Which Powers should a Power of Attorney Include?

Most clients have at least heard of powers of attorney (POA), and I find that many people with an existing estate plan have one.  However, I find the biggest problem with powers of attorney is not the lack of one, but having one without sufficient powers or provisions to work well for the client.  For that reason, you need to know powerful this document is and identify its limits. A recent article from Forbes titled “4 Power of Attorney Clauses You Need To Focus On” addresses many key provisions to consider in the power of attorney.

First, as a primer, the POA is a document that assigns decision making to another person during your life.  People often do this for when they become incapacitated in life, but also for convenience, such as a spouse having authority to interact with a bank, signing at a remote real estate closing and so on.

The agent acting under the authority of your POA only controls assets in your name. Assets in a trust are not owned by you, so your agent can’t access them. The trustee (you or a successor trustee, if you are incapacitated) appointed in your trust document would have control of the trust and its assets.  Also, POAs are for lifetime delegation of decision-making, so they cease to be effective when you die.

If you want more background on what they are, see this classic blog.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/power-of-attorney-planning-for-incapacity/

With all of that said, here are three key provisions to consider within your POA to make it effective for your circumstances.

Determine gifting parameters. Will your agent be authorized to make gifts? Depending upon your estate, you may want your agent to be able to make gifts, which is useful if you want to reduce estate taxes or if you’ll need to apply for government benefits in the future. You can also give directions as to who gets gifts and how much.

In recent years I’ve discussed the possibility of extensive gifting quite a lot so that wealthier clients can consider making large gifts for estate tax purposes. In elder law cases this is one of the most key provisions in a POA as it provides options for long term care planning.

Can the POA agent change beneficiary designations? Chances are a lot of your assets will pass to loved ones through a beneficiary designation: life insurance, investment, retirement accounts, etc. Banks tend to build products that provide for this, which is good, but does raise issues within your estate plan.  Do you want your POA agent to have the ability to change these? In most states, Texas included, your POA needs to expressly provide for this power.  So, it is important to consider if you will need this power to adequately control assets in the future.

Can the POA create or amend a trust? Depending upon your circumstances, you may or may not want your POA to have the ability to create or make changes to trusts. This would allow the POA to change the terms of the trust, and potentially beneficiaries depending on the terms of the POA.  It is also worth considering this if you’ll need long term care in the future as these provisions assist with qualified income trusts which are helpful in Medicaid planning.

The POA is a more powerful document than people think, and that is especially true with powers crafted to fit your wishes and needs. Downloading a POA and hoping for the best can undo a lifetime of financial and estate planning. It’s best to have a POA created that is uniquely drafted for your family and your situation.

Reference: Forbes (July 19, 2021) “4 Power of Attorney Clauses You Need To Focus On”

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Estate Planning with a Business

Estate planning with a business addresses owner succession, protecting assets and the smooth operation of the business.

Estate planning with a business is different. If you have children, ownership shares in a business, or even in more than one business, a desire to protect your family and business if you became disabled, or charitable giving goals, then you need an estate plan attuned to those needs. The recent article “Estate planning for business owners and executives” from The Wealth Advisor explains why business owners, parents and executives need estate plans.

An estate plan is more than a way to distribute wealth. It can also:

  • Establish a Power of Attorney, if you can’t make decisions due to an illness or injury.
  • Identify a guardianship plan for minor children, naming a caregiver of your choice.
  • Coordinating beneficiary designations with your estate plan. This includes retirement plans, life insurance, annuities and some jointly owned property.
  • Create trusts for beneficiaries to afford them asset or divorce protection.
  • Identify professional management for assets in those trusts if appropriate.
  • Minimize taxes and maximize privacy through the use of planning techniques.
  • Create a structure for your philanthropic goals.

An estate plan ensures that fiduciaries are identified to oversee and distribute assets as you want. Estate planning with a business especially focuses on managing ownership assets, which requires more sophisticated planning. Ideally, you have a management and ownership succession plan for your business, and both should be well-documented and integrated with your overall estate plan.   See here for a deeper dive into business succession planning.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/business-succession-planning-in-your-estate-plan/

Some business owners choose to separate their Power of Attorney documents, so one person or more who know their business well, as well as the POA holder or co-POA, are able to make decisions about the business, while family members are appointed POA for non-business decisions.

Depending on how your business is structured, the post-death transfer of the business may need to be a part of your estate planning with a business. A current buy-sell agreement may be needed, especially if there are more than two owners of the business.

An estate plan, like a succession plan, is not a set-it-and-forget it document. Regular reviews will ensure that any changes are documented, from the size of your overall estate to the people you choose to make key decisions.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (July 28, 2020) “Estate planning for business owners and executives”

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Your Children Want You to Have an Estate Plan

Clients often forget that a solid estate plan makes things much easier for their kids. Even the kids want you to have an estate plan!

Many clients delay creating an estate plan.  People don’t want to think about scenarios where they are deceased or incapacitated, and some people delay because they are afraid of costs.  Clients often think of the impact of estate planning on themselves, forgetting that their children want them to have an estate plan too.

After all, it is the adult children who are in charge of aging parents when they need long term care. They are also the ones who settle estates when parents die. Even if they can’t always come out and tell you, the recent article, “Why your children wish you had an Elder Law Estate Plan” from the Times Herald-Record spells out exactly why an elder law estate plan is so important for your loved ones.

Avoid court proceedings while living. In a perfect world, everyone over age 18 will have a financial power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and a living will, as well as other estate planning documents to facilitate their use.  These documents appoint others to make financial, legal, and medical decisions, in case of incapacity. Without them, the children will have to get involved with time-consuming, expensive guardianship proceedings, where a judge appoints a legal guardian to make these decisions. Your life is turned over to a court-appointed guardian, instead of your children or another person of your choosing.  This is an expensive and invasive process.

Avoid court proceedings after you die. If you die and you own assets in your own name that do not pass by contract, you will likely go through the probate process, a court proceeding that can be time consuming and costly. Not having any assets in trusts leaves your kids open to out of pocket costs, time, work and difficulty in gathering assets.

Wills in probate court are public documents. Trusts are private documents. Utilizing trusts can keep the details of your estate out of the public eye.

An elder law estate plan also plans for the possibility of long term care and costs. Nursing home care costs can be extreme, and many clients don’t plan for such a creditor during their life time. If you don’t have long term care insurance, you should consider an estate plan that facilitates long term care government benefits, such as a revocable trust plan.

The “elder law power of attorney” has unlimited gifting powers that could save about half of a single person’s assets from the cost of nursing homes. This can be done on the eve of needing nursing home care, but it is always better to do this planning in advance.  This is one of the main roadblocks to Medicaid planning later in life.  Client’s don’t update their powers of attorney and limited their gifting options.

Having a plan in place decreases stress and anxiety for adult children. They are likely busy with their own lives, working, caring for their children and coping in a challenging world. When a plan is in place, they don’t have to start learning about Medicaid law, navigating their way through the court system, or wondering why their parents did not take advantage of the time they had to plan properly.

You probably don’t want your children remembering you as the parents who left a financial and legal mess behind for the them to clean up. Speak with an elder law estate planning attorney to create a plan for your future. Your children will appreciate it.

And kids, see here for speaking with your parents about estate planning.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/probate-lawyers-say-talk-to-your-parents-about-estate-planning/

Reference: Times Herald-Record (May 23, 2020) “Why your children wish you had an Elder Law Estate Plan”

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