Powers of Attorney

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WHAT IS ESTATE PLANNING?

WHAT IS ESTATE PLANNING?

WHAT IS ESTATE PLANNING?

               As an experienced estate planning lawyer St. Charles, I spend much of my time explaining to clients what estate planning is and how it works.  Estate planning is the use of legal documents to not only distribute your assets when you pass away, but to name people to make decisions for you if you become disabled and/or incapacitated.

Overview of Estate Planning Documents

Common estate planning documents include a living trust, last will and testament, medical power of attorney, healthcare directive and financial power of attorney.

A living trust can help you avoid probate and provide rules about when your beneficiaries receive their inheritance.  An example would be creating a provision where your beneficiary only receives their inheritance when they reach a certain age.  That age is up to you and depends on your specific situation.

As one of the top estate planning lawyer St. Charles, you can count on me to also review the purpose of having a last will and testament, which is another document which can distribute property when you pass away.  If you have a living trust, the will usually leaves the property to the trust, not directly to a beneficiary.

Power of attorney documents allow you to name a spouse to make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated.  An example would be naming your adult children to do banking for you if you had dementia.  A medical power of attorney could name the same adult child to work with doctors if the dementia advanced to a point where you were considered mentally incapacitated by a doctor.

Choosing the Right Estate Planning Lawyer

You should feel comfort with the skill level and personality of any lawyer you meet with.  Many attorneys practice in too many areas of law, which reduces their effectiveness in all areas of law that they practice.  Therefore, you should focus on choosing a lawyer that practices almost exclusively in this area.

Making estate planning decisions is intensely personal due to everyone having different family dynamics, levels of wealth and health and concerns about the ability of children to make smart decisions if they inherit your nest egg.  There are many different components to determining how your estate plan is created and it’s important that we discuss all of the aspects that help you identify these components.

An initial meeting to discuss your situation will include who should be in charge of distributing your inheritance, who your beneficiaries are and specifics about their personality and what assets you have.  Our focus is always on identifying client concerns and worries, client goals and educating clients on how the documents we are drafting resolve their concerns and accomplish their goals.  If you’re in need of an estate planning lawyer St. Charles, contact Legacy Law Center today.

 

Missouri Healthcare Power Of Attorney

Missouri Healthcare Power Of Attorney

MISSOURI HEALTHCARE POWER OF ATTORNEY: A must-have estate planning document

This article focuses on the importance of having a Missouri healthcare power of attorney and what it does. A Missouri healthcare power of attorney is a document in which you name a power of attorney, called an “agent”, to make healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated and cannot make them yourself.

In Missouri, the document allows you to state whether you want one or two doctors to determine if you are incapacitated. The state standard is two doctors, but you can opt out and decide one.

Once you are incapacitated, your agent can not only meet with your doctors and review your medical records, but decide:

* what type of treatment
* which doctor / which hospital
* whether to put you into skill nursing or other long term care facilities such as assisted living
* whether to put you into hospice, either at home or at a facility
* whether to withhold artificially nutrition and hydration (tube feeding), if you specifically grant that power to your agent

So, in a nutshell, your Missouri healthcare power of attorney literally puts you life into the hands of another person. That should usually be your spouse or an adult child (or children together if you think they can make decisions together). But it’s important to point out that you can choose whoever you want to make these decisions and generally that should be a person nearby who’s judgment you trust and who you are sure will act if necessary.

In the document you can also decide whether you want to donate organs and provide specifics about your wishes as to when you pass away if you want to be buried or cremated and information about the type of funeral services you want. It also contains a HIPAA Waiver which will ensure that your agent can review your medical records as needed and discuss your care with your doctor(s).

You should also have the second part of a Missouri healthcare power of attorney, which is a Missouri healthcare directive (sometimes referred to as a Missouri living will), which at our office is a second part of the healthcare power of attorney document. The point of the healthcare directive is to provide detailed instructions to your agent if you are terminally ill or persistently unconscious (a coma, for example). You want to prevent your agent from having to guess how far to take medical treatment if you are not able to decide and that’s the point of this document. It’s invaluable to provide these instructions to your agent so they don’t have to guess, which puts both of you potentially in a tough spot.

A Missouri healthcare power of attorney document can be drafted by an experienced Missouri estate planning or elder law attorney.

Oscar Nominated Film Highlights Guardianship Issue…

Oscar Nominated Film Highlights Guardianship Issue…

OSCAR NOMINATED FILM HIGHLIGHTS ISSUES FOR GUARDIANS AND TRUSTEES

            The movie “Manchester By the Sea” recently garnered an Oscar award for Casey Affleck, who won “Best Actor”.  In the movie, he plays a man dealing with the loss of his older brother who soon discovers he is the backup guardian and trustee for his nephew.  The guardianship in the issue mainly plays in the background but it highlights what I consider to be a common issue for people who’ve lost a loved one and are suddenly thrust into the role of taking care of legal affairs for the deceased.

The struggles of Affleck in the movie are familiar ones for people who’ve been in that position.  His character is shocked to be in charge, never actually expecting to serve as guardian and trustee.  He struggles immediately to straddle the line between the unfamiliar role of assertive father to his nephew while also trying to find middle ground between the needs of the nephew and his own life.  In particular, Affleck struggles with the prospect of relocating his life back to a place that he left for good reason, all in service of his brother’s wishes.

He struggles with the emotional details of arranging the funeral of his departed brother, including having to delay the burial because it’s the middle of winter.  He has to delay his own grieving process to assist the nephew with his.

It’s actually these struggles that make the movie so moving and well done.

I rarely find myself impressed with how Hollywood portrays legal issues on screen.  From the imaginary fiction that the death of every person require a dramatic reading of their will at a cramped law office to the ridiculously dingy and dim lighting of New York city courts in “Law and Order”, Hollywood mostly fails to find a middle ground between reality and fantasy in its portrayal of legal matters.

This movie is different in that respect.  It captures the essence of the pain of dealing with death, from the obvious standpoint of emotion but also with the pesky details that have to be covered when it happens.

In my own practice, the reality of how my clients choose people to be in charge of their estate plan often takes quite a bit of time with clients.  Part of that reality is a suggestion from me that my clients actually talk to the people that they name as guardians, powers of attorney, trustees and executors.  Seems like common sense but it’s surprising that often people don’t discuss these matters.

Is that a role the chosen person will actually fill if necessary?  Do they have a life now that would allow for time to be effective if they were suddenly the legal guardians of your children?  Are they being chosen just because they’re a relative and nearby?  Are they too old already to serve if the time to serve was a decade away?  Do your children have a close relationship with the person you chose or is it just you that is close to that person?

I will give away one secret about the movie:  Casey is a better actor than his brother.

 

 

A Guide to Caretaking for an Elderly Parent: Part 1 – Estate Planning

A Guide to Caretaking for an Elderly Parent: Part 1 – Estate Planning

A Guide to Caretaking for an Elderly Parent: Part 1 – Estate Planning

One of the first steps a person caring for their elderly parent should look into is whether they have an estate plan.  Do they have a will?  Is there a financial power of attorney?  Does Mom have a healthcare directive or living will?

These are just a few of the questions that Part 1 of my blog post series “A Guide to Caretaking for an Elderly Parent” will discuss.

But first, a reality check.  People in your position often feel embarrassed that they don’t know about Mom or Dad’s finances, the specifics of what medications they take or where they do their banking.  They also feel inadequate that they are not doing enough.  Take solace in knowing that this is very normal.  There is no course in college or many ways to prepare for suddenly becoming the parent for your own parents.  That’s just how it is.  You’re going to need to get used to the fact that this is all new, that’s it’s all happening fast and that you can make mistakes and learn from them.  It’s just like parenting really.  There’s the plan and then there’s life.

Okay, with that out of the way, the first step you need to take is to review what legal documents your parent or parents have put together as part of their estate plan.  Look around the house, ask their financial advisor.  Are you the power of attorney for Dad?  Where is the document?  I advise most clients that I do estate planning for to keep their documents in a place that their family can find them, rather than locked up.  Start with a search with that in mind.

If your parents don’t have any planning, the next step is to meet with an estate planning attorney like myself so they can  determine whether Mom or Dad (or both) have capacity to create an estate plan.  That is, do they have the legal ability to make and understand a power of attorney, a will, a living will or a trust?  An attorney can make that determination after meeting with them.

If they can make an estate plan, get that done as soon as possible.  You’ll need the power of attorney to help them do things like banking, dealing with doctor appointments and filing taxes.

If they do not have capacity, the attorney you meet with may suggest that you get guardianship and perhaps conservatorship over your parent.  That means that you will need to file paperwork in the court where they live to be appointed as the legal decision maker (guardian) and financial decision maker (conservator) for them.  If Mom does not have capacity, a doctor will indicate that by completing documentation supporting your guardianship petition.  The downside is that this may take a couple of months to get resolved.  However, once Letters of Guardianship and Conservatorship are awarded, you may assist your parent with whatever they need.  You are legally in charge of all the decision making related to their lives.

In Part 2 of “A Guide to Caretaking for an Elderly Parent” we will look at a crucial issue:  does Mom or Dad stay at home or do they need to go into long term care?

Family Fighting Over Powers of Attorney…

Family Fighting Over Powers of Attorney…

FAMILY FIGHTING OVER POWERS OF ATTORNEY

Squabbles over who can act on your parent’s behalf through a Power of Attorney and the decisions made in that role can cause problems within any family.

Even when mom or dad plans ahead and creates the Power of Attorney (POA) legal document before they’re impaired by a health condition, there can be ongoing strife among family members.

Sometimes the decision of who to appoint in the Power of Attorney role, from the parent’s standpoint, is very clear and easily made. Parents will put their faith in the oldest child, or choose one child over another based on who lives closest or whom they trust because of their skills, especially with financial decisions.

In my own practice, I often see years of responsible living by one child making all the difference when it comes down to deciding who should be in charge.

In other cases, a parent is suspicious about their child and doesn’t trust them 100 percent with their money. Sometimes if the oldest isn’t chosen, there’s emotional backlash toward parents and siblings because they are insulted by the decision.

In Missouri., multiple people can be appointed Power of Attorney.  The downside to selecting multiple people is that can result in arguments later, if they cannot agree on a decision.  Luckily in Missouri, we allow separate Powers of Attorney for healthcare and financial decisions, so the duties can be separated between siblings.

In some families, having a child in the healthcare field as a doctor or nurse makes it very easy to decide who should be in charge for healthcare decisions in a power of attorney.  The same is true for families with a child who is an accountant or financial advisor.  They make easy selections for who should be in charge for financial decisions in a power of attorney.

Be aware, however, that even if the appointment of POA is smooth and didn’t involve much gnashing of teeth, that doesn’t mean bickering won’t begin once the person granted POA assumes duties related to parents’ financial and medical decisions. Many times, the challenge to the POA happens after the parent passes away, when transactions and other decisions by the POA are second guessed by the other children.

While the parent is still alive, a sibling may try to trump the person appointed POA by saying their parent was incapacitated when making the decision. When that happens, it can result in an expensive guardianship fight in court.

Here are other common situations seen by elder law attorneys:

“The Sibling Rivalry” : An ongoing sibling rivalry can chip away at the “power” that someone granted Power of Attorney holds and cause kids to argue over daily and long-term decisions. When the siblings don’t trust the person granted POA, what I see most often  is constant questioning about decisions. One or multiple siblings may appear to be always on the POA holder’s back, challenging each health care and financial decision.

“Unwilling To Let Go” :  The POA holder must act in the best interest of the person they are representing, even when it comes to making those tough health decisions.  If not, they can be sued.  Having handled these types of cases on both sides, they can be nasty, protracted and expensive.

“Financial Feuds” :  Once siblings start to question what is happening to their ineritance, the battle over finances heads to court, and it can happen whether the parent is alive or has died.

In a frequent scenario, the person appointed POA may decide to pay themselves back for the expenses of caring for a parent, such as driving them to doctor’s appointments and buying food or medications.

In one case I had when I practiced in New Jersey, the only daughter was appointed POA and took care of her mother for years, even as her health sharply declined.  Two brothers, who lived out of state, questioned everything she did, although it was very clear that Mom had decided to reward her daughter in her estate plan by giving her a large share of the estate.  The brothers were incensed but it was clear that years of neglect by her sons had upset her and that she recognized that her daughter going above and beyond and the sacrifices she made for years in taking care of her and making sure her every need was met.

One recommendation I make to clients is that they contact an attorney before the damage within these families becomes permanent.  Often an attorney can act as a buffer between the two sides and bring everyone together.   This not only may salvage the long term relations among family members, but save a lot of emotional turmoil and hurt feelings.