Downs Law Firm, P.C.
Downs Law Firm, P.C.
Selecting an Executor (or Trustee)? If you can’t pay your bills due to injury or death, selecting an Executor (or Trustee), often proves to dictate how well the plan will work. Who do you pick as the quarterback? In a Will, Trust, or Power of Attorney, you must select a money managing chain of command. Who are you going to hand the checkbook to? Although the role has different names for different documents, the considerations are the same. They all serve as fiduciary, who you trust to stand in your shoes and act for you when you can’t. In a Power of Attorney, this fiduciary role is called an “Attorney-in-Fact”; for a Last Will and Testament, this is an executor, and for a trust, it’s the trustee. Selecting fiduciaries becomes more accessible when the role is understood. A fiduciary is someone empowered to control different assets for another person, usually the intended beneficiary of the assets. The fiduciary must put the fiduciary’s interests aside and act in the beneficiary’s best interest, even when doing so is contrary to the fiduciary’s interests. Who Can Be a Fiduciary? A fiduciary can be anyone with legal capacity, including family members. Suppose you are not comfortable with a relative controlling your assets as a fiduciary. In that case, you may prefer to have a non-family member or even a financial institution serve in that role. For example, an estate planning attorney is a fiduciary by the nature of her legal and ethical obligation to act in the best interest of her clients. Still, an attorney also may serve as a fiduciary for an estate, a person, or a trust. The fiduciary appointed to administer a trust and manage its assets is a trustee. If the trust is created under your last will and testament to administer the inheritance for your beneficiaries, then such trust is known as a “testamentary” trust. On the other hand, if the trust is created under your revocable trust established during your lifetime, then the inheritance trusts come into play upon your death. Both inheritance trusts are irrevocable; the difference is that the “testamentary” trust requires probate, and the other does not. The fiduciary nominated by you to carry out the probate and administration of your Last Will and Testament is an executor (or personal representative). The executor must first receive permission from the court to carry out the executor’s responsibilities. Their authority to act comes into effect only after the last will has been presented for probate and the court appointments that person to serve. How Do I Select the Best Candidate to Be My Fiduciary? Ordinarily, the person doesn’t need to be a financial expert: pick someone honest and reliable. They can hire experts, but there is no substitute for character. Selecting a fiduciary to take care of your financial and legal decisions at incapacity or death can be more complicated than deciding who you want to inherit your estate. If your family includes multiple marriages or has
Some people think that, because their assets are jointly owned with a spouse or are in a trust, they do not need a Power of Attorney, or that if they become incapacitated, their spouse automatically has the authority to make medical decisions on their behalf.
On March 30 Governor Larry Hogan signed an emergency notary Order allowing documents in Maryland to be signed remotely. This was an emergency order meant the help keep notaries and those people signing documents critical enough to require a notary. It’s unfortunately useless as issued.
“Don’t panic” has been a common refrain from government leaders, public health professionals, and across social media from well-meaning people trying to keep everyone calm during the coronavirus pandemic.
I have appointed my oldest son as agent using a durable power of attorney form I got on the Internet. I want to be sure he understands his responsibilities if he has to manage my money and pay my bills when I become ill.
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.
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”
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: