Be Careful Granting Power of Attorney

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”

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Should I Give Access to My Checking Account to My Adult Son in Case of an Emergency?

It’s not uncommon for an elderly parent to go to the bank to add a child to his or her bank account “in case something happens to me.”

The reason why most parents do this, is to give their child access to their money during an emergency. It sounds like it should be a pretty easy process. With proper planning, it can be. However, parents should know that simply making a child the joint owner of a bank account (or investment account or safe deposit box) can have unintended consequences. Sometimes this isn’t the best solution during a family crisis.

As Kiplinger’s recent article, “The Trouble with Joint Bank Accounts ‘Just in Case’” explains, the vast majority of banks set up all of their joint accounts as “Joint with Rights of Survivorship” (JWROS). This type of account ownership typically says that upon the death of either of the owners, the assets will automatically transfer to the surviving owner. However, this can create a few unexpected issues.

If Mom’s intent was for the remaining assets not spent during the family crisis to be distributed by the terms of a will, that’s not happening. That’s because the assets automatically transfer to the surviving owner. It doesn’t matter what Mom’s will says.

Remember that adding anyone other than a spouse could create a federal gift tax issue, depending on the size of the account. Anyone make a gift of up to $15,000 a year tax-free to whoever they wish, but if the gift is more than $15,000 and the beneficiary isn’t the spouse, it could trigger the need to file a gift tax return.

For example, if a parent adds a child to their $500,000 savings account, and the child predeceases the parent, half of the account value could be included in the child’s estate for tax purposes. The assets would transfer back to the parent, and, depending on the deceased’s state of residence, state inheritance tax could be due on 50% of the account value. In some states, the tax would be 4.5%, which would mean a state inheritance tax bill of more than $11,000.

However, if Mom’s intent in adding a joint owner to her account is to give her son access to her assets at her death, there’s a better way to do it. Most banks let you structure an account with a “Transfer on Death,” or TOD. With a TOD, if the beneficiary passes before the account owner, nothing happens. There’s no possibility of a state inheritance tax on 50% of the account value. When the account owner dies, the beneficiary has to supply a death certificate to the bank, and the assets will be transferred. These assets are transferred to a named beneficiary, so the time and expense of probating the will are also avoided, because named beneficiary designations supersede the will. This is the same for pensions, IRAs and life insurance policies.

Setting up an account as TOD doesn’t give the beneficiary access to the account, until the death of the account owner. Therefore, the change in titling isn’t considered a gift by the IRS, which eliminates the potential federal gift tax issue.

There’s no such thing as a joint retirement account because IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities, and the like can only have one owner—it’s not possible to make someone a joint owner. However, if a parent becomes incapacitated, they still often would like their child to have access to all their assets, in addition to their bank accounts. The answer for these is a financial power of attorney. This is a document that lets one or more people make financial decisions on your behalf. This document should be drafted by a qualified estate planning attorney.

It is important to understand that many financial institutions require a review process of a financial power of attorney appointment. The bank’s legal department may want to review the document before allowing the designated person to make transactions. This can take several weeks, so be sure that all financial institutions where you have accounts have a copy of your executed financial power of attorney. Have it in place before it’s needed.

Talk to your estate planning attorney about what you’re trying to do and let her guide you. Planning in advance will make things much easy for your loved ones, in case of an emergency.

Reference: Kiplinger (November 14, 2018) “The Trouble with Joint Bank Accounts ‘Just in Case’”

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