Easy Steps for Estate Planning

Most people don’t have a will, never mind an estate plan. Planning your estate is an essential part of preparing for your later years in life. Before you start planning your estate make sure you have a will. If you don’t have a will at the time of your death your entire estate will end up in probate court. This means that the family you leave behind will have to fight to gain control of any of your assets. All of your important documents should be in one place. Consider a health care proxy, also known as a living will. Your living will should have a strong power of attorney that will ensure that your wishes will be carried out in the event that you’re unable to speak for yourself in a medical emergency or an accident.

Beware of online “do it yourself” programs. These software packages will get you started with your estate planning but you’ll want to hire an attorney to help you complete the form and legalize your signature. Your attorney will also be able to help you review your estate and guide you in making the right decisions. Your last will and testament will have to be notarized by yourself and by witnesses. Signatory laws will differ and depend on where you live. Make sure that one of your beneficiaries doesn’t sign as a witness.

If you have already set up an estate plan make sure that you review it on a regular basis. You’ll want to make changes to your estate and will when there are changes to your life such as divorce, marriage, the death of your spouse, the birth of a child, adoption, or when you move from one state to another. Have a clear list of all your assets and liabilities. Remember that your liabilities will have to be paid when you die. The remainder, less probate and administrative costs, will go to your beneficiaries. It will be up to you to decide what portion of your assets each of your beneficiaries receives.

Choose an executor who can manage your estate from the time of your death until the time that all of your assets have been dispersed. The executor needs to have the ability to manage your estate as well as the time to do so. Don’t forget to appoint a guardian for your children. Guardianship is a big issue and should be discussed with whomever you want to appoint for this important duty. Remember that planning your estate is probably a lot less complicated than you may think it is. Take the time to be prepared for your death by planning your estate today.

Estate Planning for Your Children

If you have minor children, estate planning is a very important step when it comes to planning for your death. Failing to name guardians for your children in your will can lead to custody issues that are easy to avoid by simply taking the time to decide who you want to take care of your minor children in the event of your death. Determining who will raise your children if you die can be a difficult decision. For this reason alone many parents avoid the issue of custody decisions since they’re unable to find someone who they think will be the perfect guardian.

Avoiding the issue of guardianship is the number one reason why people fail to plan their estate or have a will. By procrastinating the decision about custody parents put their children at risk in the event of their death. Unless you name a guardian the courts will name someone they feel is right for the role of guardian. And this could be someone who you least wanted to have custody of your children. Court battles for custody can be long and drawn out, especially if there is more than one applicant who is seeking custody. This can place a huge financial and emotional strain on your children as well as deplete the assets from your estate. The worst case scenario is that no one applies to take custody of your children. The courts may decide to give custody to someone in your family who really doesn’t want the responsibility or your children may end up in foster care.

When planning your estate try to choose guardians for your children who you know will want to take them. Don’t feel that you have to choose a family member; friends you trust can also be ideal candidates. Consider separating guardianship of your children from the assets of your estate. By naming someone other than the guardian to be the trustee of your children’s money you ensure that there are some checks and balances in place when it comes to deciding how that money is spent.

Always have a backup named for the guardian in the event that your first choice is unable to accept the role. Keep in mind that if you name a couple as the guardian the issue of their breakup may become an issue and this can lead to a legal battle for custody. For this reason alone it’s a good idea to name individuals as guardians. If you’re divorced, consider your ex-spouse as the guardian. Most of the time, your ex will want to have custody anyway. Why make it more difficult by naming someone else as guardian and risking a lengthy court battle?

Estate Planning: When and Where to Start

Many people don’t know when and where to start when it comes to planning their estate. It seems there are so many things that you need to know about estate planning such as trusts to reduce taxes, issues about guardianship, and how to distribute your assets. And then you need to think about finding the time and money to hire a lawyer to help you draft a will. So where do you start? Perhaps the best place to start is simply by thinking about what you want to happen when you’re gone. Nobody likes to think about their own death. But death is an eventuality and needs to be planned for by everyone. The sooner you think about planning your estate the sooner you can act. Once you have your estate in order you’ll be able to enjoy your later years knowing that your family is taken care of in the way you want.

Organize and arrange all of your financial information. Take into account all of your assets as well as your debt. You need to have accurate information about how much your estate is worth. Remember to include your intangible assets such as any investments you’ve made, your insurance policies, any art collections you have, and your personal property such jewelry and furniture. When you have a full picture of what your estate is all about you can decide what’s at risk. A lawyer experienced in estates can help you draft your will. Some questions that you’ll want answered are whether or not your estate will be subject to taxes and whether it will have to go through a probate court. As well, find out what the risks are to your estate in the event that you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself.

Talk to your family and discuss what effect your estate planning will have on them. Talk about their wishes and how they want to see your assets distributed. At the same time, make certain that you talk about your own wishes since what you want is just as important. The more you talk before your death the less likely there are to be problems after your death. If you think that there may be difficulties after your death regarding the decisions you’ve outlined in your will you can consider a Legacy Trust which will have a more advanced strategy for dealing with your assets. A Legacy Trust will be much harder for anyone to contest. Keep an eye on the future. Your estate will grow and change over time so it’s important that you review it on a regular basis.

Guardianships and Powers of Attorney: What’s the Difference?

The terms “guardianship” and “power of attorney” are mostly heard when dealing with a family member or loved one who’s incapacitated. But what’s the difference between the two? Are they the same thing? Who needs a guardianship and who needs a power of attorney? When should I get a power of attorney vs a guardianship?

A guardianship is a legal process that gives one person the ability to make decisions for another person. These can be obtained for either an incapacitated adult or a minor child. A Power of Attorney is also a legal tool that gives one person (the agent) the ability to make decisions for another person (the principal). It is a legal document that is usually drafted by an attorney. Historically, a power of attorney became ineffective when the principal became incapacitated. However, most individuals who use powers of attorney for estate planning purposes opt for a “durable” power of attorney. A durable power of attorney remains effective even after the principal has become incapacitated. A person becomes incapacitated when they are unable to make their own financial and healthcare decisions.

So what’s the difference?

A Guardianship can be established when an individual is no longer able to make their own business and financial decisions. Guardianships in Alabama can only be obtained through the court system, and a judge decides who the guardian will be. Generally, a guardianship is used when there are no less restrictive means to make decisions on behalf of an individual.

A Power of Attorney, on the other hand, is created while an individual still has the ability to make his or her own business and financial decisions. The principal can decide who will be his or her agent, when the power of attorney will become effective, and what matters his or her agent can address on their behalf. The principal must, however, have a sound mind when executing this document. If you become incapacitated before you’ve had a chance to have a power of attorney drafted and you happen to need certain business and/or financial decisions made on your behalf, then someone will have to be appointed as a guardian by a court.

The main difference between the guardianship and a power of attorney is that a guardianship takes away the right of the individual to make decisions, while a power of attorney permits another to make decisions in conjunction with the individuals’ choices. There are times when it is necessary to remove the right to make poor decisions.

If I have a power of attorney will I still have to have a guardian appointed for me?

The answer depends on whether the Power of Attorney document is sufficient to meet all the needs of the incapacitated person. You might need a guardianship when a Power of Attorney is limited or not sufficient and doesn’t address certain matters that can be handled on behalf of a principal. In this case, you would need a Guardianship over the person in order to make decisions for them.

Another reason you might need a guardianship is when you have a Power of Attorney, and you need to protect an incapacitated person from being taken advantage of. A Power of Attorney allows another individual to make decisions on behalf of another person jointly. A guardianship goes one step further and takes away an incapacitated person’s rights to make individual decisions on their own.

Contact the Law Office of Rodney Davis, PLLC at (205) 578-1597 to speak with a lawyer who handles guardianships and powers of attorney. Our office can help you determine whether your Power of Attorney document is sufficient and whether you might also need a Guardianship.

How to Handle Sibling Disputes Over a Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning documents, but when one sibling is named in a power of attorney, there is the potential for disputes with other siblings. No matter which side you are on, it is important to know your rights and limitations.

A power of attorney allows someone to appoint another person — an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” — to act in place of him or her – the “principal” — if the principal ever becomes incapacitated. There are two types of powers of attorney: financial and medical. Financial powers of attorney usually include the right to open bank accounts, withdraw funds from bank accounts, trade stock, pay bills, and cash checks. They could also include the right to give gifts. Medical powers of attorney allow the agent to make health care decisions. In all of these tasks, the agent is required to act in the best interests of the principal. The power of attorney document explains the specific duties of the agent.

When a parent names only one child to be the agent under a power of attorney, it can cause bad feelings and distrust. If you are dealing with a sibling who has been named agent under a power of attorney or if you have been named agent under a power of attorney over your siblings, the following are some things to keep in mind:

  • Right to information. Your parent doesn’t have to tell you whom he or she chose as the agent. In addition, the agent under the power of attorney isn’t required to provide information about the parent to other family members.
  • Access to the parent. An agent under a financial power of attorney should not have the right to bar a sibling from seeing their parent. A medical power of attorney may give the agent the right to prevent access to a parent if the agent believes the visit would be detrimental to the parent’s health.
  • Revoking a power of attorney. As long as the parent is competent, he or she can revoke a power of attorney at any time for any reason. The parent should put the revocation in writing and inform the old agent.
  • Removing an agent under power of attorney. Once a parent is no longer competent, he or she cannot revoke the power of attorney. If the agent is acting improperly, family members can file a petition in court challenging the agent. If the court finds the agent is not acting in the principal’s best interest, the court can revoke the power of attorney and appoint a guardian.
  • The power of attorney ends at death.If the principal under the power of attorney dies, the agent no longer has any power over the principal’s estate. The court will need to appoint an executor or personal representative to manage the decedent’s property.

If you are drafting a power of attorney document and want to avoid the potential for conflicts, there are some options. You can name co-agents in the document. You need to be careful how this is worded or it could cause more problems. The best way to name two co-agents is to let the agents act separately. Another option is to steer clear of family members and name a professional fiduciary.

Sibling disputes over how to provide care or where a parent will live can escalate into a guardianship battle that can cost the family thousands of dollars. Drafting a formal sibling agreement (also called a family care agreement) is a way to give guidance to the agent under the power of attorney and provide for consequences if the agreement isn’t followed. Even if you don’t draft a formal agreement, openly talking about the areas of potential disagreement can help. If necessary, a mediator can help families come to an agreement on care.

If you would like to learn more about powers of attorney and how you can benefit from having one, please give us a call today!

Where Should I Store My Estate Planning Documents?

One of the most common questions that estate planning attorneys are asked is where original estate planning documents – Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Directives – should be stored for safekeeping.  While there is no right or wrong answer to this question, there are a few things to consider: Continue reading Where Should I Store My Estate Planning Documents?

Integrating Long Term Care Into Your Estate Plan

What Is Long Term Care?

When most people think of estate planning they focus on how their assets will be disposed of when they are deceased. A well drafted estate plan, however, can and should take into consideration the need for long term care.

Long-term care provides a range of services and support for you individuals who are unable to care for themselves due to a chronic illness or disability. Most long-term care isn’t medical care, but rather help with basic personal tasks of everyday life, sometimes called activities of daily living. All too often, individuals and families wait until a medical crisis actually happens before considering long term care, which usually leads to throwing together a hasty estate plan in the face of mounting medical costs.

Why Consider Long Term Care?

Long term care costs can easily drain one’s finances in a relatively short time. According to the Harvard University Study in Compensation & Benefits Review, 72% of Americans become impoverished after just one year of nursing home care. Long term care isn’t typically covered by private medical insurance and major medical insurance plans. Medicare only pays for skilled and rehabilitative care after a three-day hospital stay; this excludes custodial care, the assistance someone needs for daily living. Medicaid only covers nursing home bills after a loved one is bereft of assets.

Whether the care you need takes place in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or with an in-home provider, the costs can mount with alarming speed. According to the Genworth 2016 Annual Cost of Care Study, the cost of receiving long term care continues to rise sharply year over year, especially for services in the home, where the vast majority of Americans receive long term care and for a longer period of time than facilities. The median monthly costs for the services of a homemaker or an in-home health aide for 44 hours a week are $3,813 and $3,861, respectively. The average monthly cost of a private nursing home room is $7,698, up 1.24 percent from 2015.  The cost of a semi-private room is up 2.27 percent to $6,844 per month.  Assisted living communities saw a slight increase in costs of .8 percent to $3,628 per month.

Long Term Care Planning in Your Estate Plan

As with all major life situations, careful planning will ensure the financial resources are available when they are needed. If your estate plan does not consider long term care, chances are you haven’t taken a realistic look at your assets and how the potential need for long term care may affect them. Talk to an estate planning attorney about the following factors to get on the right track:

  • Set Reasonable Expectations for Long Term Care

While we can’t predict what will happen to us and when it will happen, we can take an educated guess. For example, are there any major diseases that run in your family? Are you involved in any kind of activity that could affect your body long term? While considering these things may feel uncomfortable, it is far better to consider them early on and plan accordingly, rather than face the reality of long term care with no plan at all.

  • Consider a Long Term Care Insurance Policy

Since it is highly likely that Medicare or medical insurance will not cover long term care costs, a long term care insurance policy can ensure that your financial assets are not drained due to long term care costs. Most people assume that long term care will be covered by Medicaid and face the rude awakening of having their financial assets drained after learning that it doesn’t.

Consider and discuss long term care insurance policies with affordable premiums that won’t rise drastically over time. Begin this process as early as possible, as the younger you are when you apply, the lower the long term care insurance premiums are.

Benefits of Long Term Care Insurance Policies Include:

– Preserve savings and assets for family and friends;

– Help maintain one’s financial independence from family and friends, often    eliminating the need to borrow money for long-term care costs;

– Relieve family and friends of caregiving tasks, as paying for professional care becomes an affordable option;

– Allow a loved one to choose where he receives care. If Medicaid pays for care, a nursing home is the only option. People can design their policy depending on where they want to receive care: in a nursing home, in the community, at home, or in an assisted living facility; and

– Expand the range of services a loved one receives, including: care from visiting nurses, home health aides and friendly visitors programs; home-delivered meals and chore services; and time in adult daycare centers and respite services for caregivers.

  • Have Your Advanced Medical Directive, Power of Attorney, and Trust(s) Drafted

In the event that you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself, the last thing you want is for your family and/or friends to fight over them. Have an estate planning attorney draft you an Advanced Medical Directive outlining the treatment you want to be given if you are unable to do so. Otherwise, you run the risk of a lengthy court process in which a court will appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf.

Revocable or irrevocable trusts, such as a life insurance trusts have proven to be effective long term care planning tools for individuals of all ages, as they provide tax benefits and allow the donor to direct how the life insurance proceeds will be disposed of at the donor’s death.

While planning for long term care may seem like a daunting task, those who do plan are able to live with the peace of mind of knowing that they are covered if a need for long term care ever arises. Contact our office today to learn how we can help you create an estate plan that includes long term care.