Over the years handling estate planning and working through financial plans with clients I have often thought “Now I have seen everything.” Then in the next day or week I meet a new client or reconnect with a current one and find there really is no end to the twists and turns that life can take.
The healthy person you expected to live beyond all the others might suddenly become ill. Someone with a fatal illness experiences a miraculous cure. People sign up for a retirement community and then decide they want to move to another state to be with their children or friends. People who want to stay in their homes forever suddenly decide it is too much for them and decide to move to the retirement community. I have even had clients who decide to take to the road in a mobile home and no longer have a permanent address.
The point of this is that planning means constantly shifting perspectives, going with the flow and recognizing that needs and outlooks change. This is one reason why “what if” questions can become so important and even then it is not possible to consider all the possibilities. They change.
I had a client once exclaim “I can’t plan. Things keep changing.” I answered reflexively “It is because things keep changing that we have to plan.”
So here are some ideas in dealing with change.
- For Agents Under Power of Attorney and Executors Under Your Will. The number 1 way to avoid unpleasant surprises from your appointment of an Agent under Power of Attorney or Executor under Will is to choose your Agent well and reevaluate from time to time. Will this person act responsibly, act in your best interest, follow through in paying bills appropriately, consult with experts where expert advice is needed, keep a record of transactions, and be scrupulously honest when it comes to handling your funds and your assets. Think about “what if” this person needs to step into the shoes of those positions. He or she does not necessarily need to be professionally trained in some of the more complicated legal or financial issues since professionals can be hired in those fields to help but does need to be responsible, honest and reasonably available. Also health needs and family dynamics enter into the equation.
- Have backups. Backups are critical. If your primary agent becomes disabled or unavailable, someone needs to step up and act.
- Ask questions to tailor the document to your specifications. Every Power of Attorney is not the same. You could give unlimited power, limited power, or no power to gift and you should know why in each case. You could give control over handling of your business or corporation, or not. You should know the expression “limited gifting” means $15,000 per person per year. That might be too much or not enough. If you believe Medicaid or asset protection planning could be in your future, this might be included, subject to your needs being provided for. You could give power to cash in insurance policies for your needs but not allow the Agent to change beneficiaries.
You could have more than one Agent although that practice might be frowned upon by banks. Consider whether a Successor Agent would be better and also reasonably whether your Agents could work together.
- Financial Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney can be separated. One child might be great for health care and another a whiz on figures. The documents can be separated or the same person could act as both but under separate documents. “What if” your Agent had to act? What would be the result?
- Tell other family where appropriate. If there is a functional family where everyone gets along, it may be better to let others know of the appointment and your thoughts. Then if crisis strikes, family members may be more likely to act together. This means recognizing sometimes, however, this does not work.
- Fire when necessary. You can fire your Agent if necessary. It is called a Revocation.
- Consider “What If” On All Financial Transactions. Finally, be careful about who has access to your debit cards, credit cards, user names and passwords, and online access to your bank and investment accounts and review this information often. Get help if needed.
Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.