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Boston Elder Law Blog

Estate planning, power of attorney important for college students

Being in college often gives many Massachusetts residents their first taste of adulthood. They may live on campus and away from their parents for the first time and have to find ways to address many adult issues on their own. What some may not consider, however, is that now may be the time to start estate planning.

Many people think of estate planning as something that an elderly person needs to do, but really, estate plans can help any adult. Many college students may not realize that their parents no longer have the legal ability to make decisions on their behalf should a serious problem arise, like a medical emergency. If a college student ends up in a situation where medical wishes cannot be communicated, his or her parents cannot simply make those decisions.

Correctly signing documents on behalf of an estate

As the executor of your loved one's estate, you know that you will have to see the estate through the probate process. You may worry about certain aspects of completing the proceedings because you already know that probate can be difficult to complete. Though it can be a trying experience, you can gain useful information on the various activities you will have to do.

One simple element that may give you pause is how to sign documents on behalf of the estate. After all, you cannot sign your loved one's name because he or she is no longer living and to do so could be considered fraud. Because you certainly do not want to put yourself in a situation where you could face negative repercussions, you will want to understand how to sign estate document correctly.

Numerous types of trusts exist. Which is right for you?

Creating an estate plan is a very personal experience. Many Massachusetts residents may even think that they can put off planning until they're older or that it is something that they do not need to go through at all. However, this type of thinking is not always the best, and really, anyone can benefit from getting their wishes in order.

In particular, you may want to think about creating a trust to help you get your final affairs squared away. Like many people, you may think that trusts are only for individuals with a considerable amount of wealth, but that is not the case. People at various asset levels could benefit from having trusts, but because everyone has different planning needs, you could choose from various types of trusts.

The differences between guardianship and power of attorney

Many people know how important it is to designate someone to make medical and legal decisions for them in their old age or if they should otherwise become unable to do so. However, there is more than one way to accomplish this and people may not know exactly what choice is the best for them. One way is to establish guardianship and another is to designate someone as a power of attorney. Families in Massachusetts may not know the differences between the two, so here is an overview of each option.

First, a health care or medical power of attorney designates someone to make medical choices for a person who cannot. It may also outline exact medical choices that a person wants or does not want in relation to end of life care, although Massachusetts is one of a few states that do not recognize living wills as binding legally. A general durable power of attorney is slightly different in that it gives the designated person the ability to make legal and financial choices on the principal's behalf, and it is not invalidated should the principal subsequently become disabled or incapacitated.

Elder care admin accused of fraudulently using powers of atty

Senior citizens in Massachusetts often need assistance with their care as they age. Some of them live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities to ensure that their needs are met, particularly when their families don't live nearby or are unable to provide care themselves. While most of these places treat patients with the highest level of care, there are others that fail to do so. This is what one assisted living facility administrator is accused of doing, after authorities charged her with fraud and other crimes related to her claim to have powers of attorney for a resident.

Authorities say the woman used her position as a unit coordinator to acquire power of attorney over an alleged victim. They report that afterwards, she established the victim as a resident of her assisted living facility and then used the victim's assets without permission. Officials say the woman used the money to buy herself several homes, cars and cover her basic living expenses. They also claim that she filed a false tax return on behalf of the victim and embezzled Social Security benefits.

Have you experienced a major event in your life recently?

If you have experienced a major change in your life, then you may need to stop and assess certain details. Major life events can necessitate numerous changes in how you live your life. You make adjustments as needed in order to find a new normal in your life and then move forward.

As you make changes to accommodate the recent changes in your life, you may want to consider reviewing your estate plan as well. Even if you reviewed it within the last couple of years, this event could require modifications in order to keep your plan relevant.

Woman accused of mishandling professional guardianships

Many people in Massachusetts have concerns regarding how to handle their end-of-life care. Some may not be able to rely on their families, particularly if they live far away or if they do not have a relationship with them. Some may choose to rely on a professional guardian for medical and financial decisions. While that can be a wonderful choice for many, there are those who do not have a positive experience with guardianships. One out-of-state case involves a woman accused of fraud surrounding several guardianships she claimed to be handling.

The problem came to the attention of the legal system when a man died after she allegedly filed a "do not resuscitate" order without his family's permission. Investigators found that she had 450 guardianships at the time of the man's death. They say that she billed a local medical system for almost $4 million over a decade despite less than a third of her clients being part of the state guardianship system. Investigators also found instances where they say the woman double-billed the medical system, or even billings for cases that weren't hers.

Long term care planning should start early

It is easy to think about and plan for the fun things the future may hold. Planning a weekend getaway may be infinitely more exciting than planning a presentation for work. It is human nature to procrastinate preparing for difficult times or events because this may mean a person must think about all the things that could go wrong. Perhaps this is why so few people in Massachusetts take the time to do long term care planning.

When seniors become too frail or incapacitated to take care of themselves, it may be too late to do any effective planning for long term care. The time to make those plans is years before, ideally beginning during the prime earning years between ages 25 and 45. However, a recent report reveals that long term care planning is not always near the top of the list of priorities for many individuals.

Why is probate taking so long?

The days and weeks following the death of a loved one can be emotional. Family members are often busy preparing, supporting each other and dealing with the practical matters, such as funeral plans. Soon enough, however, they must deal with the Massachusetts estate of their loved one, and that means beginning the probate process.

It is common for family members to want to move forward with their lives, but probate often keeps them in a holding pattern. The simple purpose of probate is to resolve any unfinished business, such as taxes and unpaid bills, so the rest of the estate can be divided among the heirs. However, probate can be frustrating, especially if heirs are uncertain what is going on and why it is taking so long.

What are the differences between wills and trusts?

Most families recognize just how important it is to have a comprehensive estate plan. The problem they may encounter is just what facets of an estate plan make the most sense for their personal financial circumstances. Many people in Massachusetts wonder whether using a will or a trust is the right choice. Fortunately, experts have advice when comparing wills and trusts.

First, any property listed for distribution in a will needs to go through probate. This process can be time-consuming and may not be cost-effective for everyone. The probate process is public, meaning a will might be more likely to be challenged, though some people think that is actually a good thing. A will may also make it easier to transfer different assets into or out of a person's estate. Even with any potential disadvantages, most experts say that any estate should have a will.

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