How Does Guardianship Work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Parts of Estate Plan

The importance of having key estate planning documents cannot be overstated. That includes a will, an advance directive, powers of attorney for health care and financial matters and guardianships for minor children. Trusts may also be part of an estate plan, and they need to be created and funded in a timely manner. However,, according to the article “7 Things Your Client’s Estate Plan Might Be Missing: Morningstar” from Think Advisor, there are a number of frequently overlooked estate planning documents that make a difference.

Financial Overview. This gives a broad outline of your assets and can be a useful discussion starting point, when one spouse manages the money and the other needs to be brought up to speed. It includes information about larger assets, including the home, investments, cars and other valuables.

A Directory. Creating a complete master list of all accounts, including the account number, website addresses and the names of any individuals that you deal with on a regular basis, avoids sending loved ones on a scavenger hunt. Keep this document safe—either encrypt it or keep it in a locked, fireproof safe in your home.

Personal Property. Wills contain directions about property, but not everything gets included. Make a list of any tangible personal property that you want to go to specific people, like jewelry or artwork, and create a detailed memo. It won’t be part of the will, but most states consider such memos legally binding, as long as they are mentioned in the will. Your estate planning attorney will know what is best for your situation and in your state.

Plan for Pets. The best way to do this is with a pet trust, which is enforceable. You name a person to take care of your pets, and how much money they should use to care for the pet. The will can be used to specify who should be your pet’s caretaker. You can leave assets for the pet, but the designated person is not legally bound to use the money for the pet’s well-being.

Digital Estate Plan. Make a plan for your digital property, including tangible digital devices, like computers and phones and the data stored on devices in the cloud and online accounts, including social media, websites, emails, photos, videos, etc. Start by making an inventory of all digital accounts, which needs to be stored in the same way your directory is: under lock and key.

End of Life Plan. Advance directives are estate planning documents that are used to direct your wishes towards life-extending care, but they don’t always go into detail. Providing additional information to loved ones who might need to make health care decisions could alleviate a lifetime of guilt. Having conversations is a starting point but putting your wishes into a document is better.

Ethical Will. An ethical will in which the person hands down their belief system to loved ones is a gift and part of your legacy. What would you want the next generation to know about your beliefs? What life lessons do you want to share?

Reference: Think Advisor (July 22, 2020) “7 Things Your Client’s Estate Plan Might Be Missing: Morningstar”

How Can I Avoid Family Fighting in My Estate Planning?

It’s not uncommon for parents to modify their first estate plans, when their children become adults. At that point, many parents’ estate plans are designed to help efficiently transfer assets to the surviving spouse and ultimately to the adult children. Avoid family feuds and fighting in your estate plan by working with a professional estate planning attorney. With proper estate planning counsel, hiccups and headaches will be few and far between.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Three Steps To Estate Planning Without The Family Friction” explains that there are a number of reasons for siblings fighting in the inheritance process. The article says that frequently there are issues that stem from a lack of communication between siblings, which causes doubts as to how things are being done. In addition, siblings may not agree if and how property should be sold and maintained. To help avoid estate planning fighting, use this three-step process for estate planning. After all, family feuds and animosity are avoidable.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney. Hire an estate planning attorney who has many years of working in this practice area. This will mean that they’ve seen—and more importantly—resolved every type of family fight and discrepancy that can arise in the estate planning process. That’s the know-how that you’re really paying for, in addition to his or her legal expertise in wills and trusts.

Create a financial overview. This will help your beneficiaries see what you own. A financial overview can simplify the inheritance process for your executor, and it can help to serve as the foundation for you and your executor to frankly communicate with future beneficiaries to reduce any lingering doubts or questions that they may have, when they’re not in the loop. This clarity replaces estate planning fighting with resolution. Your inventory should at least include the following items:

  • A list of all assets, liabilities and insurance policies you have and their beneficiaries
  • Contact information for all financial, insurance and legal professionals with whom you partner;
  • Access information for any websites your beneficiaries may need for your online accounts; and
  • A legacy letter that discusses non-financial items for your children.

Hold a family meeting. Next, conduct a family meeting that includes the parents and the children who will be inheriting assets. Some topics for this meeting include:

  • The basics of your estate intentions
  • Verify that a trusted person knows the location of your important estate documents
  • State who your executor and other involved people will be and your rationale
  • Make certain that all parties value communication and transparency during this process; and
  • Discuss non-financial legacy items that are important for you to give to your children.

This three-step process can help keep your children’s relationships intact after you are gone. The last thing that any family wants to experience upon the death of a loved one is drawn-out fights regarding ones estate. Hiring an experienced estate planning attorney, creating a clear financial overview and communicating what’s important to you are critical steps in helping to keep your family together.

Reference: Forbes (July 2, 2020) “Three Steps To Estate Planning Without The Family Friction”

Beginning Estate Planning

When beginning estate planning, it is helpful to clarify what the essential elements of a proper estate plan are. AARP’s recent article entitled “Sign These Papers” suggests that the following documents will give you and your family financial protection, as well as peace of mind. Beginning estate planning can be intimidating, but with appropriate guidance, you will reap the benefits for years to come.

Advance Directive. This document gives your family, loved ones and medical professionals your instructions for your health care. A living will, which is a kind of advance directive, details the treatment you’d like to have in the event you’re unable to speak. It covers things like when you would want doctors to stop treatment, pain relief and life support. Providing these instructions helps your family deal with these issues later.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document, regularly included in an advance directive, lets you name a trusted person (plus a backup or two) to make medical decisions on your behalf, when you’re unable to do so.

Revocable Living Trust. Drawn up correctly by an experienced estate planning attorney, this makes it easy to keep track of your finances now, allow a trusted person step in, if necessary, and make certain that there are fewer problems for your heirs when you pass away. A revocable living trust is a powerful document that allows you to stay in control of all your finances as long as you want. You can also make changes to your trust as often as you like.

When you pass away, your family will have a much easiest task of distributing the assets in the trust to your beneficiaries. Without this, they’ll have to go through the probate process.  It can be a long and possibly costly process, if you die with only a will or intestate (i.e., without a will).

Will. Drafting a will with the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney lets you avoid potential family fighting over what you’ve left behind. Your will can describe in succinct language whom you want to inherit items that might not be in your trust — your home or car, or specific keepsakes, such as your baseball card collection and your Hummel Figurines.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney. If you’re alive but incapacitated, the only way a trusted person, acting on your behalf, can access an IRA, pension or other financial account in your name is with a durable financial power of attorney. Many brokerages and other financial institutions have their own power of attorney forms, so make sure you ask about this.

Beginning estate planning is not complete without these five documents (sometimes four, if your advance directive and health care power of attorney are combined). Drafting a proper estate plan will allow you to enjoy a happier, less stressful life.

In drafting these documents, you know that you’ve taken the steps to make navigating the future as smooth as possible. By making your intentions clear and easing the inheritance process as much as you possibly can, you’re taking care of your family. The benefits of beginning estate planning today will be enjoyed for years to come. Your family will be grateful that you did.

Reference: AARP (August/September 2018) “Sign These Papers”

How Does My Estate Plan Change After Divorce?

Estate planning after a divorce involves adopting a different type of arithmetic. Without a spouse to anchor an estate plan, the trustees, guardians or health care proxies will have to be chosen from a wider pool of those that are connected to you. As with all significant life changes, a recent divorce requires immediate changes to your estate plan.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “How to Revise Your Estate Plan After Divorce” explains that beneficiary forms tied to an IRA, 401(k), 403(b) and life insurance are just some of the key documents that will need to change, reflecting the dissolution of the marriage.

It is important to note that there are usually estate planning terms that are included in agreements created during separation and divorce. These may call for the removal of both spouses from each other’s estate planning documents and retirement accounts. For example, in New York, bequests to an ex-spouse in a will prepared during the marriage are voided after the divorce. Even though the old will is still valid, a new will has the benefit of realigning the estate assets with the intended recipients.

However, any trust created while married is treated differently. Revocable trusts can be revoked, and the assets held by those trusts can be part of the divorce. Irrevocable trusts involving marital property are less likely to be dissolved, and after the death of the grantor, distributions may be made to an ex-spouse as directed by the trust.

A big task in the post-divorce estate planning process is changing beneficiaries. Ask for a change of beneficiary forms for all retirement accounts. Without a stipulation in the divorce decree ending their interest, an ex-spouse still listed as beneficiary of an IRA or life insurance policy may still receive the proceeds at your death.

Divorce presents changes to your children in terms of planning your estate. For one, divorce makes children assume responsibility at an earlier age. Adult children in their 20s or early 30s typically assume the place of the ex-spouse as fiduciaries and health care proxies, as well as agents under powers of attorney, executors and trustees. Further, if the divorcing parents have minor children, they must choose a guardian in their wills to care for the children, in the event that both parents pass away.

Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with the issues that are involved in estate planning after a divorce.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (July 7, 2020) “How to Revise Your Estate Plan After Divorce”

Why Customize Your Estate Plan?
Customize your estate plan to reflect the needs and wants of your family.

Why Customize Your Estate Plan?

A well-written estate plan is customized and unique. The only thing worse than having no estate plan, is an estate plan created from a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ form, according to the recent article “Don’t settle for a generic estate plan” from The News-Enterprise. Compare estate planning to buying a home. Before you start packing, you think about the kind of house you want and how much you can spend. You also talk with real estate agents and mortgage brokers to get ready. The planning process is detailed, and more importantly, catered to your needs and wants.

Even when you find a house you love, you don’t write a check right away. You hire an engineer to inspect the property. You might even bring in contractors for repair estimates. At some point, you contact an insurance agent to learn how much it will cost to protect the house. You rely on professionals, because buying a home is an expensive proposition and you want to be sure it will suit your needs and be a sound investment.

The same process goes for your estate plan. Consulting a skilled professional, an estate planning attorney, will prove to be worthwhile in the long run. You may even consider weighing input from trusted family or friends. It is important to work with a professional attorney who will offer expert advice in customizing your estate plan.

An estate planning attorney will also help you to avoid problems you may not anticipate. If the family includes an individual with special needs, leaving money to that person could result in their losing government benefits. Giving property to an adult child to try to avoid nursing home costs could backfire, making you ineligible for Medicaid coverage and cause your offspring to have an unexpected tax bill. These are the very considerations that our team makes in preparing your personalized estate plan.

To the surprise of many, once your estate plan is completed, it’s not done yet. It is important to communicate your estate plan with the necessary parties. Make sure that the people who need to have original documents—like a power of attorney—have these documents, or tell them where they can be found when needed. Keep in mind that many financial institutions will only accept their own power of attorney forms, so you may need to include those in your estate plan. Medical documents, like advance directives and healthcare powers of attorney, should be given to the people you selected to make decisions on your behalf. Make a list of the documents in your customized estate plan and where they can be found.

Preparing an estate plan is not just signing a series of fill-in-the-blank forms. A well-done estate plan is customized and unique. An estate plan, after all, is a means of protecting and passing down the legacy that you have devoted a lifetime to creating, no matter its size.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (June 23, 2020) “Don’t settle for a generic estate plan”

What Can a Strong Estate Planning Attorney Help Me Accomplish?
Consult with our team to find out if the Law Office of Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. is the right fit for you.

What Can a Strong Estate Planning Attorney Help Me Accomplish?

No matter your age, the estate planning attorney you hire should have outstanding credentials and testimonials to their efficiency and personal concern. At the Law Office of Michael T. Huguelet, our promise to service your needs is backed by experience and expertise. Our team is equipped with the tools to make your estate planning goals become a reality.

As you begin settling down, it is sensical to start considering how you’ll provide for and protect those you love. It’s important that these responsibilities rest in good hands. Your estate planning attorney ought to have the knowledge and skill to help you design a workable, legally binding estate plan, one that’ll keep your assets safe as they accumulate, protect your loved ones, and consider the possibility that you may become incapacitated when you least expect it.

It’s only natural that you would be picky in choosing your estate planning attorney. This legal professional must be able to:

  • Listen, understand, and address your individual needs
  • Clarify your options
  • Draft, review, and file all necessary estate planning documents
  • Make certain your estate plan covers all contingencies; and
  • modify your documents as your life circumstances change.

The future is unpredictable. Estate planning can help you make that future as secure as possible.

Estate planning can be as complicated as it is essential. Accordingly, regardless of our age, speak with a highly competent estate planning attorney as soon as possible.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically shown us, planning for the unexpected can never be addressed too soon.

Reference: Legal Reader (June 23, 2020) “When Should I Start My Estate Planning?”

Why You Need an Advance Directive Right Now
COVID-19 has elevated the necessity of estate planning. Contact our office to organize your advance directive today.

Why You Need an Advance Directive Right Now

The number of Americans who have died in the last few months because of COVID-19 is staggering, reports Inside Indiana Business in an article that advises readers to “Get Your Advance Directives in Place Now.” Just talking with family members about your wishes is not enough. You’ll need to put the proper legal documents in place. Writing an advance directive is necessary. And the good news is, it’s not that hard.

A mere one in three Americans has completed any kind of advance directive. In particular, younger adults tend to put off this task, a strategy which has proven to be a disastrous approach. Both Terri Schiavo and Karen Ann Quinlan were only in their twenties when they were not able to make their wishes known. Family members fought in and out of court for years. Learn more about this case here.

The clinical realities of COVID-19 make it increasingly difficult for healthcare workers to determine their patient’s wishes. Visitors are not permitted, and staff members are overwhelmed with patients. COVID-19 respiratory symptoms come on rapidly in many cases, making it impossible to convey end-of-life wishes.

Planning is important. But what is an advance directive? Advance directives are written instructions regarding health care decisions, if you are not able to communicate your wishes. They must be in compliance with your state’s laws. The most common types of advance care directives are the durable power of attorney for health care and the living will.

A durable power of attorney for health care names a person, usually a spouse or family member, to be a health care agent. You may also name alternative agents. This person will be able to make decisions about your health care on your behalf, so be sure they know what your wishes are.

A living will is the document that states your wishes about the type of care you do or don’t want to receive. Living wills typically concern treatments like CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), breathing machines (ventilators), dialysis, feeding tubes and certain treatments, like the use of an IV (intravenous, meaning medicine delivered directly into the bloodstream).

Studies show that people who have properly executed advance directives are more likely to get care that reflects their stated preferences.

Traditional documents will cover most health situations. However, the specific symptoms of COVID-19 may require you to reconsider opinions on certain treatments. Many COVID-19 patients need ventilators to breathe and do subsequently recover. If in the past you wanted to refuse being put on a ventilator, this may cause you to reconsider.

Almost all states require notarization and/or witnesses for advance directives and other estate planning documents to be valid. Many states, including Indiana and New York, now allow for remote notarization.

Talk with your estate planning attorney about putting all of your estate planning documents in order.


Reference: Inside Indiana Business (June 8, 2020) “Get Your Advance Directives in Place Now”

Figuring Out A Parent’s Financial Life, When They Cannot

Imagine that your perfectly fine, well-aging parent has had a minor stroke and is no longer able to manage their financial or legal affairs. Your parent has been living independently, waiving off offers of help or even having someone come in to clean for years. It seemed as if it would go on that way forever. What happens, asks the Daily Times, when you are confronted with this scenario in the aptly-titled article “Senior Life: What a nightmare! Untangling a loved one’s finances”?

After the health crisis is over, it’s time to get busy. Open the door to the home and start looking. Where’s the will, where are the bank statements and where’s the information about Social Security benefits? When you start making calls or going online, you run into a bigger problem than figuring out where the papers are kept, no one will talk with you. You are not legally authorized, even though you are a direct descendant.

This happens all the time.

Statistically speaking, it is extremely likely that your parent will end up, at some point, in a nursing home or a rehabilitation center for an extended period of time. Most people have no idea what their parent’s financial situation is, where and how they keep their financial and legal records and what they would need to do in an emergency.

It’s not that difficult to fix, but you and your hopefully healthy parent or parents need to start by planning for the future. That means sitting down with an estate planning attorney and making sure to have some key documents, most importantly, a Power of Attorney.

A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document that gives you permission to act on another person’s behalf as their agent if they are unable to do so. It must be properly prepared for your state’s laws.  It allows you to pay bills and make decisions on behalf of a loved one, while they are alive. Without it, you’ll need to go to court to be appointed as legal guardian. That takes time and is more expensive, than having a POA created and properly executed.

If you have downloaded a Power of Attorney and are hoping it works, be warned: chances are good it won’t. Many financial institutions insist that the only POA they will accept, are the ones that they issue.

Once you have a POA in place, assuming that your parent is able to sign it, then it’s time to get organized. You’ll need to go through all the important papers, setting up a system so you can see what bills need to be paid, how many bank accounts or investment accounts exist and review her financial status.

Next, it’s time to consolidate. If your parent was a child of the Depression, chances are they have money in many different places. This gave them a sense of security and gives you a headache. Consolidate four different checking accounts into one. The same should be done for any CDs, investment accounts and credit cards. Have her Social Security and any pension checks deposited into one account.

If you need help, and you might, don’t hesitate to ask for it. The stress of organizing decades of a loved one’s home, plus caring for them and managing the winding down of a home can be overwhelming. Our experienced Evergreen Park estate planning attorneys will be able to connect you with a number of resources in your area.  The attorneys at Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. are available to help your family.  May we help your family?

Reference: Daily Times (April 9, 2019) “Senior Life: What a nightmare! Untangling a loved one’s finances”