YOUR QUESTIONS ON DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIP. PART 1.

March 2024. Q: I’m not married to my partner. I have kids from my marriage. Why do I need a will? Won’t everything just go to my kids, since my partner and I aren’t married? A: As of last year, your “domestic partner” becomes like a spouse, and will get half of your estate if you don’t have a will. Your “partner” might be your “domestic partner” if you have agreed “to be in a relationship of mutual interdependence in which each individual contributes to the maintenance and support of the other individual and the relationship, even if both individuals are not required to contribute equally to the relationship.” That agreement might be substantiated by an affidavit signed by you and your partner, but doesn’t have to be, so it’s best to...

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WHO TO TELL?

February 2024. Q: When I sign a power of attorney or will, who knows about it? A: Only you, your attorney, and anyone you tell. Your attorney can’t even disclose that he or she has met you, and certainly can’t disclose that you’ve signed a power of attorney or will, or what its contents might be. There’s no “registry” or database that contains this information. It’s up to you who you tell that you’ve signed a power of attorney or will. If you don’t tell anyone that you signed these documents, then no one will know to look for them, and your affairs might be administered without regard to your documents, which might result in guardianship proceedings before the court or your estate being distributed to the wrong people. Many of my clients...

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YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED – JANUARY ’24

January 2024. Q: I need a trust so my kids don’t have to pay a boatload of taxes. A: Actually, a trust doesn’t avoid taxes. In fact, a trust might actually increase the taxes due if your estate plan is not correctly set up. For example, if your IRA or 401(k) pays to your trust and your trust isn’t drafted correctly, the entire payment might be taxed as income to the trust, and trusts can pay much more in taxes on a dollar of income. But aside from IRA’s, 401(k)’s and other retirement plans or annuities, inheritances are not income, so there’s no tax on the inheritance itself. Let’s look at your situation to see if a trust is best for you, or whether there is a simpler way to plan your estate and benefit your kids without the expense of a...

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INTESTACY

December 2023. Q: What happens if everyone named in my will is deceased? A: Under Maryland law, if you are not survived by the beneficiaries named in your will, your estate will be distributed as if you had no will (“intestacy”). Assuming your spouse and children and their descendants (your grandchildren) have already died, this would be as follows: 1) To your parents or the survivor of them, or, if both are deceased, to their descendants (your siblings, or nieces and nephews), or, if none, 2) To your grandparents or the survivor of each pair, or, if both of one pair is deceased, to their descendants (your aunts and uncles, or cousins), or, if none, all to the other pair or the one of them who is living, or to their descendants; or, if...

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THANK YOU!

November 2023. The man plucked at my elbow in the Post Office the other day. “You're that guy!” he exclaimed, “that guy who writes for the paper.” Relieved that he had not mistaken me for some old enemy, I nodded and smiled. “Wait a minute, I know you!” said the lady in Wal-Mart a few weeks later. “You write about wills for the paper.” Pleased to be thus recognized, I allowed myself to be finagled into a short conversation on the topic of trusts. “I can't take you anywhere,” muttered my wife. “People keep stopping us to chat.” The wonderful thing about doing business in a small town like Mount Airy is that people know people, and people care. Next year will mark twenty-nine years of this writer's business in our town, and long ago I...

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SOME QUESTIONS ON TRUSTS – PART TWO

October 2023. Q: I have a disabled daughter. Do I really need a trust? Can’t I just leave everything to my son to use for his sister? A: Yes, you can do that, but I’m not sure you should do that. If you leave everything to your son to use for his sister without any written direction, nobody knows that the assets aren’t the property of your son. That means that if your son has an auto accident, or becomes ill and unable to pay his debts or living costs, or gets a divorce, everything you’ve left him, including the amount that he was to use for his sister, is available to his creditors, or to his soon-to-be-ex-spouse. If you do leave written direction, you’ve just created a trust, and the written direction you’ve left is the terms of the...

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SOME QUESTIONS ON TRUSTS – PART ONE

September 2023. Q: Do I need a trust? A: A trust is a bucket to hold money, for someone – a “beneficiary” – that needs the money but can’t have it in their own name. The classic beneficiary is a young child, someone with special needs, or someone consistently making bad or dangerous life choices such as drug or alcohol use. They need help but can’t or shouldn’t have the money themselves. A trust holds the money and the “trustee” who manages the trust uses the money as you direct. The trust can pay out to the beneficiary at a certain point, such as the attainment of adulthood or a later age, or can hold the funds until the death of the beneficiary and then pay to someone else, such as your other children, or to a charity. You are in...

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MEDICAL DIRECTIVES: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

August 2023. Q: Do I need a MOLST? A: The MOLST (the Maryland Medical Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment) is a way you can indicate your preferences and intentions about end-of-life care and treatment. For example, you can make it clear that you want, or do not want, CPR. You can be very detailed about your intentions, for example, that you don't want intubation for ventilation, but that you would be OK with the CPAP or BiPAP mask, but not for longer than 2 weeks. These decisions should be thoughtful and reflective, not reflexive. A friend of mine was on "life support" for 8 years before he died, but that "life support" enabled him to fly out to California to visit his son and get to know and to baptize his grandson, to fly to Vancouver...

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YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED – JULY ’23

July 2023. Q: I'm worried about getting dementia. Do I need to protect myself from my future self? A: That's a good thought. Some of my clients worry about their power of attorney being misused, so they don't want to sign it. But it's really risky to wait until just before you have dementia to sign your power of attorney. You might forget! If you do suffer from dementia, one of the symptoms is often paranoia, and if you were convinced that everybody is out to get you, the last thing you would want to do is sign a power of attorney to let them do it legally! And if your judgment is impaired, you might pick the wrong person - we all have heard stories of frail elders who have appointed exploitive caregivers or manipulative children in their...

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BEREAVEMENT: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

June 2023. Q: My Mom just died this morning. I have no idea what to do next. Can you help? A: I’m so sorry. Thank you for calling. The first thing to do is arrange the funeral and lay her to rest. If she left prearrangements or instructions, that makes things easier; otherwise, think about how she laid your father to rest – maybe that would help understand what she would want. If you already have access to her funds as a beneficiary or joint owner, you can use those funds for her final expenses, but you might have to complete paperwork first. Talk to the bank or broker. Sometimes you can assign life insurance to the funeral home to pay for their services. Some funeral homes will let you pay after the estate is opened. And sometimes, you...

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YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED – MAY ’23

May 2023. I’m making my daughter my executor and power of attorney. How do I make things easy for her? Make a list of your assets and liabilities like credit cards and mortgage, your accounts and their custodians – banks, brokers, benefits department – and your other relevant professionals – lawyer, accountant, financial planner, insurance agent. If you have online access to your accounts, make sure the passwords are available to her. Sit down with her now and go over your bills, your accounts, your assets and debts. I know that feels like you’re letting her invade your private life, but how else is she going to be able to take care of things when you’re unable? How can she pay your bills if she doesn’t know where your money is? It’s even...

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THE POWER OF ATTORNEY GURU. PART 3

April 2023. Comment: “This long power of attorney form doesn’t apply to me. I just have a bank account and a car!” In Maryland, estate planning powers of attorney are long. They have to be! That’s because your power of attorney only gives your “agent” – the person acting for you – the powers you have specifically listed. The power of attorney that simply states that “my agent may do anything I could do” doesn’t work. Put differently, if you don’t specifically enumerate, you don’t effectively delegate. And a power of attorney isn’t just about writing checks and paying bills. It’s about selling your car or your home if you’ve had to move; terminating your cable or satellite contract; getting information about your financial matters and...

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