Can a Power of Attorney Withdraw Money from Bank Account?

A power of attorney, or POA, is a legal document giving another person the legal authority to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf. Known as an agent or attorney-in-fact, you should only name someone to be your POA, if you trust them implicitly and believe they will always manage your affairs with your best interest in mind, according to the recent article titled “Can A Power Of Attorney Transfer Money To Themselves?” from Washington Independent.

There are different types of power of attorney and ethical and legal considerations surrounding the transfer of money. The two main types of POA are general POA and durable POA. A general POA gives the agent broad authority to handle financial and other matters on your behalf, and the power ends if you become incapacitated. A durable POA remains in effect, if you become incapacitated and continues until your death or until it is revoked.

The powers given to an agent vary widely depending on the state laws governing the document, and also vary depending on the specific document. In general, an agent can use the POA to handle a wide range of financial matters, including paying bills, managing investments, buying and selling real property and signing legal documents.

Using non-state specific blank forms downloaded from the web leads almost always leads to complicated (read: costly and time-consuming) problems for an agent. The specific powers granted to the agent need to be spelled out in the document. For example, you may wish for your POA to manage paying household bills, but not to sell the house.

There are also ethical considerations. While the POA gives the agent the authority to transfer money on your behalf, they are fiduciaries and are held to a higher standard of ethics. They must act in your best interest at all times.

Transferring money from your account to the agent’s account for their benefit would be a clear violation and could result in legal consequences, including criminal charges. The transfer could be challenged in court and the agent could be held accountable for any damages.

If you are concerned about a person abusing this role, there are steps to take to minimize the risk.

  • Chose a trustworthy and reliable person to serve as your agent.
  • Limit the powers granted by having a customized Power of Attorney drafted by an experienced estate planning attorney. The document could specify that the agent is not permitted to transfer money to themselves or use your funds for their personal benefit.
  • Monitoring the action of the agent. If you are incapacitated, name a person to monitor the agent and provide them with contact information for your estate planning attorney if there are any questions.

Reference: Washington Independent (Feb. 7, 2023) “Can A Power Of Attorney Transfer Money To Themselves?”

Top Benefits of Estate Planning

Despite the hard lessons learned during the COVID pandemic, surveys repeatedly show most Americans still don’t have an estate plan in place. According to the article “Five benefits of estate planning” from The Aspen Times, a comprehensive estate plan ensures your assets are distributed according to your wishes when you die, minimizes taxes on your estate and protects your loved ones, especially those who depend on you financially. In addition, estate planning protects you while you are living and ensures that your wishes are followed, if you become incapacitated.

Protect Yourself and Your Assets During Your Lifetime. No one likes to consider themselves at risk of incapacity. However, this happens. If you become mentally or physically incapacitated during your lifetime, you might not be able to earn income, or make decisions for yourself. Part of an estate plan includes documents to address these risks to protect yourself, your family and your assets.

Designating a health care proxy and a power of attorney gives people you choose the ability to make decisions on your behalf. Otherwise, the responsibility for your medical, legal and financial decisions may go to someone you don’t even know.

Asset Distribution. Without a last will, your home state’s laws govern the distribution of your assets. Your intentions to care for certain individuals won’t be relevant, as the law itself decides who gets what. A last will is used to state exactly how you want assets to be distributed. Your last will should be updated as your financial situation and/or family dynamics change. You should also review designated beneficiaries on investment accounts and insurance policies regularly and especially after any major life changes.

Minimize Transfer Taxes. While there’s no way to predict what taxes will take effect in the future, it’s safe to assume there will be taxes on your estate. If you hope to leave wealth of any size to your family, proper estate planning is crucial. There are many different strategies to minimize taxes on inherited wealth, including life insurance, Roth IRA conversions, lifetime giving and trusts. Your estate planning attorney will be able to create a plan suited for your unique situation.

Protect Family Wealth. As people accumulate wealth, they often become the targets of frivolous lawsuits. For this reason, placing assets in certain types of trusts can ensure efficient wealth transfer, as well as protecting assets from predators and creditors.

Create and Continue a Legacy. Legacy planning is part of the estate planning process. Many people donate money or assets on their death to causes they supported during their lifetime. These goals can be achieved by contributing to a donor advised fund, creating a family foundation or setting up a philanthropic trust.

Creating an estate plan is also a useful tool for having candid discussions with the family about the future, avoiding future conflicts and making your estate administration easier for loved ones.

Reference: The Aspen Times (Jan. 24, 2023) “Five benefits of estate planning”

Do I Need a Life Insurance Trust?

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts have three components: a grantor, the person who creates a trust, a trustee, the manager of the trust and a beneficiary or beneficiaries, explains a recent article titled “What is an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust?” from The Edwardsville Intelligencer.

In an ILIT, the trustee purchases the policy, and the irrevocable trust becomes the owner. When insurance benefits are paid on the death of the grantor, the trustee collects the funds, pays any estate taxes due and any outstanding debts, like legal fees and probate costs, then distributes the rest to beneficiaries.

The biggest reason for people to consider an ILIT is to help lessen estate taxes. In the last few years, the federal estate and gift tax exemption has been set at historically high levels, and most people don’t need to worry about that on a federal level. However, state estate taxes still need to be addressed, and the federal estate tax level is set to drop dramatically in 2026.

There are other reasons for an ILIT:

If a life insurance beneficiary is incapacitated, the ILIT can prevent the court system from controlling proceeds.

Proceeds from the ILIT can provide cash to pay expenses, including estate taxes and any other debts.

The ILIT can provide income for the spouse without the funds being included in the spouse’s estate.

The ILIT can provide protection for heirs. Depending upon the state where you live, proceeds from life insurance payouts may or may not have protection from creditors. Speak with your estate planning attorney to learn if this applies to you.

Ability to include a “Spendthrift Provision.” If an heir or heirs has trouble managing money or is prone to making bad decisions, financial and otherwise, the ILIT trust can contain a spendthrift provision to pay beneficiaries monthly, instead of providing them with a lump-sum payout.

However, the ILIT isn’t for everyone. There are some downsides to consider.

The ILIT is irrevocable, and is difficult, if not impossible, to make changes to it, with the exception of changing the trustee. Once a policy is placed in an ILIT, you give up any rights to the policy. You can’t reassign it to a different trust or any other legal entity.

ILITs are complex and nuanced legal vehicles requiring the help of an estate planning attorney who knows their way around trusts. This has been a very general overview of a topic with many moving parts to it. Discuss whether an ILIT will be useful for your estate plan with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: The Edwardsville Intelligencer (Jan. 31, 2023) “What is an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust?”

How Does Estate Planning Work for Caregiving Children?

This situation requires considered estate planning to protect the arrangement, both for the parent and child, in the event of the parent’s incapacity and what may happen, if and when the parent needs to move to a care facility and/or passes away.

If the child is caring for the parent at the parent’s home, the parent’s estate planning often gives the child the ability to remain at the parent’s residence. It may also allow the child to access the parent’s bank accounts, if the parent becomes mentally incapacitated. A recent article from Lake County Record-Bee, “Estate planning for parents with caregiver children,” says if the planning is not done correctly, a series of unintended problems may arise, including disagreements with other family members and allegations of elder abuse, especially financial abuse.

Agreed-upon terms of any living arrangement should be included in the parent’s estate planning documents. If the parent has a living trust, the trust may allow the child to remain in the family home, so the document must clearly state the terms of the living arrangement. If the parents live in a rental property, the POA may be used to authorize the child’s continued occupancy and use of the parent’s money to pay household expenses. The rental agreement would need to include the child as a tenant.

What if the parent lives in the child’s home? The child’s estate plan would need to reflect on what terms the parent may remain in the child’s house, if the child were to become incapacitated or die unexpectedly. Consideration would also need to be given to how the parents receive care.

If the parent dies or moves into a nursing home or when the child moves out, the arrangement ends. What happens next? It depends on the situation. The parent may leave the residence to the adult care giver child. The following also to be addressed: how are expenses, including the mortgage, to be paid and is there an expressed transition period before the child moves out?

If the parent intends to leave the family home to the adult care giver, the estate planning documents need to gift the residence to the adult caregiver. This may include lifetime gifting, or it may entail renting the residence to provide income for the parent’s needs.

If there are siblings, or a spouse from a second marriage, the estate planning documents need to say whether and how other family members participate in the residence. The parents may want to gift the residence to all children, subject to an exclusive life estate for the care giver to live in the family home. When the care giver child becomes incapacitated or dies, the family home is usually sold, and the sale proceeds divided between the parent’s living descendants.

Something to be careful about: if the caregiver child is treated more favorably than siblings. While the parents are entitled to make their own decisions about how to distribute assets, a disgruntled sibling may object to how assets are distributed. An estate planning attorney will be able to formally document the parent’s wishes, and prepare the estate for any challenges.

Finally, if no advance planning is done, it is possible the parent may end up needing a guardian and conservator to care for their finances and their well-being, respectively, if they become incapacitated. This becomes an expensive situation, and the result of court-supervised administrators may not agree with how the parent wished their affairs to be handled.

Reference: Lake County Record-Bee (Feb. 4, 2023) “Estate planning for parents with caregiver children”

Do I Need a Last Will and Testament?

Estate planning encompasses everything from planning for property distribution at death to preparing for incapacity, tax planning and guardian planning for minor children. An experienced estate planning attorney is involved with far more than a last will and testament. However, this is what most people think of when they sit down for their first meeting.

A recent article titled “Last Will and Testament” from mondaq examines what the last will and testament does and how it differs from trusts. These two are only part of a comprehensive estate plan.

A will is only effective upon death. Its directions are not followed while living or if a person becomes incapacitated. A will does not avoid probate, rather it ensures assets go to the people as directed by the person making the will. Without a will, assets are distributed according to the laws of the state, usually determined by kinship. A certain percentage will go to a spouse and another percentage will go to biological children. Unmarried partners and stepchildren have no legal right of inheritance.

The will is also the legal document used to name an executor, the person responsible for carrying out the directions in the will and managing the estate. The executor has a long list of duties, from making sure the will is validated by the court during probate to applying for an estate tax identification number with the IRS, opening an estate bank account, notifying Social Security of the decedent’s passing, paying debts, paying taxes for the individual and for the estate and distributing property,

The will is used to name a guardian for minor children. When planning has been done correctly, the guardian is provided with information about the children’s lives and financial planning has been done for the children’s support and for their education. A trust is usually used to hold assets for the benefit of the children, with a trustee named to manage funds.

Wills go through probate, which varies by state. Once the will is filed in court, it becomes a public document. Heirs must be notified, even those not included in the will. An alternative is creating and placing assets in a trust to protect privacy and manage and distribute property.

Trusts are not just for wealthy people. They are used to maintain privacy, as the assets in the trust do not pass through probate. The trustee is in charge of the trust and making distributions to beneficiaries. There are many different types of trusts; an experienced estate planning attorney will be able to recommend the optimal one for each client based on their situation.

The trust is effective upon its creation and is a separate legal entity and is also used to protect assets from creditors. Trusts are more complicated than traditional bank accounts. However, their ability to protect assets and maintain privacy make them a valuable part of any estate plan.

If a person becomes incapacitated, the trust remains in effect. If the trust is a revocable trust, meaning the grantor is able to change its terms as long as they are living and the grantor becomes incapacitated, a successor trustee can step in and manage the trust without court intervention.

Trusts do require diligence to create. Trust must be funded, meaning assets need to be retitled so they are owned by the trust. New accounts may need to be open, if retitling is not possible. Beneficiaries need to be established and terms need to be set. The trust can be created to fund a college education or for general use. However, terms need to be established.

A comprehensive estate plan protects the individual while they are living and protects the family after they have passed. It is a gift to those you love.

Reference: mondaq (Nov. 16, 2022) “Last Will and Testament”

Is Guardianship a Good Idea?
Judge Gavel And Striking Block Over Law Book With Guardianship Law Text On Wooden Desk

Is Guardianship a Good Idea?

Guardianship is usually an act of last resort, embarked upon when there is no lesser restrictive means of protecting a person. There are steps to be taken to avoid being placed under guardianship, including signing a durable financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney to allow someone of your choosing to make important decisions for you.

If you have these documents and later become incapacitated, there won’t be a need for guardianship because you’ll have an agent or agents in place to act on your behalf.

It is when there has been no advance planning and you develop a significant cognitive impairment when guardianship becomes necessary, according to a recent article, “Guardianship gone good: Protections afforded by guardianship may be necessary,” from The Dallas Morning News.

What if the powers of attorney you had so diligently prepared became invalid? It is possible but can be easily avoided if you take the right preventive steps.

First, make sure to review these documents every now and then. If someone you named to serve in one of these roles has moved far away, they may not be able to serve. Do you have a second person named for financial or medical POA? The same could occur if the person named became incapacitated, died, or declined to serve.

Second, you could have an agent who does not act in your best interest, often referred to as a “rogue” agent. This could be worse than having no agent.

Third, if you are acting against your own best interest, there’s not much a power of attorney can do to protect you from yourself. If your incapacity leads you to making bad decisions which jeopardize your own welfare, a court may create a guardianship to protect you from yourself.

This is why guardianships are nuanced, with every situation requiring a different solution.

For example, levels of incapacity vary. If the cognitive impairment is mild, you may not need someone to act for you. If your impairment is severe and leads to self-harm, violent outbursts or harm to others, a guardianship may become necessary.

Another concern for families whose loved ones have become incapacitated is their vulnerability to scammers.

While guardianship receives a lot of negative coverage in the media, it is, in many instances, a useful and valuable tool used to protect loved ones.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (Nov. 13, 2022) “Guardianship gone good: Protections afforded by guardianship may be necessary”

Don’t Miss Out on Estate Planning Opportunities

The recent article, “Rooting Out Estate Planning Opportunities,” from Financial Advisor offers a number of frequently missed opportunities in estate planning. Chief among them are failing to update estate plans, as changes to tax laws could mean that strategies used when your estate plan was initially created may no longer be relevant.

Before these opportunities can be discovered, it’s important to have a clear accounting of all of your assets, including a balance sheet of each “bucket” of resources: personal assets, trust assets, qualified plan assets, etc. The secret to success: meeting with your estate planning attorney every few years to review this entire picture to identify potential opportunities.

Once you have a sense of the whole picture, it’s easier to spot opportunities for your Estate Planning. For instance:

A Spousal Lifetime Access Trust, or SLAT, is an irrevocable trust used when a grantor wants to transfer part of their spousal exclusion into a SLAT to provide for their spouse and descendants. The SLAT keeps assets out of the donor’s estate and authorizes the trustee to make distributions to the grantor’s spouse, while at the same time it allows children or other heirs to be named as beneficiaries. Many couples use these trusts to protect assets from lawsuits.

There are some drawbacks to keep in mind. If one spouse is the beneficiary of the other spouse, all is well while both are living. However, if one spouse dies or becomes incapacitated and all assets are in the trust, the other may lose access to the trust created for the now deceased spouse.

The loss of access and the restrictions on SLAT distribution could be addressed by having both spouses purchase life insurance policies to fill the gap. At the same time, the couple would be well advised to look into disability and long-term care insurance.

Another situation is the use of a credit shelter trust, often called a bypass trust because it bypasses the surviving spouse’s estate. They are not as advantageous as they used to be because of today’s high estate tax exemption. They were also popular when the surviving spouse wasn’t able to use their deceased spouse’s estate tax exemption.

With the federal estate tax exemption up to more than $12 million, many who still have credit shelter trusts may find they don’t make sense in the short term. However, for now the federal estate exemption is set to drop down to $6 million when the Jobs and Tax Act sunsets. Depending upon your circumstances, it may be worthwhile to maintain this trust. Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you.

Merging old trusts into new ones, or “decanting” them, makes sense in some situations. A new trust can be better crafted to align with the latest in tax laws and serve the same beneficiaries for as long as your state’s laws permit.

The two important takeaways here:

  • Estate planning requires a complete look at all of your assets and liabilities to make the best decisions on how to structure any estate and tax strategies; and
  • Estate planning needs to be reviewed on a regular basis—every three to five years at a minimum—to ensure the strategies still work, despite any changes in tax laws and your situation.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Nov. 1, 2022) “Rooting Out Estate Planning Opportunities”

Why Is Power of Attorney So Important for Estate Planning?

One of the most overlooked and important documents in estate planning is the Power of Attorney. A recent article from Farm Progress, “Often overlooked estate planning issues: Powers of attorney,” explains how this document works and why it’s so important.

Most people will become incapacitated at some point in our lives, especially as we age. Some experts believe this number is as high as two-thirds of all Americans who, at some point in their lives, will become incapacitated. We are living longer and the chances of developing a condition to impair or rob us of the ability to make important health or financial decisions increases every year.

Powers of Attorney are just as important for young adults because the risk of disability or impairment is often actually higher than death for someone younger.

Designating a Power of Attorney gives you the control of choosing a trusted person to step in and act as your agent. A “Durable” POA remains in effect until it is revoked, or upon the death of the person who made it.

The person establishing the POA is the “principal.” The principal has the right to revoke the POA until they lack capacity to do so. The person or persons named to act for you through your POA is your “attorney-in-fact” or “agent.”

You may choose to have the POA in a “durable” form or a “springing” POA. The springing POA becomes effective only when you have been determined to be incapacitated. This sounds like a good idea. However, it comes with an issue: for the springing POA to become active, there must be proof of incapacity.

Depending upon your state, this may require a court to review documents attesting to your incapacity from a physician or health care provider. The durable POA is always in effect and your agent can step in for you immediately.

Everyone should also have a Health Care Power of Attorney, sometimes called a Health Care Proxy or a medical POA. The Health Care POA should be someone who can act quickly, so it’s optimal to name someone who lives nearby, in case there’s an emergency and decisions need to be made in a timely manner.

While it’s tempting to simply download a form from the internet, these two POAs are best prepared with an estate planning attorney, so they align with your state’s laws and your wishes. You may want someone to make all decisions for you, or you may want to limit their powers. Your estate planning attorney will be able to create a document to suit your specific needs.

It’s also important for your estate plan to address digital assets, since today so much of our financial and medical information is stored online. Your agent also needs to be able to access your digital life, to keep your life running smoothly and make informed decisions.

Reference: Farm Progress (Oct. 18, 2022) “Often overlooked estate planning issues: Powers of attorney.”

Why Do You Need an Estate Plan?

Everyone benefits from having an estate plan. If you own property, investments, or anything of value, you need an estate plan. If you have family or dependents, you need an estate plan. Estate planning directs how assets are directed, if you become incapacitated or when you die.

The checklist for creating an estate plan includes a will, powers of attorney and assigning beneficiary account designations. Using an estate planning lawyer ensures that your plan meets all legal requirements, according to the article “What is estate planning? A strategy to safeguard your family and your finances, and ensure your plans for them get carried out as you wish” from Business Insider.

In this usage, “estate” means the things you own. An estate plan inventories everything, including your home, cars, bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts and personal possessions. It outlines in writing exactly what you want to happen with your property. It also directs who you want to handle your affairs during life and after death and who you want to inherit your assets.

Why does estate planning matter? If you die without a will, your assets may get tied up in probate, where the court oversees the distribution of your estate according to your state’s laws. Without a will and the tax planning part of estate planning, your estate may shrink and your heirs receive less.

The will is just the start of a comprehensive estate plan. It details where you want your assets to go and names an executor who will oversee your estate. If you have minor children, the will is where you name a guardian to raise your children.

A durable power of attorney designates a person to act on your behalf for legal and financial matters if you become incapacitated. Without it, family members will not be able to file tax returns, collect government benefits, manage investments and handle any financial transactions. They’ll need to go to court and have a judge appoint someone to manage these and other tasks. It’s far easier and less expensive to have this document in place than to get the courts involved.

A health care power of attorney is your opportunity to name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. This includes choosing doctors, deciding what tests to run and whether you want to have surgery or certain treatments.

You’ll want a living will to ensure your wishes for end-of-life decisions are followed. A living will also relieves your loved one of the enormous burden of determining “what Mom would have wanted” if you become terminally ill, enter the late stages of dementia, are seriously injured, in a coma, or near the end of your life. What extreme measures do you want to be taken to prolong your life? What would you not want to be done to maintain your life?

Beneficiary designations are the forms to be completed when you open a retirement account or purchase a life insurance policy. Beneficiary designations override any instructions for these accounts set out in your will, so its very important to review and update them regularly.

Trusts are used to take assets out of your probate estate. A trust is created by an estate planning attorney and upon death, assets are distributed according to the directions of the trust. If you own a lot of assets, trusts are a useful tool to avoid estate and inheritance taxes.

Digital asset protection trusts are a way to legally transfer domain names, social media accounts and other digital assets to heirs upon your death. Emails, text messages, cloud-based storage accounts, websites and social media accounts all need to be inventoried and a plan needs to be in place to protect these assets.

Reference: Business Insider (Sep. 22, 2022) “What is estate planning? A strategy to safeguard your family and your finances, and ensure your plans for them get carried out as you wish”

What Is the Purpose of a Guardian?

The most frequently asked questions about guardianship concern when it’s needed, how the process works and is there a way to avoid it. The idea of guardianship may feel troubling if you’ve never known anyone who needed a guardian, says a recent article “Guardian process can be lengthy, difficult” from The News-Enterprise.

Simply put, guardianship is a court proceeding restricting or removing the right of a person to manage their own financial, legal and medical affairs.

Guardianship is not exclusive to elderly individuals, as it is often used to protect adults and older children with disabilities. Guardianship is mainly needed when the person is unable to manage their own finances, incapable of understanding the scope and consequences of making their own medical decisions or is at risk of exploitation due to diminished capacity.

The process for obtaining guardianship for another person is complicated and takes at least several months before a guardianship order is entered into the legal record.

The first step is for the person who seeks guardianship for another person to file a petition with the District Court in the county where the impaired person lives. The person who files the petition is known as the petitioner and the person who needs the guardianship is known as the respondent. The petitioner is usually a family member but may also be a concerned person or an institution, like a nursing facility.

The petition is often paired with a request for emergency guardianship pending a trial. If the court doesn’t order the emergency order immediately, a short trial may be needed to get an emergency order. The court then sets a trial date and issues an order for an evaluation.

Different states have different requirements, which is why the help of an experienced estate planning attorney is needed. In some states, reports from three independent team members are needed: a healthcare professional, which is typically the respondent’s primary care physician; a mental health professional and a social worker, often from Adult Protective Services.

Each person from the team must conduct an independent evaluation and submit a separate report to the court with their findings and a recommendation. In some states, the guardianship moves to a trial, while in other states the trial is held in front of a judge.

If the guardianship is granted, by trial or by the judge, a guardian is appointed to make decisions for the person and a conservator is named. The conservator is in charge of the person’s finances. Both the guardian and conservator are required to file reports with the court concerning their actions on behalf of the respondent throughout the duration of their roles.

How can guardianship be avoided? It’s far simpler and less costly for the family to work with an estate planning attorney to have Durable Powers of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney documents created in advance of any incapacity. Paired with fully funded revocable living trusts, the family can have complete control over their loved one without court intervention.

These documents cannot be prepared after a person is incapacitated, so a pro-active approach must be taken long before they are needed.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Sep. 24, 2022) “Guardian process can be lengthy, difficult”