Powers of Attorney
A Last Will and Testament is a must to establish your choice as it becomes your voice upon your death. Estate Planning must also consider who will be your voice if you are not able to speak for yourself due to accident, illness or disability.
A Living Will is a combined document of Advanced Directive and Health Care Power of Attorney. The Advanced Directive allows you to choose a preference of medical treatment options. The Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to choose an agent to make decisions for you. Remember, even if your agent has been making decisions for you, if you are able to communicate your choice to your health care provider, your choice will control.
1. Financial Power
A General Durable Power of Attorney allows you to appoint another to act on your behalf, to sign legal documents as your Agent, and to manage your affairs when you cannot. This is sometimes referred to as the financial power of convenience because it can be useful when you are on vacation or when you are temporarily unable to get to the bank (perhaps from a broken leg where you cannot leave home) or if you become disabled and are no longer able to manage your own financial affairs. There are many different types of powers of attorneys and many forms available for inexpensive use. Executing a power of attorney without discussing it with a legal professional can lead to litigation amongst your family and friends. Many protections are available to allow you to appoint an Agent to act as your legal representative with assurance that your Agent cannot spend your assets on herself. Gifting through powers of attorneys should be discussed before you execute your power of attorney. Recent case law has created much concern as to the effectiveness of powers of attorneys. If your Power of Attorney was created many years ago, you should have your Power of Attorney reviewed by a legal professional. Lara Anne Dodsworth, Esq. is currently handling several power of attorney disputes.
2. Health Care Power
A Health Care Power allows you to appoint another to make medical decisions for you when you cannot communicate your choice to your physicians and also allows you to let your choice be heard on important medical decisions. A Health Care Power is important planning regardless of the amount of assets an individual has. There are many different legal components of a Health Care Power such as a Health Care Power of Attorney; an Advanced Directive; a Healthcare Proxy, a Living Will. Taking time to discuss the Health Care Power when planning can held avoid family disputes and litigation. Classic disputes include when to pull the plug, when to push for surgery on elder patients, when is the patient considered incompetent to make her own decisions. Health Care Powers can also alleviate pain and suffering by family members left making tough medical choices when tube feeding, experimental surgery and palliative care have not been discussed. Advanced Directives can eliminate the guilt your loved one will feel if they are left deciding when to stop your treatment without first discussing with you these very emotional and very personal medical decisions. Lara Anne Dodsworth, Esq. has made HealthCare Powers a vital part of her estate planning practice. She recognizes that religion and other personal beliefs play a part in each person’s choices and has tailored health care powers for individuals.
Powers of Attorney may be made to take effect immediately upon signing or upon your disability. Neither is right or wrong. Each individual and his family dynamic is unique. Springing powers which take effect only upon disability are useful in certain situations. What is most important is that you understand the terms of the power you make, that you understand how to use the power (by providing it to your bank and financial advisor), and that you understand how to revoke or cancel the power if you so choose.
We review and discuss powers of attorney as part of our estate planning services or by itself. We also encourage and are available at execution of the documents to meet with both you and your agent to discuss your agent’s role and responsibilities in your power of attorney.
3. Estate Administration
Although it is never easy when a loved one dies, we will guide you through the probate process and the administration of the decedent’s estate. Lara Anne Dodsworth, Esq. actively administers estates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. New Jersey residents may not have to file an Inheritance and Estate Tax return if the total assets are under a certain amount. However, every person who dies a resident of Pennsylvania is subject to Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax. However, not every estate must be probated. When a person dies with a will and the estate is probated, the Register of Wills will provide Letters Testamentary. When a person dies without a will and the estate is probated, the Register of Wills will provide Letters of Administration. The person who assumes the duties of carrying out the terms of the will becomes the Executor/Executrix (male/female with a will) or the Administrator/Administratrix (male/female without a will). When a person dies owing more money to creditors than the assets he owns, specific procedures must be followed and the family should avoid making any payments without discussing the estate with an attorney. Family members must make decisions quickly. Estate Planning can offer your executor the answers to these questions. However, even when your loved one failed to plan, being able to consult with an attorney is helpful and consulting with an attorney early in the administration of an estate may avoid unnecessary costs, avoid paying too much tax, and reduce attorney fees. Pennsylvania offers a discount when making a payment of inheritance tax within three months of the date of death. If the attorney is not consulted until right before the deadline, it is unlikely that the family will be able to take advantage of that savings. When a non-attorney prepares the Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax return and tax is overpaid, it is extremely time consuming and difficult to obtain a refund. The attorney fee to obtain the refund may equal the amount of the refund or be greater than the refund so that a refund is not pursued.
Schneider and Dodsworth utilize common sense solutions throughout estate administration. When mom names all five children as Executor/Personal Representative in her will, common sense foresees the difficulties that will follow in attempting to have five individuals sign each document, making each small decision. The solution is simple when some of the children renounce their right to act. When you can’t find your girlfriend’s will, common sense prevails when an attorney can sort through the documents and locate the original will quickly and easily. When disputes arise over personal belongings like the washing machine, common sense solutions will help avoid litigation, assisting the family in reaching agreement each individual can live with. When wills have not been updated or wills executed without estate planning, we can sometimes use disclaimers to avoid large tax payments. When there is no will or the will doesn’t name the proper people, disclaimers may offer easy solutions to have certain beneficiaries receive the assets. These options are sometimes referred to as planning after death. It is always good common sense to consult with an attorney when a loved one dies.
Lara Anne Dodsworth, Esq. actively administers each estate with the goal of avoiding litigation when possible. However, when family members cannot agree; or insolvent estates create creditor disputes, it may be necessary to allow a judge to decide when children should be evicted from mom’s home, when brother and sister simply cannot agree; when sisters should forfeit their fiduciary commission for failure to properly inventory and sell personal items of dad, when girlfriend is entitled to executrix commission since boyfriend died without a will and his distant cousins agree that girlfriend is entitled to share in the assets of the estate, when brother agent under power of attorney must repay the estate for assets gifted under the power of attorney and prior to dad’s death, when nephew files an account failing to mention the antiques and art collection sold after uncle’s death; when step mom fails to distribute assets to adult children when dad died without a will. We actively represent estate litigation matters and often are successful in having a family settlement agreement avoid the expense of going to court.