Part 2: Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

Part 2: Use Estate Planning to Avoid Adult Guardianship and Elder Abuse

In  Part 1 of this series, we discussed how some professional adult guardians have used their powers to abuse the seniors placed under their care. Here, we’ll discuss how seniors can use estate planning to avoid the potential abuse and other negative consequences of court-ordered guardianship.

As our senior population continues to expand, an increasing number of elder abuse cases involving professional guardians have made headlines. The New Yorker exposed one of the most shocking accounts of elder abuse by professional guardians, which took place in Nevada and saw more than 150 seniors swindled out of their life savings by a corrupt Las Vegas guardianship agency.

The Las Vegas case and others like it have shed light on a disturbing new phenomenon—individuals who seek guardianship to take control of the lives of vulnerable seniors and use their money and other assets for personal gain. Perhaps the scariest aspect of such abuse is that many seniors who fall prey to these unscrupulous guardians have loving and caring family members who are unable to protect them.

Keep your family out of court and out of conflict

Outside of the potential for abuse by professional guardians, if you become incapacitated and your family is forced into court seeking guardianship, your family is likely to endure a costly, drawn out, and emotionally taxing ordeal. Not only will the legal fees and court costs drain your estate and possibly delay your medical treatment, but if your loved ones disagree over who’s best suited to serve as your guardian, it could cause bitter conflict that could unnecessarily tear your family apart.

Furthermore, if your loved ones disagree over who should be your guardian, the court could decide that naming one of your relatives would be too disruptive to your family’s relationships and appoint a professional guardian instead—and as we’ve seen, this could open the door to potential abuse.

Planning for incapacity

The potential turmoil and expense, or even risk of abuse, from a court-ordered guardianship can be easily avoided through proactive estate planning. Upon your incapacity, an effective plan would give the individual, or individuals, of your choice immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake about how these crucial decisions should be made during your incapacity.

There are a variety of planning tools available to grant this decision-making authority, but a will is not one of them. A will only goes into effect upon your death, and even then, it simply governs how your assets should be divided. Your incapacity plan should include a variety of planning tools, including some, or all, of the following:

  • Healthcare power of attorney: An advanced directive that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions about your medical treatment in the event of your incapacity.
  • Living will: An advanced directive that provides specific guidance about how your medical decisions should be made during your incapacity.
  • Durable financial power of attorney: A planning document that grants an individual of your choice the immediate authority to make decisions related to the management of your financial and legal interests.
  • Revocable living trust: A planning document that immediately transfers control of all assets held by the trust to a person of your choosing to be used for your benefit in the event of your incapacity. The trust can include legally binding instructions for how your care should be managed and even spell out specific conditions that must be met for you to be deemed incapacitated.
  • Family/friends meeting: Even more important than all of the documents we’ve listed here, the very best protection for you and the people you love is to ensure everyone is on the same page. As part of our planning process, we’ll walk the people impacted by your plan through a meeting that explains to them the plans you’ve made, why you’ve made them, and what to do when something happens to you.

It could be a good idea (though it’s not mandatory) to name different people for each of the roles in your planning documents. In this way, not only will you spread out the responsibility among multiple individuals, but you’ll ensure you have more than just one person invested in your care and supervision. In that case, it’s even more critical that everyone you’ve named understands the choices you’ve made, and why you have made them.

Don’t wait to put your plan in place

It’s vital to understand that these planning documents must be created well before you become incapacitated. You must be able to clearly express your wishes and consent in order for these planning strategies to be valid, as even slight levels of dementia or confusion could get them thrown out of court. It’s also important that you frequently review and update your estate documents due to changes in assets or relationships.

Retain control even if you lose control

To avoid the total loss of autonomy, family conflict, and potential for abuse that comes with a court-ordered adult guardianship, meet with us. While you can’t prevent your potential incapacity, you can use estate planning to ensure that you at least have some control over your how your life and assets will be managed if it ever does occur.

If you haven’t planned for your incapacity, schedule a Planning Session right away, so we can advise you about the proper planning vehicles to put in place. And if you already have an incapacity plan, we can review it to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated.

Call our office today at (813) 902-3189 to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article and learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Part 2: The real cost of not planning

This article is part of a series discussing the true costs and consequences of failed estate planning. The series highlights a few of the most common—and costly—planning mistakes we encounter with clients. If the series exposes any potential gaps or weak spots in your plan, meet with us to learn how to do the right […]

Will Your Estate Have a Password Problem?

Living in the digital age, having online access to investments is a great convenience. But the downside is that they can create a very difficult situation for a surviving spouse or executor trying to find the deceased’s assets.

What is the first thing you are told about any password? Don’t write it down. This can create unintended consequences for an executor who needs access to each account in order to marshal the assets and eventually distribute those assets to the heirs or trustees based on the language contained in the will.

When the founder and CEO of a Canadian cryptocurrency exchange, QuadrigaCX, died unexpectedly, nobody else had the password to the exchange’s cold storage locker. That cut off access to investors’ $190 million in cryptocurrency.  Those investors may never see their funds again. This is a an eye-opening example of how the security system designed to keep hackers out of an account can work against the owners of funds.

Here are some strategies to safely share passwords to your computer, email and online accounts.

Option #1 Give your passwords to a trusted family member.

This is probably the easiest, but least secure way. They will need passwords to access your computer or smartphone. They will also need a password to access your email — which is where electronic financial statements are traditionally sent. This creates a potential security issue and also doesn’t provide the trusted person with access to each individual financial platform, which would require each of those passwords to be written down or somehow saved and communicated to the trusted person. Many computer operating systems now save passwords to frequently visited websites, so it is possible that if a trusted person had access to your computer, they may also be able to gain access to your financial accounts.

Option #2 Write down and place all passwords in a safe deposit box.

Your executor or guardian/attorney-in-fact through a power of attorney can access your safe deposit box and your passwords to access your computer, email and financial platforms. This option is somewhat safer than simply writing down and providing passwords to a trusted friend or spouse. But this means you have to be diligent about updating the password list.

Option #3 Use a digital wallet.

A digital wallet is the most secure and by far the most recommended way to safely and securely store passwords. Like a real wallet, a digital wallet keeps track of all your passwords across all your devices and does so in an encrypted file in the cloud. With this, the only hurdle is the password with which you access the digital wallet.

This would require that you keep a record of the master password somewhere, or perhaps you can agree with your spouse or trusted friend on a pattern of passwords. That could be anything that the two of you can easily remember, along with perhaps a few other characters. It will need to be something that can be remembered and not written down. Writing down and saving passwords should be avoided if at all possible.

Call (813) 902-3189 to schedule your Planning Session.

Can An Adult Child Be Liable for a Parent’s Nursing Home Bill?

Although a nursing home cannot require a child to be personally liable for their parent’s nursing home bill, there are circumstances in which children can end up having to pay.

This is a major reason why it is important to read any admission agreements carefully before signing.

Federal regulations prevent a nursing home from requiring a third party to be personally liable as a condition of admission. However, children of nursing home residents often sign the nursing home admission agreement as the “responsible party.” This is a confusing term and it isn’t always clear from the contract what it means.

Typically, the responsible party is agreeing to do everything in his or her power to make sure that the resident pays the nursing home from the resident’s funds.

If the resident runs out of funds, the responsible party may be required to apply for Medicaid on the resident’s behalf. If the responsible party doesn’t follow through on applying for Medicaid or provide the state with all the information needed to determine Medicaid eligibility, the nursing home may sue the responsible party for breach of contract. In addition, if a responsible party misuses a resident’s funds instead of paying the resident’s bill, the nursing home may also sue the responsible party. In both these circumstances, the responsible party may end up having to pay the nursing home out of his or her own funds.

In a case in New York, a son signed an admission agreement for his mother as the responsible party. After the mother died, the nursing home sued the son for breach of contract, arguing that he failed to apply for Medicaid or use his mother’s money to pay the nursing home and that he fraudulently transferred her money to himself. The court ruled that the son could be liable for breach of contract even though the admission agreement did not require the son to use his own funds to pay the nursing home. (Jewish Home Lifecare v. Ast, N.Y. Sup. Ct., New York Cty., No. 161001/14, July 17,2015).

Although it is against the law to require a child to sign an admission agreement as the person who guarantees payment, it is important to read the contract carefully because some nursing homes still have language in their contracts that violates the regulations. If possible, consult with your attorney before signing an admission agreement.

Another way children may be liable for a nursing home bill is through filial responsibility laws.

These laws obligate adult children to provide necessities like food, clothing, housing, and medical attention for their indigent parents. Filial responsibility laws have been rarely enforced, but as it has become more difficult to qualify for Medicaid, states are more likely to use them. Pennsylvania is one state that has used filial responsibility laws aggressively.

We recommend that your Health Care Directives explicitly lay down a financial liability shield for your agents.

This one provision can save great grief and money.

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

Fear of Losing Home to Medicaid Contributed to Elder Abuse Case

A California daughter and granddaughter’s fear of losing their home to Medicaid may have contributed to a severe case of elder abuse.

If they had consulted with an elder law attorney, they might have figured out a way to get their mother the care she needed and also protect their house.

Amanda Havens was sentenced to 17 years in prison for elder abuse after her grandmother, Dorothy Havens, was found neglected, with bedsores and open wounds, in the home they shared.  The grandmother died the day after being discovered by authorities.  Amanda’s mother, Kathryn Havens, who also lived with Dorothy, is awaiting trial for second-degree murder. According to an article in the Record Searchlight, a local publication, Amanda and Kathryn knew Dorothy needed full-time care, but they did not apply for Medicaid on her behalf due to a fear that Medicaid would “take” the house.

It is a common misconception that the state will immediately take a Medicaid recipient’s home.

Nursing home residents do not automatically have to sell their homes in order to qualify for Medicaid. In some states, the home will not be considered a countable asset for Medicaid eligibility purposes as long as the nursing home resident intends to return home. In other states, the nursing home resident must prove a likelihood of returning home. The state may place a lien on the home, which means that if the home is sold, the Medicaid recipient would have to pay back the state for the amount of the lien.

After a Medicaid recipient dies, the state may attempt to recover Medicaid payments from the recipient’s estate, which means the house would likely need to be sold.

But there are things Medicaid recipients and their families can do to protect the home.

A Medicaid applicant can transfer the house to the following individuals and still be eligible for Medicaid:

  • The applicant’s spouse
  • A child who is under age 21 or who is blind or disabled
  • Into a trust for the sole benefit of a disabled individual under age 65 (even if the trust is for the benefit of the Medicaid applicant, under certain circumstances)
  • A sibling who has lived in the home during the year preceding the applicant’s institutionalization and who already holds an equity interest in the home
  • A  “caretaker child” who is defined as a child of the applicant who lived in the house for at least two years prior to the applicant’s institutionalization and who during that period provided care that allowed the applicant to avoid a nursing home stay.

With advance planning, there are other ways to protect a house.

A life estate can let a Medicaid applicant continue to live in the home, but allows the property to pass outside of probate to the applicant’s beneficiaries. Certain trusts can also protect a house from estate recovery.

Don’t let a fear of Medicaid prevent you from getting your loved one the care they need. While the thought of losing a home is scary, there are things you can do to protect the house.

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

5 Common Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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Since estate planning involves thinking about death, many people put it off until their senior years, or simply ignore it all together until it becomes too late. This kind of unwillingness to face reality can create a major hardship, expense, and mess for the loved ones and assets you leave behind.

While not having any estate plan is the biggest blunder you can make, even those who do create a plan can run into trouble if they don’t understand exactly how estate plans work.

Here are some of the most common mistakes people make with estate planning:

1. Not creating a will

While wills aren’t the ultimate estate planning tool, they are one of the bare minimum requirements. A will lets you designate who will receive your property upon your death, and it also allows you to name specific guardians for your minor children. Without a will, your property will be distributed based on your state’s intestate laws (which probably don’t align with your wishes), and a judge who doesn’t know you or your family, will choose a guardian for your children under 18. On top of that….your kids will get whatever you own outright, with no guidance, direction, or intention, as long as they’re over 18.

2. Not updating beneficiary designations

A lot of times people forget to change their beneficiary designations to match their estate planning desires. Check with your life insurance company and retirement-account holders to find out who would receive those assets in the event of your death.

If you have a trust, you’ll likely want the trust to the beneficiary. This does not happen automatically upon creating a trust. You actually have to make the change. See the section below for more on funding your trust.

You also never want to name a minor as a beneficiary of your life insurance or retirement accounts, or even as the secondary beneficiary. If they were to inherit these assets, the assets become subject to the control of the court until he or she turns 18.

3. Not funding your trust

Many people assume that simply listing assets in a trust is enough to ensure they’ll be distributed properly. But this isn’t true. Some assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—must be “funded” to the trust in order for them to be actually transferred without having to go through court. Funding involves changing the name on the title of the property or account to list the trust as the owner. Whenever you acquire new assets after your trust is created, you must make sure those assets are also titled into your trust.

Unfortunately, many people have trusts, but their assets aren’t actually in the trust. Crazy, right?!? But we see it all the time. You need to make sure your assets are inventoried, titled properly, and the inventory is maintained throughout your lifetime, so your assets aren’t lost and don’t get stuck in court upon your incapacity or death.

4. Not reviewing documents

Estate plans are not a “one-and-done” deal. As time passes, your life circumstances change, the laws change, and your assets change. Given this, you must update your plan to reflect these changes—that is, if you want it to actually work for your loved ones, keeping them out of court and out of conflict.

We recommend reviewing your plan annually to make sure its terms are up to date. And be sure to immediately update your estate plan following major life events like divorce, births, deaths, and inheritances. We’ve got built-in processes to make sure this happens—ask us about them.

Moreover, an annual life review can be a beautiful ritual that puts you at ease knowing you’ve got everything handled and updated each year.

5. Not leaving an inventory of assets

Even if you’ve properly “funded” your assets into your trust, your estate plan won’t be worth much if heirs can’t find your assets. Indeed, there’s more than $58 billion dollars worth of lost assets in the U.S. coffers right now. Can you believe that? It happens because someone dies or becomes incapacitated but their assets cannot be found.

That’s why we create a detailed inventory of assets, indicating exactly where to find each asset, such as your cemetery plot deed, bank and credit statements, mortgages, securities documents, and safe deposit box/keys. Not to mention your digital assets like social media accounts and cryptocurrency, along with their passwords and security keys. We cover all of this in our plans.

Beyond these common errors, there are many additional pitfalls that can impact your estate planning. At our firm, we guide you through the process, helping you to not only avoid mistakes but also implement strategies to ensure your true family’s legacy will continue to grow long after you’re gone.

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Call us at (813) 902-3189.

 

88% of People Make New Years Resolutions, Here’s How To Keep Yours

Are you one of the American’s in the 88th percentile who sets at least one resolution?

Resolutions are well-intentioned, but most people fail at keeping them.  We live in a throwaway society and even our resolutions aren’t immune.  On average only 20% of us keep our resolutions. Check out these tips for achieving your goals.

  •   Make a game plan.
  •  Break it down and make it less intimidating.
  •  Ask friends and family members to help so you have someone to be accountable to.
  •  Reward yourself with each milestone.
  •  Don’t do at it alone.
  •  Get professional assistance, sometimes a friend just isn’t enough.

Best Wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

This article is a service of the Law Firm of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge. 

Call us at (813) 902-3189.