Category Archives: Financial Planning

What can families do to avoid probate court?

It is important to acknowledge that a probate court serves an important role during life and after death.  During life, a probate court (i) protects the financial assets of an individual needing protection (through a conservator) and (ii) oversees the medical and personal care needs of an incapacitated individual (through a guardian).  After death, the probate court supervises the collection and application of assets that were titled in the deceased individual’s name alone (meaning assets with no surviving joint owner or no surviving beneficiary).   In both situations, the probate court may provide valuable oversight and accountability.  Sometimes the court is needed to resolve disagreements over wills, trusts and powers of attorney, as well as to decide family inheritance feuds.

Regardless of the important role and value of probate court, some individuals prefer to stay away from the probate process if at all possible.  There are several legal tools that may be used to side-step probate court:

Powers of attorney – Powers of attorney, both medical and financial, are the two most important documents required in order to stay out of probate court during life.  A general, durable power of attorney for finances (GDPOA) nominates a trusted individual (known as the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”) to manage legal and financial affairs for the person signing the document (the “principal”).  Medical decisions can be delegated to a patient advocate.  This is done with a durable power of attorney for health care, known in Michigan as a patient advocate designation (PAD).  It is important to note that the principal does not give up any rights or freedom by signing a power of attorney document.  The agent and patient advocate are fiduciaries who must act in the principal’s best interest and at the principal’s direction.

With a GDPOA that includes the proper language, the agent will have authority to handle real estate, financial accounts, retirement accounts, business interests, mail, motor vehicles, debts and other legal matters.  If a GDPOA is in place and provides the authority needed, it will not be necessary to ask the probate court to appoint a conservator to manage financial and legal affairs in the event of the principal’s physical or mental incapacity.

With a PAD, the named patient advocate may be authorized to make medical decisions on behalf of an individual who cannot make those decisions himself or herself.  This document also serves as a durable power of attorney for health care and for care, custody and medical treatment decisions.  This document and the powers in it are sometimes called a “living will” or an “advance directive for health care.”  The patient advocate has the authority to make a broad range of medical decisions, including decisions regarding life support, as provided in this document and in accordance with the individual’s wishes.

Trusts – Trusts are usually thought of as a type of will.  Unlike a will, however, a revocable trust operates both during life and after death.  Also unlike a will, a trust does not require probate.  The trust maker (“settlor”) sets up a document that designates an individual (“trustee”) to manage assets titled in the trust for the settlor during the settlor’s lifetime (if incapacitated).  Upon the settlor’s death, the trustee follows the trust’s instructions on distributing the trust’s assets to named beneficiaries.  As the trustee has legal authority over trust assets, the probate court is not needed to manage and distribute the assets of the trust.  This makes a trust a key tool to avoid probate during life and after death.

Beneficiary designations – Beneficiary designations may be used to transfer bank, investment and retirement accounts to specific individuals and charities upon death.  In some instances, a special kind of deed may work to transfer real estate on death.  The benefit of beneficiary forms is avoidance of probate upon the death of the account holder or real estate owner.  On the other hand, there are several disadvantages with these forms as they frequently (i) are not updated after divorces or deaths of family members, (ii) are not reviewed regularly, (iii) are filled out incorrectly, and (iv) do not coordinate with other estate plan documents.

Joint ownership – Accounts and real estate with multiple joint owners will transfer probate-free to the surviving joint owners.  Joint ownership is usually appropriate for married couples, unless it is a second, or more, marriage.  Joint ownership is not usually advisable between parents and children or other persons as this may cause tax, legal and inheritance problems.

Some things to remember:

  • Powers of attorney (medical and financial), trusts, wills and beneficiary documents should be reviewed frequently and updated as needed;
  • Each tool described above has a limited purpose and should be coordinated with other tools; and
  • It is risky to utilize these tools without consulting an attorney, CPA or financial advisor.

Gene Richards_8x10@300Norman E. Richards (Gene) is an attorney at the law firm of Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, P.L.C. where he focuses his practice on estate planning and elder law.  He assists clients with the development of customized estate plans to address their specific needs, including family owned businesses, senior adults concerned about long term care needs, and special needs trusts for children with special needs.  He may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or nrichards@cmda-law.com.

CAREGIVER EXPO – A Must For Caregivers!

Caregivers – Don’t miss out!  Take advantage of the  “Solutions for Family Caregivers Expo” tomorrow (Saturday, October 14) from 9 to 2 at the Suburban Collection Showplace located in Novi, MI.  This is a once-a-year event, and only every other year in Oakland county.

I will be there alongside Jim Schuster, Elder Law Attorney, for the afternoon session called “Elder Law Mini-Course for Caregivers.” Drop by our booth. I’d love to see you and personally give you resource materials that will help you be a more informed and effective caregiver.

At no charge, you have access to many experts in seminars on topics such as: maximizing Medicare benefits, caregiver health, hospice, protecting assets, dealing with dementia, grief recovery, getting quality medical care, and elder law.  You’ll also have access to an exhibit hall stuffed with businesses providing support services to caregivers.  Thousands will attend this event.

Here’s the link for more information about the breakout sessions, times and directions: Caregiver Expo

 

I hope to see you tomorrow!

Virtual Currency Shouldn’t be Overlooked when Putting Together Estate Planning Documents

Gene Richards_8x10@300Virtual currency may not show up in portfolios of many senior adults, but it shouldn’t be overlooked when putting together wills, trusts and powers of attorney. Not surprisingly, a national survey on consumer use of virtual currencies found that among those 65 or older, 75 percent said they were “very unlikely” to purchase Bitcoins. However, some seniors are trendy and tech savvy and might have a virtual currency “wallet.” Here’s a well written blog article on the importance of addressing bitcoin and other virtual currencies in the estate planning process. I’ll add that it is also critical to identify all assets and resources when trying to qualify for Medicaid and VA assistance to pay for long-term care.  Without adequate planning a legal representative, whether agent under power of attorney, personal representative (a/k/a executor) of a will, or trustee of a trust will have difficulty dealing with unique property, such as virtual currency, if the owner is incapacitated or has died.

The elder law and estate planning attorneys at Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, P.L.C. (CMDA) regularly assist clients in planning with unique assets, such as virtual currency.  Even if it is too late to plan, the CMDA attorneys can still help by petitioning for the appointment a conservator in the local probate courts.  Gene Richards may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or nrichards@cmda-law.com. 

Property and Health Care Decision-Making Agents for MS Client

Video 4 ImageWe want to share a series of videos (5 total) that demonstrate how Elder Law attorneys can help those with MS.  The forth video focuses on Property and Health Care Decision-Making Agents.  When an individual is diagnosed with MS, preparing for medical and financial decision-making by other people is a necessity. The video outlines what legal documents must be in place to ensure wishes regarding financial management and healthcare will be honored.

These videos were produced through the collaborative efforts of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Stetson University College of Law.  The videos will be posted on successive days.  Or you can go directly here to watch them all at once.

The elder law team at CMDA is experienced in helping vulnerable clients of every age.  We are available to assist younger individuals dealing with a disability or debilitating illness such as MS.  We help our clients maintain quality of life and preserving independence for as long as possible. We hope you find value from these videos.  We also welcome your feedback.  Contact Gene at CMDA’s Livonia office by calling (734) 261-2400 or by email at nrichards@cmda-law.com.

Coordinating Attendant Care and Available Resources for MS Client

Video 2 ImageWe want to share a series of videos (5 total) that demonstrate how Elder Law attorneys can help those with MS.  The second video focuses on Coordinating Attendant Care and Available Resources.  People with MS, along with their family members, frequently engage caregivers from outside the home to assist in their care and provide respite for the family.  Doing so must be done carefully to ensure all legal and tax requirements are met and eligibility for public benefits is maintained.  This video focuses on the ins and outs of the various options for obtaining needed attendant care.

These videos were produced through the collaborative efforts of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Stetson University College of Law.  The videos will be posted on successive days.  Or you can go directly here to watch them all at once.

The elder law team at CMDA is experienced in helping vulnerable clients of every age.  We are available to assist younger individuals dealing with a disability or debilitating illness such as MS.  We help our clients maintain quality of life and preserving independence for as long as possible. We hope you find value from these videos.  We also welcome your feedback.  Contact Gene at CMDA’s Livonia office by calling (734) 261-2400 or by email at nrichards@cmda-law.com.

New Tools for Asset Protection and Estate Planning

Asset Protection ImageIndividuals in Michigan seeking to protect assets from creditors no longer have to transfer their assets to Delaware, Nevada or Alaska.  Effective February 5, 2017, the Qualified Dispositions in Trust Act, Domestic Asset Protection Trusts, Public Act 330 of 2016, will allow the owner of trust assets to retain and protect his or her assets from creditors, while still retaining the power to direct investment decisions, the power to veto distribution

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Estate Planning: A Continuous Process

Living Trust and Estate Plan ImageEstate planning is a continuous process and estate plan documents should be reviewed at least every decade and upon any major changes in lifestyle or family structure.

A basic estate plan includes a Will, a Medical Power of Attorney, and a Durable General Power of Attorney for financial matters.

A Will addresses the distribution of assets, paying debts and taxes, and providing guardians and conservators for any minor children.

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