Category: Elder Law

A Psychiatric Advance Directive is an Additional tool to Consider

A Psychiatric Advance Directive is an Additional tool to Consider

Comprehensive estate planning today includes elder law and other strategies that help protect your assets and interests if you experience cognitive decline or incapacity. Have you thought about protecting your mental health and care if you can’t advocate for yourself? Based on the Trust & Will article “Guide to Psychiatric Advance Directives – What You Need to Know,” we explore psychiatric advance directives (PADs), their purpose and how to establish them. A Psychiatric advance directive is an additional tool to consider in your overall estate plan.

You might not have heard of psychiatric advance directives (PADs). However, they might be an important strategy in your estate plan. PADs are instructions and preferences for your mental health care. Similar to a living will or advance medical directives, PADs are a legal document outlining your preferences for psychiatric treatment should you become unable to make decisions due to a mental illness crisis. Picture it as your roadmap, guiding healthcare providers on your treatment choices, from medications to therapies, even during challenging times when communication might be difficult.

Psychological and physical health are essential for an individual’s overall wellness. Psychiatric advance directives proactively communicate your psychological treatment preferences,  empowering an advocate for your mental health care.

Consider it a letter of instructions to a trusted friend or family member and your healthcare team, ensuring that your wishes are respected and understood regarding your choice of psychiatric provider and mental health facility.

You probably know about advance medical directives and medical powers of attorney in estate planning. Most PADs have these two components. It’s crucial to meet state-specific requirements, such as being of legal age and having witnesses. Remember, PADs come into effect when you’re determined unable to make mental health decisions, often by a qualified mental health professional.

Key Psychiatric Advance Directives (PADs) in Estate Planning Takeaways:

  • What Are PADs? PADs are legal documents that include advance medical directives and powers of attorney outlining one’s mental health wishes.
  • Why Have PADs? Instructions and guidance for psychological care when an individual is incapacitated.
  • How to Establish PADS? Requirements are the same as advance medical directives and a medical POA.

Your mental health matters, and A psychiatric advance directive is an additional tool to consider in your overall estate planning. Speak to an Estate Planning or Elder Law attorney to discuss your needs and how a PAD may play a role. If you would like to learn more about advance directives, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Trust & Will “Guide to Psychiatric Advance Directives – What You Need to Know,”

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Alternatives to Avoid Guardianship as You Age

Alternatives to Avoid Guardianship as You Age

Individuals often overlook strategies in their estate planning to avoid restrictive guardianship if they become incapacitated. While guardianship protects individuals who cannot decide or act for themselves, it can inadvertently strip them of their autonomy. There are alternatives to avoid guardianship as you age.

The restrictive nature of a court-appointed guardian acting on behalf of an impaired individual doesn’t account for that person’s wishes. In a video titled “Alternatives to Guardianship,” The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) highlights essential guardianship alternatives that preserve a person’s autonomy. This article discusses the need for protection as we age, what guardianship is and how powers of attorney (POAs) are alternative estate planning strategies that give individuals more control over decision-making.

Aging and estate planning go hand-in-hand. Estate plans with strategies that address cognitive decline and incapacity protect you from financial risks, including misuse of assets or unauthorized withdrawals. When it comes to healthcare, individuals must retain control over medical decisions. They may not be honored if you are incapacitated without legally documented healthcare wishes.

Guardianship involves the legal authority granted to a court-appointed guardian to act and make decisions for a person who is physically or mentally incapable. The guardian oversees the person’s health, medical care and property. When an individual is evaluated and deemed incapacitated, a court will assign a guardian.

A guardian’s responsibilities include making personal care decisions, overseeing living arrangements and handling their financial affairs. They are required to keep detailed records and check in with the court regularly.  However, guardianships are often appointed without considering alternatives, and they strip an individual of all decision-making authority, including where they live, what they eat and whether they will get any medical care. ACTEC notes that guardianship can be hurtful to the family, in addition to being an expensive process.

A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that appoints someone you trust to act on your behalf. Only a durable power of attorney is valid if you are incapacitated. There are different POAs to protect your financial interests and medical wishes.

To prevent financial risks if you are incapacitated, a financial power of attorney names an agent with authority over financial matters, such as accessing bank accounts, paying bills and managing retirement accounts, real estate and investments.

A medical power of attorney is a healthcare or advance directive that allows someone else to make medical decisions based on your wishes. Often called a health care agent, this person follows your medical treatment as outlined in the document.

Key Guardianship Alternatives Takeaways:

  • Common Risks as We Age: Financial loss and unwanted medical care.
  • Typical Cons of Guardianship: Total loss of autonomy with court-appointed guardians.
  • Important Benefits of POAs: More control of your wishes and asset protection.

Elder law and estate planning strategies that protect you as you age should not be synonymous with surrendering autonomy through guardianship. Individuals can confidently navigate this terrain by exploring alternatives to avoid guardianship as you age. If you would like to learn more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) (May 13, 2021) “Alternatives to Guardianship”

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Topics You need to Address before a Mid-Life Marriage

Topics You need to Address before a Mid-Life Marriage

Today’s wedding couple is as likely to be 30 or 50 years old as they are to be in their twenties. This trend underscores the importance of having open discussions about finances and retirement before exchanging vows. A recent article from Next Avenue, “The Talk Over-50s Should Have Before Tying the Knot.” Whether you’re getting married for the first time or the second, being closer to retirement has major financial implications. There are topics you need to address before a mid-life marriage.

The most important thing is to disclose each person’s financial situation completely. For some people, this includes their retirement goals and lifestyle choices. What are the potential healthcare issues? Is there debt to be considered? How are each managing their investments?

If both people own homes, a plan for going forward needs to ask a simple question: where will the couple live? Will one sell their home or turn it into a rental property? If it is sold, will the seller retain all the income, or will they buy into ownership of the joint residence? Emotional attachments to homes can make this a difficult discussion, but it needs to be addressed.

Getting married changes each spouse’s legal status, meaning estate plans must be updated. If both have an existing estate plan, it needs to be reviewed. Powers of Attorney, Healthcare Proxy, and other estate planning documents must also be updated.

While reviewing and revising estate plans, don’t neglect to check on any accounts with named beneficiaries. More than a few ex-spouses have received insurance proceeds or accounts because someone neglected to update these accounts. The named beneficiary overrides anything in your will, which is critical to updating the estate plan.

If you both have children from prior marriages, meeting with an estate planning attorney to determine how to manage property distribution is another critical step before getting married. You may wish to create and fund trusts before marriage, so assets remain separate property. There are as many different types of trusts as there are family situations, from keeping assets separate to providing for a surviving spouse while ensuring biological children receive their inheritance (SLAT), or family trusts where assets are moved into the trust for the surviving spouse to allocate assets to heirs based on their needs.

Social Security planning should also be part of the discussion. If one spouse is a widow who was receiving survivor benefits, they could lose those benefits when they get married.

Talk with an estate planning attorney to address these topics before a mid-life marriage. That way you fully understand your situation and ensure you and your spouse are ready for the changes and challenges of your senior years together. If you would like to learn more about mid-life or second marriages and estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Next Avenue (March 14, 2024) “The Talk Over-50s Should Have Before Tying the Knot”

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Estate Planning for Veterans and Active Military Is Important

Estate Planning for Veterans and Active Military Is Important

Your dedication to your country is unwavering as a veteran or active military service member. While you’re committed to your duty, you must protect yourself and your loved ones and preserve your legacy. Veterans and active military personnel can and should create an estate plan to match their unique needs. Based on Trust & Will’s article, “Estate Planning for Veterans & Active Military,” we look at why estate planning for veterans and active military personnel is so important.

Military life is marked by unpredictability and uncertainty for you and your family, making estate planning a vital aspect of preparing for the future. Many individuals have plans to distribute funds and appoint trusted loved ones to handle medical and financial matters if the unthinkable happens. Estate planning is essential to help provide for your loved ones if you pass away or are incapacitated. Knowing that your family will be cared for can give you peace of mind.

A will serves as a cornerstone of your estate plan, allowing you to:

  • Protect Your Family: Specify guardianship for minor children, ensuring they’re cared for by trusted individuals in your absence.
  • Distribute Assets Seamlessly: Designate beneficiaries and outline asset distribution instructions, including real estate, retirement and financial accounts, sentimental items, and other property.
  • Plan for the Unexpected: Outline your preferences for medical care and end-of-life decisions to prepare for unforeseen circumstances.

In the military, adaptability is critical, but so is ensuring your affairs are managed in your absence. Powers of Attorney enable you to:

  • Delegate Your Decisions: If you are incapacitated, designate trusted individuals to handle your legal, financial, and medical decisions.
  • Manage Your Affairs: Maintain continuity in managing assets, paying bills, and making critical decisions, even during deployments or periods of incapacity.
  • Mitigate Financial Risk: Protect against financial exploitation and past-due bills by appointing reliable agents to act in your best interests.

For military families, asset protection and efficient wealth transfer are paramount. Trusts offer a range of benefits, including:

  • Asset Preservation: Safeguard assets during incapacity or deployment, ensuring financial stability for your family.
  • Probate Avoidance: Streamline the distribution of assets to beneficiaries, bypassing the lengthy and costly probate process.
  • Tax Efficiency: Minimize estate taxes and maximize tax savings, preserving more of your hard-earned assets for future generations.

Your dedication and sacrifice are unmatched as a veteran or active military service member. That is why estate planning is so important for veterans and active military personnel. By prioritizing estate planning and including will, trust, and power of attorney strategies, you can protect your loved ones and preserve your legacy for generations. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney for peace of mind. If you would like to learn more about planning for veterans, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Trust & Will “Estate Planning for Veterans & Active Military,”

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Senior Property Tax Exemption can provide Relief

Senior Property Tax Exemption can provide Relief

Estate planning and elder law attorneys often help retirees face unique challenges, such as how to afford their property’s rising values and real estate taxes on a fixed income. However, there’s good news: several states offer a senior property tax exemption, which can provide much-needed relief. Based on The Mortgage Reports’ article, “Property Tax Exemption for Seniors: What Is It and How to Claim It,” we look closely at the exemption and if it might work for you.

Only proactive seniors who ask their state, county, or city agency about tax breaks know if their state has a property tax exemption and if they qualify. The states with tax exemptions for homeowners ages 65 and older, like New York or Washington, likely won’t tell you if you qualify. If your state offers this tax break, claiming it is simpler than you might think.

What exactly are senior property tax exemptions? These exemptions are a lifeline for individuals aged 65 or older, reducing the burden of property taxes on their wallets. While property taxes are notoriously unpopular, especially among retirees on fixed incomes, these exemptions offer hope. The exemption helps seniors on fixed incomes by reducing the property value on which homeowners at least 65 years of age pay taxes. The tax rate remains the same for everyone: the reduced taxable value of property or properties. In some states, your tax exemption increases as you age.

States that offer a property exemption can reduce taxes based on a percentage or dollar amount. The amount seniors save varies by location, what they qualify for and their property value.

Senior property tax exemptions vary by state. In most states, you must meet minimum age requirements and prove that you occupy the home as your primary residence. The minimum age threshold varies from state to state, ranging from 61 to 65.  Income limit requirements also often exist. A higher income might disqualify you or reduce your exemption.

To claim your exemption, you must apply with your local tax office. Deadlines vary, so make sure to check your state’s requirements. Most states have websites where you can find the necessary forms and instructions.

Each state has its own set of rules and benefits regarding senior property tax exemptions. Some counties offer additional tax savings. By working with a local estate planning or elder law attorney, you can incorporate additional tax-saving strategies into your estate plan. Understanding your local rules and taking advantage of any available exemptions is essential.

The senior property tax exemption can provide much-needed tax relief for fixed-income budgets. By understanding the eligibility criteria, filing on time, and exploring state-specific benefits, you can lighten the burden of property taxes and enjoy a more financially secure retirement. If you would like to learn more about property taxes and estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Mortgage Reports (Jan 29, 2024) “Property Tax Exemption for Seniors: What It Is and How to Claim It.

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The Estate of The Union Season 3|Episode 5

The Estate of The Union Season 3|Episode 4 is out now!

The Estate of The Union Season 3|Episode 4 is out now! It surprises some people to discover that the mortality rate in Texas and the USA and the world for that matter is 100%! None of us are getting out of here alive. How we leave this planet can sometimes be determined by how we want to.

While many people die suddenly, many others linger. And the prolonged dying process is where Hospice Austin come into play. We are privileged to have Keisha Jones, the Director of In-Patient Services at Hospice Austin share with us a “better way to die.”

While there are many for profit hospices, and an article in a recent edition of Scientific American highlighted that Hedge Funds are buying up hospices nationwide, Hospice Austin is the only non-profit one in this area. Keisha shares her unique insights into the dying process and gives hope, and we are very thankful for her allowing us to interview her.

To learn more about the incredibly valuable work that Hospice Austin does for the community, please visit their website: www.hospiceaustin.org

 

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insights into the confusing world of estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand. It is Estate Planning Made Simple! The Estate of The Union Season 3|Episode 4 is out now! The episode can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would prefer to watch the video version, please visit our YouTube page. Please click on the links to listen to or watch the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

The Estate of The Union Season |Episode 4

 

Texas Trust Law focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We provide estate planning services, asset protection planning, business planning, and retirement exit strategies.

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Essential steps for Gen Xers caring for Aging Parents

Essential steps for Gen Xers caring for Aging Parents

Raising children is expensive. Adding medical or living costs for aging parents is enough to strain even a healthy family budget. The additional expenses of caring for an aging parent or parents can take a turn if a parent passes away or is incapacitated without a will or estate plan to guide the family. An estate plan or other legal documents, such as an advance medical directive and powers of attorney, enable trusted representatives to decide and act according to a parent’s wishes. A proactive estate plan can help alleviate financial burdens and smooth aging parents’ path into retirement for both generations. Here are six essential steps for Gen Xers caring for their aging parents:

Based on Kiplinger’s article, “What Gen X Needs to Know About Their Aging Parents’ Finances,” this article outlines steps in estate planning for your parents’ financial future through retirement and their quality of life as they age.

Understand your parents’ financial landscape. Identify their assets, including retirement accounts, investments, real estate and bank accounts. List their debts, from home mortgages to credit card balances—a comprehensive view of their financial health aids in planning their future needs. Consider guidance from an estate planning attorney for a more customized approach.

Familiarize yourself with your parents’ income sources, such as Social Security, pensions and additional retirement income streams. Know their financial inflows, gauge their ability to cover expenses and plan for any shortfalls effectively.

Ask your parents if they have an estate plan, including wills, trusts and other legal documents outlining their wishes for beneficiaries and asset distribution. If they do, is it comprehensive enough for long-term care, medical decisions if they are incapacitated and Medicaid? Address these topics early and facilitate additional planning, so their wishes are honored.

Anticipate future healthcare expenses and discuss potential long-term care needs with your parents. Do they have health issues and medication costs to save money for? Develop strategies to cover these costs through insurance, savings, or income-producing investments. Planning can mitigate financial stress and provide access to quality care in retirement. Consult an attorney to discuss Medicaid planning and avoid delays in the application process.

Family members worry more about scammers and the misuse of an older adult’s money today than in previous generations. Protect your parents from financial exploitation. Consider living trusts or powers of attorney, authorizing trusted family members to act and decide in your parents’ best interests, if necessary.

Seek guidance from a financial adviser and an estate planning attorney for retirement planning and intergenerational wealth transfer strategies. Collaborate with them to develop comprehensive strategies that address your parents’ financial needs, while safeguarding your retirement savings.

Proactive Gen Xers caring for aging parents can use these essentials steps to alleviate financial burdens and provide peace of mind for both generations. They can support aging parents as they plan for the family’s financial needs and future. If you would like to learn more about caring for aging parents, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (June 5, 2023) “What Gen X Needs to Know About Their Aging Parents’ Finances.”

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Cognitive Decline is Overlooked in Estate Planning

Cognitive Decline is Overlooked in Estate Planning

Estate planning is a roadmap for transferring a person’s assets upon their death. It preserves their value and lays out the distribution of assets to the beneficiaries. One overlooked but essential aspect of estate planning is a strategy to manage and maintain an estate’s assets if the owner loses cognitive functioning and cannot make rational or mentally sound decisions. Planning for cognitive decline is often overlooked in estate planning.

A recent case highlighted by Alan Feigenbaum in J.D. Supra’s article “Confronting Cognitive Abilities in Well-Rounded Estate Planning” reminds us of the complexities and challenges that can arise when cognitive decline is not adequately addressed in estate planning.

The case involves an 80-year-old retired advertising executive, referred to as K.K., who suffered from severe delusions. Influenced by a fraudulent business associate, K.K.’s delusions led to misguided investments that resulted in a significant financial loss. Despite the clear signs of cognitive impairment, K.K. continued to engage in financial decisions that jeopardized his estate’s financial well-being.

K.K.’s son filed a petition to appoint him guardian of his father’s estate to prevent further loss. This situation underscores the need for an estate plan that includes managing the assets and protecting the estate’s value, if the individual is cognitively or mentally impaired.

  • Plan Early and Consider Cognitive Decline: Begin estate planning early and include provisions to carry out plan directives, if cognitive functioning is impaired.
  • Incorporate Safeguards: Estate plans should have safeguards, such as durable powers of attorney and trusts, which empower trusted individuals to manage your affairs if you become incapacitated.
  • Regular Reviews and Updates: Review and update your estate plan regularly to reflect changes in circumstances, including health status.
  • Professional Guidance is Key: Navigate the complexities of estate planning with an experienced estate planning attorney. An attorney will structure your estate plan to address potential cognitive decline.

K.K.’s court case underscores why cognitive decline is overlooked in estate planning. A well-rounded estate plan includes a strategy to protect and manage assets when an individual lacks the cognitive capacity to make decisions. Proactive strategies prevent financial loss and reduce the emotional turmoil when caring for a cognitively impaired loved one. Estate planning gives you the peace of mind that your wishes will be honored, even in mental decline. If you would like to learn more about planning for cognitive decline, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: JD Supra, (March 2024), Confronting Cognitive Abilities in Well-Rounded Estate Planning

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Considering Medicaid Asset Protection Trusts?

Considering Medicaid Asset Protection Trusts?

Medicaid, a joint state and federal program, provides health coverage to low-income individuals of all ages. Qualifying for Medicaid requires meeting strict income and asset limits, which vary by state and the type of Medicaid coverage sought. If you are considering Medicaid Asset Protection Trusts, there are a few things to know.

These limits pose a significant hurdle for many, especially those needing long-term care. According to an ElderLawAnswers article, this is where Medicaid Asset Protection Trusts (MAPTs) come into play. MAPTs offer a legal avenue to protect assets, while preserving eligibility for Medicaid benefits.

A MAPT is an irrevocable trust established during your lifetime that transfers ownership of assets to a trust, so Medicaid excludes them from the resource limit during eligibility qualification. Once transferred, you no longer own the assets directly, which helps you to meet Medicaid’s eligibility criteria. Appoint a trustee other than yourself to manage the trust and to transfer the assets, such as real estate or stocks, into the trust’s name correctly.

Key Considerations:

  • Timing is Crucial: A MAPT must be created and funded with Medicaid’s 60-month lookback period in mind. Assets transferred into the trust within this period may penalize your Medicaid eligibility.
  • Living Arrangements: Transferring your home into a MAPT doesn’t mean you have to move out. You can still reside in your home, although the trust technically owns it.
  • Income and Benefits: You can receive income from the trust’s assets. However, this income may affect your Medicaid eligibility.

Medicaid Asset Protection Trusts are a valuable strategy for individuals looking to qualify for Medicaid without sacrificing their assets. If you are considering Medicaid Asset Protection Trusts, work with an attorney to understand how these trusts work and the financial considerations involved, so you can make informed decisions about your long-term care planning. If you would like to learn more about elder law, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: ElderLawAnswers: What Are Medicaid Asset Protection Trusts?

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Understanding how a Guardianship and Conservatorship Contrast

Understanding how a Guardianship and Conservatorship Contrast

Guardianship and conservatorship are two legal mechanisms designed to assist individuals who cannot manage their own affairs. While they share similarities, understanding how a guardianship and conservatorship contrast is vital. Guardianship typically pertains to personal and health care decisions, while conservatorship deals with financial matters. Both require court appointment and carry significant responsibility.

Guardianship involves the legal authority granted to a guardian to make decisions on behalf of a person who is unable to do so. This typically pertains to personal, health and welfare decisions. A court appoints a guardian when an individual is deemed incapacitated, and the guardian may have to make a wide range of personal decisions for them. A guardian has significant responsibilities, including making personal care decisions, overseeing living arrangements and ensuring the overall well-being of their ward. They must keep detailed records and report to the court regularly, demonstrating that they are acting in the best interests of the ward.

In cases involving minor children, guardianship becomes essential when parents are unable to provide care. The guardian, appointed by the court, assumes responsibility for the child’s personal needs and welfare, acting in their best interests. This is often seen when parents are unable or unwilling to care for their child or in the event of the death of the parents.

Conservatorship, on the other hand, is primarily focused on financial matters. A conservator is appointed to manage the financial affairs of an individual who is unable to do so themselves, due to incapacity or other reasons. This includes managing a person’s assets, making investments and handling financial decisions. In conservatorship proceedings, the court appoints a conservator to oversee the financial needs of the incapacitated individual. The conservator must act responsibly and is often required to provide the court with periodic financial reports.

While a guardian manages personal and medical decisions, a conservator handles the financial aspects, such as personal and financial records, asset management and financial planning. This distinction is crucial in understanding the roles and responsibilities each holds.

The legal authority granted to a guardian differs from that of a conservator. A guardian makes personal and medical decisions, while a conservator focuses on financial and asset management. This division ensures that all aspects of an individual’s life are cared for adequately. Both guardians and conservators are appointed by the court and must act in the best interests of their wards. They are supervised by the court and must provide regular reports to demonstrate their compliance with legal responsibilities.

Incorporating guardianship and conservatorship into an estate plan is crucial. An estate plan can appoint a guardian or conservator in advance, providing clarity and direction in the event of incapacitation. Including a power of attorney in your estate plan can preempt the need for a court-appointed guardian or conservator. This allows you to choose who will make decisions on your behalf, if you become unable to do so.

An effective estate plan, including wills and power of attorney, can provide peace of mind and ensure that your wishes are honored. It prepares for scenarios where you might be incapacitated, ensuring that your personal and financial matters are in trusted hands. Navigating the complexities of guardianship and conservatorship can be challenging. A lawyer can help you understand how a guardianship and conservatorship contrast. The assistance of an estate planning or elder lawyer is invaluable in understanding your options, the legal process and ensuring that your loved one’s needs are met.

Each situation is unique, and a lawyer can provide tailored advice depending on your specific circumstances. They can help you navigate the legal system, ensuring the best outcome for you and your loved ones. If you would like to learn more about guardianship, please visit our previous posts. 

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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