What are Power of Attorney Options?

FedWeek’s recent article entitled The Options in Granting Powers of Attorney” explains that a power of attorney designates someone else to handle your affairs, if you can’t.

Here are the major types:

  • Limited power of attorney. This allows an agent to act on your behalf under specific circumstances, like a home sale closing that you can’t attend, and/or for a defined period of time.
  • General power of attorney. Gives broad authority to your agent, who at any time can write checks to pay your bills, sign contracts on your behalf and take distributions from your IRA.
  • Springing power of attorney. This isn’t effective when you execute it, but rather “springs” into effect upon certain circumstances, such as your becoming incompetent. You can say in the document what’s needed to verify your incompetency, like letters from two physicians stating that you no longer can manage your own affairs.

A power of attorney is important because your agent can act, if you become incapacitated. To serve this purpose, a power should be “durable,” so it will remain in effect if you become incompetent. Other powers of attorney may not be recognized, if a judge determines that you no longer can manage your affairs.

Without a power of attorney, your family may have to ask a judge to name a guardian to act in your best interests. A guardianship proceeding can be expensive and contentious. You might also wind up with an unwelcome interloper managing your finances. To avoid this situation, designate a person you trust as agent on your durable power.

A health care power of attorney, also known as a health care proxy or a medical power of attorney, should be a component of a complete estate plan. This document names a trusted agent to make decisions about your medical treatment, if you become unable to do so.

The person you name in your health care power doesn’t have to be the same person that you name as agent for a “regular” power of attorney (the POA that affects your finances).

For your health care power, chose a person in your family who is a medical professional or someone you trust to see that you get all necessary care.

Depending on state law, it may go into effect when a doctor (whom you can name in the POA) determines in writing that you no longer have the ability to make or communicate health care decisions.

Reference: FedWeek (Aug. 26, 2020) “The Options in Granting Powers of Attorney”

What Must I Decide before Retirement?

Many of retirement decisions are uncomfortable because they involve changing aspects of one’s life that may have been routine for years or facing the prospect of one’s deterioration in health or death.

Forbes’ article “5 Crucial Planning Steps To Take Before You Retire” lists several planning steps to take as you plan for a less stressful and much more enjoyable retirement.

Downsize. Owning a big home requires numerous financial expenditures, including higher property taxes, insurance coverage, upkeep costs and more. There is also the mental stress that comes with the upkeep of your home.

Practical solutions to housing for retirees should focus on the financial cost, safety, mental health, physical limitations and being around people on whom you can rely. The sooner you make the decision to downsize, the more trouble you can save yourself in the future.

Investments. Determine a proper asset allocation, an appropriate withdrawal strategy and coordinate various income streams.

Estate Plan. It’s critical to have an updated estate plan as you get older, accumulate more wealth and need to plan for the transition of that money to the next generation.

The main documents for a proper estate plan include a will, power of attorney for finances, power of attorney for health and a health care directive. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Long-Term Care. A person turning 65 today has a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services in their lifetime. As we continue to live longer, this care will be a reality for many people.

Activities. Very few people have a strategy for how they will spend their time in retirement. You may want to work part-time, volunteer and to have regularly scheduled visits with family and friends. These activities help provide daily structure, social interaction and intellectual stimulation, which are all essential for preventing rapid physical and mental decline.

Don’t procrastinate! Start thinking about these issues today.

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 3, 2020) “5 Crucial Planning Steps To Take Before You Retire”

How Do I Find a Great Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law attorneys specialize in legal affairs that uniquely concern seniors and their adult children, says Explosion’s recent article entitled “The Complete Guide on How to Find an Elder Law Attorney.”

Finding the right elder law attorney can be a big task. However, with the right tips, you can find an experienced elder law attorney who is knowledgeable, has the right connections and fits your budget.

While, technically, a general practice attorney will be able to handle your retirement, Medicaid and even your estate planning, an elder law lawyer is deeply entrenched in elder law. This means he or she will have extensive knowledge and experience to handle any case within the scope of elder law, like the following:

  • Retirement planning
  • Long-term care planning and insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Estate planning
  • Social Security
  • Veterans’ benefits; and
  • Other related areas of law.

While a general practice lawyer may be able to help you with one or two of these areas, a competent elder law lawyer knows that there’s no single formula in elder law that applies across the board. That’s why you’ll need a lawyer with a high level of specialization and understanding to handle your specific circumstances. An elder law attorney is best suited for your specific needs.

A referral from someone you trust is a great place to start. When conducting your elder law lawyer search, stay away from attorneys who charge for their services by the hour. For example, if you need an elder law attorney to work on a Medicaid issue, they should be able to give you an estimate of the charges after reviewing your case. That one-time flat fee will cover everything, including any legal costs, phone calls, meetings and court fees.

When it comes to elder law attorneys, nothing says more than experience. An experienced elder law lawyer has handled many cases similar to yours and understands how to proceed. Reviewing the lawyer’s credentials at the state bar website is a great place to start to make sure the lawyer in question is licensed. The website also has information on any previous ethical violations.

In your search for an elder law attorney, look for a good fit and a high level of comfort. Elder law is a complex area of law that requires knowledge and experience.

Reference: Explosion (Aug. 19, 2020) “The Complete Guide on How to Find an Elder Law Attorney”

Do I Qualify as an Eligible Designated Beneficiary under the SECURE Act?

An eligible designated beneficiary (EDB) is a person included in a unique classification of retirement account beneficiaries. A person may be classified as an EDB, if they are classified as fitting into one of five categories of individuals identified in the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. The bill passed in December 2019 and is effective for all inherited retirement accounts, as of the first of this year.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Eligible Designated Beneficiary” explains that these people get special treatment and greater flexibility to withdraw funds from their inherited accounts than other beneficiaries.

With the SECURE Act, there are now three types of beneficiaries. It is based on the individual’s connection to the original account owner, the beneficiary’s age, and his or her status as either an individual or a non-person entity. However, an EDB is always an individual. On the other hand, an EDB can’t be a trust, an estate, or a charity, which are considered not designated beneficiaries. There are five categories of individuals included in the EDB classification. These are detailed below.

In most instances, except for the exceptions below, an EDB must withdraw the balance from the inherited IRA account over the beneficiary’s life expectancy. There is optional special treatment allowed only for surviving spouses, which is explained below. When a minor child reaches the age of majority, he or she is no longer considered to be an EDB, and the 10-year rule concerning withdrawal requirements for a designated beneficiary applies.

Here are the five categories of EDBs.

Owner’s surviving spouse. Surviving spouses get special treatment, which lets them step into the shoes of the owner and withdraw the balance from the IRA over the original owner’s life expectancy. As another option, they can roll an inherited IRA into their own IRA and take withdrawals at the point when they’d normally take their own required minimum distributions (RMDs).

Owner’s minor child. A child who isn’t yet 18 can make withdrawals from an inherited retirement account using their own life expectancy. However, when he or she turns 18, the 10-year rule for designated beneficiaries (who aren’t EDBs) applies. At that point, the child would have until December 31 of the 10th year after their 18th birthday to withdraw all funds from the inherited retirement account. A deceased retirement account owner’s minor child can get an extension, up until age 26, for the start of the 10-year rule, if he or she is pursuing a specified course of education.

An individual who is disabled. The tax code says that an individual is considered to be disabled if he or she is “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or to be of long continued and indefinite duration.” A disabled person who inherits a retirement account can use their own life expectancy to calculate RMDs.

An individual who is chronically ill. The tax code states that “the term ‘chronically ill individual’ means any individual who has been certified by a licensed healthcare practitioner as—

  • being unable to perform (without substantial assistance from another individual) at least two activities of daily living for a period of at least 90 days, due to a loss of functional capacity,
  • having a level of disability similar (as determined under regulations prescribed by the Secretary in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services) to the level of disability described in clause (i), or
  • requiring substantial supervision to protect such individual from threats to health and safety due to severe cognitive impairment.”

A chronically ill individual who inherits a retirement account can use their own life expectancy to determine the RMDs.

Any other person who’s less than 10 years younger than the decedent. This is a catch-all that includes certain friends and siblings (depending on age), who are identified as beneficiaries of a retirement account. This also excludes most adult children (who aren’t disabled or chronically ill) from the five categories of EDBs. A person in this category who inherits a retirement account is permitted to use their own life expectancy to calculate RMDs.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2020) “Eligible Designated Beneficiary” 

What Is a Will Codicil?

There are a number of reasons for adding a codicil to an existing will. KAKE.com’s recent article entitled “Using a Codicil to Modify a Will” says it’s good to know when you might need one and how to add it.

A codicil is a way to change the terms of an existing will. A codicil allows you to modify a term in your will, without the need to rewrite the whole will. A codicil is used in cases where you only need to make relatively minor changes.

There are different situations that might require a codicil to be added to your will. Here are some examples:

  • You want to add or remove an heir
  • You’ve acquired or disposed of property you need to update in your will
  • You need to change the executor of your will
  • You want to change the person designated as a legal guardian for your minor children
  • You recently were married or divorced and need to change how your assets or property will be distributed; or
  • You want to make changes to how your assets and property will be divided for other reasons.

Adding a codicil to a will make certain that the will is current, as you go through different life events or if your financial circumstances change. This can help eliminate the chance that your will may be challenged after you die, because those named as beneficiaries disagree with the will’s terms. It can also help to avoid lengthy delays in probate associated with property you no longer own or property you haven’t addressed in the will.

Remember that a codicil allows you to change your will. However, revoking a will terminates it completely. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the laws for revoking a will in your state. Some states let you simply physically destroy the will, and in others, you may need to draft a written declaration stating that your will has been revoked or draft a new replacement.

If you need to make substantial changes to the terms of your will, then revoking it and creating a new will may be the better plan. A new will in place can avoid confusion during probate, if there are conflicting terms. You may also need to write a new will, if all copies of your existing will are unintentionally lost or destroyed.

Drafting a codicil to a will, is like writing a will itself. The codicil needs to follow the legal guidelines established in your state. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney for help.

Reference: KAKE.com (June 17, 2020) “Using a Codicil to Modify a Will”

What Happens If Power of Attorney Documents are Rejected?
An concept Image of a power of attorney

What Happens If Power of Attorney Documents are Rejected?

It is frustrating when a bank or other financial institution declines a Power of Attorney. It might be that the form is too old, the bank wants their own form to be used, or there seems to be a question about the validity of the form. A recent article titled “What to know if your bank refuses your power of attorney” from The Mercury discusses the best way to prevent this situation, and if it occurs, how to fix it.

The most important thing to know is just downloading a form from the internet and hoping it works is always a bad idea. There are detailed rules and requirements about notices and acknowledgments and other requirements. Specific language is required. It is different from state to state. It’s not a big deal if the person who is giving the power of attorney is alive, well and mentally competent to get another POA created, but if they are physically or legally unable to sign a document, this becomes a problem.

There have been many laws and court cases that defined the specific language that must be used, how the document must be witnessed before it can be executed, etc. In one case in Pennsylvania, a state employee was given a power of attorney to sign by her husband. She was incapacitated at the time after a car accident and a stroke. He used the POA to change her retirement options and then filed for divorce.

At issue was whether she could present evidence that the POA was void when she signed it, invalidating her estranged husband’s option and his filing for her benefits.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that a third party (the bank) could not rely on a void power of attorney submitted by an agent, even when the institution did not know that it was void at the time it was accepted. For banks, this was a clear sign that any POAs had to be vetted very carefully to avoid liability. There was a subsequent fix to the law that provided immunity to a bank or anyone who accepts a POA in good faith and without actual knowledge that it may be invalid. However, it includes the ability for a bank or other institution or person to request an agent’s certification or get an affidavit to ensure that the agent is acting with proper authority.

It may be better to have both a POA from a person and one that uses the bank or financial institution’s own form. It’s not required by law, but the person from the bank may be far more comfortable accepting both forms, because they know one has been through their legal department and won’t create a problem for the bank or for them as an employee.

There are occasions when it is necessary to fight the bank or financial institution’s decision. This is especially the case, if the person is incapacitated and your POA is valid.

If there is any doubt about whether the POA would be accepted by the bank, now is the time to check and review the language and formatting with your estate planning or elder law attorney to be sure that the form is valid and will be acceptable.

Reference: The Mercury (July 7, 2020) “What to know if your bank refuses your power of attorney”

What Should I Know about Beneficiaries?

When you open most financial accounts, like a bank account, life insurance, a brokerage account, or a retirement account (e.g., a 401(k) or IRA), the institution will ask you to name a beneficiary. You also establish beneficiaries, when you draft a will or other legal contracts that require you to specify someone to benefit in your stead. With some trusts, the beneficiary may even be you and your spouse, while you’re alive.

Bankrate’s article entitled “What is a beneficiary?” explains that the beneficiary is usually a person, but it could be any number of individuals, as well as other entities like a trustee of your trust, your estate, or a charity or other such organization.

When you’re opening an account, many people forget to name a beneficiary, because it’s not needed as part of the process to create many financial accounts. However, naming a beneficiary allows you to direct your assets as you want; avoid conflict; and reduce legal issues. Failing to name a beneficiary may create big headaches in the future, possibly for those who have to deal with sorting out your affairs.

There are two types of beneficiaries. A primary beneficiary is first in line to receive any distributions from your assets. You can disburse your assets to as many primary beneficiaries as you want. You can also apportion your assets as you like, with a certain percentage of your account to each primary beneficiary. A contingent beneficiary receives a benefit, if one or more of the primary beneficiaries is unable to collect, such as if they’ve died.

After you’ve named your beneficiaries, it’s important to review the designations regularly. Major life events (death, divorce, birth) may modify who you want to be your beneficiary. You should also make certain that any language in your will doesn’t conflict with beneficiary designations. Beneficiary designations generally take precedence over your will. Check with an elder law or experienced estate planning attorney.

Finally, it is important to understand that a minor (e.g., typically under age 18 in most states) usually can’t hold property, so you’ll need to set up a structure that ensures the child receives the assets. One way to do this, is to have a guardian that holds assets in custody for the minor. You may also be able to use a trust with the same result but with an added benefit: in a trust you can instruct that the assets be given to beneficiaries, only when they reach a certain age or other event or purpose.

Reference: Bankrate (July 1, 2020) “What is a beneficiary?”

What are the Different Kinds of Powers of Attorney?

If I asked you what you thought is the most important document in your estate plan, you may say it’s your last will and testament or your trust. However, that’s not always the case. In many situations, the most important planning document may be a well-drafted power of attorney, says The Miami News-Record’s recent article entitled “Power of attorney options match different circumstances.”

When a person can’t make his or her own decisions because of health, injury, or other unfortunate circumstances, a power of attorney (POA) is essential. A POA is implemented to help their loved ones make important decisions on their behalf. It helps guide decision-making, enhances comfort and provides the best care for those who can’t ask for it themselves. A POA permits the named individual to manage their affairs.

To know which type of POA is appropriate for a given circumstance, you should know about each one and how they can offer help. There are five power of attorney forms.

Durable and Non-Durable Power of Attorney. This is the most common. These leave a person with full control of another person’s decisions, if they’re unable to make them. A Durable POA continues to be in effect when you are incapacitated. That is what the “durable” part means. A Non-Durable Power of Attorney is revoked, when you become incapacitated. Be sure you know which version you are signing.

Medical Power of Attorney. Especially in a hospice setting, it permits another person to make medical decisions on the patient’s behalf, if they lose the ability to communicate. This includes decisions about treatment. In this situation, the POA takes the role of patient advocate, typically with the presiding physician’s consent.

Springing Power of Attorney. This POA is frequently an alternative to an immediately effective POA, whether it durable or non-durable. Some people may not feel comfortable granting someone else power of attorney, while they’re healthy. This POA takes effect only upon a specified event, condition, or date.

Limited Power of Attorney. This POA provides the agent with the authority to handle financial, investment and banking issues. It’s usually used for one-time transactions, when the principal is unable to complete them due to incapacitation, illness, or other commitments.

If you don’t have a power of attorney, ask a qualified elder law or estate planning attorney to help you create one. If you already have a POA, review it to be sure it has everything needed, especially if you have a very old POA or one that was drafted in a state other than the one in which you reside.

Reference: The Miami (OK) News-Record (July 7, 2020) “Power of attorney options match different circumstances”

How Is the Inheritance Tax on My Estate Paid?

If your state has an inheritance tax, you should have an idea how it will be paid when you pass away.

Financial institutions may not withhold the tax before the inheritances are paid, and if there won’t be enough in the residue of your estate to pay the tax, you need some options.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled, “How can I be sure the inheritance tax is paid when I die?” says that, while it’s admirable to try to avoid trouble for your executors, there’s a simple solution.

The article suggests that you can remove all beneficiary designations from your financial accounts. When you add beneficiary designations to your financial accounts, you create non-probate assets, or assets that aren’t distributed pursuant to your will.

If you do this, those assets will become probate assets, or assets that pass through your will. As a result, you can then state in your will how these assets should be distributed.

For instance, it can be based on percentages of your estate or based on which financial institution holds the assets, or another method.

With these assets now being probate assets, the executor of your will is now able to withhold the inheritance tax on each of the distributions, before distributing the rest.

The amount of inheritance tax paid by the beneficiary is the same whether the distribution is made as a probate asset or a non-probate asset, except for life insurance.

However, if the financial account is a retirement account, by having it paid to the estate instead of directly to a beneficiary, the payout period may be lessened. Therefore, you should speak with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: nj.com (May 5, 2020) “How can I be sure the inheritance tax is paid when I die?”

What Is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document that permits an agent or attorney-in-fact to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf, if you are unable to do so.

WTOP’s recent article “How to Set Up a Power of Attorney” says that the rules for designating power of attorney vary from state to state. Because of this, you should speak to an experienced estate planning attorney about your state’s laws.

Power of attorney is revocable. Therefore, if you’re mentally competent and believe you can no longer count on the person you designated as your agent, you can update your documents and select another person.

The individual you choose as your attorney-in-fact will depend to a large extent on the type of power you’re granting — whether it’s general or limited — and your relationship. For general power of attorney, people often go with their spouses or sometimes their children. However, you can choose anyone, as long as it’s someone you trust.

In many cases, designating general power of attorney is a component of a larger estate plan, so when you talk to your estate planning lawyer about your estate plan, you can add this to the conversation.

You may want to have your attorney draft a limited or special power of attorney. This lets your agent complete restricted transactions, like selling a piece of property. It’s limited in scope. In contrast, a general power of attorney lets your agent do about anything you could do. A general power of attorney is usually part of an estate plan, in the event you’re unable to handle your own financial matters as you age or become incapacitated.

A springing power of attorney goes into effect in a predetermined situation, and it will specify the circumstances under which the power takes effect. An immediately effective or non-springing power of attorney is in place once the paperwork is signed.

Powers of attorney typically end when the principal is unable to make decisions on his or her own. However, for some, becoming incapacitated is just the type of circumstances when they want someone they trust to have power of attorney.

A durable power of attorney continues after the individual is incapacitated. Therefore, if you’re unable to make financial or medical decisions on your own after an accident or illness, the POA will remain in effect.

You are generally also able to name a medical power of attorney. That’s a person who knows your wishes and can make health care decisions for you as a proxy. It’s also known as a health care proxy. If you can’t make decisions on your own, the health care proxy kicks in. Your health care proxy should know your wishes, as far as how you’d like doctors to treat you, if you can’t make decisions on your own. This may also accompany a living will, which expresses your wishes on continuing life support, if you’re terminally ill or being kept alive by machines.

Reference: WTOP (May 21, 2020) “How to Set Up a Power of Attorney”