Tag Archives: durable power of attorney

Just living together can cause unwanted estate planning problems

k11782415Many couples, especially those who get together later in life, are just living together.  For whatever reason, they’ve decided not to get married.  Living together, they accumulate stuff but who owns what?

One of the biggest problems with just living together is estate planning.  If you’re one of these couples and you’re not careful, your loved ones might end up losing their home and getting nothing.

If a partner dies without a will, this is called dying intestate.  In this instance, state intestacy laws determine who will inherit that partner’s assets.  In most cases, that means a biological relative may inherit those assets, not the surviving partner.  This is probably not what either of the partners really wanted.  To alleviate this problem, a will should be drafted and executed by each of the partners.   It should include a statement that directly disinherits biological relatives and leaves the assets to the surviving partner.

Another document each partner should prepare is an advance  healthcare directive and durable power of attorney.  Unless these documents specifically name the other partner to make their medical decisions for them, a physician will not follow the instructions of anyone except a biological relative because of potential family objections.

A further document that should be considered – a revocable trust.  This will enable the partners to transfer property and money between them and will allow one partner to transfer control of his or her assets upon death.

A last point you should be aware of – the unlimited marital estate inheritance exclusion.  This exclusion cannot be used by an unmarried couple.  Instead, there may be sizable inheritance tax repercussions if estate planning is not done correctly.

It would be smart for any couple living together without the protection of marital laws to consult an estate attorney to find out what the best plan of action is for them.

For more information about estate planning, check out our website www.diesmart.com.


An important holiday gift

present-clipart-Present-Clip-Art-932As we approach the end of another year, it’s a good time to have an important discussion with your family and other loved ones about what will happen when you die. It may be uncomfortable but it’s a gift you should give them before any more time passes.

You should tell them about your estate plan – not necessarily all of the details but where it can be found, that it is up to date and who you have named as your executor. The estate plan should, at a minimum, include your will and your advanced directive; it might also include a trust, a healthcare proxy and a durable power of attorney. You should reassure them that the plan is current and reflects your wishes at the present time. (If it doesn’t, you should get it updated immediately.)

Another critical thing you should discuss is your digital assets. If you pay your bills and conduct other financial transactions online, your executor should be able to access your accounts. The only way to ensure that this is possible is if you leave a list of your passwords for all of them.

You should make sure they know about any accounts that have beneficiary designations and that those designations are up to date. Otherwise, someone who is no longer in your life may inherit from those accounts rather than the person you really want the funds to go to.

Finally, you should discuss with your family and other loved ones your end of life care wishes. It’s not a pleasant topic but you should not burden them with having to make decisions which may not agree with what you would have wanted.

This is an important holiday gift that you should give to your loved ones this year.

For more information about making a digital asset inventory and other end of life decisions, go to www.diesmart.com.


5 Legal Documents every caregiver needs

biyExXGATIf you think a relative may be at risk of dementia or some other disease that will affect their reasoning ability, there are 5 legal documents you should get that relative to complete while still able to do so. Otherwise, when you become that person’s caregiver, you will need to go to court to apply for guardianship and the right to make decisions on his behalf. That court application will typically take 6 – weeks and cost you thousands of dollars. If another family member contests your application, it will only take more time and cost even more money. Don’t wait too long or it might be too late. Your relative may no longer be competent to make these critical decisions.

The 5 advance directive documents are:

  1. A durable power of attorney – It gives you the right to make financial decisions for that relative. Those can be things like paying bills, selling property and making investments.
  2. A healthcare proxy – This gives you the right to make medical decisions on the incapacitated relative’s behalf. This can include things like what course of treatment to follow, which physician to choose and where treatment should be performed.
  3. A living will – This states the medical treatment the person wants, or doesn’t want, so the decisions have been made before you take over. They include things like whether medical personnel should try resuscitation if the person’s heart stops, whether heroic measures should be taken, whether pain killers should be administered, etc.
  4. A current will – If the person has an old will, it should be reviewed to make sure that it reflects his or her present wishes and circumstances. Perhaps the will was written several years ago and needs to be changed. The will should state what should happen to all assets after he or she is deceased.
  5. You might want to also consider a living trust.   A living trust can make it easier for your fiduciaries to manage those assets while following the instructions of an incapacitated or deceased person.

State laws vary so you might want to consult an attorney when preparing these documents. And for more information about advance directives and wills versus trusts, go to www.diesmart.com.


What is the most important part of estate planning?

When you do your estate planning, you probably think the most important part of this planning is your Living Will or your Last Will and Testament.  They are very important but they are not the most important thing.

I recently read an article by Julie Garber on about.com and she said the most important part is to select the right person to do each of the jobs your estate plan will require.”  After thinking about it, I agree.

When selecting a person to be your healthcare agent or guardian for your minor children or personal representative, be sure that this is a person who has your best interests at heart.  Also, verify that this person has the time as well as the skills to perform the needed tasks.  And, finally, select someone who you think can make wise decisions.

If you have name someone who declines to accept this position, and the backup person you’ve named also declines, a judge will make all of the decisions for you and your family or will find someone who is willing to do so; this person may not be someone you would have chosen and may not do things the way you would have wanted them done.

Think about it carefully and choose wisely.

For more information about estate planning, go to www.diesmart.com.

Bad mistake made by heiress Huguette Clark

Huguette Clark was an heiress who died in 2011 at age 104.  She left behind a $300 million estate.  The bulk of the money was inherited from her father, a copper tycoon in Montana.   She owned a 23-acre estate near Santa Barbara valued at $100 million, a $24 million house in Connecticut and a $100 million coop on Fifth Ave. in New York.  She was a painter and a collector of rare French and Japanese dolls.  She had no children, no close relatives and only limited contact with any of her distant relations.

She spent the last 20 years of her life living at Beth Israel Medical Center as a recluse, closer to her doctors and nurses than any family.

When she died, the only people who attended her burial were funeral home employees.

What did she do wrong?  She left behind two wills, written just six weeks apart.

The first one left  $5 million to her nurses and the balance of the estate to her distant relatives, even though 14 of the 19 involved said that they had never even met Huguette.

The second will left nothing to the relatives.  It specifically said” I intentionally make no provision…for  any members of my family…having had minimal contact with them over the years.”  Instead, charities are the largest beneficiaries, receiving over 80% of the estate.  Also named was her registered nurse, Hadassah Peri, who would receive $15.3 million after taxes, and a goddaughter who would get $7.9 million.  Lesser beneficiaries included Beth Israel Medical Center, her attorney, her personal assistant, her accountant, property managers and one of her doctors.

In addition to what she was given in the will, her registered nurse received more than $31 million in gifts before Clark died and the estate administrator is asking that the $31 million be returned to the estate.

Family members are claiming that the second will was written under duress when she was mentally ill and incompetent and the victim of fraud by her nurse, attorney and accountant.

Negotiations have been going on for a few years, with 60 attorneys involved in the case.  However, the chance of a settlement is not certain and a jury trial is scheduled to begin in Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan on September 17th.

Huguette Clark should have had better legal counsel when she decided what to do with her sizeable estate.  She should have prepared a trust, including directions on who had the right to make decisions on her behalf when she was unable to do so.  And she probably should have destroyed the first will.

It will be interesting to see what the probate court decides if a settled hasn’t been reached prior to September 17th.

For more information about Hugette Clark and her reclusive life, look for a book being released on September 10th titled “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.”

To learn more about how to plan for the end of your life, go to www.diesmart.com.