Estate and Longevity Planning
Sunday, March 01, 2015The Basics of Conservatorships
The Basics of Conservatorships
Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. A tragic accident. A sudden, devastating illness. Have you ever wondered what would happen if a loved one became incapacitated and unable to take care of himself? While many associate incapacity with a comatose state, an individual, while technically functioning, may be considered incapacitated if he cannot communicate through speech or gestures and is unable sign a document, even with a mark. In some cases, an individual may have no trouble communicating, but may not be able to fully appreciate the consequences of their decisions and hence may be deemed to lack capacity. With proper incapacity planning which includes important legal documents such as a durable power of attorney, healthcare proxy and living will, the individuals named in such documents are empowered to make necessary financial and medial decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person without obtaining additional legal authorization. Without proper incapacity planning documents, even a spouse or adult child cannot make financial and healthcare decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual. In such cases, a conservatorship (or guardianship) proceeding is necessary so that loved ones are able to provide for their financial and medical healthcare needs.
A conservatorship is a court proceeding where a judge appoints a responsible individual to take care of the adult in question and manage his or her finances and make medical decisions. The court appointed conservator will take over the care of the conservatee (disabled adult). When appropriate, the court may designate an individual “conservator of the estate” to handle the disabled person’s financial needs and another person “guardian” to manage his healthcare needs. One person can also serve as both. If you are planning to serve as someone’s financial conservator, be prepared to possibly post a bond that serves as a safeguard for the conservatee’s estate. Individual states have their own guidelines for conservators, so check your local rules for more information.
To minimize the incidence of mismanagement or fraud, the court holds the conservator legally responsible for providing it with regular reports, called an accounting. Additionally, the conservator may not be able to make any major life or medical decisions without the court’s approval and consent. For example, if you have been named the conservator for a relative, you may not be able to sell his or her house without the approval of the court.
The best safeguard to avoid going through court to get a conservatorship, however, would be to establish a durable financial power of attorney, a power of attorney for healthcare, each authorizing a family member or trusted individual to act on your behalf in case of incapacity. While your agents have a legal obligation to act in your best interest they won’t have to post an expensive bond either. Make sure the power of attorney clearly states that it will be effective even if the principal becomes incapacitated.
Friday, November 07, 2014Issues to Consider When Gifting to Grandchildren
Issues to Consider When Gifting to Grandchildren
Many grandparents who are financially stable love the idea of making gifts to their grandchildren. However, they are usually not aware of the myriad of issues that surround what they may consider to be a simple gift. If you are considering making a significant gift to a grandchild, you should consult with a qualified attorney to guide you through the myriad of legal and tax issues that are involved in making such gifts.
Making a Lifetime Gift or a Bequest: Before making a gift, you should consider whether you want to make the gift during your lifetime or leave the gift in your will. If you make the gift as a bequest in your will, you will not experience the joy of seeing your grandchild’s appreciation and use of the gift. However, there’s always the possibility that you will need the money to live on during your lifetime, and in reality, once a gift is made it cannot be taken back. Also, if you anticipate needing Medicaid or other government programs to pay for a nursing home or other benefits at some point in your life, any gifts you make in the prior five years may result in a period of ineligibility for Medicaid benefits.
What Form Gift Should Take: You may consider making a gift outright to a grandchild. However, once such a gift is made, you give up control over how the funds can be used. If your grandchild decides to purchase a brand-new sports car or take an extravagant vacation, you will have no legal right to stop the grandchild. The grandchild’s parents could also in some cases access the money without your approval.
You could consider making a gift under the Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) or the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA), depending on which state you live in. The accounts are easy to open, but once the grandchild reaches the age of majority, he or she will have unfettered access to the funds. You could also consider depositing money into a 529 plan, which is specifically designed for education purposes. Finally, you could consider establishing a trust with an estate planning attorney, which can be more expensive to set up, but can be customized to fit your needs. Such a trust can provide for spendthrift, divorce and creditor protection while allowing for more flexibility for expenditures such as education or purchase of a first home.
Tax Consequences: If you have a large estate, giving gifts to grandchildren may be a great way to get money out of your estate in order to reduce your future estate tax liability. In addition, a person can give $14,000 in 2014 to any number of individuals without incurring any gift taxes. A grandparent with 10 grandchildren could give $140,000 per year to all grandchildren (and a married couple could give $280,000), thereby removing that property from his or her estate. However, as noted above if though such gifts are excluded from gift taxes they would still result in a period of disqualification for Medicaid if made within 5 years of applying for Medicaid.
Sunday, August 31, 2014Removal of a Trustee
Removal of a Trustee
In creating a trust, the trustmaker must name a trustee who has the legal obligation to administer it in accordance with the trustmaker’s wishes and intentions. In some cases, after the passing of the trustmaker, loved ones or beneficiaries may want to remove the designated trustee.
The process to remove a trustee largely depends on two factors: 1) language contained with the trust and 2) state law. When determining your options, there are a number of issues and key considerations to keep in mind.
First, it is possible that the trust language grants you the specific right to remove the named trustee. If it does, it likely will also outline how you must do so and whether you must provide a reason you want to remove them. Second, if the trust does not grant you the right to remove the trustee, it may grant another person the right to remove. Sometimes that other person may serve in the role of what is known as a "trust protector" or "trust advisor." If that is in the trust document you should speak to that person and let them know why you want the trustee removed. They would need to decide if they should do so or not. Finally, if neither of those is an option, your state law may have provisions that permit you to remove a trustee. However, it may be that you will have to file a petition with a court and seek a court order. You should hire an attorney to research this for you and advise you of the likelihood of success.
Another option may be to simply ask the named trustee to resign. They may do so voluntarily.
Assuming the trustee is removed, whether by you, a trust protector, or by court order, or if the trustee resigns, the next issue is who is to serve as the successor trustee. Again, looking at the terms of the trust should answer that question. Perhaps a successor is specifically named or perhaps the trust provides the procedure to appoint the successor. Before proceeding, you will want to make certain you know who will step-in as the new trustee.
Sunday, July 27, 2014The Sandwich Generation
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ – Taking Care of Your Kids While Taking Care of Your Parents
“The sandwich generation” is the term given to adults who are raising children and simultaneously caring for elderly or infirm parents. Your children are one piece of “bread,” your parents are the other piece of “bread,” and you are “sandwiched” into the middle.
Caring for parents at the same time as you care for your children, your spouse and your job is exhausting and will stretch every resource you have. And what about caring for yourself? Not surprisingly, most sandwich generation caregivers let self-care fall to the bottom of the priorities list which may impair your ability to care for others.
Following are several tips for sandwich generation caregivers.
- Hold an all-family meeting regarding your parents. Involve your parents, your parents’ siblings, and your own siblings in a detailed conversation about the present and future. If you can, make joint decisions about issues like who can physically care for your parents, who can contribute financially and how much, and who should have legal authority over your parents’ finances and health care decisions if they become unable to make decisions for themselves. Your parents need to share all their financial and health care information with you in order for the family to make informed decisions. Once you have that information, you can make a long-term financial plan.
- Hold another all-family meeting with your children and your parents. If you are physically or financially taking care of your parents, talk about this honestly with your children. Involve your parents in the conversation as well. Talk – in an age-appropriate way – about the changes that your children will experience, both positive and challenging.
- Prioritize privacy. With multiple family members living under one roof, privacy – for children, parents, and grandparents – is a must. If it is not be feasible for every family member to have his or her own room, then find other ways to give everyone some guaranteed privacy. “The living room is just for Grandma and Grandpa after dinner.” “Our teenage daughter gets the downstairs bathroom for as long as she needs in the mornings.”
- Make family plans. There are joys associated with having three generations under one roof. Make the effort to get everyone together for outings and meals. Perhaps each generation can choose an outing once a month.
- Make a financial plan, and don’t forget yourself. Are your children headed to college? Are you hoping to move your parents into an assisted living facility? How does your retirement fund look? If you are caring for your parents, your financial plan will almost certainly have to be revised. Don’t leave yourself and your spouse out of the equation. Make sure to set aside some funds for your own retirement while saving for college and elder health care.
- Revise your estate plan documents as necessary. If you had named your parents guardians of your children in case of your death, you may need to find other guardians. You may need to set up trusts for your parents as well as for your children. If your parent was your power of attorney, you may have to designate a different person to act on your behalf.
Seek out and accept help. Help for the elderly is well organized in the United States. Here are a few governmental and nonprofit resources:
- www.benefitscheckup.org – Hosted by the National Council on Aging, this website is a one-stop shop for determining which federal, state and local benefits your parents may qualify for
- www.eldercare.gov – Sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging
- www.caremanager.org -- National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
- www.nadsa.org – National Adult Day Services Association
Saturday, May 10, 2014A Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney
A Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney? Or Do I Need Both?
Many people are confused by these two important estate planning documents. It’s important to understand the functions of each and ensure you are fully protected by incorporating both of these documents into your overall estate plan.
A “living will,” often called an advance health care directive, is a legal document setting forth your wishes for end-of-life medical care, in the event you are unable to communicate your wishes yourself. The safest way to ensure that your own wishes will determine your future medical care is to execute an advance directive stating what your wishes are. In some states, the advance directive is only operative if you are diagnosed with a terminal condition and life-sustaining treatment merely artificially prolongs the process of dying, or if you are in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
A durable power of attorney for health care, also referred to as a healthcare proxy, is a document in which you name another person to serve as your health care agent. This person is authorized to speak on your behalf in order to consent to – or refuse – medical treatment if your doctor determines that you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. A durable power of attorney for health care can be operative at any time you designate, not just when your condition is terminal.
For maximum protection, it is strongly recommended that you have both a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. The power of attorney affords you flexibility, with an agent who can express your wishes and respond accordingly to any changes in your medical condition. Your agent should base his or her decisions on any written wishes you have provided, as well as familiarity with you. The advance directive is necessary to guide health care providers in the event your agent is unavailable. If your agent’s decisions are ever challenged, the advance directive can also serve as evidence that your agent is acting in good faith and in accordance with your wishes.
Sunday, February 23, 2014Guardianships & Conservatorships and How to Avoid Them
Guardianships & Conservatorships and How to Avoid Them
If a person becomes mentally or physically handicapped to a point where they can no longer make rational decisions about their person or their finances, their loved ones may consider a guardianship or a conservatorship whereby a guardian would make decisions concerning the physical person of the disabled individual, and conservators make decisions about the finances.
Typically, a loved one who is seeking a guardianship or a conservatorship will petition the appropriate court to be appointed guardian and/or conservator. The court will most likely require a medical doctor to make an examination of the disabled individual, also referred to as the ward, and appoint an attorney to represent the ward’s interests. The court will then typically hold a hearing to determine whether a guardianship and/or conservatorship should be established. If so, the ward would no longer have the ability to make his or her own medical or financial decisions. The guardian and/or conservator usually must file annual reports on the status of the ward and his finances.
Guardianships and conservatorships can be an expensive legal process, and in many cases they are not necessary or could be avoided with a little advance planning. One way is with a financial power of attorney, and advance directives for healthcare such as living wills and durable powers of attorney for healthcare. With those documents, a mentally competent adult can appoint one or more individuals to handle his or her finances and healthcare decisions in the event that he or she can no longer take care of those things. A living trust is also a good way to allow someone to handle your financial affairs – you can create the trust while you are alive, and if you become incompetent someone else can manage your property on your behalf.
In addition to establishing durable powers of attorney and advanced healthcare directives, it is often beneficial to apply for representative payee status for government benefits. If a person gets VA benefits, Social Security or Supplemental Security Income, the Social Security Administration or the Veterans’ Administration can appoint a representative payee for the benefits without requiring a conservatorship. This can be especially helpful in situations in which the ward owns no assets and the only income is from Social Security or the VA.
When a loved one becomes mentally or physically handicapped to the point of no longer being able to take care of his or her own affairs, it can be tough for loved ones to know what to do. Fortunately, the law provides many options for people in this situation.
Sunday, December 15, 2013Should you withdraw your Social Security benefits early?
Should you withdraw your Social Security benefits early?
You don’t have to be retired to dip into your Social Security benefits which are available to you as early as age 62. But is the early withdrawal worth the costs?
A quick visit to the U.S. Social Security Administration Retirement Planner website can help you figure out just how much money you’ll receive if you withdraw early. The benefits you will collect before reaching the full retirement age of 66 will be less than your full potential amount.
The reduction of benefits in early withdrawal is based upon the amount of time you currently are from full retirement age. If you withdraw at the earliest point of age 62, you will receive 25% less than your full benefits. If you were born after 1960, that amount is 30%. At 63, the reduction is around 20%, and it continues to decrease as you approach the age of 66.
Withdrawing early also presents a risk if you think there is a chance you may go back to work. Excess earnings may be cause for the Social Security Administration to withhold some benefits. Though a special rule is in existence that withholding cannot be applied for one year during retired months, regardless of yearly earnings, extended working periods can result in decreased benefits. The withheld benefits, however, will be taken into consideration and recalculated once you reach full retirement age.
If you are considering withdrawing early from your retirement accounts, it is important to consider both age and your particular benefits. If you are unsure of how much you will receive, you can look to your yearly statement from Social Security. Social Security Statements are sent out to everyone over the age of 25 once a year, and should come in the mail about three months before your birthday. You can also request a copy of the form by phone or the web, or calculate your benefits yourself through programs that are available online at www.ssa.gov/retire.
The more you know about your benefits, the easier it will be to make a well-educated decision about when to withdraw. If you can afford to, it’s often worth it to wait. Ideally, if you have enough savings from other sources of income to put off withdrawing until after age 66, you will be rewarded with your full eligible benefits.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013You’ve Finally Done Your Healthcare Directives – Now What?
Healthcare directives can be vitally important, as recent cases, like that of Terry Schiavo, clearly brought to light. These important documents can mean the difference between your health care wishes being carried out or family members fighting over whether a loved one should be placed in a nursing home or removed from life support.
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Sunday, September 08, 2013When Should You Make a Medical Durable Power of Attorney
In my last blog post, I wrote about designating a patient advocate in Michigan with a Medical Durable Power of Attorney. This post is about when that should be done.
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Monday, September 02, 2013The Medical Durable Power of Attorney in Michigan
One of the important components of a longevity and estate plan is the creation of legal instruments for medical and other personal care decisions.
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Monday, March 04, 2013Legal Whirl
Mike, age 56, was upset. He had just gotten off the telephone with the realtor who was handling the sale of his parents’ home. The realtor told him the title company refused to accept the power of attorney that Mike had gotten for his father, Robert.
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Estate Planning & Elder Law News
Elder Law attorney Andrew Byers assists clients in Auburn Hills, MI and throughout Oakland County, MI including Rochester Hills, Rochester, Troy, Bloomfield Township, Lake Orion, Oxford, Waterford, Clarkston, Independence Township, and Pontiac, as well as throughout the metropolitan Detroit area, including Macomb County and Wayne County, Michigan.