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Boston Elder Law Blog

How to know if a conservatorship is the right choice

There are some people who, as they age, may need help to do their daily activities. If their physical and cognitive abilities decline, a family member or another person may step in to assist them. For some people, official legal action may be needed in order to fully help that person. A court may decide to grant a conservatorship, which is when someone becomes the legal guardian of an adult. For families here in Massachusetts who aren't familiar, here is a brief explanation of what a conservatorship entails.

A conservatorship is granted by a court when a person doesn't have the mental abilities to make his or her own choices. The person may have an illness such as Alzheimer's, be in a coma or have a permanent mental disability that inhibits the individual from making informed choices. The conservatorship can differ in length, which could be short term, temporary or permanent. It may also only cover certain aspects of a person's life, such as financial decisions or those that pertain to the person's physical well-being. The conservatorship could also be full, meaning the conservator can make all choices for the person, or it may be limited, only allowing the conservator to have control over specific areas.

Is estate planning important for those without children?

Many people here in Massachusetts realize how vital it is to have an estate plan. It is important to be sure assets are distributed in the way the estate owner wants, and to have directives in place if that individual is unable to make his or her own financial and medical decisions. Typically, many people appoint their children as their executor, especially since their children will likely inherit their estate. However, many people do not have children, so the importance of estate planning may not seem as tangible. Fortunately, experts have advice on how to handle an estate plan for those who do not have children.

The main point is that the estate owner will need to decide on someone else who can serve as his or her agent. That person may be a friend, another relative or even a professional. The agent may have to make several different kinds of choices regarding the estate, so it is imperative that that person be someone trustworthy.

Answer these questions to determine whether you need a trust

You may be among the many Massachusetts residents who wonder what estate planning tools will work best for your plan. It may seem like a blessing and a curse to have so many planning options. On one hand, you can ensure that you find the best options for expressing your end-of-life wishes, but on the other hand, you may feel overwhelmed by the various tools available.

One tool in particular that often gives individuals pause is a trust. You may immediately think that you do not need a trust because this tool is only for the wealthy, but you would be mistaken. Trusts come in various types and can be helpful to people for a number of reasons, regardless of income level.

Wills: Could Ric Ocasek's unresolved divorce affect his estate?

When people in Massachusetts get divorced, they likely know that they need to change any existing estate plan that is already in place. They may change their wills, designate new beneficiaries or review their health care directives. But what happens to a person's estate if he or she dies before the divorce is finalized? Though that scenario sounds far-fetched, it can happen, and is actually the case for the estate of Ric Ocasek, former lead singer of the band The Cars.

Ocasek was married to model Paulina Porizkova for 30 years. They started their divorce back in 2018, but hadn't finalized matters by the time he died in September of this year. He decided to update his will before he underwent surgery, with new terms that established four of his six children as the only beneficiaries of his estate, meaning that he didn't want Porizkova to inherit anything. He also stated specifically in the will that Porizkova "abandoned" him. The use of that specific word may mean that Porizkova cannot inherit any part of the estate.

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.