On top of her grief when her husband died, Ms. Reynolds was panicked about how she was going to take care of and raise her daughters and things as simple as how to access financial accounts on line. If she and her husband had taken a few relatively simple and cost-effective steps in advance, it would have saved her a tremendous amount of time and stress when her husband died.
The first episode of the AskHarry podcast features retired University of Pittsburg Law School Professor Larry Frolik, who sets the stage for Baby Boomers who may be starting to wonder about how to best plan for the next few decades of their lives. How can seniors set themselves and their families up for stress-free golden years?
Those who are fortunate can continue to work virtually during the coronavirus shutdown. Lawyers are largely in that group. We can continue to communicate, draft documents, file papers in court or at the registry of deeds, and even hold some court hearings telephonically. Of course, a conference call or even a videoconference does not have the immediacy of an in-person meeting, but it's possible to keep moving forward.
One challenge for estate planning attorneys is how to assist clients with executing their documents, which we had almost always done in person in the past. Here are a few solutions or "work arounds" we've come up with so far:
If your parents are getting on in years, you may be assisting them with their finances and other matters, such as medical visits and shopping. You may live close by and be able to visit weekly or more often. Or you may live far and way before the coronavirus, have been visiting every few months. Either way, due to COVID-19, you may not be able to visit right now, whether because flights are no longer available, you're working more than full-time home-schooling your children, your parents' residence has barred visitors, or you yourself are not safe because you have to continue to go out in the world. The last may especially be the case if you are a medical professional.
Our clients often have to make difficult choices when deciding who to name as their agent or agents on their durable powers of attorney. Married clients usually name each other and, if they have children, one or more as alternates. Unmarried clients or married clients whose spouses have dementia usually name children, if they have them.
Questions about choosing a durable power of attorney But what if you don't have children, or you don't have children who you can trust with this responsibility? Or what if you have several children, how do you choose among them? Will picking one child over another create resentment and cause friction among your children? On the other hand, would naming several create the opportunity for continuing conflicts?
Why would anyone want to partake in estate planning? It takes time. You have to deal with lawyers. And to talk about your death or disability. It may bring up contentious issues with a spouse or children. It's not urgent, since nothing is likely to happen to you tomorrow, or even in the next few years. It costs money.
So, why should you take time out of your busy life to commit to estate planning? The answer is that there are few other simple steps you can take that will could have as great an impact on your family's welfare. The cost-benefit trade off is tremendous.
We advise our clients to execute durable powers of attorney to make sure that someone can step in and take care of their legal and financial matters in the event of incapacity. Sometimes, individuals use these documents to take advantage of seniors and on very rare occasions, banks are held responsible when that happens. As a result, they are often reluctant to accept durable powers of attorney for their intended purpose. This can cause real problems and costs for families.
Have you been asked to serve as an agent (or "attorney-in-fact" to use the technical term) under a durable power of attorney in Massachusetts, but you're not totally sure about your duties and responsibilities? Then you're not alone. Here's a primer.
We recommend all of our clients sign a durable power of attorney, appointing someone they trust to handle financial and legal matters in the event he or she becomes incapacitated. This can be the most important estate planning document, since it helps avoid many of the problems that may arise in the event of incapacity. The person you appoint can pay your bills, hire people to provide care, do long-term care planning, and move investments if necessary.
Without a durable power of attorney, your family may have to go to court to have someone appointed conservator or guardian, which takes time, costs money, and creates a lot of red tape. The conservator must file detailed financial accounts with the probate court and, in some cases, must get court permission to take steps that your agent could do easily with a durable power of attorney. And just think about the added cost of paying a lawyer to help with all of these tasks!
My client acts as agent for her father under a longstanding durable power of attorney. Unfortunately, tensions are developing between her and her brother, who has been consulting with other attorneys about asking their father to execute a new durable power of attorney, appointing him instead.
My client wants to know how we can stop this from happening, and why the doctor's declaration that their father is no longer competent isn't sufficient.