Downs Law Firm, P.C.

Property Power of Attorney

missteps for divorce

Power of Attorney a Permanent Decision?

The position of POA can be revoked. It would be wise for everyone to have thought things through carefully and chosen a Power of Attorney (POA). It is important to remember that the decision can be changed in the future, according to nwi.com in “Estate Planning: Revoking a power of attorney.” One aspect of a Power of Attorney to carefully consider is, when does the authority granted in the document come into existence. A Power of Attorney can be an immediate document, which grants the full powers NOW. It can be a “Springing Power”, meaning that the authority comes into existence during events spelled out in the document, such as two doctors certifying incapacity. One the Power is in place, the terms of the document control what the authority is: you can give limited powers, full powers, or something in between. The person in charge does not own the assets, but is managing them as a “Fiduciary” which means as a highly trusted person, bring with it the responsibility of high loyalty to the person granting the power. When and how does the power end? There are three basic ways that a Power of Attorney can be terminated and the first is the date and time that it specifies, if it contains such language. POAs rarely have termination dates, because they are intended to be “durable” over an extended period of time. However, in certain circumstances, they can have a termination date. The second way a POA terminates, is at the death of the principal. Once the person in the POA dies, the attorney-in-fact authority ends, with the possible exceptions of making anatomical gifts on behalf of the principal, or the authority to make final arrangements or the authority to request an autopsy. Except for these unusual exceptions, the POA ends when the principal dies. The third way a POA terminates is when the principal executes a written revocation identifying the POA. For it to be effective, the attorney-in-fact has to receive actual knowledge of the revocation. Until they receive that actual knowledge, the POA revocation is not effective. To ensure that this is done properly, it is recommended that an estate planning attorney be involved, just to make sure there are no mistakes. A letter informing the POA of the revocation must be sent via certified mail, return receipt requested, using U.S. first-class mail. An email and a text follow up could take place, and a phone call would be a good idea. To make sure there are no deliberate misunderstandings, send a copy of the revocation to financial institutions that would be potentially targeted by the now former POA—if that is a concern. This includes the bank, financial advisor or any institution that is of particular concern. You want to make sure that these institutions are notified that the POA is no longer in effect. If the person refuses to sign the certified letter, you will need to prove that notice was given and that the person refused

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Guardian and conservator

Is a Guardian needed? Take a Look at All the Options

Some of the options are less intrusive than a guardianship or a conservatorship. Sometimes guardianships and conservatorships are necessary when some members of a family believe a loved one is becoming mentally or physically incapacitated. However, there are other options, according to On Common Ground News in the article “Alternatives to guardianship and conservatorship.” What is the difference between the two? These are legal proceedings that vary in name from State to State. In Maryland, these proceedings are guardianships and take two forms: Guardian of the person and guardian of the property. A Guardian of the person decides on living situation and most medical care: Guardian of the property handles the property and lets the appointed person their ward’s finances and assets, buy and sell businesses and enter into commercial transactions. Either process will involve a court proceeding, ordinarily with an attorney representing the family and a separate attorney representing the incapacitated person. Guardian of the person can sometimes be avoided by relying on the Maryland Health Care Surrogate law, that basically allows next of kin to make medical decisions for someone who does not sign a living will or health care power of attorney. This can be a good alternative to Court if the family is united in their decision making. It doesn’t work well if they are not. Alternative options to Guardian of the property include a Durable Power of Attorney (DPA), which permits a competent individual to name another person as their legal representative regarding finances and other matters. There can be specific instructions, and this also can include an agent who is named to make health care decisions. A DPA is broader in power than a living will and applies any time the individual becomes incapable of either making or communicating health care decisions on their own behalf. A second alternative is the creation and funding of a revocable living trust, where you can appoint a chain of command for the management of assets in the Trust. Many of our clients name a trustee child or other individual to be a Co-Trustee, to be in the wings to manage assets at disability. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference: On Common Ground News (Nov. 29, 2018) “Alternatives to guardianship and conservatorship”

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Income taxes for a decedent

The Twilight of Capacity for a Parent?

The path from capacity to incompetent can be slow and difficult to analyze. Some of the most difficult calls we handle involve the question of when a parent can still make his or her own decisions. As your Mother of Father ages, there may be times that you question if they are still competent because you wonder about some decision, such as money use or decisions about friends. Bringing up that question can be a difficult challenge, as Forbes discusses in the article in “Aging Parents at The In-Between Stage: Partially Competent and Partially Not.” In that example, the aging parent presents well to the outside world, socializes well and seems to have all his faculties. The problem is, the children who know him see changes and worry about what might happen in the near future. Their father had always handled his own finances, and now he’s giving money away to anyone who asks for it. He is going through his accounts at a surprising rate, unlike his lifetime behavior of being an extremely careful money manager. In this case, the first step for this family: a meeting with all the adult children and an estate attorney. [Note that an independent attorney may be required, as the attorney drafting the document represents the father, and could have a conflict of interest not including the father in the discussion]. They start with a review of the legal documents that had been prepared previously by the attorney. A Durable Power of Attorney had been put in place, when the oldest child had been appointed as his agent, with unrestricted powers. She had the legal authority to take over the management of her father’s accounts. By using the Durable Power of Attorney, she was able to gain online access to all her father’s accounts to see what was actually going on. It was worse than the family expected. He had given money away to charities and to strangers. Armed with this information, she had to speak with her father. He bristled, but she persisted, knowing that she had the legal right to do this and the support of her siblings. She suggested that she visit him to help out. It took several weeks of suggesting it, but at last, he relented. On his desk, she found collection notices and a cancellation notice from his car insurance company for failure to make payments. By presenting the prospect of not being able to drive because of a lack of insurance, she got his attention to the seriousness of the matter. Next, his assets were moved out of accounts where he had access. He continued to give away his money, but she controlled how much damage he could do. This family was able to protect their father from a free-fall into poverty and dependency, because proper estate planning had been done well in advance, and they sought out proper advice. An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference:

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Prove you're an adult

Reviewing Your Estate Plan in January

Put away the estate plan when it is completed. However, take a good look at it frequently. There are many reasons why an estate plan needs changing, because your life changes as do your goals, according to the Times Herald-Record in “5 steps to securing your elder estate plan.” What might be some of those changes? It could include your divorce, your marriage or even the marriage or divorce of your children. It can also be that your financial situation has changed, and you need to make changes. A ten-minute review at the beginning of a New Year will be an annual reminder, and can verify that you are still on the right course. The process of review may seem challenging but here are some steps to consider: Step One: gather up all your documents, which may take some time. This includes your will, powers of attorney, health care proxies, living wills, any trusts and any other documents. For clarity, here are some definitions. A will is the document that states where you want your assets to go when you die. It is reviewed by the court in a proceeding called probate, but only after your death. Assets in a living trust (or other types of trusts, depending on your situation) do not go through this process. Creating a trust results in a legal entity that owns the assets it contains. The trust assets go to beneficiaries upon death, as directed by you to the trustee. In many instances, trusts save time, money and avoid litigation over inheritances. Powers of attorney name the person you appoint to make any legal, business or financial decisions for you, should you become incapacitated. A health-care proxy names the person to make your medical decisions, if you are unable to do so. Living wills are used to express your wishes for end-of-life care. Step Two: review your documents. Make sure that everything is signed. You would be surprised how many important documents aren’t signed. Read the documents to see who was named as the executor of your will and who is the trustee of your trusts. Are those people still able to undertake these responsibilities? Do you still want them making decisions for you? Step Three: make a list of all of your assets. Note how they are titled—what names are on the accounts—and what are the values of each. Include retirement accounts like IRAs, 401(k)s, insurance policies and annuities and check to see if you named a beneficiary. Do you still want that person to be the recipient of the asset? Make sure that you have also named a contingent beneficiary. Step Four: what information would your loved ones need should you become unable to communicate? They’ll need information about your medications, the name and contact information for your primary care physician, your estate planning attorney, your CPA and your financial advisor. You may want to arrange for a “family meeting” with your healthcare team and your legal and financial team (two separate

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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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Your Estate Plan’s Right Documents

There are some important documents that should always be in your estate plan to protect your family. However, some people still leave them out, according to Consumer Reports in “8 Essential Steps for Estate Planning.” A survey from Caring.com showed that as many as 60% of adults don’t have estate planning documents. When they asked families with young children, fewer than one in ten have even designated a guardian to take care of their children, if both parents should die. Worse yet, we have worked with numerous cases where people thought they had documents in place, but due to their own misunderstanding of the law or requirements, their plans were agonizing disappointments of what should, and could have been… What happens when there’s no planning in place? Even the simplest things become more complicated, and complicated things become financial and legal nightmares. When there’s an emergency and decisions need to be made, the entire family is subjected to more stress and costs than would otherwise be necessary. Here are the eight steps you need to take, right now, to protect your family: Get the professional help you need. The change to the tax law may or may not impact your family and your estate plan, but you won’t know until you sit down with an estate planning attorney. Trying to do this online, may seem like a simpler way, but you will not have the same peace of mind as when you sit down with an experienced attorney—and one who knows your state’s laws. Create a will. This is a legal document that explains how you want your assets to be distributed after you die. It names an executor to carry out your instructions. If you have minor children, this is an especially important document, since it is used to name their guardian. If you have no will when you die (called dying “intestate”), then the laws of your state determine how your assets are distributed and who rears your children. Depending on where you live, your spouse might not automatically inherit everything. Discuss whether you need a Revocable Living Trust. In most states, when you pass away, your estate goes through a process called “probate.” The courts basically review your estate plan and determine whether everything looks right. The problem is that your will becomes a public document—and so does information about your assets. Some people prefer to keep their lives private by transferring assets to a revocable living trust, which distributes assets according to your instructions at your death. Titles to the assets must be changed so they are “owned” by the trust. This is known as “funding” the trust. You still retain complete control of your assets, since you are the trustee. However, if you fail to retitle assets, the estate goes through probate. You will also still need a will to protect your minor children. Review your beneficiaries. Whether you remember it or not, when you open many different kinds of accounts—banking, investment—you assign a beneficiary

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