Kenneth Vercammen, Esq is Chair of the ABA Estate Planning & Probate Committee and presents seminars to attorneys and the public on Wills, Probate and other legal topics related to Estate Planning and Elder law.

New clients email us evenings and weekends go to www.njlaws.com/ContactKenV.htm

Kenneth Vercammen is a Middlesex County trial attorney who has published 130 articles in national and New Jersey publications. He was awarded the NJ State State Bar Municipal Court Practitioner of the Year and is a lecturer for American Bar Association on Estate Planning for Same Sex Couples. He was a speaker at the ABA Annual Meeting attended by 10,000 attorneys and professionals.
To schedule a confidential consultation, call

Kenneth Vercammen & Associates, P.C.

2053 Woodbridge Avenue - Edison, NJ 08817

(732) 572-0500

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Estate Planning after Divorce

Estate Planning after Divorce or Break Up.
         By Kenneth A. Vercammen, Esq. Author ABA’s “Wills & Estate Administration” book
Source: ABA Estate Planning after Divorce or Breakup ABA GP Solo Magazine July 2016
          If you do not write a Will, the government has already written one for you. Your assets go to whoever a state law says receives the assets, or to the government itself!
          As average Americans, we work 80,000 hours in a lifetime, or 45 to 55 years. In the havoc after a break up, many persons forget to have a Will done to assure assets and decisions are taken out of the hands or the ex spouse and ex spouse’s family.
         In spite of all our resources and the assets we earn during our lifetime, the vast majority of Americans do not take the time to create the legal instructions to guide the court or a guardian upon their death. National statistics indicate that more than 50% of Americans foolishly die without leaving a Will. In the absence of a Will  or other legal arrangement to distribute property at death, the problems often arise and a Judges decides who gets custody of your children and handles your money. This process is called the law of intestacy. The result can be lengthy delays in the distribution of your estate, court battles between relatives and your children being raised by someone you do not favor. Without a Will, your family will have to pay substantial costs for accountants, attorneys, bonding companies and probate fees.
         In planning, make sure your assets go to your loved ones or favorite charity, not an "ex". Therefore, we advise our separated or divorced clients to do the following:

1)            Have an Estate Planning Law attorney prepare a Will to distribute your assets to the people you care about the most. If you already have a Will, prepare a new Will and have the old Will revoked. (Your estate planning attorney will explain this to you.) Usually a new executor is selected, who will also serve as funeral agent.
          Although in many states under law a divorce removes the ex spouse as a beneficiary, it does not remove the ex as executor or receiving assets under a bank POD or joint account. Don’t ever use with a cheap online form that often is not filled out correctly. Self prepared documents are often not witnessed right and are not admitted to probate. Have an experienced attorney prepare the estate planning documents who will do it right. I could change my car oil and repair the lawnmower, but I now prefer an experienced mechanic do that. You can also create specific bequests so nice jewelry or family heirlooms go to a selected child. Otherwise the executor can just sell them at the pawn shop. You can also direct in your Will a child be excluded from inheriting. Example- they testified against you in divorce court.
        
2)  Prepare a Power of Attorney to select someone to handle your finances if you become disabled. Have your old Power of Attorney revoked. This means your attorney or you should send notices to banks and your accounts to indicate the prior Power of Attorney is invalid. If you have children over age 18, have your attorney prepare a Power of Attorney for the  over 18 children so the custodial parent can still have access to their records and pay their bills if they are in an accident.
3)  Select a new beneficiary on assets you may own, such as stocks, transfer upon death brokerage accounts, bank accounts, IRA, retirement accounts, 401k, payable upon death accounts POD , and other financial assets. Make sure you see the actual change in beneficiary in writing. Don’t rely on a phone call from the company that accounts are revised. Even if a court approved divorce decree states that a beneficiary should be changed, make sure you have changed the beneficiary designations. Remember, even a new Will does not change account beneficiaries on non-probate assets.
          Change passwords on all online accounts and notify them in writing that the former spouse is not permitted excess to records.
4)  Change your beneficiary under your own life insurance, whether whole life insurance or term insurance. Again, don’t just rely on language in a divorce decree to make sure your wishes are followed. If the ex-spouse is required to obtain life insurance to pay to you or your children, you want to see proof of the insurance in writing with beneficiary designation.
5)  Contact your employer's human resources and change the beneficiary on pension, stock options, life insurance,  and other employee benefits. Note that if you are not yet divorced, your spouse may have to sign a written waiver permitting you to change beneficiaries.
6)  Keep your personal papers at a location where an ex-spouse or the child's parent can't steal or destroy them. 
7)  If you have minor children, nominate someone under a Will to serve as guardian to the children. Although the surviving parent obviously has first right of custody of children, they may not even want custody. You don’t want your ex in-laws to have custody of your children or access to the children’s money. A new Will specifically shows a Surrogate and Probate Judge you’re your wishes are. If no Will, then a judge can only guess.
         Also set up a Trust in the Will so children and grandchildren receive funds when they are 21, 25 and 30. Preserve money for college and necessary expenses, not a windfall to buy an expensive car when they turn 18. Also don’t make the minor children beneficiary of big life insurance policies, because they automatically receive when they turn 18. Instead, you can make your estate the beneficiary of life insurance and other accounts. How many 18 year old kids would spend money wisely? Seek assistance of estate planning attorney, don’t try to do everything yourself.
         A trust also protects the beneficiary if there is a lawsuit and judgment against them.
8)  Make sure the trustee for any funds designated for your children is the "right" trustee. The former in laws may no longer be the best choice.
9) Re-title real estate, cars and other assets in joint names. Usually a new Deed will have to be prepared. If there is a mortgage, either a refinance or consent of mortgage company to remove your name from the mortgage. [Good luck with that.]
10)  In New Jersey, if you are still married and living with a spouse, under certain instances the surviving spouse has a right to "elect against the Will".      The disinherited spouse may try to elect against the Will and try to obtain one  third of the estate. Your attorney can explain how you can protect yourself and your children.     

11) Have a new Living Will / Advance Directive for health care/ medical proxy prepared to remove the ex and select a family member you trust with last medical wishes. The Living Will should contain new HIPPA language to advise doctors and hospital who should have access to medical information. You don’t want an estranged person to be able to make Medical decisions or “Pull the plug”. A divorce decree does not remove the ex-spouse on Medical Power of Attorney/ Living Will. They should have a new Living Will prepared.

Separated persons
          Some clients are not aware they can have a new Will and other estate planning documents prepared prior to a formal divorce decree. To the contrary, our office drafts Will for individuals in marital difficulty who want to protect their assets and children in the event of an unexpected, sudden death.  A personal can have a new Will and estate planning documents without telling their spouse.
          If spouses are living together, the surviving spouse in many states can Elect against the Will and obtain 1/3 of the augmented estate. See Uniform Probate Code 2-201. A married person can also confidentially revoke a Power of Attorney, Living Will, Trust etc. However, the original attorney cannot prepare new documents if the attorney also prepared documents for the other spouse. The original attorney in some states may be required to notify the other spouse. Therefore, a new, independent attorney is suggested whose only loyalty is to you.
          It is important to prepare new documents if separation has started or is inevitable since someone does not want their some of be ex to make financial and medical decisions. However, typically a spouse cannot be removed as a beneficiary under pensions, etc without that spouse’s written consent.
          You can select a funeral agent so your estranged spouse does not handle funeral arrangements.
          Also speak with your divorce attorney to inquire if you can take out 50%  of assets in a joint account and deposit in a new account payable death to adult children, not the estranged spouse.
          If you own a small business, prepare a contingency plan if you become disabled for someone to run your business.

          Second marriage
         If you decide to get remarried, have your attorney prepare a prenuptial agreement, so your children can inherit your assets.  You want your children, not new spouse, to receive your assets if you pass away. In many states, persons put their assets into Trusts for the benefit of a child. However, if the trust is revocable, Medicaid will include the trust assets as available money. In blended families, irrevocable trusts are useful because a Will can be revocable by a competent person without telling their spouse.

          If You Have No Will after someone divorces:                               
          If you leave no Will or your Will is declared invalid because it was improperly prepared or is not admissible to probate:

1. People you dislike or people who dislike and ignore you may get some of your assets or control assets. If you are not divorced and die without a Will, under the uniform probate code your spouse will receive 100%  of your estate if all the children are from the same relationship. State law determines who gets assets, not you.
2. If you have minor children, the County Surrogate will hold the child’s money until age 18 and it is difficult and time consuming to petition the Surrogate to release funds for payment of tuition, medical bills, clothing etc.
3. Additional expenses will be incurred and extra work will be required to qualify an administrator-Surety Bond, additional costs and legal fees
4. You Lose the opportunity to work with your attorney to try to reduce Estate Tax, State inheritance taxes and Federal estate taxes
5. A Judge determines who gets custody of minor children. A greedy brother or crazy mother in law could ask the court for custody. The parent of your children may try to control the assets of your children and not properly spend the money
6. It probably will cause fights and lawsuits within your family
        
 ESTATE PLANNING TO PROTECT CHILDREN
        There may come a time when an unmarried parent is unable, due to physical or mental incapacity, to take care of their minor children. If a parent dies, the minor children will need a guardian. In these circumstances, those caring for the children, as well as the courts will need direction. By writing and executing a Will, which includes instructions on guardianship one may select someone, either individually or jointly, with the legal authority to act for minor children and assume control over the assets of the children. Estate planning, which includes the execution of a Will, is just as important for persons with minor children as they are for senior citizens.

Guardians
     Most individuals appoint the parent to act as Guardian of the person and property of their minor children. It is suggested that your Will include a clause which provides that in the event the other parent predeceases you, or is unsuitable or ceases to act as Guardian of the person and property of your minor children, you appoint a trusted family member or close friend to act as successor Guardian of the person and property of your minor children.
          Sometimes the divorce is amicable and the person may still wish to have their ex –spouse be executor of their Will or Trustee of a trust for children. New estate planning documents should still be signed after the divorce to confirm they want to ex to remain involved in a potential estate.

Trustee for funds
     Select a trusted person, your close relative or friends, who will invest and hold your children's money. If divorced or unmarried, most people do not select the other parent. In your Will and Trust you can instruct the Trustee to apply amounts of income and principal as they, in their sole discretion, deem proper for the health, maintenance, education, welfare, or support of your children or other minors. Direct that the trustee shall accumulate any income not needed for the above purposes, paying and transferring the portion held in trust to the beneficiary upon his or her attaining the age of majority or whichever age you select. 

     Conclusion

        While the preceding article contains possible items to be discussed with your family, attorney  and executor, the article is by no means exhaustive.  A number of these items may not be applicable in your situation, and probably there are many others that are applicable.  The essential element is to spend some time now considering what you should tell those most closely associated with you to facilitate their handling of your affairs upon your death.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

POWER OF ATTORNEY AND ESTATE PLANNING FOR GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES

POWER OF ATTORNEY AND ESTATE PLANNING FOR GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES
"Provide for Your Loved Ones"
By Kenneth A. Vercammen

         As average Americans, we work 80,000 hours in a lifetime, or 45 to 55 years.  In spite of all the resources and assets we earn, the vast majority do not take the time to create a Power of Attorney.
        
         National statistics indicate that 80% of Americans die without leaving a Will.  Even more do not have a Power of Attorney.  There are several reasons for this: fear of death; procrastination; and misinformation (people presume that only the terminally ill, rich or married with children need to have Living Wills).  Whatever the excuse, it is clear that people would benefit from having a Power of Attorney.

         In the absence of a Power of Attorney or other legal arrangement to distribute property if you become disabled, your partner cannot pay your bills or access your assets.  The result can be lengthy delays.

         Reasons to have a Power of Attorney
        
What are these powers of attorney?

       A Power of Attorney is a written document in which a competent adult individual (the "principal") appoints another competent adult individual (the "attorney-in-fact") to act on the principal's behalf. In general, an attorney-in-fact may perform any legal function or task which the principal has a legal right to do for him/herself. You may wish to sign a Power of Attorney giving your partner the power to handle your affairs if you become ill or disabled.
         In the absence of a Power of Attorney or other legal arrangement to distribute property if you become disabled, your partner cannot pay your bills or access your assets. The result can be lengthy delays.
         The term "durable" in reference to a power of attorney means that the power remains in force for the lifetime of the principal, even if he/she becomes mentally incapacitated.  A principal may cancel a power of attorney at any time for any reason.  Powers granted on a power of attorney document can be very broad or very narrow in accordance with the needs of the principal.

Why is Power of Attorney so important?
      
       Every adult has day-to-day affairs to manage, such as paying the bills.  Many people are under the impression that, in the event of catastrophic illness or injury, a live-in partner, or child can automatically act for them.  Unfortunately, this is often wrong, even when joint ownership situations exist.  Even under the new New Jersey Domestic Partner Act, you cannot act on behalf of a partner if they become disabled.  A Power of Attorney allows your partner or another person to administer your assets during your lifetime, either upon disability or now.

         The lack of a properly prepared and executed Power of Attorney can cause extreme difficulties when an individual is stricken with severe illness or injury rendering him/her unable to make decisions or manage financial and medical affairs.  New Jersey has a detailed, expensive legal procedures, called Guardianships or conservatorships, to provide for appointment of a Guardian.  These normally require lengthy, formal proceedings and are expensive in court. This means involvement of lawyers to prepare and file the necessary papers and doctors to provide medical testimony regarding the mental incapacity of the subject of the action.  The procedures also require the involvement of a temporary guardian to investigate, even intercede, in surrogate proceedings. This can be slow, costly, and very frustrating. In addition, the domestic partner can be challenged in a guardianship by the incapacitated person's family members.
        
         Advance preparation of the Power of Attorney could avoid the inconvenience and expense of guardianship proceedings.  This needs to be done while the principal is competent, alert and aware of the consequences of his / her decision.  Once a serious problem occurs, it is usually too late.
        
         The Power of Attorney can be effective immediately upon signing or only upon disability.  Some examples of legal powers contained in the Power of Attorney are the following:
        
1.  REAL ESTATE:  To execute all contracts, deeds, bonds, mortgages, notes, checks, drafts, money orders, and to lease, collect rents, grant, bargain, sell, or borrow and mortgage, and to manage, compromise, settle, and adjust all matters pertaining to real estate.

2.  ENDORSEMENT OF NOTES, ETC.:  To make, execute, endorse, accept, and deliver any and all bills of exchange, checks, drafts, notes and trade acceptances.

3.  PAYMENT OF NOTES, ETC.:  To pay all sums of money, at any time, or times, that may hereafter be owing by me upon any bill of exchange, check, draft, note, or trade acceptance, made, executed, endorsed, accepted, and delivered by me, or for me, and in my name, by my Agent.

4.  STOCKS, BONDS, AND SECURITIES:  To sell any and all shares of stocks, bonds, or other securities now or hereafter, belonging to me, that may be issued by an association, trust, or corporation whether private or public, and to make, execute, and deliver any assignment, or assignments, of any such shares of stock, bonds, or other securities.

5.  CONTRACTS, AGREEMENTS, ETC.: To enter into safe deposit boxes, and to make, sign, execute, and deliver, acknowledge, and perform any contract, agreement, writing, or thing that may, in the opinion of my Agent, be necessary or proper to be entered into, made or signed, sealed, executed, delivered, acknowledged or performed.

6.  BANK ACCOUNTS, CERTIFICATES OF DEPOSIT, MONEY MARKET ACCOUNTS, ETC.:  To add to or withdraw any amounts from any of my bank accounts, Certificates of Deposit, Money Market Accounts, etc. on my behalf or for my benefit.  To make, execute, endorse, accept and deliver any and all checks and drafts, deposit and withdraw funds, acquire and redeem certificates of deposit, in banks, savings and loan associations and other institutions, execute or release such deeds of trust or other security agreements as may be necessary or proper in the exercise of the rights and powers herein granted; Without in any way being limited by or limiting the foregoing, to conduct banking transactions.

7.  TAX RETURNS, INSURANCE AND OTHER DOCUMENTS:  To sign all Federal, State, and municipal tax returns, insurance forms and any other documents and to represent me in all matters concerning the foregoing.

       You should contact your attorney to have a Power of Attorney Prepared, together with a Will, Living Will and other vital Estate Planning documents.

If you haven't yet updated your Living Will power of attorney to reflect current federal privacy rules, it's time to do so. If you don't have a POA, you should think about obtaining one, especially if you're getting up there in years. According to the Home News Tribune "Update Health Care POA" January 17, 2003, page 5, Health Care Powers of Attorney (Living Wills) are directives that appoint a relative, friend or some other party, known as an "agent", to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can't do so, for reasons ranging from injuries sustained in a car crash to incapacity resulting from dementia. Health care POAs can be written as stand-alone documents but typically are included along with a living trust, a more comprehensive estate-planning tool. It's best to have a lawyer write a POA for you, and it's wise to have an attorney insert any changes. The Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which took effect in 2001, makes it wise to prepare a Living Will and Power of Attorney. These Federal HIPAA regulations aim to safeguard patient medical records by imposing privacy rules on doctors, pharmacists, other medical staff, insurance companies and so on. HIPAA calls for fines - in some cases, stiff ones- and even prison terms for disclosure violations, thus making health care providers think twice about giving out a patient's information to others.
"Powers of Attorney need to be adjusted to allow our clients immediate and hassle-free access to the medical records of the parents and other loved ones on whose behalf they are acting", wrote Arizona attorney Thomas Murphy in this months issue of Arizona Attorney, a publication of the State Bar. We recommend new health care POA Living Wills that would cover the following points: A statement directing physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, insurers and others to release a patient's health records to the agent. Murphy emphasized these directives should be updated to include specific references to HIPAA. The biggest problem is that many insurers will not honor any pre-April POAs, yet agents often must confer with insurance companies before the firms will pay a patient's medical bills.

         A Power of Attorney is an appointment of another person as one's agent. A Power of Attorney creates a principal-agent relationship. You, the grantor of the Power of Attorney, are the principal. The person to whom you grant the Power of Attorney is your agent. The agent is normally called an "attorney-in-fact." The attorney-in-fact does not become the owner of your property, but is merely permitted to deal with it within the terms set out in the Power of Attorney. Since an attorney-in-fact has the power to deal with your property, you, naturally, must be careful to give such a power only to a trustworthy person. You have entrusted to your attorney-in-fact those powers which are stated in your Power of Attorney.
             The Power of Attorney if effective upon signing is a "durable power." This means that if you should become incompetent and be unable physically or mentally to handle your own affairs, the Power of Attorney, nevertheless, will continue to be as good as it was on the day that you signed it. If you become incompetent, the Power of Attorney will terminate only upon 1) a Court's declaring you to be incompetent or 2) upon your death. The attorney-in-fact may continue to use the Power of Attorney and acts performed under the Power of Attorney will be valid until either of those two events occurs, after which time acts performed by the attorney-in-fact will no longer be valid. Consequently, even if you become incompetent but no Court declares you to be so the Power of Attorney will still be effective.
      Most people who give a Power of Attorney to someone else do it with the thought that if they should become ill or incapacitated or if they should travel, the Power of Attorney will permit the holder of it to pay their bills and to handle all of their affairs for them as limited in the Power of Attorney. This is what your attorney-in-fact may do for you under the Power of Attorney which I have prepared for you.
       The granting of a Power of Attorney is not like the creation of a joint tenancy in property. Under a joint tenancy, each of the joint tenants has a property interest in the property so held, whereas, a person holding a Power of Attorney, while having the power to deal with the property, does not own any part of it nor can that person become the owner of it under the Power of Attorney by virtue of the Power of Attorney itself. This, however, does not prevent the holder of the Power of Attorney from transferring the property to himself or herself. This is another reason for giving such a power only to one whom you can trust.
        Whenever your attorney-in-fact exercises any of the powers granted under the Power of Attorney, your attorney-in-fact must be prepared to show the Power of Attorney to anyone who questions the right to use it. If your attorney-in-fact deals with the title to real estate, it will be necessary for the Power of Attorney to be recorded. I see no reason to record the Power of Attorney until such time as property may be conveyed unless there is fear that the document might be lost.
Occasionally when real estate is dealt with by an attorney-in-fact, an abstractor or a title insurance company will raise a question regarding the use of the Power of Attorney. Unfortunately, there is no way that we can control this. This is indeed unfortunate, but you have no other inexpensive recourse when you use a Power of Attorney.
Kenneth A. Vercammen is an Edison, Middlesex County, NJ trial attorney who has published125 articles in national and New Jersey publications on business and litigation topics. He often lectures to trial lawyers of the American Bar Association, New Jersey State Bar Association and Middlesex County Bar Association. 
He is a highly regarded lecturer on litigation issues for the American Bar Association, ICLE, New Jersey State Bar Association and Middlesex County Bar Association. His articles have been published by New Jersey Law Journal, ABA Law Practice Management Magazine, and New Jersey Lawyer.  He is the Editor in Chief of the New Jersey Municipal Court Law Review. Mr. Vercammen is a recipient of the NJSBA- YLD Service to the Bar Award.
               He has served as a Special Acting Prosecutor in nine different cities and towns in New Jersey and also successfully handled over One thousand Municipal Court and Superior Court matters in the past 18 years.
In his private practice, he has devoted a substantial portion of his professional time to the preparation and trial of litigated matters.  He has appeared in Courts throughout New Jersey several times each week on Criminal personal injury matters, Municipal Court trials, and contested Probate hearings.  He serves as the Editor of the popular legal website www.njlaws.com

KENNETH  VERCAMMEN & ASSOCIATES, PC
ATTORNEY AT LAW
2053 Woodbridge Ave.
Edison, NJ 08817
(Phone) 732-572-0500
(Fax)    732-572-0030
website: www.njlaws.com
www.CentralJerseyElderLaw.com