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Use Caution in Helping with Seniors’ Finances

Old lady on computerAssisting someone with his or her finances sounds simple, right? Your mom, a neighbor or the person for whom you provide home health care may ask you to write a few checks out of her checkbook because it’s difficult for her to see. She may ask you to pick up a few groceries and gives you some cash. You’d think that folks would understand your good intentions and maybe even thank you.

But Bankrate’s article, “Be cautious before helping seniors with their finances,” warns that, unfortunately, it may turn out differently. Unless you’re an only child helping your parent, when you start writing checks, suspicions may arise, with or without justification.

Elder law attorneys hear of financial elder abuse suspicions and actual abuse on a regular basis.  Therefore, just because a senior asks for your help, doesn't mean you should help. This is because things can get complicated.

Once you get involved, you may see that there are many moving parts.  There could be an already-troubled senior who’s paying some bills twice and some not at all, or donating money to questionable organizations. Their finances may be in disrepair. Remember, if you don't have the time and aren’t ready to take on a complex process with legal implications, just say no.

Power of Attorney. A power of attorney gives the holder authority to execute certain transactions. While you don't need an estate planning attorney to create up a power of attorney (POA), you're taking a chance if you choose the do-it-yourself route. If you need to obtain a guardianship (or conservatorship) for the senior, you’ll need an elder law attorney. A guardianship gives you the authority to take control of the senior’s finances. There will be a court hearing, and you’ll have to present medical records and be represented by an attorney.

Minimize Risks. It is important to try to minimize the risks for the senior and maximize financial accountability. Monthly bills like utilities can be directly debited from the senior's bank account.  You should never sign the senior’s name on checks or credit card purchases. They may insist that it is okay, but they would be wrong.

Record-keeping. Regardless of the amount of authority you have been given to help a senior or control their finances, it's crucial that you keep meticulous records to protect yourself. POAs should hang on to receipts for everything and never combine their money with the senior's money. You should never borrow money from them, and don’t fall into the trap of believing you’re entitled to money because their family is never involved. That’s financial exploitation, and it is a criminal act.

Communication. If a senior has adult children or close family members, you and the senior should maintain a strong line of communication. One suggestion is monthly reports to at least one other person. It is important to document everything and to make certain that all family members are informed.

Reference: Bankrate (February 15, 2017) “Be cautious before helping seniors with their finances”

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Let Me Ask You a Few Questions about Estate Planning

Question mark with peopleA will gives instructions about distributing your property after death, and living trusts are typically revocable—they can be changed along the way, and they are "living" because they're created while you're alive. A will is only effective when you die; a trust takes effect as soon as you create it. To find out more about these estate planning documents, talk with an experienced estate planning attorney.

There is no simple estate—everybody has complexity, says The (Eugene, OR) Register-Guard article, "Wills, trusts, big decisions." The basic questions are whether: (i) you're married; (ii) you have children, or children from multiple marriages or step-children; and (iii) there's real estate you own outside of the state. The larger the estate, the more questions there will be about how best to distribute the assets.

If it is a one-time married family, an estate planning attorney can provide for financial assets to go straight to the children without probate administration in many cases. But things can be more complicated with blended families. There may be one spouse with children by a prior marriage and children from a subsequent marriage. If that is the case, then you may want to be sure that the children by the first marriage will be treated the same when the surviving spouse will have control of all of the assets.

Frequently this can be avoided, starting with a discussion to learn if the people are willing to carry out an equitable division among the various "blended" children. If it doesn't look like they will, then you may need to create a trust with someone other than the surviving spouse as trustee. That will make certain that assets you intend go to the children from your first marriage.

A minimum set of documents that every retiree should have includes a will, a power of attorney and medical documents such as an advanced directive. A durable power of attorney permits the person you choose to deal with your finances. A health care directive is a living will, which is a written document of a person's wishes.

Another scenario is if one spouse becomes mentally disabled. A conservatorship is where a judge appoints a responsible person to care for another adult who can't manage his or her own care or finances. A trust can be a way to avoid court intervention. Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney about these important documents.

Reference: The (Eugene, OR) Register-Guard (March 23, 2016) "Wills, trusts, big decisions"

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Boyfriend of Whitney Houston’s Daughter Getting into Estate Plan Trouble (Already)

Bobbi-kristina-600Is there a target on Nick Gordon? He might well conclude that. The erstwhile boyfriend of Bobbi Kristina Brown will likely never see the 22-year-old daughter of the late Whitney Houston again. She is now in a Duluth, Georgia hospice, and her family has banned him from her bedside. Instead, Gordon, 25, is being sued for many millions by her representative, court-appointed conservator Bedelia Hargrove. The lawsuit asserts that Gordon beat up Bobbi Kristina on the day she was found, knocking out a tooth, and leaving her in her current brain-damaged and unconscious condition from which she is unlikely to recover. He also allegedly stole thousands from her bank account while she's been unconscious these last five months.

The USA Today article titled, “Lawsuit start of big trouble for Nick Gordon,” asks “why is this guy being sued?”

It appears that his suspect reputation and lying are giving the family of Whitney Houston’s comatose daughter the idea of bringing an action against him in an effort to keep him from claiming a piece of Bobbi Kristina’s million dollar estate.

In the past, Nick Gordon has claimed that he was “informally” adopted by Whitney and that he’s also Bobbi Kristina's husband, which would make him a family member with legal rights.

Attorneys for the family say there is plenty of evidence to show that neither claim is true. Gordon has said nothing, including anything about what happened to Bobbi Kristina before she was found face down and unresponsive in her bathtub in January, similar to her mother's bathtub death three years ago.

 

The article reports that law enforcement officials in Georgia have not determined if they will bring charges against Gordon, but the case is still under investigation. Nonetheless, without any criminal charges, Bobbi Kristina's conservator is claiming in civil court that Gordon is a liar, a thief, a batterer—maybe even a killer. The conservator was appointed by a state family court to protect Bobbi Kristina's assets while she is incapacitated. The court papers claim that Gordon was at one point accused of making threats and was under a restraining order to stay away from Bobbi Kristina's relatives.

Bobbi Kristina is worth millions from the trust Whitney established for her in her will. However, the remainder of Whitney’s sizable estate goes to Bobbi when she turns 30. If Bobbi dies before that, Whitney’s will dictates that those millions revert to the Houston family. Although that scenario may set up a fight between the Houstons and Browns, both sides agree that Gordon should get nothing.

This is a proactive move, the article says, because the family is concerned that Gordon will claim he's entitled to some piece of her estate. But Bobby Brown said that Gordon was never married to Bobbi Kristina, and common-law marriage is not recognized in Georgia. Nonetheless, the family might just settle with him to make him go away.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: USA Today (June 28, 2015) “Lawsuit start of big trouble for Nick Gordon”

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Visitation Rights to Children of Ailing Parents

Moving_parents_t650It's the quirky Christmases Catherine Falk remembers the most.  "To us, he wasn't 'Columbo.' He was dad," she told FoxNews.com of her famous father Peter Falk. "He wasn't in character. He was the character. He was genuinely this bumbling, goofy, absent-minded guy who was so funny and loved his family," Catherine Falk, remembered with a laugh. "We'd give him these Christmas presents and he'd put them in his trunk and forget about them. Then the next Christmas would come around and he'd open the trunk of his Mercedes and there they'd be, all the present from last year." The all-around funny family man would go on to create many happy memories with those closest to him. But when he got sick, things got complicated. His children accused his wife of alienating him. They said they weren't allowed to talk to or see him and were denied any information about his health. It's a case that's being played out in thousands of households in America.

Across the country, there's been a noticeable increase in adult children being denied access to their ailing parents. States are beginning to take notice and drafting legislation to open up visitation rights to children, according to a Fox News story titled“'Columbo' daughter pushes for bill that protects the right to visit sick parents.”

In Falk’s case, she and her stepmother were locked in a court battle over conservatorship and access to Peter for years. In 2008, he became completely incapacitated from his advanced dementia. Catherine then decided to create the Catherine Falk Organization, which advocates for the rights of adult children to see their sick parents.

Catherine was able to get an order for visitation from a court that was made at the complete discretion of the judge. Conservators in California currently don’t have to inform family members on the health, hospitalization or death of a relative. Part of the problem, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto said is the frequent tension between the second or third spouse and the children of the first marriage. That conflict often gets worse when a parent becomes sick. (Remember Casey Kasem?)

Current California law gives the rights relating to the care of loves ones to the spouse. Children have no legal way to arrange visitation with their ailing parents, to receive notice of hospitalization or even the death of their mom or dad. Children also have no access to information on the funeral arrangements.

Gatto’s bill, if passed, seeks to reverse the law and create a new legal process for adult children to ask the court to visit a parent under care who is not in a conservatorship. The Assemblyman thinks it will pass and hopes this law will be a blueprint for other states considering similar measures to help ailing seniors.

Contact an experienced elder law attorney who can help make arrangements to keep the family peace should that time come for your family.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: Fox News (June 7, 2015) “'Columbo' daughter pushes for bill that protects the right to visit sick parents”

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Conservatorships and Guardianships: What’s the Difference?

Az-lawyer-can-create-a-guardianship-or-conservatorship-to-protect-wealth-for-future-generationsBobby Brown and Pat Houston will be co-guardians for Bobbi Kristina Brown. Their attorneys said in a statement Friday that Bobby Brown and the sister-in-law of Bobbi Kristina’s late mother, Whitney Houston, spent a day in court working out the agreement. “We are delighted to inform the public that the court has appointed Bobby Brown and Pat Houston as co-guardians of Bobbi Kristina Brown (‘Krissi’),” read a statement issued by David Long-Daniels, counsel for Pat Houston and Cissy Houston, and Christopher Brown, an attorney for Bobby Brown. “Both Mr. Brown and Ms. Houston are jointly responsible for decisions related to Krissi’s care and medical needs.”

ABC News Radio recently reported in a story on its website, titled “Bobby Brown Granted Co-Guardianship of Bobbi Kristina,” that a court-appointed attorney will act as a conservator for the 22-year-old. The attorney specializes in fiduciary litigation, probate and estate administration, estate planning, personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as general civil litigation.

As conservator, the attorney “is responsible for Krissi’s assets, including her likeness, rights and legal claims,” according to the statement read by attorneys for the family.

The judge for the probate court of DeKalb County in Georgia confirmed in paperwork from April 24 that Brown’s guardianship petition had been received.

Probate courts have jurisdiction over the appointment and supervision of guardians and conservators of adult persons who have been found to be so incapacitated by reason of physical or mental illness that they are no longer capable of making reasonable and rational decisions concerning management of their own money and property. Guardians make decisions concerning the person, and conservators manage and make decisions concerning the person’s income and property.

Conservators must be bonded for the value of all income and personal property of the person, and guardians also may be required to post bond. Guardians for an incapacitated adult in Georgia are required to file annual reports on the physical and mental status of the ward. Similarly, conservators must file an inventory of assets, an asset management plan, and annual financial accountings—all of which are subject to review or audit by the probate court.

Cissy Houston, Bobbi Kristina’s maternal grandmother, told “Entertainment Tonight” last week that Bobbi Kristina is “not progressing at all.” Houston said, “She’s not gone yet, but you know, whatever the Lord decides, I’m ready for her…I have nothing to do with that. That’s His job. It’s His territory, you know? And I understand it.”

Bobbi Kristina was hospitalized in January 2015, after she was discovered unresponsive in a bathtub in her home. She was moved into a rehabilitation facility in March.

Questions about Conservatorships and Guardianships? Contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss them and learn more.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: ABC News Radio (May 11, 2015) “Bobby Brown Granted Co-Guardianship of Bobbi Kristina”