Thursday, May 07, 2015Dangers of Joint Tenancy in Estate Planning
I am a widow. Should I add my daughter to my bank accounts?
Joint ownership of real estate or accounts – which is known as “joint tenancy” – may seem convenient at the outset, particularly if it is becoming difficult to pay bills and manage household finances properly. However, a joint tenancy can quickly undo an estate plan, allowing for an unintentional windfall to one beneficiary while the others are left with little. Consider the following example of joint tenancy gone awry, which is an all-too-common scenario, particularly for those with well-meaning children looking to help ease the burden for aging parents:
Jane was married for 52 years, and is facing some difficulty in managing her household finances following the death of her husband. Thinking it would be more convenient for everyone, Jane added her daughter Sheila to several of her accounts at the local bank – including her checking and savings accounts. For the next decade, Sheila dutifully helped her mother pay the modest monthly bills. During this time, proceeds from Social Security, her husband’s pension, and an annuity began to accrue in the savings account.
Upon Jane’s death, her Last Will and Testament directed that the entirety of her estate be divided into four portions, one for each of her children. However, as joint tenant on the savings account, Sheila became sole owner – and the recipient of more than $175,000 in cash.
As the above example hopefully illustrates, leaving high-value assets (including homes, cars, boats, and accounts) titled jointly with other individuals can quickly undo an estate plan. Fortunately, there are other options to consider if assistance with bills and financial transactions is an issue.
In the above example, Jane could have easily executed a power of attorney in favor of Sheila, which would have given her daughter access to Jane’s accounts and assets in order to help effectuate the typical household financial transactions. If competency is an issue, it may be necessary for Sheila to obtain a guardianship over her mother, which would also allow her to help with legal and financial transactions once Jane is not mentally competent to execute a power of attorney.
For more information about joint tenancy, and alternatives to this option, please contact experienced estate planning attorney Andrew Byers by calling (248)301-1511. His office is proud to serve clients in Auburn Hills and throughout Oakland County, Michigan.
Monday, April 20, 2015Young and Ill, without Advance Directives
Young and Ill, without Advance Directives
When you are a child, your parents serve as your decision makers. They have ultimate say in where you go to school, what extracurricular activities you partake in and where, and how, you should be treated in the event of a medical emergency. While most parents continue to play a huge role in their children’s lives long after they reach adulthood, they lose legal decision-making authority on that 18th birthday. Most young adults don't contemplate who can act on their behalf once this transfer of power occurs, and consequently they fail to prepare advance directives.
In the event of a medical emergency, if a young adult is conscious and competent to make decisions, the doctors will ask the patient about his or her preferred course of treatment. Even if the individual is unable to speak, he or she may still be able to communicate by using hand signals or even blinking one’s eyes in response to questions.
But what happens in instances where the young adult is incapacitated and unable to make decisions? Who will decide on the best course of treatment? Without advance directives, the answer to this question can be unclear, often causing the family of the incapacitated person emotional stress and financial hardship.
In instances of life threatening injury or an illness that requires immediate care, the doctors will likely do all they can to treat the patient as aggressively as possible, relying on the standards of care to decide on the best course of treatment. However, if there is no "urgent" need to treat they will look to someone else who has authority to make those decisions on behalf of the young individual. Most states have specific statutes that list who has priority to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual, when there are no advance directives in place. Many states favor a spouse, adult children, and parents in a list of priority. Doctors will generally try to get in touch with the patient’s "next of kin" to provide the direction necessary for treatment.
A number of recent high-profile court cases remind us of the dangers of relying on state statues to determine who has the authority to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the ill. What happens if the parents of the incapacitated disagree on the best course of treatment? Or what happens if the patient is estranged from her spouse but technically still married- will he have ultimate say? For most, the thought is unsettling.
To avoid the unknown, it’s highly recommended that all adults, regardless of age, work with an estate planning attorney to prepare advance directives including a health care power of attorney (or health care proxy) as well as a living will which outline their wishes and ensure compliance with all applicable state statutes.
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.
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, 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.
Read more . . .
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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Sunday, February 17, 2013Guardianship for the Uncooperative Elderly
Susan was upset. She had just gotten off the telephone with adult protective services. Someone made a report that Ted, her 82 year old father, was being neglected. Adult protective services had then visited Ted’s home unannounced and without notice to Susan.
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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.