Legal Documents Often Needed by Caregivers

Careful planning is required once you agree to act as the legal caregiver of a family member or close friend. Always make sure the person making this request promptly provides you with copies of properly executed legal documents that will help you address their most critical needs on a timely basis.

Fortunately, your Houston estate planning attorney can help you decide which legal documents may be required by the person needing care. These documents can help you make such crucial decisions as where the person needing care may want to live — and choose the types of medical care they’re willing to receive from specific healthcare providers.

Depending on if you’re personally named in all the required documents, you may also need to handle burial needs – and make sure that all money and possessions are properly transferred to the correct beneficiaries once your loved one or ailing friend passes away.

Here’s a brief overview of the types of legal documents you’ll need the person you’ll be taking care of to obtain from a lawyer.

Key documents to consult while taking care of an ailing friend or family member

  • Power of Attorney. While many older or ailing adults can still often make sound decisions for themselves – they may want you to stand ready to step in and handle key business transactions for them with various companies should they become too ill to manage these matters on a temporary basis;
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. This may also be called an Advance Directive for Healthcare and other similar terms. Its purpose is to clearly indicate the types of medical care the named party is open to receiving – and when certain types of life-extending treatments should be discontinued when the party named in the documents is suffering from a terminal or irreversible condition. The document also clearly provides authority for the person named as the Medical Power of Attorney to have full access to all medical records required while making decisions in coordination with doctors and other healthcare providers;
  • A Living Will. This document is different than an Advance Directive because it states how the person needing medical treatment wants their medical care to be handled – as opposed to the Advance Directive which states how another person (the agent) should handle the ill person’s medical treatment needs when that person is unable to do so. This type of Will also often addresses whether life support procedures should be provided under specific circumstances;
  • A Basic Will. This sets forth the name of the executor who’s been chosen to manage the ill person’s estate once they pass away — so the chosen beneficiaries will receive all the designated wealth and possessions. Hopefully, the person you’re helping will remember to ask their lawyer if they need to create one or more trust accounts so that all or part of the estate can be easily transferred without going through the probate process.

Be sure the person you’ll be taking care of informs their lawyer about any unusual or special circumstances that may need to be addressed in all the documents named above.

You may also want to obtain a document sometimes referred to as an Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains. This will allow the older or disabled person needing your care to state who will handle their remains once a funeral home has prepared them for burial (or placement in an urn). Many people today who’ve chosen to be cremated obtain this form, so they can state the location of a specific cemetery or columbarium where their remains will be interred.

Please feel free to have the person who’s asked you to act as caregiver to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys so we can help prepare all of these important legal documents. We are always available to respond to any questions you may have regarding any of these documents and the entire estate planning and probate process.

Basic Facts: Special Needs and Pooled Trusts

If you want to give money to a disabled family member receiving government benefits like SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and Medicaid, consider setting up a special needs trust and naming that person in your Will. Careful planning is required since disabled people can lose their eligibility to receive certain benefits if their net worth and assets increase.

Once you’ve created the proper type of trust account, your disabled family member will be in a better position to: (1) start receiving an added monthly stipend or inheritance from a family member; (2) accept a large sum of money after surviving a serious vehicle accident caused by another person’s negligence; or (3) receive funds from another unusual source.

Here’s additional information about creating SNTs – special needs trusts. You may want to set up a third-party or first-party SNT – and possibly even a pooled trust.

Here are some of the unique features offered by third-party SNTs (special needs trusts)

The American Bar Association says that this type of SNT, also referred to as a supplemental needs trust, can be used to help a disabled beneficiary receive a gift or inheritance from a third party such as a relative. However, it should never to be used for any assets or money that already belong to the beneficiary.

Based on the general terms you set forth in the trust, your trustee will then determine the exact way all funds will be used to help your beneficiary (or loved one). While many of these types of trusts are considered testamentary (part of someone’s estate), they can also be used for inter vivos transfers of gifts (those made while the person making the gift is still alive).

Like the third-party SNT described below, this first-party type should be set up so that the recipient’s government benefits remain their primary source of income — and these types of added funds are simply a supplemental source.

What are some of the unique attributes of a first-party SNT (special needs trust)?

While sometimes referred to as self-settled special needs trusts, these are mainly created to receive assets that are the beneficiary’s legal possessions. As is true of most SNTs, you’ll need the help of a highly experienced Houston business law attorney to help you create one since the multiple state and federal laws governing them can periodically change.

What’s most unique about this type of trust is that it must include a provision stating that when the beneficiary dies – depending on the exact amount of assets still contained in the SNT — Medicaid must be repaid for all funds that were ever spent on the beneficiary.

Those who most often benefit most from these types of first-party, special needs trusts usually fall into one of the two following categories.

  • They are under age 65 and want to receive funds worth more than $2000 (or more than the net worth amount currently allowed by law) – while remaining eligible for government benefits — or
  • They have received (or will receive) an unexpected financial windfall – possibly as the result of a personal injury lawsuit following a car accident.

Keep in mind that first-party SNTs can only be established by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian or court for a special needs person.

If you can’t afford a trust administered by a paid trustee – ask about “pooled” trusts

When funds are limited, you can ask your attorney to create what’s often referred to as a “pooled trust.” This type of account containing a disabled person’s money can be added to funds that have been deposited for other special needs individuals.

All of these accounts are then monitored and administered together by a non-profit board or agency. Among other tasks, your attorney may need to create a joinder agreement (or review one offered to you) as you start applying to various types of appropriate pooled trust groups.

Many disabled adults prefer this approach since they can personally help establish their own “pooled trust” with an organization set up to administer such accounts – without the help of other family members.

Whatever else you do, try to avoid simply giving extra funds to a family member so that person can later provide for all the disabled person’s needs. Given human nature, that money may never wind up being spent to benefit the person with special needs.

Please contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys so we can use our lengthy experience creating special needs and other trusts to protect your disabled loved one’s financial interests — both now and in the future.

Not Having a Valid Will and Testament Can Become a Burden to Your Family

Many people assume that if they dies without a Last Will and Testament (“Will”), their property will just automatically pass to their spouse or children without any action required to be taken by their heirs, such as having to go to probate court. However, without proper estate planning, this is rarely the case.

While some assets in your estate necessitate having to go to probate court even with a Will, the process of probate court when you do not have a Will is much more time consuming and costly.

So long as there is a Will to probate that allows for independent administration, the probate process is relatively simple and straightforward and generally proceeds as follows: An application to probate a will is filed by the proposed Executor/Executrix with the probate court in the county in which you had your primary residence. Once the application has been on file with the court for a certain number of days, the Executor/Executrix will be allowed to set a hearing with the court where the court will appoint that person as Executor/Executrix, and that person will then take an oath. Once the Executor/Executrix has been appointed and taken their oath, Letters Testamentary (often called “Letters”) will be issued. It is these Letters that let third parties know the Executor/Executrix has the authority to act on behalf of your estate. Within three months after receiving Letters, the Executor/Executrix will be required to file an inventory, appraisement and list of claims or an Affidavit in Lieu of Inventory, which must be provided to all beneficiaries in the Will. Once Letters have been granted, your Executor/Executrix is able to take whatever steps and actions are necessary to administer your estate without any further court involvement.

When there is not a Will to probate, then there are several options that your family will need to consider and then decide on the best probate option based on the particular facts, circumstances and type of assets in your estate.

Dependent Administration: A dependent administration is the most common type of administration that is created when you die without a Will in place. In order to have your assets distributed, someone, usually a family member, must apply to the court to be appointed as dependent administrator. A dependent administrator MUST have court permission to take any action with regard to your estate such as distributing money, selling property, etc. The dependent administrator must also file an annual report every year that the administration is open, which is usually several years. Because of these factors, a dependent administration is very time consuming and costly to your family.

Independent Administration with Heirs’ Consent: There is a possibility that, if all of your heirs agree, they can ask the court to allow the agreed-upon applicant to serve as an independent administrator, without the requirement of court supervision (much like if you had died with a Will that allowed independent administration). However, this means that all heirs must agree upon the same person to serve as independent administrator and that all heirs are adults who have not been adjudicated incapacitated. While that seems easy enough, you will be surprised how the possibility of money can turn family against one another, and if you had a child who predeceased you but left grandchildren, then you may end up with a minor beneficiary who does not have the legal capacity to agree to such an appointment.

No matter if your family chooses to go the route of a dependent administration or an independent administration with consent, each of those options requires an additional step that is not required when you die with a Will. The court will be required to determine who are your legal and proper heirs, which is accomplished via a process called a “Heirship Determination” or “Judgment to Declare Heirs”.

In an Heirship Determination, the court will appoint an “attorney ad litem” whose job it is to determine that the heirs that are listed in the application for either dependent administration or independent administration with consent are true and accurate, that no heirs have been omitted, and to confirm that there are no unknown heirs. The cost for the attorney ad litem is paid by the decedent’s estate, and the costs can range anywhere from about $500 to a $1,000 or more depending on how much work the attorney ad litem is required to undertake to determine the heirs. However, as an estate has not yet been officially opened, the cost usually has to come directly out of the applicant’s pocket until the estate is opened, and then the applicant can be reimbursed by funds from the estate.

Even if you believe that you have taken all the steps necessary to have your assets pass directly to your heirs, it is important that you also execute a basic Will as a safety net for assets that are later acquired, assets that you forgot you owned, or in the event a direct beneficiary predeceases you. For example, 401(k) plans can pass outside of probate and directly to a specific beneficiary by listing them as a beneficiary on the required forms with your plan administrator. However, if you don’t list a beneficiary or the beneficiary you list predeceases you and you fail to update your beneficiary, then in order for your 401(k) funds to be distributed, the plan administrator will want authorization from the probate court. If you did not have a Will, then this would be accomplished via a Heirship Determination, at the minimum. However, if you had a Will, then this could be accomplished via the simpler and cheaper independent administration with the issuance of Letters Testamentary.

The extra steps that are required to administer your estate if you die without a will can be time consuming and a drain on your loved ones, both financially and emotionally.

At Murray | Lobb, we have the expertise in estate planning and probate matters to ensure that your passing does not become a burden on your family. We can assist you with executing a Will, updating a Will, executing a Statutory Power of Attorney, a Medical Power of Attorney and a Physician’s Directive (also known as a Living Will). While you are at our office executing your Will, be sure to ask us about the steps you can take to have most of your assets pass outside of probate and directly to your heirs.