Tag: Houston Estate Planning

Houston Estate Planning for the Chronically Ill

More than half of Americans now have at least one chronic health condition, mental disorder or substance abuse issue. That is a staggering statistic, even for me as a Houston estate planning lawyer that works with sick and disabled clients every day.

There are two common definitions for chronically ill. The first definition is a disease that a person will live with for many years. This types of illness include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lupus, MS, hepatitis C, and asthma. The legal definition of chronic illness states “the person is unable to perform at least two activities of daily living such as eating, toileting, transferring, bathing and dressing, or requires considerable supervision to protect from crisis relating to health and safety due to severe impairment concerning mind, or having a level of disability similar to that determined by the Social Security Administration for disability benefits.”

Everyone needs estate planning, but for the chronically ill there is a high sense of urgency. For healthy people, a will or trust plans for the “what if?” When you have a chronic illness, you are planning for the “here and now.”  We can help you set up a plan for your care and well-being by naming someone who can make medical decisions if you are not able to do so yourself. Without a plan that includes a HIPPA authorization and healthcare directives, the person that you choose may not legally be able to speak for you.

Additionally, an estate planning lawyer in Houston can help you utilize tools such as trusts to protect assets so that you can be eligible for Medicaid without totally scrambling your nest egg.  A living trust can also give you the peace of mind knowing that your estate will easily be passed to your heirs without going through the probate process when you do eventually pass away.

The bottom line is this: do not assume that because you are suffering from a chronic illness that it is too late to take steps to better your financial situation or safeguard your family.  Even if you are (or have a loved one) currently in a nursing home, there may still be options!  The first step is to simply contact our office. We will schedule a planning session with you and walk through all of the avenues of protection that could work best for your family.

Houston Estate Lawyer Answers, “How Does a Power of Attorney Document Work?

A power of attorney (POA) is a document that serves as a written authorization to represent or act on another’s behalf. However, a POA does not necessarily give someone the right to make all decisions. There are different type of POAs, and they have different rules determining the abilities of the person named as Power of Attorney.  As a Houston Estate Attorney, I want to be clear that if you are an agent under POA, it is important to know what decisions you can, and cannot make on behalf of the grantor. Here are a few frequently asked questions regarding POAs.

Do I have the authority to make medical or financial decisions for the grantor? Or both?

You can have either a financial or medical power of attorney. You may have already guessed but a financial power of attorney has authority over your financial matters and a medical power of attorney can have power over medical decisions. A medical power of attorney can have many different guidelines or limitations depending on the desires of the grantor. While it is possible that you have been granted the power to make both medical and financial decisions, it is important to point out that two different legal documents must be executed.

Does this Power of Attorney expire after a set time period or does it go on forever?

This can depend on the state you live in and what that state allows. If your power of attorney expires after a set time, it is important to renew or set up a new power of attorney at that time. If your power of attorney is durable that means that it will hold authority granted by the documents unless the individual chooses to revoke the power of attorney. If you do have a durable power of attorney it is still important to regularly review the document, as some instructions will not accept a power of attorney that is over a certain age, which is typically 12-24 months.

Is my Power of Attorney effective now or after a triggering event?

Many POAs are effective at the time that the document it executed. However, if you wish, you can make it effective only after a certain triggering event such as incapacity.

If you have been named as an agent under a POA for someone, be sure to periodically review the document with an experienced Houston estate attorney who can ensure that you have the decision making authority you need. If you do not have a POA, you should consider putting one in place to ensure that someone can speak for you if you are unable to speak for yourself. Contact us today at  (281) 218-0880 to get started.

Dying Without a Will and What Happens to Your Stuff

MP900422581Every state has intestacy laws that govern whom among a deceased's relatives will receive the property and assets when there's no will or trust. These laws vary from state-to-state. The Huffington Post's recent article, "The Consequences of Dying Without a Will," discusses some general (i.e., not state specific) guidelines as to what can happen to an individual's assets, based on whom they leave behind.

Married with children: When a married person with children dies without a will, everything that is "jointly owned" automatically goes to the surviving co-owner (typically the spouse or child) without probate. Probate is the judicial process that distributes a deceased person's assets. For all other separately owned property or individual financial accounts, most states award one-third to one-half to the surviving spouse and the rest to the children.

Married with no children or grandchildren: Some states give everything to the surviving spouse—or everything up to a certain amount; however, other states award only one-third to one-half of the decedent's separately owned assets to the surviving spouse. The rest generally goes to the deceased person's parents, or if they are dead, to brothers and sisters. Jointly owned property, investments, financial accounts, or community property goes to the surviving co-owner.

Single with children: In this case, state laws say that the entire estate goes to the children in equal shares. If an adult child of the deceased is also dead, that child's children (the decedent's grandchildren) divides their parent's share.

Single with no children or grandchildren: The estate will usually go to the deceased person's parents. If both of the parents are deceased, it will typically be divided by the brothers and sisters, or if they are not living, their children (nieces and nephews). If there are none, the estate goes to the next of kin. If there are no living relatives, the state will take it.

To be certain that your assets go to the individuals you want, have a will created. Even if you have a simple estate and an uncomplicated family situation, you still need a will. And if you have a more complicated financial situation, a blended family or considerable assets, you definitely need to plan your estate with a will and other documents. Sit down with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure you cover all of the issues and scenarios to help avoid family confusion and fighting after you are gone.

Reference: Huffington Post (March 28, 2016) "The Consequences of Dying Without a Will"

Practicing Your Estate Plan Makes Perfect

MP900422593When your loved ones have to administer your estate and see that your wishes are carried out, it's critical to be organized and to let them know in advance what they will need to do.

According to the Southeast Missourian's article "Get it together: Organizing your estate now will ease the burden on loved ones later," organization is critical in estate planning, especially for an executor of an estate. To simplify the organization process, some use software that aggregates all of their financial data, including digital copies of their estate documents, giving them access to all of the financial and estate plan data in one secure location. This makes things much easier for the estate administrator or executor, especially for children or executors who live out of state.

Those who choose to store their own documents need to make certain that their spouse, other family members or friends can easily find important papers. It's a huge favor to them to organize these by creating a filing system.

One way of organizing services is to develop a filing system that is easily readable. Use a standard, sensible method. Place the tabs on the folders on the left side because your eyes normally start reading on the left. If all the tabs are on the left, you can read the tabs more easily than if some are on the left, some in the middle, and some on the right.

Compile documents into categories of those updated periodically and those stored permanently. Make a section of files that are yearly files, which you'll clean out at the end of the year, as well as "forever" files. These are life insurance policies, homeowner policies, birth certificates, marriage license, immunization records, wills, and other estate planning documentation.

You can also use color coding. For instance, you can use red folders for medical information, blue folders for your utilities files, and green for your investments.

An adult child is frequently asked to sort out estate matters after the death of a family member. Many families have one or two children who will oversee the distribution and settling of an estate. It's important that these kids be involved in the estate planning discussions to understand how the estate is set up and where important information can be found if needed.

Some folks even have a dress rehearsal with those involved to rehearse the various steps necessary to settle the estate if mom and dad are no longer living. It's a terrific way for folks and their kids to see how important it is to remain diligent about estate planning, and it also creates some peace of mind for everyone involved.

Reference: Southeast Missourian (March 7, 2016) "Get it together: Organizing your estate now will ease the burden on loved ones later"