Sunday, March 03, 2013
Estate Planning for Gay Familes, Part I: The 4 Essential Documents
Minnesota Lawyer Lists the Critical Documents Every Same-Sex Couple Must Have.
Under current Minnesota (and Federal) law, gay couples do not have any rights to such basic things as: 1) inheriting from each other; 2) making medical decisions for each other; 3) handling financial matters for each other; 4) naming a guardian for a minor child; or 5) continuing to live in the family home if only one partner is listed on the deed.
Will – A will tells who should inherit your property when you pass away, who you want your executor to be, and who will become guardians of any minor children. These issues are all especially important for unmarried individuals. In most states, an unmarried partner does not have inheritance rights, so any property owned by his or her deceased partner would go to other family members. Also, in the case of many gay and lesbian couples, the living partner is not necessarily the biological or adoptive parent of any minor children, which could lead to custody disputes in an already very difficult time. Therefore, it’s critical to nominate guardians for minor children.
Financial power of attorney – A power of attorney (for financial matters) dictates who is authorized to manage your financial affairs in the event you become incapacitated. Otherwise, it can be very difficult or impossible for the non-disabled partner to manage the disabled partner’s affairs without going through a lengthy guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.
Advance healthcare directive – A power of attorney for healthcare, informs caregivers as to who is responsible for making healthcare decisions for someone in the event that a person cannot make them for himself, such as in the event of a serious accident or a condition like dementia.
HIPAA Waiver - allows the persons named to discuss your care with a doctor BUT not to make decisions.
If you don't have these documents, your partner may be prohibited from keeping your assets, living in your home, paying your bills, or making your medical decisions.
Call now to protect your family!
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Estate Planning Lessons, Part 2: Marriage Is Not Enough - You Must Get a Financial Power of Attorney Now
This continues my series on lessons I learned in handling the estates of my parents who both passed away last year. This post will discuss reasons why you should plan things now - do not wait!
I am an estate planning attorney with the knowledge and experience to handle complex issues but found myself running around at the last minute to take care of things for my own father. It turns out that my father had never signed a financial power of attorney. What does that mean? It means that his wife was unable to handle simple financial transactions on his behalf while he was in the hospital and unable to do things like go to the bank. But they're married you say. For many financial matters, even a spouse does not have the right to act on your behalf. For instance, a spouse may not deal with anything listed solely in your name. This generally includes such things as your retirmenet plan, stocks or bank accounts.
So, on a Thursday afternoon I was in my office (instead of the hospital) drafting a power of attorney for him to sign so that his wife could take care of some financial matters he thought were crucial in his last few days of life. Then I ran it to the hospital and got it signed and notarized.
You could look at this and note that we were lucky as he was awake, competent and alert enough to know what he wanted done and still capable of signing the Power of Attorney - even one day later and that would not have been the case. Many people simply put it off unti it's too late and the family has to fight to get a conservatorship to be allowed to make decisions they know the loved one would have wanted.
Please plan now so no one is running around trying to get these things done during such a difficult time.
Friday, December 28, 2012
Unique Estate Law: 2012 Wrap Up for a Nontraditional Law Firm
An Estate Planning Attorney Provides a Personal Review of 2012
The state of the firm
For Unique Estate Law 2012 was a fantastic year. The firm beat projections and I was able to assist more clients than ever before. I had referrals from a wide range of sources and a constant stream of clients coming through my website. I’ve done well enough to start advertising on a local radio station and in a local magazine. I have met many wonderful people and have given them guidance and peace of mind when facing an uncertain future.
Two major losses
But, for Chris Tymchuck, it was the worst year of my life.
Why was it such a bad year personally? In November both my Dad and Mom died within a week of each other. They were 66 and 64 respectively so it hadn’t occurred to the family that they might be gone so soon. While my father had battled cancer for 11 years he was in no worse shape in the end than in prior battles. And my Mom had never been sick a day in her life.
Why am I writing about this?
Why do I share such personal information on a law firm website? Because, it is a cautionary tale of what happens in a blended family when little or no preparation is done.
I was recently sharing my story with two clients and they said, “I can’t believe this is happening to you who spend your time making sure that people like us are ok and covered. You have to share your story with people so they understand that this can, and does, happen.” And they’re right.
I write this blog to assist clients and colleagues with things to consider when drafting estate plans for all types of families – both traditional and non-traditional – and the blog has paid off for me. I feel that, in keeping with the spirit in which I write I must use the lessons of 2012 to further education clients and colleagues through this medium. In short, to give back as the blog has given me so much.
Is it relevant to Unique Estate Law?
Why is my story relevant to this site? Because part of the reason that I specialize in non-traditional families is because I grew up in one – or several – and know the complications that come with being raised with in a complex web of interrelated (and sometimes not) people.
My parents divorced and each remarried and had kids with a subsequent spouse. In addition, my Mom remarried a third time and became a stepparent herself. So, that means I have a stepdad, stepmom, 3 half-brothers, a half-sister, a step brother and a step sister. That, of course, doesn’t include the “traditional” family members such as aunts, uncles and still-living grandparents. There are a lot of people to factor into planning, mourning and administering for someone.
I’ve spent the last couple of months grieving and assisting my family with working through the health care decisions, then memorials, estates and other issues associated with facing the illness and then death of parent. I plan to spend the next few posts discussing some of the lessons I’ve learned by being on the other side – education to practice so to speak – as my hope is to assist others to avoid some of the pitfalls we now face.
I can’t say that anything good has really come out of the losses I suffered this year but I will say that it confirmed my choice of profession. First, because I found relief in returning to work and assisting my clients and second because I feel that I use my law degree in the best possible way – to assist others to prepare for, and perhaps face, the worst times in their lives. For that I am grateful.
Monday, November 26, 2012
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ – Taking Care of Your Kids While Taking Care of Your Parents
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ – Taking Care of Your Kids While Taking Care of Your Parents
“The sandwich generation” is the term given to adults who are raising children and simultaneously caring for elderly or infirm parents. Your children are one piece of “bread,” your parents are the other piece of “bread,” and you are “sandwiched” into the middle.
Caring for parents at the same time as you care for your children, your spouse and your job is exhausting and will stretch every resource you have. And what about caring for yourself? Not surprisingly, most sandwich generation caregivers let self-care fall to the bottom of the priorities list which may impair your ability to care for others.
Following are several tips for sandwich generation caregivers.
Hold an all-family meeting regarding your parents. Involve your parents, your parents’ siblings, and your own siblings in a detailed conversation about the present and future. If you can, make joint decisions about issues like who can physically care for your parents, who can contribute financially and how much, and who should have legal authority over your parents’ finances and health care decisions if they become unable to make decisions for themselves. Your parents need to share all their financial and health care information with you in order for the family to make informed decisions. Once you have that information, you can make a long-term financial plan.
Hold another all-family meeting with your children and your parents. If you are physically or financially taking care of your parents, talk about this honestly with your children. Involve your parents in the conversation as well. Talk – in an age-appropriate way – about the changes that your children will experience, both positive and challenging.
Prioritize privacy. With multiple family members living under one roof, privacy – for children, parents, and grandparents – is a must. If it is not be feasible for every family member to have his or her own room, then find other ways to give everyone some guaranteed privacy. “The living room is just for Grandma and Grandpa after dinner.” “Our teenage daughter gets the downstairs bathroom for as long as she needs in the mornings.”
Make family plans. There are joys associated with having three generations under one roof. Make the effort to get everyone together for outings and meals. Perhaps each generation can choose an outing once a month.
Make a financial plan, and don’t forget yourself. Are your children headed to college? Are you hoping to move your parents into an assisted living facility? How does your retirement fund look? If you are caring for your parents, your financial plan will almost certainly have to be revised. Don’t leave yourself and your spouse out of the equation. Make sure to set aside some funds for your own retirement while saving for college and elder health care.
Revise your estate plan documents as necessary. If you had named your parents guardians of your children in case of your death, you may need to find other guardians. You may need to set up trusts for your parents as well as for your children. If your parent was your power of attorney, you may have to designate a different person to act on your behalf.
Seek out and accept help. Help for the elderly is well organized in the United States. Here are a few governmental and nonprofit resources:
www.benefitscheckup.org – Hosted by the National Council on Aging, this website is a one-stop shop for determining which federal, state and local benefits your parents may qualify for
www.eldercare.gov – Sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging
www.caremanager.org -- National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
www.nadsa.org – National Adult Day Services Association
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Minnesota Asks Federal Government for Medicaid Waiver in Attempt to Save Millions m
Gov. Mark Dayton is seeking a waiver from the Federal Government that will allow Minnesota to put into place its own bipartisan plan that should make it easier to connect people to services, steering them out of institutions and into home-based care. In seeking the wavier, the state asserts that instead of paying the astronomical cost of institutional care, the ability to go into a Medicaid recipient's home and install ramps, or bring in home-care workers who could allow the person to stay at home comfortably and will provide services at a more affordable price for the state. Rather than waiting until a worker loses a job because of a disability, the reforms would allow the state to reach out to employers and craft a plan to keep them working.
The Governor feels that this reform could save the state $151 million over the next five years. Minnesota estimates it could save another $9.2 million over the next five years by giving families more options for home-based care, and $15 million by expanding counseling and other support to people faced with a choice between expensive nursing home care and more affordable home care. At the center of the waiver request is the state's plan to offer incentives to health care providers that make preventive care available to Minnesotans on Medicaid.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will respond to the state's proposal after a 30-day public comment period. If approved, the reforms would go into effect in 2014.
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Guardianships & Conservatorships and How to Avoid Them
Guardianships & Conservatorships and How to Avoid Them
If a person becomes mentally or physically handicapped to a point where they can no longer make rational decisions about their person or their finances, their loved ones may consider a guardianship or a conservatorship whereby a guardian would make decisions concerning the physical person of the disabled individual, and conservators make decisions about the finances.
Typically, a loved one who is seeking a guardianship or a conservatorship will petition the appropriate court to be appointed guardian and/or conservator. The court will most likely require a medical doctor to make an examination of the disabled individual, also referred to as the ward, and appoint an attorney to represent the ward’s interests. The court will then typically hold a hearing to determine whether a guardianship and/or conservatorship should be established. If so, the ward would no longer have the ability to make his or her own medical or financial decisions. The guardian and/or conservator usually must file annual reports on the status of the ward and his finances.
Guardianships and conservatorships can be an expensive legal process, and in many cases they are not necessary or could be avoided with a little advance planning. One way is with a financial power of attorney, and advance directives for healthcare such as living wills and durable powers of attorney for healthcare. With those documents, a mentally competent adult can appoint one or more individuals to handle his or her finances and healthcare decisions in the event that he or she can no longer take care of those things. A living trust is also a good way to allow someone to handle your financial affairs – you can create the trust while you are alive, and if you become incompetent someone else can manage your property on your behalf.
In addition to establishing durable powers of attorney and advanced healthcare directives, it is often beneficial to apply for representative payee status for government benefits. If a person gets VA benefits, Social Security or Supplemental Security Income, the Social Security Administration or the Veterans’ Administration can appoint a representative payee for the benefits without requiring a conservatorship. This can be especially helpful in situations in which the ward owns no assets and the only income is from Social Security or the VA.
When a loved one becomes mentally or physically handicapped to the point of no longer being able to take care of his or her own affairs, it can be tough for loved ones to know what to do. Fortunately, the law provides many options for people in this situation.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Cancer Treatment Often Leads to Bankruptcy
Cancer Treatment Often Leads to Bankruptcy
These days, it seems like everything under the sun, and even the sun itself, causes cancer. A recent study shows that cancer may cause yet another hardship for those diagnosed—Bankruptcy. There are a number of reasons for this. A patient may be unable to work during treatment or only able to earn an income during periods of remission. However, the primary cause is the enormous medical expense associated with the treatment of cancer, especially for those who are uninsured or under insured.
The study, “Cancer diagnosis as a risk factor for personal bankruptcy,” published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, examined 231,799 cancer patients, and found that 4,805 of them, or 2.1 percent sought bankruptcy relief under Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 in the years following their cancer diagnoses. This corresponds to about a 700% increase in the incidence bankruptcy filings over that of the general population.
The study also found that certain types of cancer resulted in significantly higher rates of bankruptcy. Patients afflicted with lung, thyroid and leukemia/lymphoma cancers were most likely to seek bankruptcy protection, with 7.7 percent of lung cancer patients filing for bankruptcy within five years of being diagnosed. The study also found that surgery and chemotherapy increased the risk that some cancer patients would file for bankruptcy.
Researchers concluded that medical bills are a primary cause of the connection between cancer and bankruptcy because younger cancer patients sought bankruptcy relief at higher rates than older cancer sufferers. They believed this was due to the fact that older Americans have access to Medicare, and therefore do not bear the same costs for cancer treatment as younger patients.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Important Issues to Consider When Setting Up Your Estate Plan
Important Issues to Consider When Setting Up Your Estate Plan
Often estate planning focuses on the “big picture” issues, such as who gets what, whether a living trust should be created to avoid probate and tax planning to minimize gift and estate taxes. However, there are many smaller issues, which are just as critical to the success of your overall estate plan. Below are some of the issues that are often overlooked by clients and sometimes their attorneys.
Is there sufficient cash? Estates incur operating expenses throughout the administration phase. The estate often has to pay state or federal estate taxes, filing fees, living expenses for a surviving spouse or other dependents, cover regular expenses to maintain assets held in the estate, and various legal expenses associated with settling the estate.
How will taxes be paid? Although the estate may be small enough to avoid federal estate taxes, there are other taxes which must be paid. Depending on jurisdiction, the state may impose an estate tax. If the estate is earning income, it must pay income taxes until the estate is fully settled. Income taxes are paid from the liquid assets held in the estate, however estate taxes could be paid by either the estate or from each beneficiary’s inheritance if the underlying assets are liquid.
What, exactly, is held in the estate? The owner of the estate certainly knows this information, but estate administrators, successor trustees and executors may not have certain information readily available. A notebook or list documenting what major items are owned by the estate should be left for the estate administrator. It should also include locations and identifying information, including serial numbers and account numbers.
Your estate can’t be settled until all creditors have been paid. As with your assets, be sure to leave your estate administrator a document listing all creditors and account numbers. Be sure to also include information regarding where your records are kept, in the event there are disputes regarding the amount the creditor claims is owed.
Some assets are not subject to the terms of a will. Instead, they are transferred directly to a beneficiary according to the instruction made on a beneficiary designation form. Bank accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, retirement plans, IRAs and most motor vehicles departments allow you to designate a beneficiary to inherit the asset upon your death. By doing so, the asset is not included in the probate estate and simply passes to your designated beneficiary by operation of law.
Fund Your Living Trust
Your probate-avoidance living trust will not keep your estate out of the probate court unless you formally transfer your assets into the trust. Only assets which are legally owned by the trust are subject to its terms. Title to your real property, vehicles, investments and other financial accounts should be transferred into the name of your living trust.
Monday, June 06, 2011
What's in a Name, Part 2: Introducing Unique Estate Law
You may have noticed a slight change in my firm name. Unique Family Law is now known as Unique Estate Law.
I have always focused on unique families and continue that passion. My new firm name better explains what I do for your unique family. I focus on estate planning, probate and adoption – building and protecting families.
I am proud to specialize in this important and ever-changing area and my new name reflects that focus.
I want to be sure that you, my clients, know where my expertise lies.
Welcome to Unique Estate Law.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Health Care Directive, Part 2: How to Create One
You realize that you need to get a health care directive. But how do you create a valid one? A health care directive is a written document that informs other of your wishes about your health care by allowing you to name a person (“agent”) to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them.
How Do You Make a Health Care Directive?
Your health care directive must meet the following requirementsto be legal:
Be in writing and dated.
State your name.
Be signed by you or someone you authorize to sign for you, when you can understand and communicate your health care wishes.
Have your signature verified by a notary public or two witnesses.
Include the appointment of an agent to make health care decisions for you and/or instructions about the health care choices you wish to make.
What Can You Put in a Health Care Directive?
You have many choices of what to put in your health care directive. For example, you may include:
The person you trust as your agent to make health care decisions for you. You can name alternative agents in case the first agent is unavailable, or joint agents.
Your goals, values and preferences about health care.
The types of medical treatment you would want (or not want).
How you want your agent or agents to decide.
Where you want to receive care.
Instructions about artificial nutrition and hydration.
Mental health treatments that use electroshock therapy or neuroleptic medications.
Instructions if you are pregnant.
Donation of organs, tissues and eyes.
Who you would like as your guardian or conservator if there is a court action.
You may be as specific or as general as you wish. You can choose which issues or treatments to deal with in your health care directive.
Is there Anything You Can’t Put In a Health Care Directive?
There are some limits about what you can put in your health care directive. For instance:
You cannot request health care treatment that is outside of reasonable medical practice.
You cannot request assisted suicide.
You can’t appoint anyone under the age of 18 as your agent.
Creating a legal health care directive can be emotional but it’s not technically difficult. Please see a lawyer and get one now to avoid causing your family more time and expense later.
photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery
Friday, May 20, 2011
Health Care Directive, Part 1: Get One Now
When I had surgery a couple years ago I was lucky enough to live in a city where my relationship with my former partner was respected by the hospital staff. The hospital employees didn’t bat an eyelash when my partner accompanied me through all phases of the experience, except the surgery itself. Further, the doctor came and found her in the waiting room to provide her with an update after the surgery was complete. Of course, it only takes one hospital employee to destroy that respect no matter where you live.
In the past, an employee could refuse your partner access to you during your hospital stay. Fortunately, that is no longer the case for any hospital accepting federal funds. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services department (CMS), at Pres. Obama’s urging, issued new rules effective January 23, 2011, that grant you the right to choose your visitors.
The new CMS rules require hospitals to explain that you have the right to choose who may visit you without regard to whether the visitor is a family member, spouse or domestic partner. Beware: while many people with whom I’ve spoken believe that these new rules ensure access by their chosen loved one, it is only effective if you are conscious enough to name your visitor. So, what happens if you are unconscious? How will you be able to let the hospital no which of your loved ones should have access to you?
In addition, these rules only allow your partner access to you. They do not allow your partner to make medical decisions on your behalf. The only ways in which another may make medical decisions on your behalf is either through court appointment or healthcare directive. In the former, your partner will be forced to go to court and obtain the court’s approval before the hospital will follow her wishes. But, if you have a valid health care directive appointing another person to act as your agent, the agent has the right to step into your shoes and speak on your behalf.
The next few posts will discuss the particulars on drafting a valid medical directive.
So, whether you live in a city that respects your relationship, you must still execute a valid health care directive now!
From within Hennepin County Unique Estate Law represents estate planning and elder law clients throughout Minnesota, including Minneapolis, Edina, Bloomington, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Wayzata, Maple Grove, St. Paul, and Brooklyn Park. The Minnesota law firm of Unique Estate Law focuses on all aspects of estate planning, including specialized wills, trusts, powers of attorney and medical directives for married couples, young families, blended families, single parents, gay families and those going through a divorce. Unique Estate Law also handles probate administration, asset protection, Medical Assistance planning, elder law, business succession planning, adoptions and cabin planning.