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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THE POWER OF ATTORNEY GURU. PART 2

March 2023. Comment: “I’m not letting anybody take control over me! I’m not signing that paper!” It’s great to keep control of our lives as long as possible, but not at the expense of your wallet, your dignity and your loved ones’ quality of life if you become incompetent. If you have no power of attorney, the only way your loved ones can take care of your needs is to ask the Court be appointed your guardian. That takes months and costs thousands of dollars, and ensures that the Court intrudes on the family for years to come. A power of attorney isn’t about giving up control; it’s about deciding who will be in control when we can’t. It’s hard for some folks to imagine a world that they don’t control, but sometimes it’s out there waiting....

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THE POWER OF ATTORNEY GURU. PART 1

February 2023. Comment: “I don’t need a power of attorney. My spouse and I own everything jointly.” It’s true, if you and your spouse own your bank account jointly, either one of you can sign a check or make a deposit, no questions asked. But that’s not all you might need to do for each other. It takes both signatures to sell your car or your mutual funds, or to sell or refinance your house. Just because it’s owned jointly doesn’t mean that either one of you can act without the other. If your spouse has dementia and you need to initiate or change distributions from his or her retirement plan, you have to sign your spouse’s name, and you can’t do that without a power of attorney. Just because you’re the beneficiary doesn’t mean you can...

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NEW YEAR’S PLANNING – PART 2

January 2023. Are your parents or your spouse starting to show signs of dementia? Do they have an updated power of attorney for medical and financial decisions? If not, you might need to consider guardianship. Do you have your own business? Have you made provisions for probate avoidance in the transfer of your business interests – stock or LLC membership interests – and assets? Does your power of attorney include the power to handle your business accounts and assets? Be sure to include a list of updated beneficiary and fiduciary addresses, telephone numbers and other contact information with your documents. Include a list of your assets, including custodians, account numbers and contact information. Add digital assets – user names,...

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NEW YEAR’S PLANNING – PART 1

December 2022. Because we are time-bound mortals, the change of seasons reminds us of changes in our lives and of their fragility. With the opening of each year comes a new opportunity to consider your estate plan and make sure it is up-to-date – or to make one if you don’t have on already! Have you ever drafted documents at all? If not, you should know that the State’s choices on your behalf are not usually the best ones for you or your loved ones. That should not come as a surprise, but if you fail to plan, you have made the government's decisions your own. Can you find the originals of your documents? Could your family find them? If the originals of your documents cannot be found upon your incapacity or after your death, your well-laid...

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YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED – NOV ’22

November 2022. Q: My Dad died and his will says I get everything. Can I just go to the Register of Wills to get his bank accounts and car? Can I go to the courthouse to change the deed? A: For better or worse, it’s not that easy. This isn’t like the MVA, where you go and change title. You have to fill out lots of paperwork for the Register of Wills, and for the house, an attorney needs to draw up a new deed. Your Dad’s stuff all belongs to his “estate,” and the only person who can sign deeds or get into his bank account, or sign the title to his car, is the “Personal Representative” of the estate, appointed by the Orphan’s Court. Even after you submit all the paperwork to open the estate, you have to get values on all assets – the house,...

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YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED – OCT ’22

October 2022. Q: Don’t I need a will to avoid probate? A: Thanks for asking! But wills don’t avoid probate; they CONTROL probate. Anything just in your name when you die, that doesn’t have a living joint owner or beneficiary, passes through probate. Probate is the orderly way we get the stuff deceased people leave behind to living people. If you don’t have a will, your stuff will pass by “intestacy” (a Latin word for “without a will”) to the people the State assumes you’d want to have it. The State’s assumption is sometimes a problem. I’m working on an estate now where the person died without a will, and the house where he and his wife lived was just in his name. The intestate law gives part of the house to his kids, so his wife is having...

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YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED – SEPT ’22

September 2022. Q: My spouse just died. I want to put my children on my house to protect it, so there’s someone there in case something happens to me. What do I need to do? A: There are several ways to set up the title of your home so that it will pass to your children when you die without probate. We want to be careful that your house doesn’t become available to your children’s creditors, though, so we don’t just want to make your children joint owners. I suggest that we draft a “life estate deed with power of sale” so you have control of the property, with “remainder to your children,” so title passes to them when you die, without the complication, costs and delays of probate. It’s complex, but not complicated; we can make it simple and...

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AVOIDING ENTANGLEMENTS

July 2022. A good lawyer helps you and your family navigate the court system, and that’s a great thing if that’s what you need. But preventative lawyering can help you and your family avoid entanglements in the court system in the first place. Our firm is currently enmeshed in excruciating legal intricacies, representing families in the court-administered guardianship system, simply because a parent didn’t sign a power of attorney. A properly-drafted power of attorney avoids guardianship proceedings, with concomitant expenses, fees, delays and headache. It’s so simple, but so often overlooked. More than the monetary outlay and disruption of schedule – when your spouse is trying to take care of you – the formalities of the guardianship...

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TO SPRING OR NOT TO SPRING

June 2022. “Your power of attorney is drafted to be effective as soon as you sign it. Your agent … your children acting on your behalf … don’t have to prove you’re incompetent before writing checks for you or directing your medical care.” The client raised her eyebrows: “Why would I want that? I don’t want them taking money out of my bank account while I’m still ‘with it.’ I really don’t want this at all, but if I must have a power of attorney, I only want them to be able to get at my money if I can’t ‘do’ for myself.” The attorney nodded. “I understand that. What you’re asking for is a ‘springing’ power of attorney. But what we’re talking about isn’t really whether your kids can get into your money. What we’re trying to do is make it...

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MOM JUST WENT INTO A NURSING HOME

May 2022. They buttonholed the attorney as he was eating lunch. “Mom just went into a nursing home. We’re worried about the bills. Can the State pay for this? How do we make sure Dad doesn’t spend everything on the nursing home?” The attorney explains, “Medicaid is the welfare program that pays for long-term nursing home care. To get Medicaid, Mom must be ‘medically needy.’ She has to need skilled nursing care, the care usually delivered only in a nursing home, and not just custodial care such as reminders to take medications or help transferring out of bed. “Her income has to be less than the cost of care, which is usually not an issue – the average monthly cost of nursing home care in Maryland is currently just under $10,000. “Finally,...

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