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Pittsburgh Elder Law Blog

How to avoid most guardianship matters

Guardianships, if possible, should be avoided. How? By planning ahead and preparing an estate plan which includes Durable Financial Powers of Attorney as well as Healthcare Powers of Attorney and Living Wills. These documents permit you to name an agent to handle financial matters and an agent to make medical and end-of-life decisions.

Why is it better to avoid guardianships? If a family member is the subject of a guardianship proceeding, it means being involved in a court proceeding. If often means that no estate planning was done. A judge in Orphans' Court would need to appoint a guardian to make decisions on your behalf, who may not be the person that you would have chosen.

What should you know when you get started on estate planning?

If there is one thing that Pennsylvania residents can agree upon when it comes to estate planning, it is that the whole process can be somewhat of a mystery. Where do you start? What estate planning documents are right for you? Is it so bad to die without a will? All of these questions are completely understandable. But, it is best to start at the beginning. So, where do Pennsylvania residents start when it comes to estate planning?

Well, the first step is understanding that, no matter what you think of your assets or finances situation, it is best to have an estate plan. Many surveys and studies suggest that the majority of American adults still haven't reached this point. In fact, it has been reported that an estimated 60 percent of adults in America do not have any type of estate planning documents. With no estate plan, the law of the state in which you reside at the time of death determines how your assets are distributed.

The duties of the Executor of a Will

Who handles probate and estate administration for a decedent? Pennsylvania residents are probably aware that it is the Executor named in the decedent's Will. Many people consider it an honor to be designated as the Executor, but they do not fully understand the duties of the executor of a will. When these duties are explained, most individuals know that they will need the help of an experienced estate attorney to properly fulfill their responsibilities.

At first blush, being the Executor might seem like a fairly straight-forward job: marshal the assets of the decedent, pay off debts and taxes and finally distribute the remaining assets to the designated beneficiaries.

Dementia can lead to guardianship of a loved one

Guardianships may be needed for loved ones with dementia. Why? It can be hard for Pennsylvania residents to watch their relatives grow old. We all know that, for many people, old age can come with certain symptoms which may sometimes be debilitating, like vision problems and memory loss issues. But, in some cases, these symptoms of "old age" could be symptoms of something much more serious, like dementia.

Memory loss is one of the known symptoms of dementia. There are others as well, such as communication issues and difficulty with planning, as well as anxiety, agitation and inappropriate behaviors. When Pennsylvania residents begin to notice these types of symptoms in a loved one, guardianships may be needed, especially if the person has not planned ahead and had powers of attorney prepared to appoint someone to handle medical and financial matters.

What is 'elder law' and how can it help Pennsylvania residents?

Long term care planning is only one area covered by attorneys who practice "elder law." What is meant by that term? Most Pennsylvania residents are familiar with some of the most common areas of law: personal injury, medical malpractice, divorce and criminal law, for example. But, for those thinking about estate planning, long term care planning and how they will be able to accomplish their financial goals as they get older, the area of "elder law" may be something with which to become more familiar.

What is "elder law" and how can it help our readers? Well, there are a number of legal and practical issues faced by people as they grow older or that family members may face for aging relatives. These issues are grouped together and addressed by attorneys who practice "elder law."

What happens to powers of attorney following death?

Powers of Attorney are written by Principals to give authority to Agents to handle financial matters. When the Principal passes away, the Power of Attorney ends. Misunderstandings sometimes occur when a friend or relative is given authority to deal with financial matters under a Power of Attorney (POA) and tries to continue handling these matters after the Principal has passed away.

Mistakes are made

It is usually an innocent mistake. If you have POA to pay the Principal's bills and that person dies, you may feel it is only common sense to write checks for the outstanding bills.

That's the mistake.

The moment a person dies, the POA also dies. From that point on, bills are to be paid by the personal representative of the decedent's estate.

Taking the right steps in probate and estate administration

Estate administration and the probate process can be complicated, with many different options for every person's unique circumstances. It takes training, attention to detail and no small amount of patience to handle matters in this area of law.

In Pennsylvania, the family members of a person who dies will have quite a few responsibilities in the immediate aftermath when it comes to the person's estate. If the person died without a will or other estate planning documents in place, state law will determine the distribution of the person's estate. This can be a painstaking process for the probate court, and the costs for it will come out of the estate. Often, the result is not what the person would have wanted, and not what the heirs need.

Don't let your mom battle dementia alone

Your mom is pretty much a superhero. When you were younger she taught you, disciplined you and nurtured you. You will never forget that time you fell and scraped your knee on the pavement. It bled, and she scooped you up into her arms as if you weighed nothing at all. Your mom bandaged your knee and held you close. She soothed you, humming in that special way only mothers can.

She never really took a sick day, and always put on a tough face when things were in disarray. Your mom guided you through childhood and now, as an adult, you still look up to her.

Discussing estate planning with your children

Previous posts here have mentioned how many people wait until later in life to begin seriously thinking about estate planning. So, the reasoning should be that most people over the age of 50 probably have estate planning documents in place, right? Well, according to an AARP survey, only about 60 percent of adults between the ages of 53 and 71 have any kind of estate planning documents.

For some people, one of the biggest drawbacks about estate planning is how their children might react to their expressed preferences on asset distribution. The vast majority of people leave their possessions, funds and other assets to their children. And, not only do people worry about what their children will think, they also worry about how their children will use their inheritance.

Get the right information about Medicaid planning

Medicaid/Medical Assistance planning should be an important consideration for many Pennsylvania residents who are thinking about how to cover the cost of medical expenses. Despite the efforts of the federal government, health care costs in America continue to rise. When it comes to medical expenses, Pennsylvania residents need to think about Medicaid/Medical Assistance planning and the possibility of using their own funds to cover a nursing home stay.

Medicare is health insurance that can help cover certain medical expenses. Medicaid, on the other hand, is a program funded by the state and federal governments, which may help Pennsylvania residents pay for some medical expenses if the eligibility standards are met.

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