Long Distance Caregiving During These Difficult Times

A well thought out plan is the key to effective long distance caregiving.
A well thought out plan is the key to effective long distance caregiving.

Trying to coordinate long distance caregiving is a challenge for many. Add COVID-19 into the mix, and the situation becomes even more difficult, reports the article “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

If you are in the position of having to care for a loved one long distance, the starting point is to have the person you are caring for give you legal authorization to act on their behalf to make financial and medical decisions for them. A financial power of attorney (known as a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney in Texas) naming you as agent will allow you to help manage your loved one’s financial affairs.  It is also important that the person give you a HIPAA Release. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is the law that governs the use, disclosure and protection of sensitive patient information. With a HIPAA Release you will be able to receive medical information relating to the person you are caring for and to discuss matters with the person’s health care providers.

Next, find out where all of their important documents are, including insurance policies (long-term care, health, life, auto, home), Social Security and Medicare cards. You’ll also want to be able to access tax documents which will provide you with information on retirement accounts, bank accounts and investments. Don’t forget to ask your loved one for family documents, including birth, death, and marriage certificates, which may be necessary to claim benefits. Make copies of these documents so that you can make appropriate decisions for your loved one, even from a long distance.

Ask your family member whether he or she has completed their estate planning, and whether they want to make any changes. You may wish to review with your loved one changes that indicate when an estate plan should be updated. See https://www.galliganmanning.com/when-to-update-your-estate-plan/.

Put all of this information into a binder, so you have access to it easily.

Consider setting up a care plan for your family member to take care of things that come up when you can’t be there. Think about what kind of care do they have in place right now, and what do you anticipate they may need in the near future? There should also be a contingency plan for emergencies, which seem to occur when they are least expected and which make long distance caregiving especially difficult.

A geriatric care manager or a social worker who can do a needs assessment can help coordinate services, including shopping for groceries, administering medication and help with food preparation, bathing and dressing. If possible, develop a list of neighbors, friends or fellow worshippers who might create a local support system that compliments your long distance caregiving.

Keeping in touch is very important. These days, many are doing regular video calls with their family members. Conference calls with caregivers and your loved one is another way keep everyone in touch.

Long distance caregiving is difficult, but a well-thought out plan and preparing for all situations will make your loved one safer.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sep. 28, 2020) “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them”

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Does Your Estate Plan Include Digital Property?

Many clients own digital property, but need estate plans utilizing new laws to control and protect their digital legacies.

One of the challenges facing estate plans today is a new class of assets, known as digital property or digital assets. When a person dies, what happens to their digital lives? According to the article “Digital assets important part of modern estate planning” from the Cleveland Jewish News, digital assets need to be included in an estate plan, just like any other property.

What is a digital asset? There are many, but the basics include things like social media—Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat—as well as financial accounts, bank and investment accounts, blogs, photo sharing accounts, cloud storage, text messages, emails and more. If it has a username and a password and you access it on a digital device, consider it a digital asset.  I wrote recently on this topic in response to Pennsylvania’s passage of a law addressing digital property, so see there for more details on what these assets are  https://www.galliganmanning.com/new-digital-asset-law-passes-in-pennsylvania/

Business and household files stored on a local computer or in the cloud should also be considered as digital assets. The same goes for any cryptocurrency; Bitcoin is the most well-known type, and there are many others.

The Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (RUFADAA) has been adopted by almost all states to provide legal guidance on rights to access digital property for four (4) different types of fiduciaries: executors, trustees, agents under a financial power of attorney and guardians. The law allows people the right to grant not only their digital assets, but the contents of their communications. It establishes a three-tier system for the user, the most important part being if the person expresses permission in an online platform for a specific asset, directly with the custodian of a digital platform, that is the controlling law. If they have not done so, they can provide for permission to be granted in their estate planning documents. They can also allow or forbid people to gain access to their digital assets.  Texas has such a law, and we prepare our estate planning documents to address such property.

If a person does not take either of these steps, the terms of service they agreed to with the platform custodian governs the rights to access or deny access to their digital assets.

It’s important to discuss this new asset class with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan addresses your digital assets. Having a list of digital assets is a first step, but it’s just the start. Leaving the family to plead with a tech giant to gain access to digital accounts is a stressful legacy to leave behind.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (Sep. 24, 2020) “Digital assets important part of modern estate planning”

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Can Mom Leave a Home to a Child but Not Grandchildren?

You have many options on how to leave a home to your child, but not a grandchild, including a will, trust and an enhanced life estate deed.

There are numerous ways to pass your property at death. A woman with three grown daughters faced a problem about passing down the family home. She wanted to leave a home to a child who has taken care of and is closest to her. However, she also wanted to be sure that, if something happened to this youngest daughter, the house would go to her two other daughters and not the close daughter’s adult children.

With proper planning, this can be done, as described in the article “Mom needs contingency plan to pass house title” from mySanAntonio.

One way is to rely on a last will and testament. The will would state that she leaves the house to the youngest daughter, under terms of a testamentary trust inside the will. The executor would probate the will and the trust would be established at death.  The trust terms would permit the daughter to use, enjoy, and live in the house during her lifetime, as the beneficiary of the testamentary trust.

The two older daughters would be named as the secondary beneficiaries of the trust. When the younger daughter dies, the trust distributes the house to the older daughters.  The trust would also provide what would happen to the property if the older daughters are deceased.

The plan will need to be prepared by a qualified estate planning attorney. This is not a terrible process, if the will is professionally written and properly executed, includes an executor and a trustee and clear instructions about her wishes.

However, there are other options, which can also be used in conjunction.  One is an enhanced life estate deed and another is a living trust. The enhanced life estate deed specifies that the woman is retaining a life estate, that is, the right to use, enjoy and occupy her home, for the rest of her life. The document specifies that when she dies, the home goes to her youngest daughter. The owner would also want to specify that she has the right to change her mind at any time.

This approach avoids probate. However, there is a downside. If the youngest daughter dies before the mother, then the mother will need to take legal action to cancel the deed and issue a new one to the two older daughters. If the daughter outlives her mother, once she inherits the house, there will be no way to have it transferred to the other sisters in the future (unless the daughter choses to do so) and presumably the property will go to the grandchildren after all.  Clients who try to construct their own estate plans often fall into this trap, they try to rely on beneficiary designations for everything and can’t address contingencies.

A living trust provides the detailed control allowed in a will, but the trust, which must be properly created and funded, avoids going to probate. The trust would let the mother live in the home, and when she dies, the title to the house stays in trust with her youngest daughter, who is able to live in the house. However, she never becomes the owner of the house. The trust would continue to own the house. The trust would specify that when the daughter dies, the house goes to the two older daughters. She may also use the enhanced life estate deed, and have it name the trust as beneficiary at her death to ensure it goes to the right beneficiaries.

There are other considerations which affect these decisions, such as taxes, who to put in charge of the process and long term care planning.  See here for more information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/removing-your-house-from-your-trust/

If you have a similar situation and want to learn more, call our office today.  We will walk you through these issues and help craft a plan that accomplishes your goals.

Reference: mySanAntonio (June 8, 2020) “Mom needs contingency plan to pass house title”

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