This is the type of estate scenario that demonstrates the importance of having a will, no matter how old you are. The challenge, as described in My San Antonio’s article, “Using power of attorney in daughter’s estate,” is untangling the house title, the mortgage and the taxes. Having a will would have prevented this entire situation from occurring.
In an ideal world, wills and estate plans are created when people are sound of mind and body, just as the familiar legal phrase describes. The best way to avoid a will contest is to have a well-written will, prepared by a qualified estate planning attorney who can help avoid legal contest. However, there are times when this is not the case, says The Huntsville Item in the article “Legal Corner: Will contests while rare are messy.”
Even if your financial life is pretty simple, you should have a will. However, there’s more work to be done. Assets must be properly titled, so that assets are distributed as intended upon death.
Forbes’ recent article, “For Estate Plan To Work As Intended, Assets Must Be Properly Titled” notes that with the exception of the choice of potential guardians for children, the most important function of a will is to make certain that the transfer of assets to beneficiaries is the way you intended.
There are several actions that a parent can take to decrease the chance of a fight after her death, says nj.com in its recent article, “My brothers might start a fight over mom’s will. What can she do about it?”
Life happens, when we’re not prepared. A woman is recovering at home from minor surgery when her older sister dies unexpectedly, thousands of miles away. She can’t fly from her home to her sister’s home for weeks. What will happen, asks Considerable in the article “This is the most helpful thing you can do for the people who love you” ? If you’re not prepared, the result is a mess for those you love.
Losing the independence that comes with being able to drive, is often followed by the realization that parents can no longer be entrusted with their own finances. This is a difficult issue, because the parents of Baby Boomer kids are the “Greatest Generation.” As a general rule, they were and are extremely private about finances. The steps to take are outlined in this article, “Here’s how to know when it’s time to take control of your parent’s finances,” from Considerable.
The tricky part is figuring out the timing. If it is done too early, you’ll be battling with your parents. Conversely, if it is done too late, major financial damage may be done.
Keep your eyes open for signs that your parents are not able to maintain their responsibilities. That includes changes in their behavior, misplacing things and not being able to locate them, or making too many trips to the bank for reasons that they can’t or won’t explain. Another clue: purchasing things they never bought before. You may notice paperwork piling up on a desk that used to be tidy and organized.
One woman didn’t realize that her mother was being scammed, until she had sent more than $100,000 to scammers. Elderly financial abuse is pervasive, and the Senate Special Committee on Aging estimates that elderly Americans lose some $3 billion annually to financial scammers.
One elderly woman suffering from dementia, forgot to pay her long-term care insurance premiums and lost the coverage. The company had sent five notices, but she was not able to manage her finances.
Even those who have close relationships with their parents and their daily events can have slip ups. Often, the children don’t step in, until the parent has a health crisis, and then it becomes clear that things have not been right for a while. If one parent is overwhelmed by taking care of their spouse, an otherwise organized person may become prone to making mistakes.
The earlier children can become involved, the better. Children should ideally become involved with their parents, while they are still healthy and able to communicate the necessary information about their financial lives. If the family waits until illness strikes or dementia becomes apparent, there may be significant and irreversible damage done to the parent’s finances, like the woman who lost her long-term health care coverage. There are some instances where the court need to become involved, if the parents are not able or willing to let the children help.
An elder law attorney will be able to help the family as they transition the parents away from being in charge of their own finances. It’s not always an easy process but becomes necessary.
Reference: Considerable (April 18, 2019) “Here’s how to know when it’s time to take control of your parent’s finances”
Morningstar’s article, “2 Estate-Planning Tools That Singles Should Consider” explains that a living will, or advance medical directive, is a legal document that details your wishes for life-sustaining treatment. It’s a document that you sign when you’re of sound mind and says you want to be removed from life supporting measures, if you become terminally ill and incapacitated.
Yes, death is the ultimate grim topic. However, it is an important one to discuss with your loved ones and your estate planning attorney. If you don’t have an estate plan in place, and one that is done correctly, you may doom your family to spending years and more money than you’d want on court proceedings and legal fees to settle your estate. You can prevent all this, by creating an estate plan with a qualified estate planning attorney. It is really that simple, says The San Diego Union-Tribune in the article “6 estate-planning mistakes to avoid.”
Can your mom just sell her house, despite her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s?
The (Bryan TX) Eagle reports in the recent article “MENTAL CLARITY: Shining a light on the capacity to sign Texas documents” that the concept of “mental capacity” is complicated. There’s considerable confusion about incapacity. The article explains that different legal documents have a different degree of required capacity. The bar for signing a Power of Attorney, a Warranty Deed, a Contract, a Divorce Decree, or a Settlement Agreement is a little lower than for signing a Will. The individual signing legal documents must be capable of understanding and appreciating what he or she is signing, as well as the effect of the document.
Power of Attorney abuse has emerged as a serious problem for elderly people who are vulnerable to people they trust more than they should, reports the Sandusky Register in the article “Consumer beware: Understanding the powers of a Power of Attorney” The same is true for a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care document, which should be of great concern for seniors and their family members.
This illustrates the importance of a Power of Attorney document: the person, also known as the “principal,” is giving the authority to act on their behalf in all financial and personal affairs to another person, known as their “agent.” That means the agent is empowered to do anything and everything the person themselves would do, from making withdrawals from a bank account, to selling a home or a car or more mundane acts, such as paying bills and filing taxes.
The problem is that there is nothing to stop someone, once they have Power of Attorney, from taking advantage of the situation. No one is watching out for the person’s best interests, to make sure bank accounts aren’t drained or assets sold. The agent can abuse that financial power to the detriment of the senior and to benefit the agent themselves. It is a crime when it happens. However, this is what often occurs: seniors are so embarrassed that they gave this power to someone they thought they could trust, that they are reluctant to report the crime.
Similarly, an unchecked Health Care Power of Attorney can lead to abuse, if the wrong person is named.
The following is a real example of how this can go wrong. An adult child arranged for their trusting parent to be diagnosed as suffering from dementia by an unscrupulous psychiatrist, when the parent did not have dementia.
The adult child then had the parent admitted into a nursing home, misrepresenting the admission as a temporary stay for rehabilitation. They then kept the parent in the nursing home, using the dementia diagnosis as a reason for her to remain in the nursing home.
The parent had to hire an attorney and prove to the court that she was competent and able to live independently, to be able to return to her home.
Contact Perkins Law Group to discuss your situation and figure out who might become named as Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of attorney on your behalf. We will be able to help you make sure that your estate plan, including your will, is properly prepared and discuss with you the best options for these important decisions.
Reference: Sandusky Register (Feb. 5, 2019) “Consumer beware: Understanding the powers of a Power of Attorney”