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Law Office of Michael D. DellaMonaca

Have a Plan for Life

Update Your Estate Plan to Protect Spouse and Children

Without an updated estate plan, a surviving spouse is left with a world of trouble, as described in the article “Protect Your Spouse and Children by Updating Your Estate Plan” from The National Law Review.

The documents that need to be updated beginning with the will. In one example, a will from a prior marriage left all of a person’s assets to their prior spouse and siblings. Under New York and New Jersey state law, gifts to prior spouses are automatically revoked by law. What does that mean? All assets pass to the alternate beneficiary, who is named in the first will. For this particular spouse, that means that all the deceased spouse’s assets went to the siblings and not the new spouse.

In New Jersey and New York, spouses can elect against a will to claim a share of the deceased spouse’s assets, but this only applies to a third of their assets. That’s far short of what a spouse usually wants for their surviving spouse and children.

The only thing worse than an out-of-date will is no will at all. In another case, a spouse died without having a will. The law in New Jersey provides that in this situation, most assets will go to the surviving spouse, but almost a quarter will go to the deceased’s parents, if they are still living. If there are children from a prior marriage, then a little more than half of the estate will go to the surviving spouse.

The other bad part of having an out-of-date will almost always means that beneficiaries have not been updated. Here’s where things can get even worse.

Assets that have designated beneficiaries do not pass through probate and go directly to the beneficiaries. How bad this can be, depends upon what assets are owned with a designated beneficiary, and how long ago the beneficiaries were named. In some states, prior spouses are removed as beneficiaries by the operation of law, but that is not always the case. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain your state’s laws.

Here’s one more case where a failure to update estate plans caused real hardship for a family. A niece, and not the new spouse, was named as the beneficiary of the deceased’s IRA, which was a large asset. Several hundred thousand dollars went to the niece, instead of going to the man’s new wife and child. He simply never updated his beneficiary designation.

While 401(k)s are always left to the spouse under ERISA, unless spousal consent is given for another beneficiary to receive the 401(k), IRAs are given to whoever is named as a beneficiary. The same goes for life insurance policies, investment accounts, bank accounts and any asset with a named beneficiary.

Speak with your estate planning attorney now to be sure that your current will still reflects your estate planning goals. If you have remarried, welcomed a new child to the family, or had any other major life events, your estate plan needs to be updated. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Reference: The National Law Review (March 16, 2020) “Protect Your Spouse and Children by Updating Your Estate Plan”

Do I Really Need a Health Care Proxy?

The Pauls Valley Democrat’s recent article entitled “Advance directives and living wills” explains that an Advance Directive has three parts:

  • A living will
  • Naming of your health care agent; and
  • Your directions for anatomical gifts.

The individual that you name as your Health Care Proxy will make decisions for your treatment and care, if you’re unable to do so. These decisions may extend to all medical issues and aren’t limited to end-stage, life determining decisions that are mentioned in your living will. This is a form of power of attorney that authorizes your agent to act in your behalf to address issues like these:

  1. Accessing your medical information
  2. Discussing your treatment options with your healthcare providers
  3. Getting second opinions on your diagnosis
  4. Selecting and authorizing various medical tests
  5. Your placement in a hospital or care facility
  6. Transferring your care to a new physician; and
  7. Communicating your wishes on life support in terminal or unconscious situations.

For end of life decisions, your health care proxy is bound by your written wishes as expressed in your living will. Life support can be terminated, only if you so authorize in writing. Your healthcare proxy can’t make that decision for you, because that is “personal” to you. You may select one or more persons to act as your proxy, although if two are selected, you should predefine what to do in the event of a conflict.

A best practice is to choose a person who’s younger than you who is geographically close, a person with time to assist you and with whom you’re willing to share in advance your wishes, likes and dislikes as to medical care. This person should be trusted to act and honor your wishes.

Because many decisions relate to your very personal concerns about religion, death and dying, these feelings should be shared with your health care proxy before any serious situation.

The Advance Directive is a very important document that pertains to your wishes, as they relate to medical care, end-of-life and death.

Parts I and II can discuss your wishes for care treatment, as well as your choice of a person to represent your wishes. These are two very important issues. Take the time to consider the advance written expression of your own wishes. Speak with  your estate planning attorney if you have any concerns.

Reference: Pauls Valley Democrat (Feb. 12, 2020) “Advance directives and living wills”

Why Is Walt Disney’s Grandson Unable to Claim his $200 Million Inheritance?

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David J. Cowan recently claimed that Walt Disney’s grandson Bradford D. Lund had Down Syndrome—despite being presented with DNA evidence proving the opposite. The judge also ruled Lund to be “unfit” to receive his $200 million inheritance from Walt Disney and appointed him a temporary guardian to make all his legal decisions. This was all ordered without a hearing. Lund’s legal team is now trying to contest the rulings.

Inside the Magic’s recent article entitled “Walt Disney’s Grandson Sues Judge Claiming He Has Down Syndrome Without Evidence, Blocking $200 Million Inheritance” says that in the complaint, Lund’s attorney Lanny Davis alleges that the probate court’s action is “all too reminiscent of a perspective where facts do not matter but alternative facts do, where the constitution does not matter…”

The alternative facts Davis spoke of are from a 2016 court decision by Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig from a 10-day trial brought on by “disgruntled relatives” against Lund. The trial came after seven years of litigation questioning whether Lund was required to have a limited guardianship. In that trial, Lund was examined by two court-appointed physicians, one court-appointed expert and by Judge Oberbillig himself in open court.

From the investigation, Judge Oberbillig rejected the family’s claims that Lund needed guardianship and ruled that Lund was “not incapacitated.” However, Judge Cowan ignored Oberbillig’s ruling and the DNA evidence that showed Lund doesn’t have Down Syndrome. Instead, Cowan stated from the bench: “Do I want to give 200 million dollars, effectively, to someone who may suffer, on some level, from Down syndrome? The answer is no.”

From this statement, Lund’s legal team brought an additional cause of action that claims Judge Cowan and the Los Angeles Court violated an anti-discrimination law, when Judge Cowan made this “indisputably false” statement and “perception.” They claim this resulted in discrimination against Lund and his loss of freedom regarding the right to counsel and property rights without due process of law.

On Feb. 27, 2020, Lund’s counsel also filed a federal civil rights case in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Judge Cowan for alleged violation of Lund’s constitutional due process rights in the appointment of a limited guardian ad lit em.

Lund was supposed to have received his portion of his mother’s trust fund when he was 35, which was 15 years ago. He is now 50 years old. Speak with your estate planning attorney if you have questions regarding your inheritance.

Reference:  Inside the Magic (March 25, 2020) “Walt Disney’s Grandson Sues Judge Claiming He Has Down Syndrome Without Evidence, Blocking $200 Million Inheritance”

Finalizing Estate Planning Documents while Social Distancing

After the initial shock of the pandemic, people are realizing not just that they need to update their wills, but the people who have been named in important roles. In a recent article from The New York Times, “What to Know About Making a Will in the Age of Coronavirus,” one person said, “I think I still have my jerk brother as the trustee. I need to change that.”

However, with social distancing now being the new norm, some necessary processes for finalizing estate plans are calling for extra creativity. While lawyers can draft any necessary documents from their home offices, the documents need to be signed by clients and, depending upon the document and the state, by witnesses and notaries. These parties usually need to be in the same room for the documents to be considered legally valid.

New York’s Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order on March 7 that declared a disaster emergency in the state and temporarily gave notaries the authority to authenticate documents by videoconference. Other governors have also issued executive orders to allow video notarizations, including Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Washington. It’s safe to say that more states will probably permit this as time goes on.

However, besides needing notarizations, wills in New York State and other documents require two unrelated witnesses in the room when the document is signed. That also goes for the health care proxy, which gives a person the ability to name someone to make medical decisions on their behalf, if they become incapacitated.

One New York attorney used a video conference to watch two clients and their witnesses, located more than 100 miles away from his home office, sign new financial powers of attorney and health care proxies. He used his laptop to record a video of the proceedings, while clients used their phones. The client couple sat on the enclosed porch of a friend’s house in a distant county and signed the documents, while their friends stood six feet away. When the couple finished signing, they stepped away and their friends moved in to sign the documents, all in view of the attorney and all, of course, wearing vinyl gloves.

The documents were then scanned and sent to the attorney by email and he notarized them. They will also be mailed to him at his home, and then he will authenticate the documents.

In New Jersey, notaries need to be physically present at the signing of documents. One attorney took extra steps for two ER nurses, both single mothers and on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak. He met them in the front yard of one of their houses, where a table had been set up and rocks were used to hold down the documents from blowing away in the wind. Everyone wore gloves and brought their own pens. One nurse served as witness for each other, and another friend was a witness for both. After each person signed, they stepped away, while another stepped up to the table.

Not every state is making changes to permit these documents to be witnessed and notarized, so there may be many outdoor signings taking place in the weeks and months to come. Speak with your estate planning attorney, who will know the laws that apply to your state.

Reference: The New York Times (March 26, 2020) “What to Know About Making a Will in the Age of Coronavirus”

What I Need to Know about Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

Family caregivers of dementia patients must be more prepared for immediate changes in temperament.  Caring for a loved one with dementia is extremely difficult. They need more support and respite care, and they need a better idea of what to expect in the days and months ahead.

Forbes’s recent article entitled “When Your Loved One Has Dementia: 3 Questions For Family Caregivers” provided three important questions to ask if your aging parent or family member has been diagnosed with a form of dementia.

What training must I have? When a parent, friend, or other loved one in your care is has dementia, you should look to local healthcare resources for education and training. The temperament of people suffering from a form of dementia can change swiftly. It can rapidly turn hurtful or even violent. However, there are things a caregiver can do to interact with them to help keep them calm. Ask their healthcare provider for suggestions or referrals.

As a caregiver, do I have the legal standing to take care of this person? You should determine if your loved one has a will or living will in place along with a healthcare power of attorney. These are documents that must be drafted and signed, before their dementia progresses to the point where it totally distorts your loved one’s thought process.

The documents provide instructions as how to care for them, according to their original wishes and avoid stress in the family, if disagreements arise. Contact an elder law attorney as soon as possible to create these documents long before they are diagnosed with Alzheimers.

How do I get help when I need it? Caring for an aging loved one can be a very tiring task. Tending to the needs of an aging loved one with a form of dementia is an even greater challenge. Begin planning now for self-care.  You can’t take care of a loved one with dementia, if your physical and mental health is wiped out and you are exhausted. Look at respite care options to give yourself the rest you’re going to need.

Getting these measures ready now can ensure that you are prepared for the tough future.

Reference:  Forbes (March 23, 2020) “When Your Loved One Has Dementia: 3 Questions For Family Caregivers”

 

What are the Restrictions on Visiting the Elderly in a Care Facility?

Due to the recent pandemic, restrictions on visiting the elderly in a care facility are now in place. In Virginia started after the American Health Care Association, the largest national trade organization representing long-term care centers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance recommending extreme measures to prevent a scenario that has played out in a Washington state nursing home, where the virus spread rapidly and took many lives.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s recent article entitled “Virginia nursing homes restrict visitors over coronavirus fears, families worry about separation” says, however, that some family members and advocates worry that — without loved ones allowed to visit — residents will be even more vulnerable to neglect in nursing homes that already struggle to give them basic care.

“What we have found is that experts believe that this is the most prudent step that we can take to protect the residents,” said Keith Hare, CEO of the Virginia Health Care Association, the state chapter of the AHCA. “We have to put the health and well-being of these residents first. … It really is unprecedented action.”  However, some family members who are told that they can drop off supplies for the residents at the nursing home, cannot stay for a visit. Some are worried that parents with Alzheimer’s who need help eating won’t be fed without their regular visitors because nursing homes are understaffed.

Nursing homes in the state say it was a hard decision to cease visitation, but it was necessary to prevent any exposure in the care facilities. They’re going to do whatever we can to keep it out, official say. While nursing homes around the country are doing the same thing and are restricting group gatherings within the centers, they are trying to make sure residents are being entertained with in-room activities, such as movies, card games, and puzzles. The focus at the facilities is on communication and keeping residents entertained.

Innovative Healthcare Management, a company that runs five nursing homes in Virginia with a total of 750 residents, said that it has been educating its staff and preparing for a potential outbreak, since first learning of the coronavirus outbreak in China. IHM recently began screening visitors for possible coronavirus infection before they entered the facilities. The company decided to restrict all nonessential visitors, except when a resident is believed to be dying.  Nursing homes are trying other ways for family members to connect with residents, like phone calls and video chats.

Contact an experienced estate planning attorney should you have an elder who requires preparation of estate planning documents.

Reference:  Richmond Times-Dispatch (March 15, 2020) “Virginia nursing homes restrict visitors over coronavirus fears, families worry about separation”

 

Common Will Mistakes to Avoid

Dying without a will (or “intestate”) means your estate assets will pass to your heirs according to the intestacy laws of the state. Under the state’s intestacy provisions, if your spouse is alive, and you had no children (with any person), your assets will pass to your spouse. In many states, if you had children your surviving spouse would get half of the assets of the estate and the other half would be divided equally among your children. If you didn’t have surviving spouse, your children would share equally in the estate.

The Aiken (SC) Standard’s recent article entitled “Avoiding mistakes with your will” says that a critical point to remember is that only your spouse must survive in order to be an heir. Typically, if one of your children had died, their children would get their share.

Every state has specific requirements for what constitutes a legal will. For example, in South Carolina, a will has these requirements

  • It must be in writing
  • The maker of the will (the testator) must be of sound mind
  • The maker of the will cannot be a minor
  • The will must be witnessed by two witnesses who were present when the testator signed the will and who also witnessed each other sign the document and
  • The will must be notarized.

The witnesses must not be beneficiaries of the will.

Because a will is so critical, you should employ the services of a qualified estate planning attorney. If you and your spouse already have a will prepared, it is important that these documents be reviewed periodically to make certain that your instructions are up to date and that your will recognizes any changes that have occurred in either federal or state law. People frequently forget about including certain assets in their wills, like special collections of memorabilia or other treasures.

Be sure that you designate an executor to serve in this capacity who is well-organized, calm and willing. You should typically name a person who’s younger than you and also name an alternate executor, in case your primary choice is unable to serve. If you have any minor children, you should name a guardian for those children. You can divide the duties of a guardian, by naming a different guardian to handle the children’s financial affairs and one who provides care for your children.

After your will is drafted, be certain you tell your family know where it’s kept and be sure that your will is in synch with other documents like your life insurance policies and other benefits that will pass directly to beneficiaries named in those documents.

It is important that you contact an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare your estate planning documents.

Reference: Aiken (SC) Standard )(March 22, 2020) “Avoiding mistakes with your will”

 

If Not Now, When? It is the Time for Estate Planning

What else could possibly go wrong? You might not want to ask that question, given recent events. A global pandemic, markets in what feels like free fall, schools closed for an extended period of time—these are just a few of the challenges facing our communities, our nation and our world. The time is now to do to be sure that everyone has their estate planning completed, advises Kiplinger in the article “Coronavirus Legal Advice: Get Your Business and Estate in Order Now.”

Business owners from large and small sized companies are contacting estate planning attorney’s offices to get their plans done. People who have delayed having their estate plans done or never finalized their plans are now getting their affairs in order. What would happen if multiple family members got sick, and a family business was left unprotected?

Because the virus is recognized as being especially dangerous for people who are over age 60 or have underlying medical issues, which includes many business owners and CEOs, the question of “What if I get it?” needs to be addressed. Not having a succession plan or an estate plan, could lead to havoc for the company and the family.

Establishing a Power of Attorney is a key part of the estate plan, in case key decision makers are incapacitated, or if the head of the household can’t take care of paying bills, taxes or taking care of family or business matters. For that, you need a Durable Power of Attorney.

Another document needed now, more than ever: is an Advance Health Care Directive. This explains how you want medical decisions to be made if you are too sick to make these decisions on your own behalf. It tells your health care team and family members what kind of care you want, what kind of care you don’t want and who should make these decisions for you.

This is especially important for people who are living together without the legal protection that being married provides. While some states may recognize registered domestic partners, in other states, medical personnel will not permit someone who is not legally married to another person to be involved in their health care decisions.

Personal information that lives only online is also at risk. Most bills today don’t arrive in the mail, but in your email inbox. What happens if the person who pays the bill is in a hospital, on a ventilator? Just as you make sure that your spouse or children know where your estate plan documents are, they also need to know who your estate planning attorney is, where your insurance policies, financial records and legal documents are and your contact list of key friends and family members.

Right now, estate planning attorneys are talking with clients about a “Plan C”—a plan for what would happen if heirs, beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries are wiped out. They are adding language that states which beneficiaries or charities should receive their assets, if all of the people named in the estate plan have died. This is to maintain control over the distribution of assets, even in a worst-case scenario, rather than having assets pass via the rules of intestate succession. Without a Plan C, an entire estate could go to a distant relative, regardless of whether you wanted that to happen.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 16, 2020) “Coronavirus Legal Advice: Get Your Business and Estate in Order Now.”

 

Preparing for an Emergency Includes Power of Attorney

Unexpected events can happen at any time and preparing for an emergency includes a power of attorney. Without a backup plan, finances are vulnerable. The importance of having an estate plan and organized legal and financial documents on a scale of one to ten is fifteen, advises the article “Are you prepared to hand over your finances to someone in an emergency?” from USA Today. Maybe it doesn’t matter so much if your phone bill is a month late but miss a life insurance premium payment and your policy may lapse. If you’re over 70, chances are slim to none that you’ll be able to purchase a new one.

When estate plans and finances are organized to the point that you can easily hand them over to a trusted spouse, adult child or other responsible person, you gain the peace of mind of knowing you and your family are prepared for anything. Someone can take care of you and your family, in case the unexpected happens.

A financial power of attorney (POA) gives another person the legal authority to take financial actions on your behalf. The person you give this responsibility to, should be someone you trust and who will put your best interests ahead of their own. An estate planning attorney will be able to create a power of attorney that can be very specific about the powers that are granted.  You may want your POA to be able to pay bills, and manage your investment accounts, for instance, but you may not want them to make changes to trusts. A personalized power of attorney document can give you that level of control.

Consider your routine for taking care of household finances. Most of us do these tasks on autopilot. We don’t think about how it would be if someone else had to take over, but we should. Take a pad of paper and make notes about every task you complete in a given month: what bills do you pay monthly, which are paid quarterly and what comes due only once or twice a year? By making a detailed record of the tasks, you’ll save your spouse or family member a great deal of time and angst.

Is your paperwork organized so that someone else will be able to find things? Most people create their own systems, but they are not always understandable to anyone else. Create a folder or a file that holds all of your important documents, like insurance policies and investment accounts, legal documents and deeds.

If you pay bills online, naming someone else on the account so they have access is ideal. If not, then try consolidating the bills you can. Many banks allow users to set up bill payment through one account.

Keep legal documents and records up to date. If you haven’t reviewed your estate planning documents in more than three years, now is the time to speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan still reflects your wishes. Call your estate planning attorney to discuss your next steps.

Reference: USA Today (March 20, 2020) “Are you prepared to hand over your finances to someone in an emergency?”