Category: Living Will

How the Guardianship Process Works

How the Guardianship Process Works

For family members of the estimated 6.5 million dementia patients in the U.S., it is crucial to understand whether guardianship may be an option for their loved one. A recent article from Next Avenue titled “Thinking of Becoming a Guardian?” explains how the guardianship process works and what factors go into the decision-making process.

Guardianship is the position of being responsible for someone else. State courts usually appoint a guardian to make decisions for a person, if the court finds that person to be incapacitated or unable to make safe and reasonable decisions for themselves. People who are placed under guardianship, known as “wards,” often lose their independence in making financial, legal and health care decisions.

If full guardianship is awarded, the person cannot make decisions about whether they may vote, marry, where they live, or make their own end-of-life decisions.

Two tasks that are evaluated when considering guardianship are a person’s ability to manage personal finances and to take medications as prescribed.

The court may call on a geriatrician or psychiatrist to evaluate the person’s functional behavior, cognitive function, disabling conditions and ability to meet their essential needs.

There are benefits to guardianship for someone who is not able to care for themselves. It ideally creates a safety net for a person who cannot make informed decisions for themselves.

this, of course, assumes that the guardian is honest and accountable, which is not always the case. The inconsistencies plaguing the guardianship system include minimum standards for guardians, lack of regular independent reviews of the need for guardianship and lack of educational requirements for guardians.

Once guardianship is assigned, there is a tendency for the person to become lost when no follow-up is done. The very same person who lacks capacity to care for themselves is not going to be able to advocate for themselves, contact an attorney or access funds for court proceedings.

There is also a tendency to assign full guardianship for a person, rather than less restrictive alternatives.

There are alternatives, but they require planning and discussion. More than 40% of Americans have not discussed their wishes for end-of-life care with their loved ones, according to an article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Families should have a conversation at the first sign of memory loss or when preparing for retirement regarding wishes for end-of-life care and write them down as part of an Advanced Directive—also known as a Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney—when preparing their estate plan.

Another important document, although not legally binding, is a “Value History,” where you share your values and beliefs as they may impact care choices.

Designate a Power of Attorney and list two or even three back-up candidates. This person will be responsible for financial, legal and personal matters, avoiding the need for guardianship.

Appointing a family member or friend as a guardian is the ideal solution. However, there are instances when the best person to be a guardian is not a family member, but a court-appointed outsider. This relieves the family of being the ones who need to inform a person suffering from dementia with the news of having to move into a nursing home facility or sifting through financial records to learn that the family home is in foreclosure. The family can focus on being supportive and loving, while the guardian deals with the sometimes harsh realities of the person’s life.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to learn about how the guardianship process works, and whether it may be the right move for your family. If you would like to learn more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Next Avenue (Dec. 23, 2022) “Thinking of Becoming a Guardian?”

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Advance Directives are Critical to your Planning

Advance Directives are Critical to your Planning

Advance directives address the type of healthcare and medical treatment you’d want if you become incapacitated. MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “What happens if you’re incapacitated? How to get your advance directives in order” says if you don’t make these decisions now—and complete the necessary forms to state your wishes—someone else will make the decisions for you down the road. Advance directives are critical to your planning.

Advance directives typically consist of a living will and a power of attorney for healthcare. Each state has its own statutory advance directive form. Because these state forms are legal documents, the wording can be pretty formal. People will sometimes forget they’ve filled out the forms. They also forget where they put them.

After completing the proper forms, you must get them to your medical providers, so they know whether to resuscitate you during a medical emergency or administer artificial feeding or hydration.

Make sure you have a discussion with your physician, family and close friends about your values, goals and fears concerning advance care planning.

You should tell them what forms of medical intervention you’d find acceptable and unacceptable—and what level of life-sustaining treatment you’d like if you’re deemed permanently unconscious. That may include considering these types of situations:

  • If I am unconscious, in a coma, or in a vegetative state and there is little or no chance of recovery
  • If I have permanent, severe brain damage that makes me unable to recognize my family or friends (for example, severe dementia)
  • If I need to use a breathing machine and be in bed for the rest of my life
  • If I have a condition that will make me die very soon, even with life-sustaining treatments
  • If I have pain or other severe symptoms that cause suffering and can’t be relieved
  • If I have a permanent condition where other people must help me with my daily needs (for example, eating, bathing, toileting).

When sharing your end-of-life wishes with your physician, he or she may enter your comments into your electronic health record. That way any other healthcare provider with access to those records (such as a hospital system) can retrieve them. Advance directives are critical to your planning. Work closely with your estate planning attorney, who will have the experience to help you navigate these decisions. If you would like to learn more about advance directives, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: MarketWatch (Oct. 14, 2022) “What happens if you’re incapacitated? How to get your advance directives in order.”

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How are a Living Will and Advance Directive Different?

How are a Living Will and Advance Directive Different?

A comprehensive estate plan contains far more than a last will and testament. It also contains a number of documents to communicate wishes for decisions to be made during life. These include a living will, an advance directive and a healthcare power of attorney, as explained in the article “What Is a Living Will and Do I Need One?” from healthline. It is a common mistake to think that a living will and an advance directive are the same. They are not. How are a living will and an advance directive different?

What is a living will? A living will is a document providing instructions for medical care, or in some circumstances, for the termination of medical support. They indicate wishes for the use or discontinuation of life-sustaining medical treatments. The living will is used if the individual becomes incapacitated and cannot communicate normally. Incapacitation is determined and certified by a medical professional. Living wills address such treatments as resuscitation, hydration, a feeding tube and pain management.

Each state has its own rules for creating a legally valid living will. The information required in most states is:

  • Legal name and any aliases or nicknames.
  • The current day, month and year.
  • A statement attesting to being of sound mind and body.
  • Healthcare instructions for events with no reasonable expectation for recovery or quality of life, which may include CPR, DNR (do not resuscitate) and do not intubate (DNI).
  • The name of your healthcare proxy, the person who you want to communicate and state your wishes and the name of an alternate healthcare proxy, if you have one.
  • Witness statements indicating you willingly and rationally signed this document (the number of witnesses varies by state).
  • Your legal signature.

An advance directive is not the same thing but can include a living will. The advance directive has two parts: the living will and the healthcare power of attorney. These documents don’t address finances, property distribution, guardianship of children or any non-medical matters. For those, you need a last will and testament.

The healthcare power of attorney is a document identifying the person named to make healthcare decisions for you. It’s sometimes called a durable medical power of attorney. The person you name to make decisions is called your healthcare proxy, healthcare agent, or healthcare surrogate. This document does not address end-of-life care, but instead grants legal permission to the person to make decisions for you.

The living will, advance directive and healthcare power of attorney work together to allow someone else to represent you during a medical crisis. These documents should be created by an experienced estate planning attorney and shared with the people you choose, so they may act on your behalf. Unfortunately, we never know when a medical crisis or accident will occur, so these documents are needed at any age and stage of life. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you better understand how a living will and an advance directive are different. If you would like to learn more about drafting a comprehensive estate plan, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: healthline (Sep. 1, 2022) “What Is a Living Will and Do I Need One?”

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A Living Will is a Huge Benefit

A Living Will is a Huge Benefit

Having a living will is a huge benefit for yourself and your loved ones. During a medical crisis, families frequently must make decisions quickly regarding whether to withhold or provide life-sustaining treatments. A living will is a part of advance care planning. It’s a legal document that provides specific instructions on how to carry out your wishes to receive or decline such treatments when you otherwise can’t communicate those wishes yourself, explains, Forbes’ recent article entitled “How Does A Living Will Work?”

Your estate plan may already include a durable power of attorney for health care, which is a legal document that lets your designated agent or proxy make medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated. However, unlike that document, the instructions in a living will can be used only when the person named in the living will has no hope of recovery or cure.

A living will provides limited authority to an agent on behalf of the principal who’s no longer able to communicate their preferences to withhold or withdraw artificial means of life support or life-sustaining treatments. A living will should have your wishes noted for receiving or going without treatment when your condition isn’t expected to improve and treatment would extend your life for only a limited time.

A living will is designed to apply only in very limited situations when the principal who signed the document has an incurable or irreversible medical condition or conditions that will most likely result in the principal’s death within a short period of time—typically six months or fewer.

Life-sustaining treatments addressed in a living will may include:

  • Ventilators
  • Heart-lung machines
  • Nutrition via a feeding tube
  • Hydration via feeding tube or IV
  • Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or other extraordinary measures; and
  • Dialysis.

Living wills can also address issues, like pain management and palliative care. You may even include provisions such as “I would prefer to die at home” in a living will.

Provide as much information as you can to make certain that your proxy isn’t making the decision for you, but rather your wishes and words are moving through your proxy. A living will is a huge benefit to your loved ones. The more information you can provide in your living will to your proxy to illustrate for them the type of care that you’d want to receive or decline, the better. If you would like to learn more about living wills and other medical directives, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (Aug. 18, 2022) “How Does A Living Will Work?”

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Living Will and DNR are different Documents

Living Will and DNR are different Documents

A living will and a Do Not Resuscitate Order, known as a DNR, are very different documents. However, many people confuse the two. They both address end of life issues and are used in different settings, according to the article “One Senior Place: Know the difference between ‘living will’ and ‘do not resuscitate’” from Florida Today.

What is a Living Will?

A living will is a written statement describing a person’s wishes about receiving life-sustaining medical treatment in case of a terminal illness if they are a patient near death or in a persistent vegetative state. This includes choices such as whether to continue the use of artificial respiration, a feeding tube and other highly intensive means of keeping a person alive.

The living will is used to make your wishes clear to loved ones and to physicians. It is prepared by an estate planning elder care attorney, often when having an estate plan created or updated. To ensure it is valid and the instructions can be carried out, be sure to have this document created properly.

What is a DNR?

A DNR is a medical directive used to convey wishes to not be resuscitated in the event of respiratory or cardiac arrest. This document needs to be signed by both the patient and their treating physician. It’s often printed on brightly colored paper, so it can be easily found in an emergency.

The DNR should be placed in a location where it can be easily and quickly found. In nursing homes, this is typically at the head or foot of the bed. At home, it’s often posted on the refrigerator.

The DNR needs to be immediately available to ensure that the patient’s last wishes are honored.

A key mistake made by well-meaning family members is to have the DNR with someone else, rather than at home or at the bedside of the patient. If the DNR cannot be found and emergency medical responders arrive on scene, they are legally bound to provide CPR or other medical care to revive the patient.

When the DNR is available, the emergency responders will not initiate CPR if they find the patient in cardiopulmonary arrest or respiratory arrest. They may instead provide comfort care, including administering oxygen and pain management.

If a person is admitted to the hospital, their living will is placed on the chart. Depending on the state’s laws, a certain number of physicians must agree the patient is in a persistent vegetative state or has an end-state condition and can no longer communicate. At that point, the terms of the living will are followed.

In addition to having these documents created with your estate plan, make sure that family members know where they can be found. A living will and a DNR are different documents and your estate planning attorney can help you address which is the best option for your current situation. If you would like to learn more about living wills, DNRs and other medical directives, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Florida Today (July 19, 2022) “One Senior Place: Know the difference between ‘living will’ and ‘do not resuscitate’”

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Even Young Adults Need a Will

Even Young Adults Need a Will

Even young adults need a will. Everyone, age 18 and older, needs at least some basic estate planning documents. That’s true even if you own very little. You still need an advance health care directive and a power of attorney. These documents designate agents to make decisions for you, in the event you become incapacitated.

The Los Angeles Daily News’ recent article entitled “Estate planning, often overwhelming, starts with the basics” reminds us that incapacity doesn’t just happen to the elderly. It can happen from an accident, a health crisis, or an injury. To have these documents in place, you just need to state the person you want to make decisions for you and generally what those decisions should be.

An experienced estate planning attorney will help you draft your will by using a questionnaire you complete before your initial meeting. This helps you to organize and list the information required. It also helps the attorney spot issues, such as taxes, blended families and special needs. You will list your assets — real property, business entities, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, cars, life insurance and anything else you may own. The estimated or actual value of each item should also be included. If you have life insurance or retirement plans, attach a copy of the beneficiary designation form.

An experienced estate planning attorney will discuss your financial and family situation and offer options for a plan that will fit your needs.

The attorney may have many different solutions for the issues that concern you and those you may not have considered. These might include a child with poor money habits, a blended family where you need to balance the needs of a surviving spouse with the expectations of the children from a prior marriage, a pet needing ongoing care, or your thoughts about who to choose as your trustee or power of attorney.

There are many possible solutions, and you aren’t required to know them before you move ahead with your estate planning.

Young adults need a will. If you are an adult, you know generally what you own, your name and address and the names of your spouse and children or any other beneficiaries you’d like to include in your plan. So, you’re ready to move ahead with your estate planning. The key is to do this now and not procrastinate. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Los Angeles Daily News (July 24, 2022) “Estate planning, often overwhelming, starts with the basics”

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Estate planning is vital for Unmarried Couples

Estate planning is vital for Unmarried Couples

Traditional or non-traditional couples have the option of marrying, but not all couples wish to, according to a recent article from Kiplinger, “Marriage: When You’d Rather Not.”  Planning for a life together without the legal protections provided by marriage means couples of all kinds who decide not to marry must be sure to do estate planning. Otherwise, they may find themselves in life-altering situations concerning property ownership, parental rights, and inheritances. Estate planning is vital for unmarried couples. It’s a gift to give each other.

Start with a last will and testament. Unmarried couples without children need a will, if they want to leave each other property. Otherwise, the laws of most states will have property going to the legal next-of-kin, which might be parents, siblings, or cousins. No matter how many decades the couple has been together, if they are not married, they have no legal inheritance rights.

Other estate planning basics are important to protect each other while living. Without documents like a financial power of attorney and a health care proxy for both partners, medical and other health care providers might not allow your partner to make critical health decisions on your behalf. For couples where families disapprove of their unmarried status, asking a parent to make these decisions, especially in an emergency situation, could magnify a crisis or worse, lead to a result neither partner wants.

Accounts with named beneficiaries, which typically include life insurance policies, retirement funds, investment accounts and similar financial products, aren’t distributed by the terms of your will. Instead, they pass directly to beneficiaries on death. Even traditional married couples run into trouble when beneficiary designations are not updated.

Every time there is a life change, including death, birth, break-up, or any big life event, updating beneficiaries is a good idea for all concerned.

Unmarried couples with children need to be especially diligent about estate planning. If a biological parent dies, their assets go to their biological children. However, when the non-biological parent dies, all of their assets could go to other relatives, unless a will is in place and beneficiaries are properly named. What about if the non-biological parent takes the step of legally adopting the children? They should still check on their parental rights. If accounts do not have beneficiaries named, the assets will go to next of kin, a parent or sibling and not the child or partner.

Home ownership is another financial issue to tackle for unmarried couples. They need a document clearly stating how the home is owned, how much each invested in the home, who is responsible for mortgage and tax payments, how to divide the home if it’s sold and who has the right to live in the home if the couple breaks up or if one dies or becomes disabled. If a home is solely in one person’s name and the other partner dies, the surviving partner may end up being evicted if the right protections are not in place.

For unmarried couples, meeting with an estate planning attorney is vital to protect each other now and in the future. If you would like to read more about planning for unmarried couples, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (June 16, 2022) “Marriage: When You’d Rather Not.”

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Deciding where to Store your Documents is Critical

Deciding where to Store your Documents is Critical

It’s a common series of events: an elderly parent is rushed to the hospital in the middle of the afternoon and once children are notified, the search for the Power of Attorney, Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney begins. It’s easily avoided with planning and communication, according to an article from The News-Enterprise titled “Give thought to storing your estate papers.” However, just because the solution is simple doesn’t mean most people address it. Deciding where to store your documents is critical.

As a general rule, estate planning documents should be kept together in a fire and waterproof container in a location known to fiduciaries.

Most people think of a bank safe deposit box as a protected place. However, it’s not a good location for several reasons. Individuals may not have access to the contents of the safe deposit box, unless they are named on the account. Even with their names on the account, emergencies don’t follow bankers’ hours. If the Power of Attorney giving the person the ability to access the safe deposit box is inside the safe deposit box, bank officials are not likely to be willing to open the box to an unknown person.

A well-organized binder of documents in a fire and waterproof container at home makes the most sense.

Certain documents should be given in advance to certain agencies or offices. For instance, health care documents, like the Health Care Power of Attorney and Advance Medical Directive (or Living Will) should be given to each healthcare provider to keep in the person’s medical record and be sure they are accessible 24/7 to health care providers. Make sure that there are copies for adult children or whoever has been designated to serve as the Health Care Power of Attorney.

Power of Attorney documents should be given to each financial institution or agency in preparation for use, if and when the time comes.

It may feel like an overwhelming task to contact banks and brokerage houses in advance to make sure they accept a Power of Attorney form in advance. However, imagine the same hours plus the immense stress if this has to be done when a parent is incapacitated or has died. Banks, in particular, require POAs to be reviewed by their own attorneys before the document can be approved, which could take weeks to complete.

Depending upon where you live, Durable General Powers of Attorney may be filed at the county clerk’s office. If a POA is filed but is later revoked and a new document created, or if a fiduciary needs to convey real estate property with the powers conferred by a POA, the document at the county clerk’s office should be updated.

Last will and testaments are treated differently than POA documents. Wills are usually kept at home and not filed anywhere until after death.

Each fiduciary listed in the documents should be given a copy of the documents. This will be helpful when it’s time to show proof they are a decision maker.

Having estate planning documents properly prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney is the first step. Step two is ensuring they are safely and properly stored, so they are ready for use when needed. Deciding where to store your documents is critical to ensuring your planning happens the way you designed. If you would like to learn more about estate planning documents, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Times-Enterprise (June 11, 2022) “Give thought to storing your estate papers”

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The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer’s Guide to Dying is out now!

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 2 – The Consumer’s Guide to Dying is out now!

Dealing with a funeral home after the death of a loved one is something no one relishes.

In this episode of the Estate of the Union, we interview Nancy Walker, the Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Central Texas, a non-profit that helps people navigate this unpleasant task. Nancy hits on the perils of the process and even discusses “natural burials.” Learn what the organization is and how they are an important resource for making educated choices and arrangements prior to end of life.

This is fun, innovative and informative. Despite the topic, you will love it!

To learn more about Nancy Walker and the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Central Texas, please visit their website: www.fcactx.org

We’ve got fifteen episodes posted and more to come. We hope you will enjoy them enough to share it with others. These are available on Apple, Spotify and other podcast outlets. Click on our logo to listen on Spotify.

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 2, Episode 2  – The Consumer’s Guide to Dying can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. Please click on the link below to listen to the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

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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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Be certain You've got Legal Documents for your College Kid

Be certain You’ve got Legal Documents for your College Kid

There are few things more exciting as a parent than seeing your child come of age and embark on adulthood. That often means leaving home to start a career or enter college. It is at this stage that you need to be certain you’ve got legal documents in place for your college kid. The Press-Enterprise’s recent article entitled “Legal documents for young adults” describes some of the important legal and estate planning documents your “kid” (who’s now an adult) should have.

HIPAA Waiver. This form allows medical personnel to provide information to the parties you’ve named in the document. Without it, even mom would be prohibited from accessing her 19-year-old adult’s health information—even in an emergency. However, know that this form doesn’t authorize anyone to make decisions. For that, see Health Care Directives below.

Health Care Directive. Also known as a health care power of attorney, this authorizes someone else to make health care decisions for you and details the decisions you’d like made.

Durable Power of Attorney. Once your child turns 18, you’re no longer able to act on their behalf, make decisions for them, or enter into any kind of an agreement binding them. This can be a big concern, if your adult child becomes incapacitated. A springing durable power of attorney is a document that becomes effective only upon the incapacity of the principal (the person signing the document). It’s called a “springing” power because it springs into effect upon incapacity, rather than being effective immediately.

A durable power of attorney, whether springing or immediate, states who can make decisions for you upon your incapacity and what powers the agent has. The designated agent will typically be able to access bank accounts, pay bills, file insurance claims, engage attorneys or other professionals, and in general, act on behalf of the incapacitated person.

They’ll always be your babies, but once your child turns 18, he or she is legally an adult.

Be certain that you’ve got the legal documents in place to be there for your college kid in case of an emergency.

Remember a spring break, when they’re home for summer after their 18th birthday, or a senior road trip are all opportunities when these documents may be needed. If you would like to learn more about estate planning for young adults, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Press-Enterprise (April 2, 2022) “Legal documents for young adults”

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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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