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What Happens If Power of Attorney Documents are Rejected?

It is frustrating when a bank or other financial institution says a Power of Attorney is rejected . It might be that the form is too old, the bank wants their own form to be used, or there seems to be a question about the validity of the form. A recent article titled “What to know if your bank refuses your power of attorney” from The Mercury discusses the best way to prevent this situation, and if it occurs, how to fix it.

The most important thing to know is just downloading a form from the internet and hoping it works is always a bad idea. There are detailed rules and requirements about notices and acknowledgments and other requirements. Specific language is required. It is different from state to state. It’s not a big deal if the person who is giving the power of attorney is alive, well and mentally competent to get another POA created, but if they are physically or legally unable to sign a document, this becomes a problem.

There have been many laws and court cases that defined the specific language that must be used, how the document must be witnessed before it can be executed, etc. In one case in Pennsylvania, a state employee was given a power of attorney to sign by her husband. She was incapacitated at the time after a car accident and a stroke. He used the POA to change her retirement options and then filed for divorce.

At issue was whether she could present evidence that the POA was void when she signed it, invalidating her estranged husband’s option and his filing for her benefits.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that a third party (the bank) could not rely on a void power of attorney submitted by an agent, even when the institution did not know that it was void at the time it was accepted. For banks, this was a clear sign that any POAs had to be vetted very carefully to avoid liability. There was a subsequent fix to the law that provided immunity to a bank or anyone who accepts a POA in good faith and without actual knowledge that it may be invalid. However, it includes the ability for a bank or other institution or person to request an agent’s certification or get an affidavit to ensure that the agent is acting with proper authority.

You should be aware that in New York a bill that penalizes banks for rejecting valid power of attorney awaits Gov. Cuomo’s signature.

It may be better to have both a POA from a person and one that uses the bank or financial institution’s own form. It’s not required by law, but the person from the bank may be far more comfortable accepting both forms, because they know one has been through their legal department and won’t create a problem for the bank or for them as an employee.

There are occasions when it is necessary to fight the bank or financial institution’s decision. This is especially the case, if the person is incapacitated and your POA is valid.

If there is any doubt about whether the POA would be accepted by the bank, now is the time to check and review the language and formatting with your estate planning or elder law attorney to be sure that the form is valid and will be acceptable.

Reference: The Mercury (July 7, 2020) “What to know if your bank refuses your power of attorney”

 

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What is Fiduciary Duty in Estate Planning?

One of the reasons people uses trusts in their estate planning, is that the person named as a trustee has a legal duty to put the trust’s interests first, rather than their own interests. This is called a “fiduciary duty,” and it becomes very important when planning for the future of your assets and family. It’s an enforceable legal obligation says the article “Fiduciary Duties in Trusts and Estate Planning” from yahoo! finance.

A trustee is the person appointed to be in charge of a trust. There are many different kinds of trusts, created to own assets, including money, life insurance policies and homes. The person named as trustee in the trust document makes decisions about the trust assets to benefit the beneficiary’s best interests.

Trusts created while a person is living are known, appropriately enough, as living trusts. There are people who choose to be their own trustees and manage their trusts for as long as they are able. Married couples may be co-trustees on their trusts. The trust documents should be prepared, so that upon the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse becomes the trustee and manages the account.

The person creating the trust should also name a successor trustee. This is the person who will manage the trust when the trustee or the co-trustees are no longer competent to manage the trust. That might be because they have died or because they have become incapacitated due to an injury or illness.

The fiduciary duty of a trustee is to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries. These are some guidelines:

  • The assets a trustee manages do not belong to them, and the trustee must not mix personal assets with assets in the trust.
  • A trustee may not use the trust’s assets for their benefit.
  • The trustee must not favor one beneficiary over the other.
  • The trustee must follow the directions in the trust document.
  • The trustee must keep accurate records, file tax returns and report to beneficiaries, as directed in the trust.

There are three fiduciary duties when it comes to a trust: loyalty, care and full disclosure. The trustee(s) must act in the best interest of the trust and its beneficiaries. This is a high standard and why the decision on who to name as a trustee is so important.

The terms of every trust vary, depending on the type of trust and the needs of the estate plan. The trustee needs to be familiar with the trust and its directions, so they can perform correctly.

An estate planning attorney is needed to draft trusts, so they reflect the wishes of the person and their goals. Using a downloaded form or even a standard legal form is a big risk for families.

Reference: yahoo! finance (July 8, 2020) “Fiduciary Duties in Trusts and Estate Planning”

 

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Pet Inheritance – Cat Is Fighting for Hers?

A year later, and the estate of Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld is not yet finalized. However, some details have emerged that, while Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette is has a pet inheritance, she isn’t the only one who will inherit a share of Lagerfeld’s grand fortune.

The seven beneficiaries are trying to access Lagerfeld’s assets that include real estate in Paris and Monaco, a bookstore and designer furniture.

Choupette is a blue-cream tortie Birman cat who was owned by German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld from around December 2011 until Lagerfeld’s death in February 2019 at the age of 85.

The designer’s feline has her own agent and, according to The New York Times, at the height of her fame she had two minders, a bodyguard, a concierge veterinarian and a personal chef.

Wealth Advisor’s article entitled “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat is locked in inheritance battle” says that Lagerfeld’s “trusted” accountant for many decades, 87-year-old Lucien Frydlender has been named to manage the creative director’s finances. In addition, Frydlender is responsible for distributing the estate, according to Lagerfeld’s will.

However, an investigation by French publication Le Parisienfeatured in Voici magazine found that Frydlender hasn’t been taking calls from the beneficiaries. The magazine also says that “after closing his office in September 2019, the former collaborator of Karl Lagerfeld has simply disappeared from the radar,” raising questions for those involved.

Frydlender’s wife has defended her husband and assured the public that there’s nothing suspicious going on. She says he’s not “on an island paradise with a hidden treasure.” Instead, she tells reporters that he’s “very sick”.

When Choupette the cat will get her pet inheritance and what that will look like is unknown. It’s been more that a year since the death of her owner, Lagerfeld. Choupette fans have been concerned for the pet, but the cat isn’t scrounging in garbage cans: she made over $4 million in 2015.

“People came by the store and said how sad they were, and half of it was about Choupette,” Caroline Lebar, head of communications for the Karl Lagerfeld brand, admits. “They’d say, ‘If she’s alone, I’ll take her home.'”

However, Lebar promises Choupette is in safe hands, living in Paris with Lagerfeld’s former housekeeper Françoise Caçote. “She is in good shape, and is surrounded by love.”

Reference: Wealth Advisor (June 9, 2020) “Karl Lagerfeld’s cat is locked in inheritance battle”

 

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What Is a Will Codicil ?

There are a number of reasons for adding a codicil to an existing will. KAKE.com’s recent article entitled “Using a Codicil to Modify a Will” says it’s good to know when you might need one and how to add it.

A codicil is a way to change the terms of an existing will. A codicil allows you to modify a term in your will, without the need to rewrite the whole will. A codicil is used in cases where you only need to make relatively minor changes.

There are different situations that might require a codicil to be added to your will. Here are some examples:

Adding a codicil to a will make certain that the will is current, as you go through different life events or if your financial circumstances change. This can help eliminate the chance that your will may be challenged after you die, because those named as beneficiaries disagree with the will’s terms. It can also help to avoid lengthy delays in probate associated with property you no longer own or property you haven’t addressed in the will.

Remember that a codicil allows you to change your will. However, revoking a will terminates it completely. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney about the laws for revoking a will in your state. Some states let you simply physically destroy the will, and in others, you may need to draft a written declaration stating that your will has been revoked or draft a new replacement.

If you need to make substantial changes to the terms of your will, then revoking it and creating a new will may be the better plan. A new will in place can avoid confusion during probate, if there are conflicting terms. You may also need to write a new will, if all copies of your existing will are unintentionally lost or destroyed.

Drafting a codicil to a will, is like writing a will itself. The codicil needs to follow the legal guidelines established in your state. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney for help.

Reference: KAKE.com (June 17, 2020) “Using a Codicil to Modify a Will”

 

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Does Apathy Predict Dementia?

Depression is often thought to be a risk factor for dementia. However, this may be because some depression scales used by clinicians and researchers partially assess apathy, according to scientists from the Universities of Cambridge, King’s College London, Radboud, and Oxford.

Medical Express’ recent article entitled “Apathy, not depression, helps to predict dementia” reports that the study was published in The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. It is the first research to examine the link between apathy, depression and dementia in those with cerebral small vessel disease (SVD). SVD may happen in one out of three elderly individuals and causes about 25% of all strokes. SVD is the most common cause of vascular dementia.

The researchers looked at two independent cohorts of SVD patients, one from the United Kingdom, and the other from the Netherlands. Across both, they saw that patients with higher baseline apathy, as well as those with increasing apathy over time, had a greater risk of dementia. In contrast, neither baseline depression nor change in depression had any noticeable impact on the risk of dementia.

The findings were consistent despite variation in the severity of participants’ symptoms. Researchers say this means they could be generalized across a broad spectrum of SVD cases. The relationship between apathy and dementia remained after controlling for other well-established risk factors for dementia, including age, education, and cognition.

The lead author, Jonathan Tay, from Cambridge’s Department of Clinical Neurosciences commented, “There has been a lot of conflicting research on the association between late-life depression and dementia. Our study suggests that may partially be due to common clinical depression scales not distinguishing between depression and apathy.”

Tay also noted, “Continued monitoring of apathy may be used to assess changes in dementia risk and inform diagnosis. Individuals identified as having high apathy, or increasing apathy over time, could be sent for more detailed clinical examinations, or be recommended for treatment.”

The study examined more than 450 participants—all with MRI-confirmed SVD—who were recruited from three hospitals in South London and Radboud University’s Neurology Department in the Netherlands. Each was assessed for apathy, depression, and dementia over several years. In the UK cohort, about 20% of the participants developed dementia, while just 11% in the Netherlands cohort did. This is likely due to the more severe burden of SVD in the UK cohort. In both groups, patients who later developed dementia showed higher apathy, but similar levels of depression at baseline, compared to patients who did not.

“This implies that apathy is not a risk factor for dementia per se, but rather an early symptom of white matter network damage,” Tay explained. “Understanding these relationships better could have major implications for the diagnosis and treatment of patients in the future.”

Reference: Medical Express (July 13, 2020) “Apathy, not depression, helps to predict dementia”

 

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Protection from Long-Term Care Insurance Fraud

Long-term care (LTC) insurance is an important issue. However, making matters harder for many seniors is the prospect of long-term care insurance fraud.

The Street’s recent article entitled “How to Protect Yourself and Your Family From Long-Term Care Insurance Scams” say this is a major issue with the skyrocketing costs of long-term care services and the growing need for long-term care financial help. Long-term care insurance fraud comes in many types:

Faulty policies: Unsuitable long-term care policies can favor maximum profit over a senior’s specific health care needs. These policies may have super-high premium costs, and insurers that try to sell two overlapping long-term care insurance policies when one is enough.

Upgrades: Scammers will try to “churn” a LTC customer, by asking them to cancel their current policy and sign a new, more expensive one that offers nothing better than the old policy. This is really poor because when an existing insurance policy ends, the premiums paid out on the old policy are forfeited. A senior’s pre-existing conditions that weren’t considered under the old policy may also increase the price on the new policy.

Phony policies: Criminals may also try to attempt to sell seniors fake policies that accept the customer’s premiums, but don’t pay out any cash when the insurance is needed in the future. LTC insurance consumers should always monitor the state’s insurance department to validate an insurer, before signing up and be certain that the company is licensed to sell insurance in the state.

Falsely representing benefits. LTC insurance scams also can have other traps that can result in non-coverage. LTC insurance fraud can include fraudulently representing the benefits of a policy and high-pressure tactics to force seniors into purchasing expensive policies.

To thwart this LTC insurance fraud, seniors and family caregivers can join forces and think like a team to be informed about long-term care decision making.

Family discussions are a good idea, but also think about a third-party facilitator to help remove any politics and keep the conversation focused on the financial health of your parent.

Create an effective, sustainable LTC strategy, whether on your own, or in a family setting, by being aware of fraud.

Reference: The Street (May 15, 2020) “How to Protect Yourself and Your Family From Long-Term Care Insurance Scams”

 

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What are the Different Kinds of Powers of Attorney ?

If I asked you what you thought is the most important document in your estate plan, you may say it’s your last will and testament or your trust. However, that’s not always the case. In many situations, the most important planning document may be a well-drafted power of attorney, says The Miami News-Record’s recent article entitled “Power of attorney options match different circumstances.”

When a person can’t make his or her own decisions because of health, injury, or other unfortunate circumstances, a power of attorney (POA) is essential. A POA is implemented to help their loved ones make important decisions on their behalf. It helps guide decision-making, enhances comfort and provides the best care for those who can’t ask for it themselves. A POA permits the named individual to manage their affairs.

To know which type of POA is appropriate for a given circumstance, you should know about each one and how they can offer help. There are five POA forms.

Durable and Non-Durable Power of Attorney. This is the most common. These leave a person with full control of another person’s decisions, if they’re unable to make them. A Durable POA continues to be in effect when you are incapacitated. That is what the “durable” part means. A Non-Durable POA is revoked, when you become incapacitated. Be sure you know which version you are signing.

Medical Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy. Especially in a hospice setting, it permits another person to make medical decisions on the patient’s behalf, if they lose the ability to communicate. This includes decisions about treatment. In this situation, the POA takes the role of patient advocate, typically with the presiding physician’s consent.

Springing Power of Attorney. This POA is frequently an alternative to an immediately effective POA, whether it durable or non-durable. Some people may not feel comfortable granting someone else power of attorney, while they’re healthy. This POA takes effect only upon a specified event, condition, or date.

Limited Power of Attorney. This POA provides the agent with the authority to handle financial, investment and banking issues. It’s usually used for one-time transactions, when the principal is unable to complete them due to incapacitation, illness, or other commitments.

If you don’t have a power of attorney, ask a qualified elder law or estate planning attorney to help you create one. If you already have a POA, review it to be sure it has everything needed, especially if you have a very old POA or one that was drafted in a state other than the one in which you reside.

Reference: The Miami (OK) News-Record (July 7, 2020) “Power of attorney options match different circumstances”

 

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Baseball Champion Orlando Cepeda Sues Daughter-In-Law, denies having Dementia

Eighty-two-year-old Giants great Orlando Cepeda filed a lawsuit against his daughter-in-law Camille Cepeda alleging elder financial abuse, fraud and infliction of emotional distress, as reported in the article “Giants great Orlando Cepeda denies having dementia, sues daughter-in-law for fraud” from the San Francisco Chronicle. He also accused her of negligence in handling his finances, after giving her power of attorney in 2018.

Orlando Cepeda accuses Camille of spending his money on personal expenses, including lease payments on a $62,000 Lexus, a Louis Vuitton handbag, expensive wine and taking out at least $24,000 in cash from his accounts. It also claims that she has placed all of his baseball memorabilia in a storage locker and will not give him the key or the location of the locker. That includes his National League Most Valuable Player trophy, which he wants back.

This is the latest news from a dispute that began after the Hall of Famer married his second wife, Nydia. They had two of Orlando Cepeda’s four sons, including Ali Cepeda, who is married to Camille. The parents are now not speaking to their son, and some of the brothers, four in total, have taken sides and are not speaking to each other.

Orlando Cepeda granted his daughter-in-law power of attorney in April 2018, two months after he suffered a heart attack and irreversible brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation. She was to have access to his accounts and pay his bills. Before the heart attack, she had handled his financial and business affairs.

On May 29, Camille filed a petition with the court seeking conservatorship of Cepeda, stating that he has dementia and cannot make his own financial decisions. Two of Cepeda’s sons, including Camille’s husband Ali, filed papers supporting her petition.

In Orlando Cepeda’s response, he cited two neuropsychological reports, including one done in May, that declared that he was fit to make his own medical decisions and understands all but the most complex financial issues. Cepeda says that his daughter-in-law filed for conservatorship to cover up the fraud that he is alleging in the lawsuit. He says that he does not need a conservator, and if anyone should have that role, it would be his wife Nydia.

The lawsuit filed by Cepeda offers a glimpse into why he believes she wants conservatorship, saying he doesn’t have the capacity to understand the nature and consequences of his remarriage, nor his decision to remove Camille as power of attorney and grant it to Nydia.

The suit alleges that Camille was opposed to the marriage from the start and even suggested they stage a fake ceremony that would not be legally sanctioned.

Cepeda’s lawsuit seeks damages, legal fees and demands that Camille return his memorabilia and all financial records she has allegedly refused to provide to account for how she handed his money. The suit also cites a $62,000 withdrawal to pay Cepeda’s tax bill, which was not actually paid. The filing says she was negotiating with the IRS, but she will not provide the documentation that he needs to settle with the government. Nor did she pay a medical bill for $6,800, although she did cash a check from the insurance company that was sent to pay for it.

Orlando Cepeda remains hopeful that the entire matter may be settled, before the case returns to court.

“It’s very painful,” Cepeda told a reporter. “I love my family. I love my kids. But this is life. You have to do what you have to do.”

Reference: San Francisco Chronicle (June 26, 2020) “Giants great Orlando Cepeda denies having dementia, sues daughter-in-law for fraud”

 

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Social Security and Medicare and the Impact on Retiree Taxes

Retiree Taxes – A 70% increase in Medicare premiums to $559 was a complete surprise to a woman who became a single taxpayer when her husband died. She felt like she was being punished for being a widow, she said in a recent article titled “Retirees, Beware These Tax Torpedoes” from Barron’s. With a 2018 modified adjusted gross income of $163,414, a combination of required minimum distributions, Social Security and her husband’s pensions, she went from being in the third-highest Medicare bracket into the second highest Medicare bracket. All it took was $414 dollars to exceed the $163,000 limit.

This is not the only Retiree taxes trap awaiting unwary retirees. Lower- and middle-income taxpayers get hit by what’s commonly referred to as “tax torpedoes,” as rising income during retirement triggers new taxes. That includes Social Security income, which is taxed after reaching a certain limit. The resulting marginal tax rate—as high as 40.8%—is made worse by a Medicare surtax of 0.9% on couples with taxable income exceeding $250,000. Capital gains taxes also increase, as income rises.

It may be too late to make changes for this tax-filing year, even with a three-month extension to July 15. However, there are a few steps that retirees can take to avoid or minimize these taxes for next year. The simplest one: delay spending from one year to the next and be extra careful about taking funds from after-tax accounts.

What hurts most is if you’re on the borderline of a bracket. Just one wrong move, like selling a stock or taking a distribution, puts you into the next bracket. You need to plan carefully for retiree taxes.

One thing that won’t be a concern for 2020 taxes: required minimum distributions. While many retirees get pushed into tax traps because of taking large RMDs, the emergency legislation passed in response to the coronavirus crisis (the CARES Act) eliminated RMDs for this year.

However, the RMDs will be back in 2021, so now is a good time to start thinking about how to avoid any of the typical tax torpedoes. RMDs used to start at age 70½; the SECURE Act changed that to 72.

If you don’t need the money from an RMD in 2021, one workaround is to take it as a qualified charitable distribution. That avoids triggering higher taxes or higher future Medicare premiums. The administrator of the tax-deferred account needs to be instructed to make a donation directly to a charity.

An even better strategy: take steps long before Medicare income limits or tax torpedoes hit. If you can, live on after-tax savings, Roth IRA accounts or inherited money. Spend that money first, before tapping into tax-deferred accounts. You can then take advantage of being in a lower tax bracket to convert money from tax-deferred money to convert to Roth IRAs.

Another story of a tax hit that was avoided: a man with an income of about $80,000 prepared to take $4,000 from a tax-deferred account for a vacation. The couple’s normal top tax bracket was 12%, but they hit the income limit on Social Security taxes. The $4,000 in additional income would have caused $3,400 in Social Security income to be taxed, making his marginal tax rate 22.2% instead of 12%. With the help of a good advisor, the couple instead took $3,000 from a Roth IRA and sold a stock position for $1,000, where there were practically no capital gains generated.

Incomes at all levels can be hit by these tax and Medicare torpedoes. A skilled advisor can help protect your retirement and Social Security funds.

Reference: Barron’s (July 6, 2020) “Retirees, Beware These Tax Torpedoes”

 

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There Is a Difference between Probate and Trust Administration

Many people get these two things confused. A recent article, “Appreciating the differences between probate and trust administration,” from Lake County News clarifies the distinctions.

Let’s start with probate, which is a court-supervised process. To begin the probate process, a Petition must be filed in court and often a court appearances is needed. However, to start trust administration, a letter of notice is mailed to the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries. Trust administration is far more private, which is why many people chose this path.

In the probate process, the last will and testament and any documents in the court file are available to the public. While the general public may not have any specific interest in your will, estranged relatives, relatives you never knew you had, creditors and scammers have easy and completely legal access to this information.

If there is no will, the court documents that are created in intestacy (the heirs inherit according to state law), are also available to anyone who wants to see them.

In trust administration, the only people who can see trust documents are the heirs and beneficiaries.

There are cost differences. In probate, a court filing fee must be paid for each petition. The fees vary, depending upon the jurisdiction. Add to that the attorney’s and personal representative’s fees, which also vary by jurisdiction. Some are on an hourly basis, while others are computed as a sliding scale percentage of the value of the estate under management. For example, each may be paid 4% of the first $100,000, 3% of the next $100,000 and 2% of any excess value of the estate under management. The court also has the discretion to add fees, if the estate is more time consuming and complex than the average estate.

For trust administration, the trustee and the estate planning attorney are typically paid on an hourly basis, or however the attorney sets their fee structure. Expenses are likely to be far lower, since there is no court involvement.

There are similarities between probate and trust administration. Both require that the decedent’s assets be collected, safeguarded, inventoried and appraised for tax and/or distribution purposes. Both also require that the decedent’s creditors be notified, and debts be paid. Tax obligations must be fulfilled, and the debts and administration expenses must be paid. Finally, the decedent’s beneficiaries must be informed about the estate and its administration.

The use of trusts in estate planning can be a means of minimizing taxes and planning for family assets to be passed to future generations in a private and controlled fashion. This is the reason for the popularity of trusts in estate planning.

It should be noted that a higher level of competency—mental comprehension—must be possessed by an individual to execute a trust than to execute a will. A person whose capacity may be questionable because of Alzheimer’s or another illness may not be legally competent enough to execute a trust. Their heirs may face challenges to the estate plan in that case.

Reference: Lake County News (July 4, 2020) “Appreciating the differences between probate and trust administration”

 

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