4 Things You May Not Know About POA’s

Some people get nervous when they think about signing a Power of Attorney. Maybe they saw a movie where a guy was swindled out of a fortune when he signed one. Maybe giving someone control over your affairs is unsettling to you. Whatever the case may be, Powers of Attorney (POAs) can seem intimidating.

In our experience, most people don’t have a problem signing a POA and find them immensely helpful during difficult times.

POAs are simply tools you can use for your benefit. The circumstances surrounding them are rarely as dramatic as in the movies. In fact, they can be quite mundane. For instance, if you were to sell your house but were scheduled to be out of town on the day of the closing, you could give your real estate agent power of attorney. That way you don’t have to spend hours traveling just to sit in an office and sign on a couple dotted lines.

Around here, we commonly use POAs as tools to help people remain in control longer – a tool to help friends and loved ones make decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able to do so yourself.

Just like anything else, the more you understand about POAs, the less intimidating they’ll seem. To that end, here are four things you may not realize about Powers of Attorney:

1. POAs are voluntary. A person can revoke or change them at any time.

2. POAs should be prepared BEFORE you need them. If you suddenly get very ill, you may not have time to get a POA done before it’s too late. Once you are unable to communicate, it’s too late to sign a POA.

3. POAs cease upon death. The person you name as Power of Attorney will no longer be able to make decisions or act on your behalf after you pass away unless they are named executor or trustee. Either way, the role of POA ceases and other roles step in.

4. POAs must be kept current. Life insurance companies, banks, and investment companies are very particular about POAs.

Hopefully you’re a bit more comfortable with the idea of using POAs. It’s not just a tool for you — it’s a benefit for your loved ones as well. If you’re incapacitated and you haven’t named someone Power of Attorney, your spouse and/or children will have a difficult time making legal and financial decisions for you. They may have to go through an expensive, intrusive guardianship proceeding. So it’s a good idea to have POAs signed in preparation for these kinds of unexpected events.

Use POAs wisely, sign them when you’re fully mentally and physically capable, and give them to people you trust. They’re an excellent tool to protect you and make your loved ones’ lives easier during a difficult time.

If you have questions about POAs or would like to create one as part of an effective plan, give us a call at 217-726-9200.

What Is a Power of Attorney? Why Might You Need One?

Think of all the decisions you make in a week or a month — how much money you spend, or save, whether you get your car fixed, whether you go to the doctor if you aren’t feeling well. What will happen if you can’t make those decisions for yourself? Someone will have to make them for you.

A power of attorney (POA) helps your family navigate these difficult times. A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone authority to act on your behalf. By using the power of attorney, someone you trust can help carry out your wishes. This person is called an agent, and the power of attorney legally appoints that trustworthy and responsible person you’ve chosen to have the authority to make financial or medical decisions on your behalf.

Your agent will have access to your money and property, so you want to be sure to choose a person who has your best interests in mind. (Click here for a quick test to see if your helper is likely to be a good one.Your POA agent cannot spend your money on themselves, but they do have the authority to spend your money or even sell your house or other property, if that is best for you.

It is important to always keep in mind that a POA can be easily abused. Before you appoint your POA agent, it is a good idea to know what they can and cannot do for you.

To keep learning more about powers of attorney and choosing good helpers for your plan, check out the following articles on our blog:

Power of Attorney FAQ’s

Dangers of a Do-It-Yourself POA

Why You Need a Healthcare POA

Important Advice on Choosing a Healthcare POA

The Secret Test for Your Named Helper

3 Myths About Choosing a Helper for Your Plan

7 Types of Helpers You Need to Watch Out For

What’s the Difference Between a DNR and a POA?

Dangers of a Do-It-Yourself POA

Completing a Power of Attorney document is one of the most impactful things you can do to lessen the burden of caregiving on your family and loved ones. Power of Attorney documents are not crafted as “one size fits all” but instead are customized to reflect the varying needs of each individual family situation. 

Investing in an attorney to help you draft your POA document can help you better understand the terms of the document and minimize mistakes. Answering one question incorrectly on your POA document can lead to many problems in the future — problems that can be costly and emotionally taxing for you and your loved ones.

There are 3 dangers of doing a POA on your own that we’d like to briefly look at:

1. Too Many Powers – One problem with creating a POA document yourself is the possibility of giving your power of attorney too much power. While the form looks relatively simply, it is easy to answer a question incorrectly without a lawyer’s expertise and guidance. You could give your POA agent too many powers and open the gateway to elder abuse. Whenever you see a newspaper article about an older person being taken advantage of, it’s often the result of abusing a power of attorney.

Powers of attorney can be easily abused because they are not monitored by the legal system. Templates are easily available online and anyone can serve as a witness or notary, even if they don’t have your best interests in mind. Paying for the legal expertise is worth the security that comes from knowing your POA agent has the correct powers. Attorneys are ethically sworn to serve the best interests of their clients and can help you avoid elder abuse by assisting you in selecting a trustworthy power of attorney agent. Nominating a power of attorney (when done correctly) should give you peace of mind, not make you nervous.

2. Too Few Powers – Sometimes a person has a POA agent who is 100% trustworthy, but their powers listed in the document are so limited that they are unable to do the things that would be best. We have seen a number of families who were working on long-term care planning, hoping to seek benefits to pay for nursing home care. However, their power of attorney did not include certain powers that would have been helpful in that situation. For instance, unless we specifically state them, a power of attorney does not include the power to create a trust (which is a valuable tool often used for effective planning), or the power to make gifts to family. Yet, creating trusts and making gifts are often important parts of protecting money from a nursing home towards the end of life.

3. Not The Form You Need – If a power of attorney document is created without a lawyer, there is no guarantee that all banks or institutions will accept it. There have been a couple of law changes in Illinois in the last few years regarding powers of attorney. If you find an online document, is it the correct and most up to date form? If not, the bank may refuse to honor it, and they are within their rights to do so if it is not in the proper format.

As with so many things related to estate planning, every family and every situation create unique circumstances that fill-in-the-blank forms cannot adequately address. It is incredibly valuable to the have the help of an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney to help guide you through the process while anticipating problems your unique situation may bring up. If you have questions about Powers of Attorney or any other estate planning/elder law issues, we urge you to give us a call at 217-726-9200. We’re more than happy to speak with you.

Important Advice on Choosing a Healthcare POA

Every estate plan needs a good helper(s). Choosing helpers can be really tough. These people will be responsible for making decisions when you can’t make them for yourself. A power of attorney for healthcare will allow someone to help you make a variety of decisions related to medical issues like treatments, surgeries, end of life decisions, living arrangements, and how to get the best care as you age.

Here are 9 key issues to consider when thinking about who you might choose for your healthcare power of attorney:

 

  1. How old should the person be?

    A power of attorney must be at least 18 years old because minor children are not legally allowed in this role. If you are considering younger adult children or family members, maybe in their 20s, it will depend on that person and their maturity level. Are they old enough or mature enough to handle these tough, and oftentimes weighty, decisions?

  2. Do you have ongoing health issues that family members are aware of?

    If a child has helped you face a chronic health issues for years, they may have a better understanding of the decisions you might face, and a better understanding of the decisions you would make for yourself.

  3. Who goes with you to the doctor?

    The person who most often attends doctor appointments, or takes you to appointments right now, might be a good choice for your healthcare power of attorney.

  4. Do you live near your children or other potential powers of attorney?

    If they live far away, that may make it more difficult for them to make informed and timely decisions on your behalf.

  5. If you are considering your spouse, is he or she facing any of their own health issues or memory issues?

    If so, will they be equipped to focus and be capable of clear thinking when faced with an important decision?

  6. What type of person will make the best medical decisions?

    Do you want someone who is compassionate? Most of us do, but what other traits might be important? Sometimes compassion is not enough. If a person tends to become emotional and overwhelmed in stressful situations, will they be able to make tough decisions in a timely fashion when needed? Sometimes a delayed decision or a lack of a decision can result in a situation you would have wanted to avoid — such as your life being prolonged artificially.

  7. Is the person able to be a peacemaker and consider other’s feelings and concerns in making the decision?

    Whether you choose your spouse, your child or another person as the healthcare POA, others can be included in the decision-making process. If your power of attorney is caring and works well with others, then they are more likely to value the input of others.

  8. Will your healthcare agent be able to do what they think is right, even if others strongly disagree?

    For instance, if your spouse knows exactly what you want done, will they be able to follow through even if your kids disagree? A person who is easily influenced by others may not be the best option as power of attorney.

  9. Can they be a good advocate for you?

    Good medical care often requires the patient or the power of attorney to ask good questions. It’s also helpful for your helper to be proactive in seeking out the proper treatment or course of action. Someone who passively says, “OK” to everything the doctor says may not be what you need.

We help families choose good helpers everyday. This is a difficult decision and one of the most important you’ll ever make. You don’t have to do it alone. We can help guide you through the process of deciding who is best.

While you’ll only do this once in your lifetime (or maybe twice), we’ve helped hundreds of families through this process since our firm started in 2008. We’ve seen A LOT over the years and gained wisdom from the families we’ve helped. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 if you would like guidance in choosing good helpers for your plan. We’re always happy to help!

5 Big Risks of Adding Your Kids to Your Bank Account

The Truth About Adding Your Kids to Your Bank Account

Many parents think that “adding their children’s names to their bank account” is an easy way to be sure their kids can help if something unexpected happens, but it can cause some unintended consequences. Legally, what you are doing is naming a child as a joint owner of the account. This can have big legal implications that you might not intend. Despite friends or bankers telling you it’s a good idea, this sort of “coffee shop” legal advice can cause big problems down the road.

While naming your child(ren) as joint owner of your bank account could insure that bills and other obligations can be taken care of without you, it is best to understand what other problems you may be creating for yourself and your child by adding them to your bank account.

5 Risks of Simply Adding Your Child’s Name to Your Bank Account

There are many potential issues that could come up later if you add your child to your bank account now. Here are just a few to think about:

  1. If you die, the child on the account gets all the money in the account. This can be a real problem if there are several children in your family, but you only named one of them on the account. Even if you intended for all the children to share the money upon your death, legally the money belongs to the child whose name is on the account.
  2. If the child on your account gets sued or divorced, YOUR money in your bank account could be at risk.
  3. If your child becomes disabled (through a car accident or a stroke) after you are already disabled, then their spouse will gain control of the account and your money.
  4. If creditors come after your child, they could come after YOUR money in the “joint account.”
  5. If your child is on the account as a joint owner, then they have every legal right to come and take ALL the money from the account anytime they want. And there is not much you could do legally to stop them from doing so. You’re probably thinking, “My child would NEVER do that.” But money makes people do strange things. We see it nearly everyday.

2 Solutions That Can Prevent Future Problems

1. Power of Attorney

If you want a child to be able to pay your bills if you are sick, then name them a Power of Attorney instead of adding them as a joint owner of your bank account.

2. Payable Upon Death

If you want your money to go to your child or children at death, use a payable on death designation or give instructions in your will or trust.

Experienced Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorneys Can Help

Ultimately, you need to find solutions to accomplish your goals without creating unintended problems down the line. This is why it’s important to have the help and advice of an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney. Attorneys use legal tools like Powers of Attorney, trusts, wills and payable upon death designations to make sure things will go smoothly upon death or disability.

The most effective attorneys can help you solve problems without causing extra stress and unwittingly creating more problems down the road. Experienced estate planning and elder law attorneys should be able to anticipate the potential problems that your current actions may cause and prevent them through the use of legal solutions.

To continue learning more on the topic, download our free report, 12 Reasons Not to Give Your Property or Your Money to Your Kids Right Now. We also offer a free monthly workshop for the community — Aging With Confidence: 9 Keys to Wise Planning & Peace of Mind. You can find upcoming dates for those workshops here or give us a call at 217-726-9200 to save yourself a spot.

12 Duties of a Helper: What Do Executors, Trustees, Guardians and Powers of Attorney Really Do?

Every estate plan needs a good helper(s). Choosing those helpers can be tough. Your trustee, guardian, power of attorney or executor will be responsible for making decisions when you become disabled (like from a stroke or dementia) or pass away. But what exactly are they responsible for?

Your helper(s) will take on many financial, legal and managerial responsibilities on your behalf.

Here are 12 specific duties of a helper:

  1. Sell assets like cars, house or property
  2. Make tax decisions and file tax returns
  3. Pay bills
  4. File claim forms on IRAs, annuities and life insurance
  5. Follow the instructions of your Trust
  6. Make decisions about your care (at home, assisted living or nursing home)
  7. Manage investments
  8. Meet with attorneys and accountants
  9. Sign legal documents
  10. Negotiate sales of any property
  11. Referee disputes between other family memebers
  12. Tell beneficiaries “no” when they ask for money

It is especially important to choose a helper that you trust to manage your finances, as this will become a majority of their responsibility. A great way to decide if you have chosen the best helper is to look at how they currently manage their own life. How does it make you feel to envision your helper stepping in and managing your life right now? If it makes you nervous, perhaps it is best to reconsider whom you have chosen.

We are here to help you through the difficult decision-making process of choosing a trustee, executor, power of attorney or guardian. We guide people through this process all the time helping them know what they should consider when making this very important decision.

We have been through this with many families before, whereas the average family has only been involved in this process once, maybe twice. Let our experience guide you to peace of mind when it comes to choosing the right helper for your estate plan.

Learn more by reading “7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For” here. Or check out “3 Myths About Choosing a Helper for Your Plan” to find out some common misconceptions about who you should choose.

life care planning

2 Types of Help You May Need

Last week we gave you a secret test you could give a named helper (or potential helper) to see if they might be up to the task. But what sorts of things might you need help with? There are generally two categories…

Help With Finances

A recent National Institutes of Health study showed a decrease in decision-making skills between the ages of 56-85. We also know, statistically, that if you reach the age of 65 you will, on average, live 19.2 more years. Therefore, many of us will need help with complicated financial decisions that occur in the last few decades of life.

A Power of Attorney for finances will allow someone to help you pay bills, manage your investments and make financial decisions. This may sound very scary, but we help our clients make good choices about financial POAs on a daily basis. That’s why you see the word “Counselor” in our name.

Help With Healthcare Decisions

As you age, you may want input from others about your healthcare. We all know how complicated the medical care world is to navigate these days.

A Power of Attorney for healthcare will allow someone to help you make decisions about a variety of medical issues:

• Medical treatments – like chemo and radiation if you’re diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, doctors and nurses can’t always be relied upon to recommend the best course of action. It can be extremely helpful to have someone else listening to the options, the pros and cons, and then helping you make sense of the process.

• Surgery – whether it’s really needed or not.

End of life decisions – do you want to be hooked up to machines? Do you want to spend your last days at home if at all possible?

• Where to  live – should I downsize, stay put (age in place) or is there another alternative?

• How to get the best care – marketers are very savvy and they know that seniors are an easy target. It would be very helpful to have someone who can help you weed through all the “flash” of advertisements and get down to the real useful information so you can make informed choices.

• When to sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” order.

Learn more about what exactly helpers do in our post, “12 Duties of a Helper.”

How Edwards Group Can Help

We help families choose good helpers everyday. This is a difficult decision and one of the most important you’ll ever make. You don’t have to do it alone. We can guide you through the process of deciding who is best. While you’ll only do this once in your lifetime (maybe twice), we’ve helped hundreds of families since 2008. In that time, our firm has been solely dedicated to estate planning and elder law. We’ve seen A LOT and gained a lot of wisdom from the families we help on a daily basis. We can help you know what to do and what NOT to do.

Give us a call at 217-726-9200 and plan to attend an upcoming workshop today. Attending a workshop makes the planning process easier and more effective all around!

The greatest threat to an effective estate plan is not taking any action at all, so take your first step today and call us at 217-726-9200 to schedule an Initial Meeting or come to a workshop.

secret to estate planning

The Secret Test for Your Named Helper

Naming a helper for your plan is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever have to make, but you don’t have to do it alone. Read on for guidance in choosing your executor, trustee or power of attorney.

Be Careful Who You Choose

I heard another heartbreaking story the other day – an older couple, the man has a terminal illness and he’s worried about his wife after he’s gone. (That part’s normal.) The heartbreaking part is he’s worried because his wife can’t say no to their youngest son (and the son has been named executor because he lives so close by), but the son is taking advantage of his mom financially even while the husband is still alive. The husband is wondering, “What on earth will happen after I’m gone, if he’s already caused this much damage with me keeping an eye on her?”

Every plan needs a good helper. We talk about it ALL the time because it’s vitally important. Everyone will come to a point in their life where they will need some sort of helper, whether that be a power of attorney, a trustee or an executor.

About two years ago we created a paper newsletter with expanded information on choosing good helpers. Even now, we still use it because it’s full of great information. If you’d like a copy of our paper newsletter on choosing good helpers, you can get instant access to it by clicking this link. But if you’d prefer, you can call us at 217-726-9200 and ask us to mail you a copy.

The Secret Test for a Helper

So, what’s the secret test for a named helper? How can you know if you can’t trust a potential helper to make decisions for you when you can’t make decisions yourself?

The secret test of a helper is to look at them and see how they handle their own lives now.

  • Are they organized?
  • Do they have things “under control”?
  • Do they make wise decisions?
  • Are they handling their own money well?
  • Are they generous and kind?

People will generally handle your money worse than they handle their own. They will generally be more difficult to deal with in serving as your helper than they are in dealing with their own lives. This is just the cold, hard truth that we’ve seen over and over.

Being a helper is stressful (especially since if often happens after a crisis or death), and the stress leads people to act worse than they normally do.

So, however they’re handling things now, they’ll actually do a worse job after you’re gone. Does that give you cause for concern? If so, you should pick a different helper. As you think about someone to be a helper, consider these duties they will possibly help with. And learn more about “7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For” here.

How Edwards Group Can Help

We help families choose good helpers everyday. This is a difficult decision and one of the most important you’ll ever make. You don’t have to do it alone. We can guide you through the process of deciding who is best. While you’ll only do this once in your lifetime (maybe twice), we’ve helped hundreds of families in the seven years our firm has been solely dedicated to estate planning and elder law. We’ve seen A LOT and gained a lot of wisdom from the families we help on a daily basis. We can help you know what to do and what NOT to do.

Give us a call at 217-726-9200 and plan to attend an upcoming workshop today. We encourage people to attend a workshop so you can be better informed about effective planning, and get a sense of whether we’re the right firm for you. Attending a workshop makes the planning process easier and more effective.

The greatest threat to an effective estate plan is not taking any action at all, so take your first step today and call us at 217-726-9200.

aging alone

Aging and Alone: 7 Steps to Protect Yourself

In a previous post, we talked about a growing segment of people who are aging alone without the help of their adult children (either because they don’t have children or their children live very far away). These seniors face unique challenges in their 70’s and 80’s. To read about those four challenges, click here. With proper planning, guided by an experienced elder law attorney who has faced these issues many times before, you can achieve peace of mind and have a plan in place if you do not have close family nearby.

7 Steps Every Senior Should Take if Aging Alone

1. Make a plan while you are still sharp (physically and mentally).

A study by the National Institutes of Health found decreased cognition and decision-making impairment begin around the age of 60. Research has also shown that the ability to make sound investment decisions sharply declines at 70. Because of this, it’s important to plan ahead.

2. Make sure your plan is a comprehensive plan and not just a will.

An effective Life Care Plan should include documents like Powers of Attorney (for health and finances), advanced directives for end of life medical issues, etc. It should also address questions such as how will you pay for long-term care, how do you want care decisions to be made, and do you want to stay at home if at all possible?

3. Set up structures to protect yourself.

With the help of an experienced elder law attorney, you should anticipate future issues and how you want them handled. (For instance, if you don’t have kids, consider a professional helper such as an attorney, CPA or bank to handle your finances.)

4. Be open to changing your living arrangements.

If you’re willing to alter your living arrangements earlier on, then you’ll be able to make changes on your own terms, deciding what’s most important to you. If you wait until crisis strikes, others may have to dictate where you go, or your medical issues may dictate where you have to live.

If you start to become isolated in your house, having difficulty taking medicine or eating properly, there needs to be a fail-safe in place so that you don’t suffer and linger too long in the house on your own.

5. Create a plan with ongoing maintenance.

In the last few decades of life things can change rapidly. That’s why a plan with ongoing maintenance is especially helpful. Crafting a flexible plan, through an attorney you trust, insures that adjustments can be made as circumstances change.

6. Gather a list of contacts who can help you.

Identify what tasks you need help with (cooking, cleaning, yard work, etc.) and then match the tasks with people (friends, neighbors, nieces, nephews, church members) who might be able to help you with those specific jobs.

7. Find local resources to help.

There are several good resources that can help seniors, or their distant children, get the help they need.

Illinois Department on Aging     1-800-252-8966

Area Agency on Aging     1-800-252-8966    (Here’s a more detailed listing for Sangamon County)

Senior Services of Central Illinois     217-528-4035

Aging is not something any of us wants to think about, but by thinking and planning ahead, you can save yourself a lot of grief, stress, dignity and money.

If you are facing the prospect of aging alone and are concerned that you don’t have an adequate plan in place, don’t hesitate to give our Elder Care Advisors a call at 217-726-9200. We are always happy to help in anyway that we can!

4 Challenges of Aging Alone

There’s a growing segment of people who are aging without the help of their adult children (either because they don’t have children or because their children live far away). Read on to learn more about the challenges this group faces.

People are living longer than ever before in history. People are having less children. And those children often live out of town or in other states. Because of all these factors, 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 65 are at risk of becoming “elder orphans.”

Many don’t like this term. “I’ve lived just fine on my own nearly all my life!” However, it is a quick and clear way to describe a growing number of people who are getting older without the immediate support of close family. And it is a HUGE challenge – one our firm is seeing more and more often.

4 Challenges of Aging Alone

It used to be that a will was an adequate estate plan for most people, but a will only works after a person’s death. A will cannot help with the challenges that present themselves when a person is in their 70’s and 80’s. And if that person does not have children, or has children halfway across the country, then the challenges of the last two decades of life can make things even harder.

So what are 4 important things to consider if you find yourself in this situation?

1. Who’s gonna be in charge?

Of course, you would like the answer to be yourself, but what happens if you have a stroke, start to experience the signs of dementia or develop cancer? When the time comes (and it will come for the vast majority of people), who will pay your bills for you? Who will help get you to doctor visits or treatments? Who will help you get groceries or cook? Read about choosing good helpers here.

2. Who will even know if you need help?

Oftentimes, we don’t recognize the need for help in our own lives. More often than not, at our firm, it is the adult children who notice that their parents need help. It is nearly impossible to notice a slow decline in your own life without someone else’s perspective.

3. What if you get help from all the wrong places?

Sadly, there are more ways to scam seniors than ever before. Dishonest caregivers have always been able to steal money, change the will, etc. but now there are mail order scams, and tech scams on iPads or via email. It is really hard to know who to trust (read about 7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For here), which brings us to the next challenge…

4. What if you reject good advice because you don’t know who to trust?

While it is really hard to know who to trust, there are still some really good, honest people out there who are passionate about helping seniors. We work with these types of advisors everyday. They are out there, but if you’re on your own, how will you know if you can trust them?

Aging is not something any of us wants to think about, but by thinking and planning ahead, you can save yourself a lot of grief, stress, dignity and money.

If you are facing the prospect of aging alone and are concerned that you don’t have an adequate plan in place, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 217-726-9200. We are always happy to help in anyway that we can!