Understanding Why a Will is Important

A Will is an important estate planning tool that describes your wishes for your property after death and who is responsible to see your wishes through.

These questions presented by The Westerly Sun in the article “Making a will is an important legal step,” may seem very basic, but many people don’t really understand how a will works and why they are such an important part of estate planning. Let’s go through these fundamentals about wills.

A will is a legal document that must be prepared under very strict standards to explain your wishes about how you want your estate–that is, your property, money, tangible possessions, and real estate—distributed after you die.

A will also does more than that.  A will, which is sometimes referred to as a “Last Will and Testament,” also makes clear who is going to be in charge of your affairs after death, by naming them as executor of your estate.

A complete estate plan includes a will and several other documents, including a power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney and potentially a trust.  The goal of all of these documents is to make it easier for your surviving spouse or loved ones to take care of you and your affairs, if you become too ill to speak on your own behalf or when you die.

Your will provides instructions about what happens to your estate. Who should receive your money and property? These instructions must be followed by the person you choose as your executor. The local probate court must give its approval, and then the estate can be distributed.

If you have a valid will, it is admitted to probate (a court process) upon your death, and then your wishes are followed. If you don’t have a will, you are said to have died “intestate.” The laws of the state, and not you, and not your loved ones, decide what will happen to everything you own that is subject to the intestacy process. Usually this means that assets are distributed to family members based on their degree of kinship with you.  In Texas, it also means there may be a separate process to determine who those heirs are, which can be time intensive and costly.

It also may not be what you wanted. If you have minor children, the Court may appoint a guardian for those children, or may establish a court monitored trust for the property they receive until they are old enough to handle their own affairs.  All of these extra steps and complexity make a will necessary.

Many clients chose to also use trusts as part of their estate plan and coordinate the trust with the will.  This provides the added benefit of avoiding the probate process, making administration even easier.  Even if you use a trust in your estate plan, you may still need a will in conjunction with that trust.   See here for more details.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-trusts-work-in-your-estate-plan/

No one likes to think about dying, or becoming incapacitated, but by planning ahead and working with an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare a will, you can determine what you want to happen, and protect those you love.

Reference: The Westerly Sun (August 18, 2019) “Making a will is an important legal step”

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Why an Attorney Should Help with a Medicaid Application

Seniors should consider medicaid asset protection planning as part of their estate plan.
Hiring an attorney to prepare a Medicaid application may save money in the long run and get your loved one the care they need.

Elder law attorneys can be very helpful when it is time to complete a Medicaid application, and they can save money in the long run, ensuring that you (or a loved one) get the best care. Instead of waiting to see how wrong the process can get, says The Middletown Press, it’s best to “Use a lawyer for Medicaid planning” right from the start. Here’s why.

Conflict of interests. When a nursing home refers a family to people for preparing the Medicaid application or offers to complete it themselves, very often the person has dual loyalties: to the nursing home who refers them the work (or signs their checks), and to the family who will pay them a fee for help with applying for benefits. Whose interests comes first?

Everyone wants the Medicaid application to be successful, but let’s be realistic. It’s in the nursing home’s best interest that the resident pays privately for as long as possible, before going on Medicaid. It’s in the resident or family member’s best interest to protect the family’s assets for care for the resident’s spouse or family.

An attorney has a duty of loyalty only to his client. He also has an ethical and professional responsibility to put her client’s needs ahead of her own.

Saving money is possible. Nursing homes in some areas cost as much as $15,000 a month, in Texas they tend to be cheaper, but still in the several thousands.  While every market and every law practice is different, it would be unusual for legal fees to cost more than a month in the facility. With an experienced attorney’s help, you might save more than her fee in long-term care and related costs.

Further, attorneys can find ways to complete a Medicaid application and successfully obtain benefits without simply spending all of your assets before applying.  Many times nursing home staff will offer to do the Medicaid application after the assets are nearly entirely spent.  A quality elder law attorney will find ways to complete and file a successful Medicaid application while protecting your legacy.

The benefit of experience. It’s all well and good to read through pages of online information (Google, Esq.), but nothing beats the years of experience that an attorney who practices in this area can bring provide.  Any professional in any field develops knowledge of the ins and outs of an area and applying for Medicaid is no different. Without experience, it’s hard to know how it all works.  See Mary’s blog for more detail about how an attorney helps with this process.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/when-you-need-an-elder-law-attorney/

Peace of mind from a reliable, reputable source. Consulting with an experienced attorney about a Medicaid application will help you avoid years of wondering, if there was more you could have done to help yourself or your loved one.

There are multiple opportunities for nursing home residents to preserve assets for themselves and spouses, children and grandchildren, particularly when a family member has long term care needs. However, here’s a key fact: if you wait for the last minute, there will be far less options than if you begin planning long before there’s a need for a Medicaid application.

Reference: The Middletown Press (July 29, 2019) “Use a lawyer for Medicaid planning”

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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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