Durable Power of Attorney

Still Wondering Why You Need to Review Your Estate Plan?

One of the most common mistakes in estate planning is thinking of the estate plan, as being completed and never needing to be reviewed. That is similar to taking your car for an oil change and then simply never returning for another oil change. The years go by, your life changes and you need to review your estate plan.

The question posed by the New Hampshire Union Leader in the article “It’s important to periodically review your estate plan” is not if you need to have your estate plan reviewed, but when.

Most people get their original wills and other documents from their estate planning attorney, put them into their safe deposit box or a fire-safe file drawer and forget about them. There are no laws governing when these documents should be reviewed, so whether or when to review the estate is completely up to the individual. That often leads to unintended consequences that can cause the wrong person to inherit, fracture the family and leave heirs with a large tax liability.

A better idea: review your estate plan on a regular basis. For some people with complicated lives and assets, that means once a year. For others, every three or four years works. Some reviews are triggered by changes in life, including:

  • Marriage or divorce
  • Death
  • Large changes in the size of the estate
  • A significant increase in debt
  • The death of an executor, guardian or trustee
  • Birth or adoption of children or grandchildren
  • Change in career, good or bad
  • Retirement
  • Health crisis
  • Changes in tax laws
  • Changes in relationships to beneficiaries and heirs
  • Moving to another state or purchasing property in another state
  • Receiving a sizable inheritance

What should you be thinking about, as you review your estate plan? Here are some suggestions:

Have there been any changes to your relationships with family members?

Are any family members facing challenges or does anyone have special needs?

Are there children from a previous marriage and what do their lives look like?

Are the people you named for various roles—power of attorney, personal representative, guardian and trustees—still the people you want making decisions and acting on your behalf?

Does your estate plan include a durable power of attorney for healthcare, a valid living will, or if you want this, a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order?

Has your estate plan addressed the possible need for Medicaid?

Do you know who your beneficiary designations are for your accounts and are your beneficiary designations still correct? Your beneficiaries will receive assets outside of the will and nothing you put in the will can change the distribution of those assets.

Have you aligned your assets with your estate plan? Do certain accounts pass directly to a spouse or an heir? Have you funded any trusts?

Finally, have changes in the tax laws changed your estate plan? Your estate planning attorney should look at your state, as well as federal tax liability.

Just as you can’t plant a garden once and expect it to grow and bloom forever, your estate plan needs to be reviewed, so that it can protect your interests as your life and your family’s life changes over time. Our experienced estate planning attorneys can review your existing estate plan to determine if your goals are still being met.

Reference: New Hampshire Union Leader (Jan. 12, 2019) “It’s important to periodically review your estate plan”

Power of Attorney: Do You Have One?

Wise incompetency planning usually includes the execution of a power of attorney. This document names an agent who can sign checks, pay bills and make other financial decisions in your stead.

FEDWeek’s recent article, “Guarding against the Chance of Incapacity,” suggests that, rather than a “regular” power of attorney, you may prefer a durable power of attorney or a springing power of attorney.

A durable power of attorney can designate a trusted friend, a close relative or an advisor to sign documents if you are unable to make knowledgeable decisions. These documents stay in effect if you become incapacitated.

Springing powers of attorney take effect, only if one or more physicians say that you’re incompetent, such as being unable to handle your own financial affairs. It is important to remember that a springing power doesn’t take effect as long as you’re competent.

While there are some costs involved in executing a power of attorney, those legal fees will be fairly modest.

Your durable power of attorney document must be notarized, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be recorded anywhere unless required by state law. You select the individual you want to handle your affairs, in case of incapacity.

You must have absolute trust in the person you name as your agent for these documents.

It’s important to know that there are financial institutions that will not accept your power of attorney form because they require the use of their own forms. Be proactive and send a copy of your form to each of your banks, brokers, mutual funds and other account administrators to determine whether there will be any problem. It’s better to know in advance and be prepared than to have your designated person unable to act on your behalf.

In addition, some companies don’t want to recognize old powers. You can provide an expiration date on the document and update it every year or two, to be sure that it’s consistent with your current wishes.

You can read more about powers of attorney in our blog post titled Is Your Estate Plan on Track?

Reference: FEDWeek (January 17, 2019) “Guarding against the Chance of Incapacity”

Am I Too Young to Start Thinking About Estate Planning?

Many people believe they’re too young to begin thinking about estate planning. Others say they don’t have significant enough assets to make the process of planning worthwhile.

However, the truth is that everyone needs estate planning. If you have any assets, and you intend to give those assets to a loved one, you need to have a plan.

Forbes’s article, “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist,” examines some important topics in estate planning.

The first of topic is a durable power of attorney for property, finances and health care. This document allows you to designate a trusted individual to make decisions and take action on your behalf with matters relating to each of the three areas above.

In addition to the importance of having all powers of attorney readily available, in case you become incapable of making decisions, beneficiary designations should also be looked at frequently to update any changes to family situations, like a birth or adoption, death, marriage or divorce.

Another topic to address is a living trust. A trust will give direction regarding where and how the assets are dispersed when you die. A great reason to use a living trust is that the assets in a trust do not pass through probate court, which can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

Another area is digital assets. It’s critical for your heirs to have access to digital files, passwords, and documents. Digital assets can be easy to overlook. Create a list of your digital assets, including social media accounts, online banking accounts and home utilities you manage online. Include all email and communications accounts, shopping accounts, photo and video sharing accounts, video gaming accounts, online storage accounts, and websites and blogs that you manage. This list should be clear and updated for your heirs to access.

If we fail to plan for these somewhat uncomfortable topics, the outcome will be stressful and expensive for our heirs. Our experienced estate planning attorneys can answer any questions you have and assist you with making sure your estate planning goals are met with positive outcomes.

Reference: Forbes (January 4, 2019) “Reviewing Your Financial And Estate Planning Checklist”

How Can I Protect a Loved One From Elder Abuse?

The (Lorain OH) Morning Journal’s recent article, “How to protect elder loved ones from abuse,” reports that the National Center on Elder Abuse says the 2010 census showed the largest number and proportion of people are 65 years old and older in the U.S. population with 40.3 million people, or about 13% of the population. By 2050, that number is expected to more than double to 83.7 million.

A 2010 national study found that financial abuse is the most commonly reported form of elder abuse followed by potential neglect, emotional mistreatment, physical mistreatment, and sexual mistreatment. With financial abuse and neglect, the courts often must get involved to limit the damage and try to get the elderly person the help they need.

When looking for elder abuse in family or friends, look for changes in their circumstances. A neighbor may become more isolated or is making decisions that are potentially harmful to themselves. There’s also self-neglect, where a senior isn’t taking good care of themselves. “New people” in their lives may also be a risk. They may want to assume control over the senior’s person’s life and exclude other people who have had longstanding relationships with the person.

Financial exploitation can take many different forms. Isolation is a critical component of financial exploitation. If a senior is isolated from the people who’ve helped them make financial decisions in the past, and then a new person comes along, that individual may try to make financial decisions for their own gain.

If you think a loved one or neighbor is suffering from elder abuse, start by just talking to them. Talk to them about some of the changes you’ve seen.

Some people are required by law to report elder abuse, and that list has recently expanded to include chiropractors, dentists, ambulance drivers, coroners and member of the clergy, among many others.

A judge can freeze a bank account and suspend powers of attorney. She can also order evaluations and require that Medicaid and Medicare applications be made for the adult. A judge can continue her orders up to six months and appoint guardians.

The best way to keep loved ones safe from this kind of elder abuse is to make sure that important legal documents like a will and powers of attorney are done while the person is still competent, and that people they trust are named to carry out those documents.

Reference: The (Lorain OH) Morning Journal (December 26, 2018) “How to protect elder loved ones from abuse”

Here’s More Insight into Why Estate Planning is Critical

Fox 5 NY says in the article “Why estate planning is important regardless of your age or wealth” that this is a great time to begin talking to your loved ones about estate planning, especially older relatives and parents.

The key to a successful discussion depends upon the right approach.

Try to always make suggestions, rather than demands. One great way to start the conversation with family members is to mention what you’re doing. You might say something like, “I just took care of my own estate planning. Have you done anything? Maybe we should talk about it.” That might get the conversation rolling.

Many people believe that, as they get older, they need a will. However, that’s just one piece of the puzzle: core estate planning includes a will, power of attorney, health care proxy and asset protection.

For most of us, the asset we most want to protect is our home. One of the best ways to do that is through an irrevocable trust. This trust may have tax advantages, could protect your home during a healthcare crisis and protect your home from your children’s creditors.

You also need to find people you trust to help with finances and health care. A power of attorney is a legal document in which you grant a person the authority to handle finances on your behalf.

Similarly, a healthcare proxy is an individual who makes healthcare decisions, if you get sick or are in an accident and can’t make decisions for yourself.

You can use one person to do both or separate individuals for each role. You can opt for a family member or a trusted friend. However, either way, it should probably be a younger person, who won’t be dealing with the same aging issues as you.

You should also note that your will doesn’t cover everything. Another important part of estate planning is making certain that any beneficiaries designated in your retirement plans or life insurance and any additional names on joint bank accounts are current. The beneficiaries you appointed by a designation form will get the money in those accounts, no matter what it says in your will.

If all of this sounds a bit complex, don’t worry because our experienced estate planning and elder law attorneys can help you with all of the forms and all of your questions. Just understand these three things before you visit our elder law firm: your assets, whose names are on the accounts and your wishes.

Reference: Fox 5 NY (December 12, 2018) “Why estate planning is important regardless of your age or wealth”

Proper Estate Planning Can Prevent Family Fights

The (Washington, PA) Observer-Reporter’s recent article, “Improper estate planning can lead to familial conflict” explains that some of your possessions will pass through probate. If you own property in several states, the process could become more difficult for your loved ones. A way to simplify the process for them is by having an updated will.

Research shows that about 60% of U.S. adults don’t have a will.

However, not all of your possessions pass through a will. 401(k)s, life insurance proceeds, pensions, and annuities pass by beneficiary designation.

For instance, even if your will states that all of your possessions are to be split equally between your two children, this may not be what occurs. If your life insurance lists only Bob as the beneficiary, he’ll walk off with 100% of the death benefit. Your younger son Doug will receive only half of the assets that don’t have a beneficiary designation. Assets that pass by designation are not controlled by the will. That is why Bob gets all the money from the insurance. As you can see, it’s vital that you review your accounts’ beneficiary designations regularly, to make certain they’re up to date. Check on them every few years or when there’s a family divorce, birth, or death. Once you’re gone, changes cannot be made.

In addition, comprehensive estate planning should include two powers of attorney (POA). The first POA is to make health decisions. The second POA is to make financial decisions if you don’t have the capacity to do so. Your POA agent has your authority to make decisions, only when you do not have the capacity and she can only exercise it for your benefit. POAs end at the drafter’s death.

It’s common today for families to have blended elements. Many people were married before and may have had children. Here’s an example of a famous father who made his third wife executor of his estate, giving her control of his business. In this case, his equally famous son was the principal player in the father’s business. The son didn’t understand the implications of his father’s estate plan. When the father died, there was a long and expensive legal battle between the son and the third wife.

Who was it? It was Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Work with our experienced estate planning attorneys to draft a comprehensive estate plan that clearly indicates your goals and wishes. Having a straightforward estate plan will go a long way in preventing fighting amongst your family.

Reference: The (Washington, PA) Observer-Reporter (December 7, 2018) “Improper estate planning can lead to familial conflict”

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan?

Investopedia’s recent article, “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important,” says you should think about the following four reasons you should have an estate plan. According to the article, doing so can help avoid potentially devastating consequences for your family.

  1. An Estate Plan Keeps Your Assets from Going to Unintended Beneficiaries. Families need to plan in the event something unfortunate happens to a family’s breadwinner(s). A primary part of estate planning is choosing heirs for your assets. Without an estate plan, a judge will decide who gets your assets. This process can take years and can get heated. There’s no guarantee the judge will automatically rule that the surviving spouse gets everything.
  2. An Estate Plan Protects Your Young Children. If you are the parent of minor children, you need to name their guardians, in the event that both parents die before the children turn 18. Without including this in your will (in most, but not all states), the courts will make this decision.
  3. An Estate Plan Eliminates a Large Tax Burden for Your Heirs. Estate planning means protecting your loved ones—that also entails providing them with protection from the IRS. Your estate plan should transfer assets to your heirs and create the smallest tax burden as possible for them. Without a plan, the amount your heirs will owe the government could be substantial.
  4. An Estate Plan Reduces Family Headaches After You’ve Passed. There are plenty of horror stories about how the family starts fighting after the death of a loved one. You can avoid this. One way is to carefully choose who controls your finances and assets, if you become mentally incapacitated or after you die. This goes a long way towards eliminating family strife and making certain that your assets are handled in the way you want.

If you want to protect your assets and your loved ones after you’re gone, you need an estate plan. Without one, your heirs could face large tax burdens and the courts could decide how your assets are divided or who will care for your children. Our estate planning attorneys can help you create an estate plan to take care of your loved ones.

Reference: Investopedia (May 25, 2018) “4 Reasons Estate Planning Is So Important”

Estate Planning Documents You Need While Living

Statistically, we know without a doubt that we are all going to die. That’s 100% certain. However, we know that the chances of becoming disabled are also high. For that reason, everyone should have a Power of Attorney, or POA, as well as a will. In fact, says nwi.com in the article “Estate Planning: 3 important estate planning docs, and 2 maybes,” everyone should have a POA, a will, an advanced medical directive and more specifically, a living will.

How many times have you heard the story about someone’s aging mom becoming disabled and the hospital asking if she has a POA? The problem is we’re so reluctant to ask mom about a POA, that we tend to neglect this difficult conversation. Then, when we are faced with a medical emergency, it’s too late.

The time to have a POA created, is before an emergency or health crisis, not afterwards!

In a medical emergency, people are actually far more likely to become disabled or incapacitated than they are to die. Therefore, you need a POA.

The living will is an equally important estate planning document to have in advance of an emergency. With a living will to provide instructions for when you are terminally ill, and death is expected to occur in the very near future, you will have had the opportunity to state your wishes regarding medical care in advance.

A living will should be part of your estate plan.

The third must-have estate planning document is a will. The will is the document where you tell your heirs exactly how you want your assets distributed. If you have children who are not yet of legal age, you name a guardian for them in your will.

One “maybe” document is a trust. Trusts are used to protect assets. There are many different types of trusts. An estate planning attorney, the same one who will help you with your POA, living will and will, can also help with trusts, if you should need one. They are not simple to set up and you’ll want to get the one that best fits your needs.

Another document is called a “letter of instruction.” This is a set of directions that you leave to your family that tells them what you would like to happen. It’s not legally binding, so it falls into the “maybe” document category. However, you may find it satisfying to put down on paper what you would like them to know, what you would like them to remember, etc.

If you want to dictate your funeral, memorial services and the like, work with an estate planning attorney to execute a funeral planning declaration. This document can be legally enforced.

Remember, the laws about estate plans vary by state, so you’ll want to speak with our estate planning attorneys to ensure that your wishes, your documents and your estate plan will be properly prepared.

Reference: nwi.com (Nov. 25, 2018) “Estate Planning: 3 important estate planning docs, and 2 maybes”

More than a Will: What Else Should Your Estate Plan Include?

A will is the cornerstone of an estate plan, but it is by no means the only document needed to distribute assets and prepare for both incapacity and death. The Island Now reviews a number of things that an estate plan should address in the article “Five things that will impact your will.”

How are your bank accounts structured? If you have a bank account set up as “joint with right of survivorship,” when one of the owners dies, the other owner automatically inherits the whole account. Remember that this will occur, no matter what is stated in the will. If you have added a child to that account for convenience, is it your wish that the child should inherit the entire account? That’s exactly what will happen. You may be better off letting a child help you, using Power of Attorney rather than structuring the account that way.

When was the last time you reviewed beneficiary designations? Like titling bank accounts, as explained above, the beneficiary designation takes precedence over anything in your will. If you opened an IRA at your first job and now two decades—and two marriages—have passed, that IRA will still be passed on to the person who you named two decades ago, unless you have updated the beneficiary name. Accounts that often pass directly to beneficiaries include life insurance, annuities, 401(k), 403(b), brokerage accounts and some bank accounts.

Each asset that has a beneficiary, should also have a contingency beneficiary in the chance that the primary predeceases you or does not wish to receive the asset.

Are you prepared for the cost of a health crisis? The cost of a health crisis can, and often does, wipe out a family’s years of retirement savings. There are several strategies that an estate planning attorney can help you with to plan in advance for this. Long-term care insurance may be an option and placing assets in an irrevocable trust may be another, depending on your situation. There is a five-year look-back for any Medicaid benefits, so preparing a comprehensive estate plan in advance is critical.

For many families, placing their primary residence into a trust while retaining the right to live in the home, retaining any STAR or Veteran’s exemptions and possibly even securing capital gains advantages for heirs is a possibility but requires the help of a skilled estate planning attorney, like those at Krause Donovan Estate Law Partners, LLC.

Is gifting part of your estate plan? Most people know about the annual exclusion gift, which allows anyone to make a gift in the amount of $15,000 per year to a beneficiary with no gift tax consequences. However, if you need to apply for Medicaid coverage within a five-year period, any gift will trigger a waiting period before you can be eligible for Medicaid. Therefore, you can make a gift for tax purposes but it’s not something you can do for Medicaid planning. This is an expensive mistake. Talk with our estate planning attorneys to make sure you get this one right.

Who is your Power of Attorney? Everyone should have a Power of Attorney. This is a person who is your legal representative, if you become incapacitated. The durable power of attorney gives your agent the authority to handle banking matters, real estate transactions and other financial matters. You’ll also need a health care proxy and a living will.

All these issues are part of a comprehensive estate plan, which is best created with our experienced estate planning and elder law attorneys.

Reference: The Island Now (Nov. 12, 1018) “Five things that will impact your will”

Can a Substitution Be Named for a Power of Attorney?

Naming a trusted individual, whether a family member or a friend, to be your power of attorney is a significant decision. That person has the power to make financial decisions on your behalf, when you are unable to do so. It is, therefore, a serious responsibility, says My San Antonio Life in the article “Substitution of Agent and Delegation of Authority.”

Here’s an example of what can go wrong. A man’s father signed a durable power of attorney a decade ago, naming his son as his agent in preparation for the possibility that the time would come when he could no longer make decisions on his own. He is now living in a nursing home and is not always clear in his mind. His son wishes to sell his father’s car. However, the car dealership is not accepting the power of attorney.

Here’s the twist: the dealership wants the son to assign one of its employees as the father’s agent, so they can sign papers for the elderly man relating to the sale of the car.

That’s a big red flag. First, the son is unlikely to have the right to assign a different person to have the power to represent his father.

The statute behind the durable power of authority does not authorize delegation of authority.

The authority granted to the son is personal—meaning it was intended for his own personal judgment and discretion be used to represent his father, not someone else.

The legal concept of substitution is not used very often. In Texas, a court case dates back to 1866, Smith v. Sublett, that holds that the “the doctrine in relation to substitution is, that the authority is exclusively personal, unless from the express language used, or from their presumption growing out of the particular transactions, or of the usage of trade, a broader power was to be conferred upon the agent.”

In other words, unless the language in the power of attorney said the person could substitute someone else in a specific transaction, the power rests solely with the person named.

There was a change to the law in Texas in 2017, and it introduced two important concepts.

The third party must either accept the durable power of attorney or have valid grounds for refusing it, and the person naming the agent (in this case, the father) must have authorized the agent (the son) to delegate various actions to others.

Speak with our estate planning attorneys about what to do with the sale of the car through the use of power of attorney. If you run into a situation like this, consider finding another car dealer.

Reference: My San Antonio Life (Oct. 30, 2018) “Substitution of Agent and Delegation of Authority.”

Suggested Key Terms: Power of Attorney, Substitution, Assignment, Durable, Estate Planning Attorney Madison, Wisconsin Estate Planning Lawyer,

Scroll to Top