Why Won’t My Power of Attorney Work?

Powers of attorney are critical estate planning tools, but there are some instances they don’t work, such as with SSA and the IRS.

Powers of Attorney (POAs) are excellent and often overlooked estate planning documents.  They name an agent to act on your behalf if you cannot do so yourself, such as due to incapacity.  However, there are some instances where traditional POAs won’t work.  The IRS and the Social Security Administration (SSA) are two examples of entities that don’t recognize traditional POAs. Forbes’s recent article entitled “Two Times When Your Power of Attorney Isn’t Going to Work” explains why.

The IRS says that you must use Form 2848, “Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative” to allow anyone to act on your behalf. This form requires you to state the tax matters and years for which the agent is authorized to act. That’s different from a traditional POA for financial matters, which usually has blanket statements allowing the agent to take any or a broad range of actions on your behalf in certain matters.  For this reason, we often include language in our POAs to create a Form 2848 specifically to deal with the IRS.

A married couple that files joint tax returns must also have each spouse separately complete and sign a form. There is no joint form.

Technically, the IRS might accept other POAs as the instructions to Form 2848 indicate this. However, the POA must meet the requirements of Form 2848 to be accepted as a substitute. That can be a tall order.

The Social Security Administration is similar. It says on its web site that it doesn’t recognize POAs. When you need someone to manage your Social Security benefits, you contact the SSA and make an advance designation of a representative payee.

A 2018 law created this feature that lets you name one or more individuals to manage your Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration must usually work with the named individual or individuals. You can rank up to three people as advance designees. Therefore, if the first one isn’t available or is unable to perform the role, the SSA will move to the next person on your list.

Someone who already is receiving Social Security benefits can designate an advance designee at any point, and a person claiming benefits for the first time can name the designee during the claiming process. The designation can be made using your “my Social Security” account on the Social Security web site or by contacting the Social Security Administration by phone (800-772-1213) or at the local field office. A designee can also be named through the mail by using Form SSA-4547 – Advance Designation of Representative Payee.

Representative payees generally must be individuals, but it also can be a social service agency, nursing home, or one of a number of other organizations recognized by the SSA to serve as payees. If you don’t name any representatives, the SSA will name a representative payee for you, if it decides you need help managing your money. A relative or friend can apply to be representative payees, or the SSA can make the selection.

These are two very common scenarios where a POA may not work, though there are others.  Aside from the obvious cases of badly prepared or defective POAs, the Veterans Administration has their own representative system as well. But, careful planning and the advice of competent counsel can help tremendously by preparing a POA that can address as many scenarios and contingencies as possible.  Counsel can also help you identify tools outside of the POA that can assist with financial management such as trusts.  Also, before addressing your POA it might be helpful to get an idea as to the types of POAs and issues to consider with them, which you can find here.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/what-is-the-right-kind-of-financial-power-of-attorney-for-you/

If you encounter problems using your power of attorney, consult with a lawyer who can help you navigate the system you are coping with and can advise you on how to take action for your loved one.

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 28, 2021) “Two Times When Your Power Of Attorney Isn’t Going To Work”

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Is Transferring the House to Children a Good Idea?

Clients frequently ask this question, especially as mom or dad is aging and perhaps living in assisted living or some other senior care arrangement.  Many try to do so using online forms, and find later that it was a mistake.  Transferring your house to your children while you’re alive may avoid probate, but gifting a home also can mean a rather large and unnecessary tax bill or could effect eligibility for long term care benefits. It also may place your house at risk, if your children get sued or file for bankruptcy

You also could be making a mistake, if you hope it will help keep the house from being consumed by nursing home bills.

There are better ways to transfer a house to your children, as well as a little-known potential fix that may help even if the giver has since died, says Considerable’s recent article entitled “Should you transfer your house to your adult kids?”

If a parent signs a quitclaim to give her son the house and then dies, it can potentially mean a tax bill of thousands of dollars for the son.

Families who see this error in time can undo the damage, by gifting the house back to the parent.

People will also transfer a home to try to qualify for Medicaid, but any gifts or transfers made within five years of applying for Medicaid can result in a penalty period when seniors are disqualified from receiving benefits.  A capable elder law attorney can advise you on better ways to address this, as well as potential corrections if necessary.

In addition, transferring your home to another person can expose you to their financial problems because their creditors could file liens on your home and, depending on state law, take some or most of its value. If the child divorces, the house could become an asset that must be divided as part of the marital estate.

Section 2036 of the Internal Revenue Code says that if the parent were to retain a “life interest” in the property, which includes the right to continue living there, the home would remain in her estate rather than be considered a completed gift. However, there are rules for what constitutes a life interest, including the power to determine what happens to the property and liability for its bills.

There are other ways to avoid probate. Many states and DC permit “transfer on death” deeds that let homeowners transfer their homes at death without probate.  Texas has both transfer on death deeds and “Lady Bird Deeds,” and an attorney can advise you on the differences and the best way to utilize them with your estate plan.  An excellent solution is to use a living trust which allows assets it owns or receives at death to avoid probate.  Having the trust own the property, or possibly using a deed to convey the property to the the trust at death, are excellent solutions.

If you are interested in learning more, please see this article for various ways to own and hold real estate.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-to-own-your-real-estate/  

In sum, there are many unexpected consequences to transferring your home to your children, so it is important to discuss the best way to convey the home to your loved ones with an attorney.

Reference: Considerable (Sep. 18) “Should you transfer your house to your adult kids?”

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When to Take Social Security?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Waiting to File for Social Security Benefits Is Hard, but Payoff Is Sweet” asks you to imagine if, when you were a child, your mom baked your favorite pie and made you an offer. She could serve you a piece of pie right then and let you eat it. Alternatively, if you waited until after dinner, you’d get a bigger slice. Or, if you could wait until bedtime, your piece would be even larger. And not just that day, but for the rest of your life.

Every time you had pie for dessert, the size of your piece would be based on the decision you made that one day.

There are many justifications for taking the smaller piece of pie right away, when offered. Many people want to begin their retirement as soon as possible, and they want or need the Social Security income to do so. Some want to claim their benefits and invest the money to further grow their nest egg. Many people are concerned that the Social Security trust fund will be depleted before they get their share.  Others are concerned about health and whether they will receive Social Security for very long. Finally, there are some who just aren’t aware of how much bigger their monthly payment could be if they waited.

While you can get your benefits as early as 62, that choice, can mean a permanent reduction in benefits of up to 30% less than what you could receive by filing at your full retirement age (FRA). Retirees who file after their FRA receive a delayed retirement credit of 8% per year until they turn 70.

Admittedly, eight years (from 62 to 70) is a long time to wait to tap into this significant income stream. Most seniors would jump at the chance for more money, particularly as many baby boomers face these challenges that could put even the best-laid income plans to the test in retirement:

Longevity. The longer you live, the greater the chance that your savings will have to endure multiple financial storms, such as increased taxes, inflation and costly health care issues as you get older. The Social Security Administration estimates that the average 62-year-old woman born in 1958 can expect to live another 23½ years, and a man with the same birthdate can expect to live another 20⅔ years. That’s a long time to have to make your money last. However, if you maximize your Social Security benefits by earning delayed retirement credits, you’ll always have that guaranteed income.

Low interest rates. In the current low-interest environment, the return on “safe” investments, such as CDs, bonds, and money market accounts, won’t protect you from inflation. Thus, one of the best investments that retirees can make right now isn’t really an investment at all, but rather it’s growing their Social Security payments by delaying to take them.

Continuing to work.  Many seniors are continuing to work  well past traditional retirement ages to make ends meet.  Taking Social Security while still working may result in devastating tax losses.  It may make sense to delay Social Security until completely retired.

Decline in employer pensions. The retirement savings system in the United States traditionally has been built on three pillars: Social Security, a workplace pension and individual savings. However, over the past two decades, many employers have stopped offering pensions. As a result, the full responsibility for retirement investing has been shifting to employees with defined contribution plans. However, 40.2% of older Americans now depend on Social Security alone for income in retirement. Only 6.8% receive income from a defined benefit pension, a defined contribution plan, and Social Security. Fidelity Investments also reports that the median 401(k) balance in the first half of 2019 was $62,000 for savers in the 60 to 69 age group.

Ask an elder law attorney who practices in Social Security matters to help you make some calculations to determine your “break-even” age, which is when you’d come out ahead by waiting instead of claiming early. If you haven’t already, sign up with the Social Security Administration to get an estimate of your retirement benefits at 62, 67, and 70, using their online benefits calculator.  You may also consider speaking with a financial advisor who can evaluate opportunities to earn greater income with money in hand with earlier Social Security.

If your objective is to land the biggest possible piece of pie — and you can manage it — waiting is the name of the game.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 21, 2020) “Waiting to File for Social Security Benefits Is Hard, but Payoff Is Sweet”

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