Estate Administration

A HIPAA Waiver: Do I Need One?

It has happened to all of us. You make a visit to the doctor’s office and while checking in, the receptionist asks you to read and sign something about HIPAA. HIPAA? You came in for fever and a sore throat, your hip feels just fine, thank you very much. So what is the receptionist talking about? HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

Your Buy-Sell Might Be Great If You Die, But What Happens If You Live?

In the previous issue of this newsletter, we looked at what happens to a company when one owner becomes disabled. In our example, the company had a buy-sell agreement that covered the death of an owner, but failed to adequately address the cash flow implications of a lifetime event (divorce, disability, bankruptcy or retirement of a shareholder).

Few owners (or their advisors) give much thought or analysis to the likelihood of a lifetime transfer. Instead they focus all of their attention on dealing with the least likely event—an owner’s death. Yet, in our experience, lifetime transfers occur much more frequently, and when they do can cause huge problems.

Lifetime Buyout of a Co-Owner

When disability strikes an owner, the company will endure substantial hardships, both economic and operational. More importantly, in the absence of a buy-sell agreement, the disabled owner’s income stream from the company also may evaporate. This problem confronted Steve Hughes, one of three equal shareholders in a growing advertising agency.

At age 38, Steve suddenly had a stroke. As with many stroke victims, his recovery was incomplete. Physically, he was the picture of health (his golf game even improved!); but he totally lost his ability to speak and read. Doctors told Steve he would never be able to return to work.

Steve’s firm had a buy-sell agreement, but it covered only a buyout at death and an option for the company to buy Steve’s stock if he were to try to sell it to a third party. Trying to find and sell closely held stock to a third party is a difficult proposition anytime; Steve’s disability made it impossible. Even if his fellow shareholders had wanted to continue his salary, they did not have the resources to do so indefinitely.

Big Changes, Critical Decisions: Divorce and Estate Planning.

This week, I was visiting with a client of mine who has been married more than once. The questions that this client had for me centered around whether there was anything that needed to be done in her estate planning after a divorce.

The fact is, there is a great deal that must be considered when a divorce takes place. Getting a divorce decree from the courts is only the beginning. Here are some things that should be dealt with as soon as possible after a divorce that can have a major impact on your estate planning:

1. You should carefully review your guardianship nominations for your minor children in your will or other legal documents and update them if necessary. This ensures that should something happen to you, your children will end up with the caregivers that you would prefer. Often, a divorce drastically changes your previous views on this issue.

2. Update your Health Care decision documents. In Utah, you should execute a new Advance Health Care Directive that helps you to designate whom you would want to make health care decisions for you if you were incapable of doing so. Often, these documents have not been changed after a divorce and in an emergency, and an ex-spouse is contacted about health care decisions by the doctors. This is exactly what happened in the case of Gary Coleman here in Utah. His ex-spouse was still named as the health care agent in his legal documents. Thus, she made decisions about his health care. And even though that may have been what Mr. Coleman would have wanted, it is still unclear if that was the case.

The Top 10 Benefits of a Comprehensive Power of Attorney

The benefits of a highly detailed, comprehensive power of attorney are numerous. Unfortunately, many powers of attorney are more general in nature and can actually cause more problems than they solve, especially for our senior population. This issue of our newsletter is intended to highlight the benefits of a comprehensive, detailed power of attorney. A proper starting point is to emphasize that the proper use of a power of attorney as an estate planning and elder law document depends on the reliability and honesty of the appointed agent.

The agent under a power of attorney has traditionally been called an "attorney-in-fact" or sometimes just "attorney." However, confusion over these terms has encouraged the terminology to change so more recent state statutes tend to use the label "agent" for the person receiving power by the document.

The "law of agency" governs the agent under a power of attorney. The law of agency is the body of statutes and common law court decisions built up over centuries that dictate how and to what degree an agent is authorized to act on behalf of the "principal"--the individual who has appointed the agent to represent him or her. Powers of attorney are a species of agency-creating document. In most states, powers of attorney can be and most often are unilateral contracts--that is, signed only by the principal, but accepted by the agent by the act of performance.

Amy Winehouse's House: Not So Orderly After All?

A few months back, I shared a report by Forbes magazine indicating that the late singer, Amy Winehouse, had done a good job of estate planning. It was reported that she had updated her estate planning documents shortly after her divorce to reflect her wishes that he not inherit her wealth were anything to happen to her.

However, Forbes is now reporting that an intestacy proceeding has been filed in court with a majority of her estate being listed as the assets that must pass through probate. What does this mean? It could mean a number of things:

Guitar Shopping Anyone?

Merry Christmas! December and all of the holiday celebrations that this month brings has finally arrived. My kids are bouncing off the walls already. Last night, I took each of them to the store to help them pick out presents for their siblings and mother. After we got them all wrapped back at home, our little girl asked if she was going to get to open them tomorrow. I told her, “No. We still have about 20 days before you can open them.” I couldn’t help but feel her pain as a drawn-out whimper of despair escaped her lips while she tried to comprehend the eternity of the next 20 days. Ahhh, waiting for Christmas morning. What torture!

December is also a big birthday month in my family. Last Saturday I had the chance to go with my nephew Talmage to Guitar Center to help him look for a new electric guitar that his parents wanted to get him for his birthday. Of course, my doing so wasn’t entirely selfless as I will jump at any opportunity to go to Guitar Center and play with the big boy toys that fill my dreams on these long winter nights.

Sorry Folks, That Ship Has Sailed

It is not uncommon for my office to receive a call from a panicked family member of an elderly individual. The call may go something like this:

Caller: Hi, I'm calling to see how much it costs to get some estate planning done for my mom.

Paralegal: We'd be happy to help you if we can. Why don't you first tell me a little bit about your mom.

Caller: Okay. Well, mom's not doing too well these days. She's in an assisted living facility and mostly doesn't recognize us anymore. Although she sometimes has good days, most of the time she's confused and is asking for her husband who died three years ago.

Paralegal: Okay. What kind of property does your mom have?

Caller: Well, she has a home that's paid for. She has a brokerage account, a checking and savings account, some farm land in Tooele and I think she has some municipal bonds that she invested in once. But I'm not really sure.

Paralegal: Does your mom know what property she owns and does she understand its value?

Caller: Oh heavens no! She put me on her checking account years ago because she was so overwhelmed with trying to manage her finances. I don't think she has a clue how much she owns, nor could she keep it straight even if we told her.

Paralegal: I think we can help you, but you'll need to meet with an attorney to discuss some of the legal implications of your mother's situation.

Although this above excerpted conversation is a fictitious example, and a very abbreviated one at that, it illustrates a trap that many people fall into with regard to estate planning.

The Dark Side of Longevity

Historical census data has shown that in the U.S. in 1900, 100,000 people were age 85 and over. In the year 2000, this age group numbered 4,239,587. In 2020, the number will be 6.5 million, and in 2050, it will have grown to 17,970,000!

Clearly, people are living longer today, in greater numbers, than they ever have (disregarding Methuselah of course!) throughout recorded history. Our medical care providers have succeeded in keeping us alive for much longer than they have in the past. As wonderful as this medical technology is, it has not come without costs. With that longevity comes a host of other problems.

Winehouse Had Her Legal House In Order

I’ve briefly discussed the case of the late Amy Winehouse before. She was young, very talented, and had found financial success and notoriety as an R&B singer. Here’s a great video of one of her performances in case you’re not familiar with her.

In the past, I’ve pointed out times when celebrities have really dropped the ball when it came to estate planning. And more often than not, when an estate plan fails big, it’s not that an estate plan was never done, it’s that an estate plan WAS done, but it was out of date or did not reflect the current wishes of the deceased individual.

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