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A power of attorney is a very important estate planning tool, but in fact there are several different kinds of powers of attorney that can be used for different purposes. Before executing this crucial document, it is important to understand what your options are.
A power of attorney allows a person you appoint — your “attorney-in-fact” or agent — to act in your place for financial or other purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated or if you can’t act on your own behalf. There are three main categories of powers of attorney.
- Limited. A limited power of attorney gives someone else the power to act in your stead for a very limited purpose. For example, a limited power of attorney could give someone the right to sign a deed to property for you on a day when you are out of town. It usually ends at a time specified in the document.
- General. A general power of attorney is comprehensive and gives your attorney-in-fact all the powers and rights that you have yourself. For example, a general power of attorney may give your attorney-in-fact the right to sign documents for you, pay your bills, and conduct financial transactions on your behalf. You could use a general power of attorney if you were not incapacitated, but still needed someone to help you with financial matters. A general power of attorney ends on your death or incapacitation unless you rescind it before then.
- Durable. A durable power of attorney can be general or limited in scope, but it remains in effect after you become incapacitated. Without a durable power of attorney, if you become incapacitated, no one can represent you unless a court appoints a conservator or guardian. A durable power of attorney will remain in effect until your death unless you rescind it while you are not incapacitated.
Regardless of what type of power of attorney you use, it is important to think carefully about who will be your attorney-in-fact. Your attorney-in-fact will have a lot of control over your finances, and it is crucial that you trust him or her completely.
While many pre-packaged do-it-yourself power of attorney forms are available, it is a good idea to have an attorney draft the form specifically for you. There are many issues to consider and one size does not fit all. Contact the attorneys at Kommer Bave & Ciccone to learn more.
For most people, the durable power of attorney is the most important estate planning instrument available — even more useful than a will. A power of attorney allows a person you appoint — your “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” — to act in place of you — the “principal” — for financial purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated.
In that case, the person you choose will be able to step in and take care of your financial affairs. Without a durable power of attorney, no one can represent you unless a court appoints a conservator or guardian. That court process takes time, costs money, and the judge may not choose the person you would prefer. In addition, under a guardianship or conservatorship, your representative may have to seek court permission to take planning steps that she could implement immediately under a simple durable power of attorney.
A power of attorney may be limited or general. A limited power of attorney may give someone the right to sign a deed to property on a day when you are out of town. Or it may allow someone to sign checks for you. A general power is comprehensive and gives your attorney-in-fact all the powers and rights that you have yourself.
Powers of attorney take effect immediately upon their execution, even if the understanding is that they will not be used until and unless the grantor becomes incapacitated.
However, attorneys report that their clients are experiencing increasing difficulty in getting banks or other financial institutions to recognize the authority of an agent under a durable power of attorney. A certain amount of caution on the part of financial institutions is understandable: When someone steps forward claiming to represent the account holder, the financial institution wants to verify that the attorney-in-fact indeed has the authority to act for the principal. Still, some institutions go overboard, for example requiring that the attorney-in-fact indemnify them against any loss. Many banks or other financial institutions have their own standard power of attorney forms. To avoid problems, you may want to execute such forms offered by the institutions with which you have accounts. In addition, many attorneys counsel their clients to create living trusts in part to avoid this sort of problem with powers of attorney.
While you should seriously consider executing a durable power of attorney, if you do not have someone you trust to appoint it may be more appropriate to have the probate court looking over the shoulder of the person who is handling your affairs through a guardianship or conservatorship. In that case, you may execute a limited durable power of attorney simply nominating the person you want to serve as your conservator or guardian. Most states require the court to respect your nomination “except for good cause or disqualification.”
A power of attorney may seem like a simple document, but there are several important decisions that need to be made when creating one. From whom to appoint to what powers to grant, care and consideration should be put into each choice.
A power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning documents you can have. It allows a person (principal) to appoint an “attorney-in-fact” or agent to act in his/her place for financial or other purposes when and if the person ever become incapacitated or can’t act on their own behalf. It can permit the agent to pay your bills, make investment decisions, take planning steps, and take care of your family when you can’t do so yourself.
Here are some of the decisions you will need to make on your power of attorney:
- Whom to appoint. Of course, you need to appoint someone you trust to have your best interests in mind. The person also needs to be organized and responsible and have the time available (or be able to make the time available) to carry out the functions of paying bills, guiding investments and handling any legal matters that may arise. Generally, people appoint family members to this role, but sometimes none of their relatives are appropriate, in which case they may appoint a friend or even an accountant, attorney or clergy person. If there’s no one to appoint, despite the benefits of the power of attorney, you may need to resort to a court-appointed guardian or conservator in the event of incapacity.
- How many agents to appoint. You may appoint one or more agents on your power of attorney. Having multiple agents allows more than one person to share the responsibility and permits them to divvy up tasks. If you appoint more than one, make sure that the document permits each agent to act on his or her own. Requiring them to act together provides checks and balances, but it could become very cumbersome if all of your agents have to sign every check or other document. And most financial institutions will not deal with joint agents. It is not recommended to name more than two agents. You should also name successor agents.
- “Durable.” In order for a power of attorney to remain effective if and when you become incapacitated, the power of attorney must be durable. In other words, the authority under the durable power of attorney survives the incapacity of the principal.
- Gifting. Powers of attorney usually go on for several pages listing the various powers the attorney-in-fact may carry out. This is because financial institutions and tax authorities often look for and demand specific authorization for the tasks the agent is seeking to perform. One of the most important powers is the power to gift. You may want to support children and grandchildren or to take steps to reduce taxes or qualify for public benefits.
- Trust powers. Similar to the power to make gifts, it can be important to authorize the attorney-in-fact to make, amend, and fund trusts on behalf of the principal. These powers can be extremely important in the context of long-term care planning, asset protection planning or special needs planning for spouses, children, and grandchildren.
- Copies and storage. Once the agents and wording of the power of attorney have been determined, how many originals should you have and where should they go? Your attorney generally will discuss this matter with you, and depending on your circumstances make recommendations as to copies and storage. It is generally recommended to execute multiple originals. You have the option to keep the originals yourself or give them to your agents or have your attorney keep them. Oftentimes, people keep the originals, or have their attorneys keep the originals, and tell their agents where the documents are located in case they are needed.
One other important consideration is to see if any of the financial institutions with which you have accounts have their own power of attorney forms. If so, make sure you execute their forms as well as a general durable power of attorney because banks and investment houses have been known to reject powers of attorney that are not their own for spurious reasons.
For more information, please call Kommer Bave & Ciccone at (914) 633-7400.
A trust is a legal arrangement through which one person (or an institution, such as a bank or law firm), called a “trustee,” holds legal title to property for another person, called a “beneficiary.”
Trusts fall into two basic categories: testamentary and inter vivos.
A testamentary trust is one created by your will, and it does not come into existence until you die. In contrast, an inter vivos trust, starts during your lifetime. You create it now and it exists during your life.
There are two kinds of inter vivos trusts: revocable and irrevocable.
Revocable trusts are often referred to as “living” trusts. With a revocable trust, the person who created the trust, called the “grantor” or “donor,” maintains complete control over the trust and may amend, revoke or terminate the trust at any time. This means that you, the donor, can take back the funds you put in the trust or change the trust’s terms. Thus, the donor is able to reap the benefits of the trust arrangement while maintaining the ability to change the trust at any time prior to death.
Revocable trusts are generally used for the following purposes:
- Asset management. They permit the named trustee to administer and invest the trust property for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries.
- Probate avoidance. At the death of the trust grantor, the trust property passes to whoever is named in the trust. It does not come under the jurisdiction of the probate court and its distribution need not be held up by the probate process. However, the property of a revocable trust will be included in the grantor’s estate for tax purposes.
- Tax planning. While the assets of a revocable trust will be included in the grantor’s taxable estate, the trust can be drafted so that the assets will not be included in the estates of the beneficiaries, thus avoiding taxes when the beneficiaries die.
- Avoid Ancillary Probate. If one owns out-of-state property and transfers title to it to a revocable trust, they will avoid ancillary probate in the other state where the property is located.
- Privacy. A revocable trust does not become a public document. Therefore if there are concerns about privacy a revocable trust should be considered.
An irrevocable trust cannot be changed or amended by the grantor. (However, some states, like New York, do allow revocation under very limited circumstances.) Any property placed into the trust may only be distributed by the trustee as provided for in the trust document itself. For instance, the grantor may set up a trust under which he or she will receive income earned on the trust property, but that bars access to the trust principal. This type of irrevocable trust is a popular tool for Medicaid planning.
As noted above, a testamentary trust is a trust created by a will. Such a trust has no power or effect until the will of the grantor is probated. Although a testamentary trust will not avoid the need for probate and will become a public document as it is a part of the will, it can be useful in accomplishing other estate planning goals. For instance, the testamentary trust can be used to reduce estate taxes on the death of a spouse or to provide for the care of a disabled child.
Supplemental Needs Trusts
The purpose of a supplemental needs trust is to enable the donor to provide for the continuing care of a disabled spouse, child, relative or friend. The beneficiary of a well-drafted supplemental needs trust will have access to the trust assets for purposes other than those provided by public benefits programs. In this way, the beneficiary will not lose eligibility for benefits such as Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid and low-income housing. A supplemental needs trust can be created by the grantor during life or be part of a will.
Credit Shelter Trusts
Credit shelter trusts are a way to take full advantage of state and federal estate tax exemptions.
For more information about estate planning and creating trusts, consult with the attorneys at Kommer Bave & Ciccone LLP.
Revocable trusts are an effective way to avoid probate and provide for asset management in the event of incapacity. In addition, revocable trusts — sometimes called “living” trusts — are incredibly flexible and can achieve many other goals.
A trust is a legal arrangement through which one person holds legal title to property for another person. As the creator of a revocable trust, you are called the “grantor” or the “donor.” While you are alive, you are a beneficiary of the trust and can also serve as either the sole trustee or as one of a number of co-trustees. The trustees manage the assets in the trust, which can include real estate, bank accounts, investments, and tangible property (such as fine art) under the terms set forth in the trust document.
Whatever you place into trust during your life will pass to your beneficiaries at your death without going through probate, avoiding the cost, delay and publicity of probate. In addition, in the event of incapacity, a co-trustee can step in and manage the trust property without any fuss. While you can also accomplish this through a durable power of attorney, banks and other financial institutions are much more comfortable with trusts. They have been known to reject durable powers of attorney that are more than a few years old or to require that the drafting attorney certify that the power of attorney has not been revoked.
The secret to making revocable trusts work is to fund them. This means retitling assets, whether real estate, bank accounts, or investment accounts, in the name of the trust. All too often, attorneys draw up estate-planning documents, advise clients to fund their trusts, and then nothing happens. Trusts have no relation to assets that are not retitled. However, if you execute a “pour-over” will along with your trust, saying that at your death all of your assets will be distributed to your trust, your wishes as to the ultimate distribution of your estate will be carried out. You just won’t avoid probate and will not have as strong protection in case of incapacity.
The following are some of the issues revocable trust documents cover, as well as decisions you might need to make:
- When does the successor trustee take over? When all of the original co-trustees stop serving — whether due to incapacity, death or resignation — or when one of them stops serving?
- How do you define the incapacity of a trustee?
- What can the trust invest in?
- May it pay the debts of your estate?
- If there’s an absence of trustees for any reason and you are not available, who appoints the new trustee?
- Do you want to give anyone else the right to remove trustees, like a trust protector?
- What accounts or statements, if any, must the trustee provide to beneficiaries?
- Do you want distributions to be made to beneficiaries under age 18, or just made on their behalf? Would you prefer the trustee to continue managing the funds until your children or other beneficiaries reach, say 25 or 30? You can also provide for partial distributions at various ages.
- What powers should the trustees have?
These and more issues need to be decided for all trusts. More complex trusts designed for tax and asset protection purposes present even more choices and get even longer and more complex. To draft a revocable trust, consult with the attorneys at Kommer Bave & Ciccone LLP.
Americans are living longer than they did in years past, including those with disabilities. Planning by parents can make all the difference in the life of a child with a disability, as well as that of his or her siblings who may be left with the responsibility for caretaking, on top of their own careers and caring for their own families.
Special needs trusts (also known as “supplemental needs trusts”) are an important component of planning for a disabled child, even though the child may be an adult by the time the trust is created or funded. These trusts allow a beneficiary with a disability to receive inheritances, gifts, lawsuit settlements, or other funds and yet not lose her eligibility for certain government programs, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The trusts are drafted so that the funds will not be considered to belong to the beneficiary in determining her eligibility for public benefits.
Special needs trusts are designed to provide for more than basic support, including comforts and luxuries that could not be paid for by public assistance funds. These trusts typically pay for things like education, recreation, counseling, and medical attention beyond what is provided for by Medicaid.
There are three main types of special needs trusts: the first-party trust, the third-party trust, and the pooled trust. All three name the person with special needs as the beneficiary, but they differ in several significant ways, and each type of trust can be useful in its own way.
For more information on special needs trusts and special needs planning, consult the attorneys at Kommer Bave & Ciccone LLP.
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