this process of needing to become caregivers say that it would have been easier if they would have known what their loved ones wanted. So, would have been knowing what kind of help their loved ones could afford. It’s better to have time to research available resources in advance, rather than operating in crisis mode. This is what your conversations need to address: Medications, physical health, emotional well-being and health care providers Their wishes, if their health declines slowly or rapidly. Do they want to stay at home? Who would they want to help with daily care? Finances: Can they afford to pay for care at home? Has any Medicaid planning been done? What government programs are they eligible for? Do they have a CPA or financial advisor? Estate plan: Where is their Last Will and Testament? Is there a Power of Attorney, Living Will or Medical Directive in place? Who is their estate planning attorney? Documents, including birth certificates, Social Security, insurance cards, safe deposit box keys, computer passwords, etc. Seven out of 10 people over age 65 will need help from others at some point. Most will need it for at least three years, so it might be wise to have the conversation before a difficult situation arises.Reference: The Des Moines Register (Dec. 19, 2018) “In 2019, resolve to have a difficult conversation”

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Snowbirds checklist

Snowbirds Checklist to Consider

Snowbirds Checklist Heading is a good idea but consider legal issues before leaving. If you are a retiree who heads south after the holidays, it might be wise to create a checklist of at least four personal legal business items, according to LimaOhio.com in “Extra checklist before heading south for the winter.” Not that January and February aren’t delightful here in the Baltimore-Washington area… First, make sure that your living will and healthcare power of attorney documents have been updated. Does your family have copies of these documents? Or do you emailed copies to them ? If you have these documents with us, we now scan them and forward a copy to you to send on to your decision makers. If they save that email, they will also have our contact information to access your Property Power of Attorney if needed. Second, discuss the location of your estate planning portfolio with them, and how to contact your estate planning attorney. Update them if changes need to be made and get copies to your children and/or friends. Third, make sure that your last will and testament is updated. Have you had any big changes in your life since the last time it was reviewed? Marriages, deaths, divorces, births, and adoptions are the typical “trigger” events that signal a need for review. Being out of town for an extended time is a good prompt to review how current your documents are, and how they address your concerns. Who will have that document? If your estate planning attorney maintains original copies for clients, then make sure to have another original on your person or safely secured with a loved one. Lastly, and this takes a little time but is well worth doing, create a list of all your assets. Make sure they are properly titled for your situation. Should you have all your bank accounts become Payable on Death to your spouse? When was the last time you checked your beneficiary designations? Chances are good there are beneficiary designations on your bank, investment, and retirement accounts and on your life insurance policies. Wherever you have a beneficiary designation, you should also have a contingent beneficiary. An estate planning attorney can advise you snowbirds on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and may include a trip in a southerly direction. Reference: LimaOhio.com (Oct. 13, 2018) “Extra checklist before heading south for the winter”

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Estate Plan

An Estate Plan Really Needs to Be Correctly and Available

The legal issues that may surround a health problem, can go from bad to worse if you are not protected by legal documents expressing your wishes, according to the New Jersey Herald in “The importance of putting plans in writing.” The message hits home especially hard, recently with two different instances. First, a Father wanted is child to receive a house and did his own invalid “amendment” to his will. In a second instance, a person wanted is caretaker to receive assets and expressed that through an unsigned email. Lack of legal documents at these times has made difficult situations even worse. Although discussing concepts like end-of-life care can be challenging, all adults do need to have specific plans in place, even if their estate plan is basic: a last will and testament, a living will and a power of attorney. It is never to early to put these documents into place. If you have a college student or other child who is 18 years or older, he or she should at least have a designated power of attorney and a medical directive, in case they are unable to manage their own affairs or make healthcare decisions. Unfortunately, many people still think estate planning is only for wealthy people who want to pay less taxes. Tax planning can help lighten tax liability for some. However, there are far more important reasons to do estate planning. The main reason for estate planning is to set down expectations and wishes, while you are alive and after you pass. An estate planning attorney will help review the benefits of having a power of attorney and a healthcare directive. They can help, if the situation occurs where your loved ones have to make decisions for you. The amount of time, expense and frustration of going through a guardianship process can be avoided, if these items are in place. An estate planning attorney can also help you with completing beneficiary forms for non-probate assets, preparing a funeral plan, planning a personal property memorandum and discussing elder care and planning for incapacity. Making decisions in advance regarding who will care for minor children, if young parents cannot and who will be the person’s executor and handle all the details of their estate, are all necessary. Many couples choose joint ownership and consider that their estate planning. However, that’s not enough. What happens when the last “surviving” joint owner passes? There are many other issues that need to be addressed. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference: New Jersey Herald (Aug. 22, 2018) “The importance of putting plans in writing”

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