Is Your Family Crisis Ready?

Recently, my mother-in-law suffered a sudden medical crisis and was on life support for about a 24-hour period. We are so grateful that she survived. Everyday we pray that she gets stronger and reaches the next milestone in her recovery.

When a crisis touches your family, it happens when you least expect it. That’s why it’s called a ‘crisis’ and not an ‘appointment.’ You can’t exactly plan for it. But you can be ready. Like it or not, you need to think about how your family would fare in a situation like this. Here are some thoughts and tips I’ve pulled together during my time in the ICU waiting room:

  1. Make sure that your adult kids have a way of getting into your house in an emergency.
  2. A Designation of Health Care Surrogate and Living Will aren’t just documents that you sign at a lawyer’s office. They’re part of a conversation you must have with your family about where you stand on tough medical choices.
  3. The Durable Power of Attorney is the unsung hero of estate planning documents. (It’s “durable” because it still works when you’re mentally incapacitated, i.e. on life support or in a coma).
  4. In many states, if you’re married, your spouse can’t sell property without your signature. So if you’re incapacitated and you have real estate for sale, your spouse will need to postpone the sale or petition the Court for guardianship.
  5. A good health insurance agent will answer your questions over the phone. But a great one will visit you at the hospital and walk your family through your coverage.
  6. Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of long-term care. That’s why long-term care insurance policies and life insurance policies with benefit access riders are important.
  7. When people put off this kind of planning because they think they don’t need it…. or don’t want to spend the money…..or just don’t want to think about it, and there’s a crisis, the cost (money, time and emotions) is A LOT more.

 

Attorney Myrna Serrano Setty doesn’t just draft documents, she guides her clients so that they have peace of mind, no matter what happens. To find out how you can get a valuable Planning Session with Myrna for free, call her office at (813) 514-2946.

 

What You Need To Know About Guardianship

Whether through illness, injury, or other means, anyone can require a guardian to become appointed if they become mentally incapacitated. In such cases, if there is no estate planning in place (or insufficient planning) to keep family or other loved one’s out of court, a guardianship, or conservatorship as it is sometimes called, must be established via a court process in the county probate court.

Obtaining guardianship can be an extraordinarily challenging and expensive process. It begins with filing a petition in court for guardianship and requesting the court declare the incapacitated person incompetent. In some cases, these types of filings are made “ex parte”, or in secret, and a guardianship can be established before family or close friends even know what’s happening. In other cases, such a filing can result in a heated dispute between family members and/or friends, who may claim they’d be better suited for the role. Given this, things can get quite costly very quickly.

Of course, this assumes these matters haven’t already been decided through proper and up-to-date estate planning, including a valid durable power of attorney and advance health care directives, which are the best methods for ensuring this massive responsibility is handled as effectively as possible. Sadly, most people don’t think of the costly possibility of incapacity and therefore leave their families at risk.

If you do have a loved one who needs a guardian, here are some of the things you’ll need to know:

Who can be appointed as guardian?
Unless specified in a valid legal document, any family member or other interested person can petition for guardianship—even a close friend can do it if they prove they’re best suited for the position. That said, most courts give preference to the ward’s spouse or other close family members. In some cases, the guardian is required to post a bond, which typically requires good credit and some level of deposit to be held in the event of the guardian’s wrongdoing. This bond requirement often disqualifies friends and family, who either don’t have good credit or the resources to post a bond.

If a relative or friend is not willing—or capable—of serving, the court will appoint a professional guardian or public guardian. This is one of the ways that an estate can be drained extremely quickly. If you want to hear more about how this can happen, read this terrifying article about the way public and professional guardians are stealing from our elders.

When are guardians appointed?
A guardian will only be appointed if a court determines there is enough evidence to show a person is mentally incapacitated, such that they can no longer make legal, financial, and/or health-care decisions.

What are a guardian’s responsibilities?
Depending on the extent of the ward’s mental capacity, a court-appointed guardian can be given near complete control over a person’s life and finances. Some of the most common duties include:

  • Paying the ward’s bills
  • Determining where they live
  • Monitoring their residence and living conditions
  • Providing consent for medical treatments
  • Deciding how their finances are handled, including how their assets are invested and if any assets should be liquidated
  • Managing real estate and other tangible personal property
  • Keeping detailed records of all their expenditures and other financial transactions
  • Making end-of-life and other palliative-care decisions
  • Reporting to the court about the ward’s status at least annually

The extent of duties the guardian is responsible for is up to the court, and the guardian will not be allowed to act in areas the court has not authorized. Moreover, guardians are required to seek the ward’s preferences whenever possible—though ultimately, the decision about what action to take will be in the guardian’s hands.

The court can also divide out responsibilities to multiple parties. For example, one person may oversee the financial decisions, while another handles living arrangements and health-care decisions. What’s more, the court often requires detailed status reports, such as financial accounting, at regular intervals or whenever important decisions are made, such as the sale of assets.

Are guardians paid?
Yes, guardians are entitled to reasonable compensation for their services based on the ward’s financial ability to pay. The appointed guardian is paid directly from the ward’s estate. In most cases, the compensation must be approved by the court ahead of time, and the guardian must carefully account for all of their services, the time spent on tasks on behalf of the ward, and any associated out-of-pocket expenses.

Given the huge level of responsibility and loss of control that comes with guardianship, the best course of action would be to get proper and updated estate planning in place ahead of time to ensure that if you or anyone you love becomes incapacitated, you can stay out of the court process altogether if possible.

Contact our firm to schedule a Planning Session—first for yourself—and then for the people you love before something happens to make it too late to plan. If it’s already too late and you’re reading this article because you need help petitioning a court for guardianship, contact us now to mitigate the risks, hassles, and expense.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she helps you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and your loved ones. That’s why Myrna offers a Planning Session during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Flying With Kids? Read this.

Image result for travel with kids

Plan Your On Flight Entertainment
The only thing worse than a long flight is a long flight with kids, so don’t ever come unprepared. Consider loading your kid’s backpack with boredom busters like books, crayons and snacks. And of course, there’s electronics that you can load with kids’ games. Just make sure the electronics are fully charged and bring the chargers on the plan with you.

Book a suite instead of a room.
Book a suite so your family has space to spread out, and you’ll often have a refrigerator for snacks and drinks.  It especially comes in handy at night when young kids go to bed early so that parents can stay awake in the living room.

Make seat assignments early.
Don’t wait to make seat assignments. Reserve your seat assignments early, so you don’t have to haggle with strangers to take your middle seat for their aisle seat just so you and your child can sit together.

Don’t Schedule Short Layovers.
We’ve all been there….running through the airport trying to catch a connecting flight. It is SO much worse with kids in tow. Give yourself at least 1.5 hours between flights and you can use any extra time to buy yourself a treat or take a break.

Be clear about who is responsible for which bag (and then be prepared to carry everything yourself).
Pack smaller bags inside a bag that you’re responsible for and then repack the items before your plane lands. For example, keep legos and activities in a ziplock bag and each child is responsible for packing up that bag and returning it to you.

Plan less
Your itinerary with kids should list one single thing to do each day. Plan to spend more time doing that one thing, and getting to and from there, and don’t try to squeeze in more. You’ll be so tired you won’t enjoy it. The journey is part of the fun for kids, so allow time for taking a look at parks, buildings and trains on route to your actual destination.

Have a Disaster Recovery Plan for Important Information
If you’re flying internationally, make a photocopy of each passport, itinerary and important phone numbers, and place the copies in each bag that you are taking. Remember to include phone numbers for folks at home, because if you’re like me, you don’t remember a lot of other people’s phone numbers. Limit the credit cards that you are taking with you and make sure you write down the telephone numbers you’ll need to report the card if it’s stolen. And while you’re at it, remember to call your credit card company ahead of time so that they’ll know you’re traveling.

These are just a couple of tips to get us started. I’ll be posting more throughout the summer.

Wishing you and your family well,

Myrna Serrano Setty, Esq.