Category: Guardian

Episode 6 of The Estate of The Union podcast is out now

Episode 6 of The Estate of The Union is out now

Episode 6 of The Estate of The Union is out now! In this episode, Brad Wiewel is joined by attorney Melissa Donovan, Certified Elder Law Attorney with The Wiewel Law Firm, to discuss the difficult and important task of coordinating care for loved ones with special needs. Melissa works with clients on special needs planning – helping individuals properly plan their estate to care for disabled loved ones.

Brad and Melissa cover the most common questions made by families with special needs. They provide the listeners with a broad understanding of the financial and estate planning strategies available to ensure your loved one is well cared for when you pass. In episode 6 of The Estate of The Union they focus on how planning differs between a minor and adult, and how easily errors can be made that could have significant consequences for your disabled child.

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insight into estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand.

It is Estate Planning Made Simple!

The Estate of The Union can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. Please click on the link below to listen. We hope you enjoy it.

New Episode of The Estate of The Union Podcast

The Wiewel Law Firm 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. 

what is the process of conservatorship

What Is the Process of Conservatorship?

The headlines surrounding Britney Spears’ fight against her father’s conservatorship have kept the issue in the public eye. It has prompted many to ask what is the process of conservatorship? It’s how her father controls her finances and her life, dating back to 2008 when she suffered a very public mental health crisis. Her $60 million fortune is controlled by her father Jamie Spears, according to the article “Britney Spears Is Under Conservatorship. Here’s How That’s Supposed to Work” from npr.com. In this case, only her father has the ability to negotiate business opportunities and other financial arrangements.

Britney made a passionate plea before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to end the conservatorship, saying she is exploited, unable to sleep, depressed and cries daily.

Her process of her conservatorship was set up because of the court’s agreement in 2008 with her father that she was no longer able to manage her own affairs. The judge appointed Jamie Spears, known as the “conservator” to care for another adult (the “conservatee”), who is deemed to be unable to care for themselves.

The conservatee does not lose all rights. They may still take part in important decisions affecting their property and way of life. They have a right to be treated with understanding and respect, and they have basic human rights. However, the court is saying that decisions about where to live and how to support the person need to be made by someone else. This is an extreme situation and is usually done only as a last resort. Once the court has appointed a conservatorship, only a court can lift it.

Conservatorships are usually used for people with a severe cognitive impairment or older people with severe dementia. Guardianships are also appointed for individuals with severe developmental disabilities. Spears is not the typical person under conservatorship. In the last 13 years, she has released albums, judged on The X Factor and earned an estimated $148 million performing in Las Vegas. Spears told the court she should not be in a conservatorship, if she can work and provide money and pay other people.

Many reforms to guardianship laws have taken place, including one principle that guardianship should only extend to the areas of the person’s life they are not able to manage. However, the Spears’ conservatorship includes every aspect of her personal affairs, as well as her property management.

Individuals under guardianship don’t select their guardian, but they may in some instances make recommendations and requests. The court is supposed to give serious consideration to their requests. The court does not seem to be recognizing this or other changes in Britney Spears’ case. She has been asking since 2014 for her father to be removed from his prime role in the conservatorship, and in 2020 she asked the court to suspend her father from his role entirely.

Family members are usually named as guardians, but there can be bankers, or professional guardians named. A wealth management company was added to Spears’ conservatorship in recent months as a co-conservator, but her father remains in charge of all aspects of her life.

Ending a guardianship is difficult, unless the guardianship has been set up for a specific length of time. If there’s a lot of money involved, things can get complicated. The guardian may not agree to steps to modify the guardianship because they will lose income. There’s a real conflict of interest in this case, as Spears’ father is also her business manager. The process of conservatorship is complicated.

There is a trend towards avoiding guardianship and having a person or a handful of people who can help with decision making, while permitting the person to be involved in some way. However, the Britney Spears case is unlike any conservatorship case.

If you would like to learn more about conservatorship and elder law, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: npr.com (June 24, 2021) “Britney Spears Is Under Conservatorship. Here’s How That’s Supposed to Work”

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

New Episode of The Estate of The Union Podcast

 

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assets not covered by a will

Assets not Covered by a Will

A last will and testament is one part of a holistic estate plan used to direct the distribution of property after a person has died. A recent article titled “What you can’t do with a will” from Ponte Vedra Recorder explains how wills work, and the types of assets not covered by a will.

Wills are used to inform the probate court regarding your choice of guardians for any minor children and the executor of your estate. Without a will, both of those decisions will be made by the court. It’s better to make those decisions yourself and to make them legally binding with a will.

Lacking a will, an estate will be distributed according to the laws of the state, which creates extra expenses and sometimes, leads to life-long fights between family members.

Property distributed through a will necessarily must be processed through a probate, a formal process involving a court. However, some assets are not covered by a will and do not pass through probate. Here’s how non-probate assets are distributed:

Jointly Held Property. When one of the “joint tenants” dies, their interest in the property ends and the other joint tenant owns the entire property.

Property in Trust. Assets owned by a trust pass to the beneficiaries under the terms of the trust, with the guidance of the trustee.

Life Insurance. Proceeds from life insurance policies are distributed directly to the named beneficiaries. Whatever a will says about life insurance proceeds does not matter—the beneficiary designation is what controls this distribution, unless there is no beneficiary designated.

Retirement Accounts. IRAs, 401(k) and similar assets pass to named beneficiaries. In most cases, under federal law, the surviving spouse is the automatic beneficiary of a 401(k), although there are always exceptions. The owner of an IRA may name a preferred beneficiary.

Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts. Some investment accounts have the ability to name a designated beneficiary who receives the assets upon the death of the original owner. They transfer outside of probate.

Here are some things that should NOT be included in your will:

Funeral instructions might not be read until days or even weeks after death. Create a separate letter of instructions and make sure family members know where it is.

Provisions for a special needs family member need to be made separately from a will. A special needs trust is used to ensure that the family member can inherit assets but does not become ineligible for government benefits. Talk to an elder law estate planning attorney about how this is best handled.

Conditions on gifts should not be addressed in a will. Certain conditions are not permitted by law. If you want to control how and when assets are distributed, you want to create a trust. The trust can set conditions, like reaching a certain age or being fully employed, etc., for a trustee to release funds.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to fully understand what assets are covered – and not covered – by a will; and whether further planning, such as a trust, is right for you.

If you would like to learn more about wills and how to distribute assets, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Ponte Vedra Recorder (April 15, 2021) “What you can’t do with a will”

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What are the early signs of dementia?

When a Guardianship is Needed to Protect a Senior

We would like to think that all of our very responsible parents and relatives have their legal documents in order. However, that is not always the case. It might be difficult to gauge when a guardianship is needed to protect a senior.

Florida Today’s recent article entitled “One Senior Place: What is guardianship and should I seek it?” explains that we need to have a serious discussion with our loved ones and determine if, in fact, “their affairs are in order.” If not, a guardianship may be in their futures.

That is because a guardianship is really a last step.

Guardianship is a legal process that is used to protect a senior who is no longer able to care for his or herself due to incapacity or disability. A court will appoint a legal guardian to care for a senior, who’s called a ward. A legal guardian has the legal authority to make decisions for the ward and represent his or her personal and financial interests. A court-appointed guardian can also be authorized to make healthcare decisions. In a guardianship, the senior relinquishes all rights to self-determination, so you can see how this is the choice of last resort.

If a suitable guardian isn’t found, the court can appoint a publicly financed agency that serves this role.

A doctor will examine a senior and determine if he or she is incompetent to make his or her own decisions. The judge will review the senior’s medical reports and listen to testimony to determine the extent of the alleged incapacity and whether the person seeking guardianship is qualified and responsible.

A guardian can be any competent adult, such as the ward’s spouse, another family member, a friend, or a neighbor. There are even professional guardians. The guardian will usually consider the known wishes of the person under guardianship.

Guardianship can be very costly and can involve a profound loss of freedom and dignity. As a result, speaking with an experienced elder law attorney is essential.

While it might be hard to know when a guardianship is needed to protect a senior, there are things that any competent adult can do to decrease the chances of ever needing guardianship. This includes:

  • Drafting a power of attorney for finances; and
  • Drafting an advance healthcare directive, which names a surrogate decision maker for your healthcare decisions, including the right to refuse or terminate life-sustaining medical care based on your wishes.

Moreover, talk about your wishes and all your estate planning documents with your family. That way they’ll know how to put your plan into action, if required in the future.

If you are interested in learning more about guardianship, please read our previous posts. 

Reference: Florida Today (March 23, 2021) “One Senior Place: What is guardianship and should I seek it?”

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Preparing to meet with an estate planning attorney

Preparing to meet with an Estate Planning Attorney

Preparing to meet with an estate planning attorney for the first time is an opportunity to get organized and think about your wishes for the future. If you meet with your accountant every year to prepare tax returns, this may be a familiar process. It’s a chance to step away from day-to-day activities and focus on your life, as described in a recent article “10 Items to Consider Before Meeting Your Attorney” from The National Law Journal.

Minor Children Need Guardians and Conservators. In most states, families with minor children need a last will to designate one or more guardians to raise the children in the event both parents die. A successor should be named in case the first named guardian is unable or unwilling to serve. Discuss your decision with the people you are naming; don’t leave this as a surprise. Choosing these people is a hard decision. However, don’t let it be a reason to delay creating your estate plan. It’s better that you name a guardian, rather than let the court make that decision. Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you through this decision.

Agents, Trustees, and Power of Attorney. With a Durable Power of Attorney, your assets can be managed by a named agent, if you become incapacitated. The person who manages your estate after death is the executor. They are named in your last will. If you have trusts, the documents that create the trust also name the trustees. It is possible for one person to act as a fiduciary for all of these roles, although the tasks can be divided.

Living Will and Patient Advocate Designation. If you are incapacitated, a Patient Advocate can make medical decisions on your behalf, including following the instructions of your Living Will.

Personal Property. Any items of personal property, whether their value is sentimental or monetary, should be specified in the will. A list of items and who you want to receive what, may spare your heirs from squabbles over your personal effects, large or small. If you own a business or real estate, they also need to be addressed in your will.

Charitable Donations. If you are charitably minded, your will is one way to make bequests and build a lasting legacy. Charitable donations can also be made to gain tax benefits for heirs.

Beneficiary Distributions. The beneficiary designation is the unsung hero of the estate plan. By managing beneficiary designations while you are living—updating beneficiary designations, assigning beneficiary designations to all accounts possible—you take assets out of your probate estate and smooth the asset distribution process. However, there are some wrinkles to consider.

Minor children may not receive assets until they become of age—18 in most cases. Do you want your children (or nieces or grandchildren) to receive an inheritance, while they are still in their teens? Proper estate planning includes trusts created, so a responsible adult can manage the trust on their behalf. Your trust can also be structured so the money may only be used for college expenses, or when the children reach certain ages. An estate planning attorney will assist you in how best to structure a trust.

Surviving Pets. You can plan for your pet’s care, if you pass away or become incapacitated before they die. Most states permit the creation of a pet trust, an enforceable means of providing assets to be used for the care and well-being of your pet.

Preparing to meet with an estate planning attorney can be a daunting task, but addressing these issues will give you a head start. Your estate planning attorney will be able to provide you with a list of the documents she will need to get started on your estate plan, but these are the major issues that you will be discussing at your first meeting.

If you would like to learn more about preparing for estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The National Law Journal (Feb. 23, 2021) “10 Items to Consider Before Meeting Your Attorney”

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Understanding the responsibilities of the conservator

If you have been named a conservator, or have been approached by a family member about the role, it is vital that you are understanding the responsibilities of the conservator. A conservator is appointed by a judge. This person handles the estate of an incapacitated adult, as well as their finances, their basic affairs and everyday care. Administrative matters such as Medicare, insurance, pensions, and medical coverage are all also managed by the conservator. The conservator must keep meticulous records that are subject to review by the judge.

The Advocate’s recent article entitled “Alzheimer’s Q&A: What is adult guardianship?” explains that a conservatorship typically lasts as long as the individual lives. The conservator may change because of death, relocation, or an inability to manage the conservator duties and responsibilities. A judge also has the power to replace the conservator, if he or she is repeatedly making poor decisions or neglecting required responsibilities.

A conservator can be wise in some situations because it lets family members know that someone is making the decisions. It also provides clear legal authority to deal with third parties. There is also a process in which a judge will approve any major decisions. However, appointing a conservator can be expensive. An experienced estate planning or elder law attorney must complete court paperwork and attend court hearings. A conservatorship can also be time-consuming due to the required ongoing paperwork.

A big question is when it is appropriate to seek conservatorship. If the individual has become mentally or physically incapable of making important decisions for himself or herself, then it would be smart to have a court-appointed guardian. Moreover, if the person does not already have legal documents in place, like a living will or power of attorney, then the conservatorship would benefit in covering decisions about personal and financial matters.

Even if the individual has a power of attorney for both health care and finances, he or she might need a conservator to make decisions about his or her personal life. This can include topics, such as living arrangements and who is allowed to visit. It is not always easy to determine if an individual can make decisions, but a judge understands that a conservator is viable for those with advanced Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Families that want to set up a conservatorship need to file formal legal papers and participate in a court hearing before a judge. Evidence of the physical and mental condition of the individual requiring conservatorship must be clearly presented. The person who is the subject of the conservatorship has the opportunity to contest it. Ask an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney who specializes in conservatorships to provide you a complete understanding of the responsibilities of the conservator.

If you would like to learn more about conservatorship and guardianship, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Advocate (Jan. 25, 2021) “Alzheimer’s Q&A: What is adult guardianship?”

 

Can I be paid as a caregiver?

The Difference between Power of Attorney and Guardianship

The difference between power of attorney and guardianship is in the level of decision-making power, although there are many intricacies specific to each appointment, explains Presswire’s recent article entitled “Power of Attorney and Guardianship of an Elderly Parent.”

The interactions with adult protective services, the probate court, elder law attorneys and healthcare providers can create a huge task for an agent under a power of attorney or court-appointed guardian. Children acting as agents or guardians are surprised about the degree of interference by family members who disagree with decisions.

Doctors and healthcare providers don’t always recognize the decision-making power of an agent or guardian. Guardians or agents may find themselves fighting the healthcare system because of the difference between legal capacity and medical or clinical capacity.

A family caregiver accepts a legal appointment to provide or oversee care. An agent under power of attorney isn’t appointed to do what he or she wishes. The agent must fulfill the wishes of the principal. In addition, court-appointed guardians are required to deliver regular reports to the court detailing the activities they have completed for elderly parents. Both roles must work in the best interest of the parent.

Some popular misperceptions about power of attorney and guardianship of a parent include:

  • An agent under power of attorney can make decisions that go against the wishes of the principal
  • An agent can’t be removed or fired by the principal for abuse
  • Adult protective services assumes control of family matters and gives power to the government; and
  • Guardians have a responsibility to save money for care, so family members can receive an inheritance.

Those who have a financial interest in inheritance can be upset when an agent under a power of attorney or a court-appointed guardian is appointed. Agents and guardians must make sure of the proper care for an elderly parent. A potential inheritance may be totally spent over time on care.

In truth, the objective isn’t to conserve money for family inheritances, if saving money means that a parent’s care will be in jeopardy.

Adult protective services workers will also look into cases to make certain that vulnerable elderly persons are protected—including being protected from irresponsible family members. In addition, a family member serving as an agent or family court-appointed guardian can be removed, if actions are harmful.

Agents under a medical power of attorney and court-appointed guardians have a duty to go beyond normal efforts in caring for an elderly parent or adult. They must understand the aspects of the health conditions and daily needs of the parent, as well as learning advocacy and other skills to ensure that the care provided is appropriate.

Ask an experienced elder law attorney for help understanding the difference between power of attorney and guardianship. Explain your family’s situation and your need for power of attorney documents with a provision for guardianship. If you would like to learn more about guardianship, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Presswire (Jan. 14, 2021) “Power of Attorney and Guardianship of an Elderly Parent”

 

steps to take when diagnosed with Alzheimer's?

Steps to Take when Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or any serious progressive disease takes some time to absorb. What are the steps to take when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? During the days and weeks after the diagnosis, it is important to take quick steps to protect the person’s health as well as their legal and financial lives, advises the recent article “What to do after an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis?” from The Indiana Lawyer.

Here are the legal steps that need to be taken when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, before the person is too incapacitated to legally conduct their own affairs:

General Durable Power of Attorney—A person needs to be appointed to perform legal and financial duties when the time comes. This can be a family member, trusted friend or a professional.

Health Care Power of Attorney—A person must be entrusted with making health care decisions, when the patient is no longer able to communicate their wishes.

HIPAA Authorization—Without this document, medical care providers will not be able to discuss the person’s illness or share reports and test results. An authorized person will be able to speak with doctors, pick up prescriptions and obtain medical reports. It is not a decision-making authorization, however.

Living Will—The living will explains wishes for end-of-life medical care, including whether to prolong life using artificial means.

Funeral Plans—Some states permit the creation of a legally enforceable document stating wishes for funerals, burials or cremation and memorial services. If a legal document is not permitted, then it is a kindness to survivors to state wishes, and be as specific as possible, to alleviate the family’s stress about what their loved one would have wanted.

Medicaid Planning—Care for Alzheimer’s and other dementias becomes extremely costly in the late stages. A meeting with an elder law attorney is important to see if the family’s assets can be protected, while obtaining benefits to pay for long-term and dementia care.

After the patient dies, there may be a claim against it from the state to recover Medicaid costs. By law, states must recover assets for long-term care and related drug and hospital benefits. All assets in the recipient’s probate estate are subject to recovery, except if surviving spouse, minor children, blind or disabled child is living or where recovery would cause hardship.

These are just a few steps to take when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. With good planning and the help of an experienced elder law attorney, the family may be able to mitigate claims by the government against the estate.

If you would like to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Indiana Lawyer (Jan. 6, 2020) “What to do after an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis?”

 

when mom refuses to get an Estate Plan

What are the Steps to Take when Dementia Begins

Covid-19 has made travelling more difficult, so holiday visits this year may not be the same triggering event they were in the past. However, even an online holiday visit can reveal a great deal of change, reports a recent article “Elder Care: When the children don’t notice” from The Sentinel. What are the steps to take when dementia begins?

An elderly spouse caring for another elderly spouse may not notice that their loved one’s needs have increased. Caregiving may have started as the spouse needing a reminder to take a shower on a regular basis. As dementia begins, the spouse may not be able to shower by themselves.

This quickly becomes exhausting and unsafe. If one spouse suddenly does not recognize the other and perceives their spouse as an intruder, a dangerous situation may occur, repeatedly. It’s time to discuss this with the children, if they are not available to notice this decline in person.

People are often reluctant to tell out-of-town children about this problem because they don’t want the added stress of having the children come to the rescue and making decisions that may be overwhelming. The children may also think they can come out for a visit and fix everything in the space of a few days. It’s not an easy situation for anyone.

A first step to take, especially when early-stage dementia begins, is to get an estate plan in place immediately, while the person still has the capacity to sign legal documents. Anyone who is old enough for Medicare (and anyone else, for that matter) needs to have an updated last will and testament, durable financial power of attorney for financial matters and a health care power of attorney, including a living will.

The financial power of attorney document will be the most practical because the family will be able to access financial accounts and make decisions without having to petition the court to appoint a guardian. A professional guardian might be appointed, which is extremely expensive and there have been situations where the professional guardian makes decisions the family does not want. A family member who can act under the power of attorney may be a much better solution for all concerned.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to be sure the POA permits wealth preservation. If it contains the phrase “limited gifting,” you want to discuss this and likely change it. You should also be sure that there is a secondary and even a third backup agent, in case there are any issues with the people named as POA.

Spouses typically have wills that leave everything to their spouse, and then equally among their children, if the spouse dies first. However, what if your spouse is in a nursing home when you die? The cost of nursing home care can quickly exhaust all funds. If any family member is receiving government benefits and then inherits directly, they could lose important government benefits. These are all matters to discuss with your estate planning attorney.

Have a conversation with your children about your healthcare advance directive. It’s not an easy conversation, but when the children know what their parents want concerning end-of-life care decisions, it relieves an enormous burden for all. Get specific—do you want a feeding tube to keep you alive? What about if the only thing keeping them alive is a heart-lung machine? Better to have these conversations now, than in the hospital when emotions are running high.

Another important step to take when dementia begins is the HIPAA release. This permits healthcare providers to discuss and share information about your loved one’s medical care. Without it, even close family members are not legally permitted to be part of the conversation about health care, lab test results, etc.

If you would like to learn more about dementia and other elder care issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Sentinel (Dec. 11, 2020) “Elder Care: When the children don’t notice”

 

when mom refuses to get an Estate Plan

How Does Guardianship Work?

For the most part, we are free to make our own decisions regarding how we live, where we live, how we spend our money and even with whom we socialize. However, when we are no longer capable of caring for ourselves, most commonly due to advancing age or dementia, or if an accident or illness occurs and we can’t manage our affairs, it may be necessary to seek a guardianship, as explained in the recent article “Legal Corner: A guardian can be a helpful tool in cases of incapacity” from The Westerly Sun. A guardianship is also necessary for the care of a child or adult with special needs. So how does guardianship work?

If no proper estate planning has been done and no one has been given power of attorney or health care power of attorney, a guardianship may be necessary. This is a legal relationship where one person, ideally a responsible, capable and caring person known as a guardian, is given the legal power to manage the needs of a ward, the person who cannot manage their own affairs. This is usually supported through a court process, requires a medical assessment and comes before the probate court for a hearing.

Once the guardian is qualified and appointed by the court, they have the authority to oversee everything about the ward’s life. They have power over the ward’s money and how it is spent, health care decisions, residential issues and even with whom the ward spends time. At its essence, a guardianship is akin to a parent-child relationship.

Guardianships can be tailored by the court to meet the specific needs of the ward in each case, with the guardian’s powers either limited or expanded, as needed and as appropriate.

The guardian must report to the court on a yearly basis about the ward’s health and health care and file an annual accounting of what has been done with the ward’s money and how much money remains. The court supervision is intended to protect the ward from mismanagement of their finances and ensure that the guardianship is still needed and maintained on an annual basis.

The relationship between the ward and the guardian is often a close one and can continue for many years. The guardianship ends upon the death of the ward, the resignation or removal of the guardian, or in cases of temporary illness or incapacity, when the ward recovers and is once again able to handle their own affairs and make health care decisions on their own.

If and when an elderly family member can no longer manage their own lives, guardianship is a way to step in and care for them, if no prior estate planning has been done. It is preferable for an estate plan to be created and for powers of attorney be created, but in its absence, this is an option.

If you would like to learn more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Westerly Sun (Sep. 19, 2020) “Legal Corner: A guardian can be a helpful tool in cases of incapacity”

 

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 The Wiewel Law Firm to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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