Power of Attorney: Planning for Incapacity

Powers of attorney let you plan for your incapacity.
A power of attorney names a person to make decisions for you under rules that you establish, and ensures someone can handle your affairs if you cannot.

Without a durable power of attorney, helping a family member or loved one who cannot act on their own becomes far more difficult and stressful. Powers of attorney, also known as POAs, typically give the agent specific powers to conduct the principal’s (person creating the power of attorney) financial business, explains the Aiken Standard in the article “The durable power of attorney.”

For financial powers of attorney, there are different types, including non-durable, springing and durable. A non-durable POA is time limited.  It either expires at the end of a set amount of time or upon the death or incapacity of the principal.  Non-durable powers of attorney are typically used for specific circumstances, such as real estate closings or for transferring car titles.

The durable power of attorney is in effect from the moment it is executed. It is not revoked if the person becomes incapacitated (hence the term “durable”), nor by the passage of time. The person can alter or terminate a durable POA at any time before he or she lacks capacity, however, and it does end when the person dies.

Springing powers of attorney become effective at a future date. They “spring” into power, according to the terms of the document. That may be the occurrence of a particular event, like the person becoming incapacitated or disabled. They can be problematic, as there will be a need to prove that the person has become incapacitated and/or disabled.

The advantage of the durable power of attorney is that it remains in effect even after the person has become impaired. You can choose to let your agent act right away or make it springing as described above.  It is often prudent to make them effective immediately so that if time is of the essence (i.e., there is an emergency that requires quick action), there is no need to prove incapacity or that a condition has occurred.

In addition to a financial POAs, there’s also a healthcare power of attorney, which is a separate document that gives the named person the authority to make medical decisions when the principal is not able to do so.  There are also several other documents which plan for incapacity, such as living wills and HIPAA releases, which should be considered as well.

In Texas, powers of attorney rules are strict, so how they are drafted is very specific.  They provide for many powers or restrictions to the agent which the principal should consider when preparing a power of attorney, such as whether his or her agent should be compensated, whether the agent can make gifts and naming successor agents if the first cannot serve.

Power of attorney documents should be created and executed, along with a complete estate plan, long before an individual begins having problems in aspects of their lives.  These documents are essential as part of planning for incapacity.  See my past article for more detailed information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/estate-planning-when-faced-with-a-serious-illness/

When they are signed, it is necessary for the person to have mental capacity. They have to be able to be “of sound mind.” If they have been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it is necessary that all these documents be prepared as soon as possible.

Without a durable power of attorney, family and friends won’t be able to make important financial decisions, pay bills, make healthcare decisions and engage in any kind of Medicaid planning. If a person does not create a power of attorney and then suffers a health problem which makes them unable to handle their own affairs, anyone who wanted to take on any of these responsibilities would have to go to court and be appointed the person’s guardian. It’s much easier to tackle these tasks in advance, so that the family can act on their loved one’s behalf in a timely and effective manner.

Reference: Aiken Standard (August 24, 2019) “The durable power of attorney”

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Amending a Trust: What are your Options?

If your trust no longer meets your needs, there are many ways to amend the trust to serve your goals for you and your loved ones.

A son has contacted an elder law estate planning attorney now that mom is in a nursing home and he’s unsure about many of the planning issues, as reported by the Daily Republic. The article, “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision,” describes the family’s situation.

The son has numerous valid concerns about paying his parents’ bills, managing their assets and avoiding personal liability if they are sued.  The author addresses these concerns for the son, but I’d like to focus on one point: updating and amending the trust.

All estate plans change over time as an individual’s needs and wishes change.  Sometimes the trust will anticipate these changes, such as naming a successor trustee to take over when the trust creators can no longer make financial decisions.  In the son’s case, that might be enough.  However, if the trust doesn’t address the issue or if the trust makers’ needs and wishes change substantially, it is sometimes necessary to amend a trust.  Sometimes it is good to amend a trust for tax reasons, such as Mary describes here:  https://www.galliganmanning.com/higher-estate-tax-exemption-means-you-could-save-income-taxes-by-updating-your-estate-plan/

If his parents have a revocable or living trust and have the capacity to handle their financial affairs, they can choose to amend the trust themselves.  This is by far the best and cheapest option as the parents can review the trust each year, put their son in charge of their affairs if they wish and make other appropriate changes.  They can do this very easily by either making an amendment or restating the trust.  Restating is amending the trust by rewriting the terms of the trust with the changes without actually creating a new trust.

If his parents do not have the capacity to make financial decisions, that doesn’t mean the son can’t amend the trust.  Often powers of attorney permit an agent to amend a trust if the principal (person who makes the power of attorney) is incapacitated.  Now, the powers of attorney will usually have limitations built in.  For example, they may require the agent to follow the principal’s “testamentary intent.”  This means that the beneficiaries of the estate plan should be generally the same.  So, if the son wasn’t a beneficiary of the trust, he can’t make himself one now. He also still needs to act in the best interest of the principal.  But, amending the trust to protect the assets and better care for his parents is just fine.

Let’s say the trust is an irrevocable trust, or perhaps the power of attorney doesn’t permit amending the trust, what then?   There are still options.

Some trusts include “trust protectors.”  This is a person named in the trust who can amend the trust in limited ways to make sure it still works.  A trust protector is usually a trusted individual, occasionally an attorney, who can make amendments to the trust.  Depending on the reason for the change, it is also possible to ask a Court to modify the trust.   It’s even possible sometimes to “decant” a trust.  Decanting is not really amending a trust, it is creating a whole new trust with new terms, and then transferring the assets from the old trust to the new one.  These techniques are more complex and expensive, but very helpful, especially with very out-of-date trusts that haven’t been reviewed or amended in some time.

The key point is that is important to review and keep your trust up to date.  But, even if you have a trust that is old or doesn’t work well, there are many ways to amend a trust to ensure proper administration of the assets for you and your beneficiaries.

Reference: Daily Republic (Aug. 10, 2019) “Amending trust easier if parents can make informed decision”

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Estate Planning When Faced with a Serious Illness

More young and middle-aged workers find themselves in the role of family caregiver.
Everyone needs estate planning documents, but a serious illness makes that need more urgent. 

More than 130 million Americans are living with chronic illness. Forbes’ recent article, “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness,” says that if you (or a loved one) are living with a chronic illness, you’ll likely need the same estate planning documents most people should have.

The article discusses these key estate planning documents, along with some suggestions that might help you customize them to your unique challenges because of chronic illness. These documents need to be tailored to your specific needs, so you should consult your estate planning and elder law attorney about what works best for you.  It’s also best to put your estate planning documents in place soon after your diagnosis, so that you can return your focus to your health, family and well-being.

HIPAA Release. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 governs the requirements for maintaining the confidentiality of protected or personal health information (PHI). A HIPAA Release lets someone you trust access your protected health information.  This is an important estate planning document because it provides your decision makers with information about your condition so they can best serve your needs.

Living Will. This is a statement of your health care wishes and can address end of life decisions, as well as many other matters. If you’re living with a chronic illness, there are special considerations you might want to make in having a living will prepared. For example, you might explain your specific disease while continuing to address other health issues.  You can address the disease you have, at what stage and with what anticipated disease course, and how if at all these matters should be reflected. It is also critically important to discuss these wishes with your loved ones before the issue arises so they understand what you want.

Medical Power of Attorney. This is sometimes known as a medical proxy. It is an estate planning document in which you designate a trusted person to make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to do so. You can give guidance to your medical agent about your preferences, goals and concerns in your medical care.

Financial Power of Attorney. This estate planning document lets you designate a trusted person to handle your legal, tax, and financial matters if you can’t or if it becomes difficult to do so. There are some unique considerations for those living with chronic illnesses to consider. One is the amount of control that should be given up now or at what stage. Another key issue in a power of attorney is if you should sign a special power that restricts the agent’s authority to certain specified items or sign a general power that provides broad and almost unlimited powers to the agent.  It is especially importantly that your power of attorney include authority to handle Medicaid and other long term care benefits if you are facing a serious illness.

Appointment for the Disposition of Remains.  This is a basic estate planning document by which you choose a person to execute your burial wishes and let them know what those wishes are.

Declaration of Guardians.  This is an estate planning document in which you name a person to serve as a court appointed guardian should you need one.  If you have the other documents in place you’ll likely never need this, but it is important to have as a safety net naming someone you trust to be guardian instead of a court appointed agency or lawyer if the need ever arises.

Will and Revocable Trust. Finally, Wills and  Revocable Trusts are estate planning documents which control the flow of assets at your passing.  You should speak with your attorney about which is right for you, but if you or a family member has a chronic illness, using a revocable trust may be a good way to provide for succession of your financial management.  A revocable trust allows the successor trustee to act quickly to manage the finances if you cannot do so yourself and under the guidelines you create.  This way, the trustee can pay for the care you need.

Everyone should have these estate planning documents as part of a well-crafted legacy plan, but if you or a loved one is facing a serious or chronic illness, you may be facing additional challenges that make this planning more critical.

Reference: Forbes (July 5, 2019) “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness”

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