IBA: Estate Planning 101 for Lawyers – Are You Prepared?

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By Rebecca Geyer, Hollingsworth & Zivitiz

Rebecca Geyer Geyer

As an estate planning attorney, I regularly counsel clients about disability and death planning. If truth be told, however, I’m not always good at following my own advice. Attorneys procrastinate as much as the clients we represent, too often getting caught up in our daily endeavors and failing to make sure our own affairs are in order. As fall approaches, I’m making time to review my estate planning, and I encourage you to do the same. Here are a few issues you might consider:

Wills and Trusts. If you have yet to do so, I strongly recommend taking the time to put a will or trust in place. Wills and trusts provide a mechanism for you to designate how and to whom your assets will pass following your death and who should administer such distribution. There are numerous ways to plan for the division and distribution of your assets to address potential concerns such as education planning, children with special needs, long term care concerns, or a beneficiary’s poor financial management skills. If you have minor children, your estate planning should address the issue of guardianship to ensure your children are raised by the people of your choice should you die. Although a will should address guardianship, don’t overlook Indiana’s new standby guardian statute (Ind. Code § 29-3-3-7) which allows the parent of a minor or the guardian of a protected person to designate a standby guardian for the minor or protected person in a written declaration. The designated standby guardian begins serving as guardian of the minor or protected person upon the death or incapacity of the parent or guardian. The statute is intended to ensure that a minor or protected person has a legal guardian in place until a petition for guardianship of the minor or protected person can be heard following the parent’s or guardian’s death.

Planning for Disability. Just as important as wills and trusts are documents designating someone to make financial and health care decisions on your behalf should you be unable to make such decisions yourself. A Power of Attorney allows you to designate someone to handle financial transactions for you should you be unable to act on your own behalf. Many married couples assume a Power of Attorney is unnecessary if their accounts are owned jointly as the non-disabled spouse can continue to access funds and pay bills. While this is true, a joint owner does not have authority to sign for you to sell or refinance an asset without legal documentation granting them such power. Most people also own at least one account, such as a retirement plan or life insurance policy, in their individual names, making a Power of Attorney necessary so that someone has authority to act on such accounts if the owner becomes disabled. Without a properly executed Power of Attorney, your family may be left with no choice but to pursue legal guardianship to access your finances in the event of your disability.

Health care documents are also extremely important. An Appointment of Health Care Representative or Health Care Power of Attorney allows you to designate someone to make medical decisions for you if are unable to speak for yourself. A properly designated HIPAA Release is also imperative. Since the passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), most medical providers will not speak to your family members about your medical condition without a HIPAA release so as not to violate your privacy rights. Indiana law also allows you to determine whether you want your life artificially prolonged by tubes and machines in a Living Will or Life Prolonging Procedures Declaration. If you have specific wishes for your funeral, you might also consider executing a Funeral Planning Declaration.

Review Your Existing Plan. If you have an existing estate plan, when was the last time it was reviewed? Numerous changes in Indiana and federal law may result in unintended consequences if your estate plan is not updated. Outdated estate tax clauses may require the unnecessary division of your assets at your death or result in loss of control for the surviving spouse. Reviewing the titles to your assets is also a must. Even with properly executed estate planning, your assets may not pass the way you envision. The title of your assets trumps your estate planning documents so carefully review each account to ensure you know exactly how it passes at your death. You may wish to take advantage of Indiana’s expanded Transfer On Death Act to transfer assets such as bank accounts, real estate, and motor vehicles at death without probate. If you have a living trust in place, are your assets titled in the trust’s name? Non-probate assets such as retirement plans and life insurance policies pass by beneficiary designation. Do you have primary or contingent beneficiaries named on such accounts? Failing to name a beneficiary on your life insurance policy may subject the proceeds to Indiana inheritance tax should the policy become payable to your estate. If you’ve set up a trust for your minor children, have you changed the beneficiary designations on your insurance policies and retirement plans so that such assets flow into the trust at your death? If your minor children are designated as the beneficiaries of your accounts, Indiana law will require a guardianship or protective order to collect such account proceeds (if they exceed $10,000), and they may pass to your children at age 18 instead of under the terms of the trust you established. You should also consider the income tax implications of your beneficiary designations. Proper planning can maximize the amount of retirement assets passing to your beneficiaries while deferring the payment of income tax over the course of such beneficiaries’ lifetimes.

Review Your Practice Contingency Plans. Do you have plans in place for your legal practice should you be unable to work or die? Now is the time of year we pay our annual dues to remain active lawyers in the state of Indiana. Part of the annual registration process is the designation of an attorney surrogate to cover your practice should you become disabled or die. Have you considered who this individual should be for your practice? If you are a solo practitioner, this issue is of extreme importance. Who will handle your cases should you be unable to work or pass away? Do you have disability insurance in place to cover your overhead expenses and provide you with income if you are unable to practice law? Taking time to consider these issues now can help alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty when the unexpected occurs. So practice what we preach and get your own planning in order this year.•


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  1. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  3. Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh who is helping Sister Fuller with this Con Artist Kevin Bart McCarthy scares Sister Joseph Therese, Patricia Ann Fuller very much that McCarthy will try and hurt Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh or any member of his family. Sister is very, very scared, (YES, I AM) This McCarthy guy is a real, real CON MAN and crook. I try to totall flatter Kevin Bart McCARTHY to keep him from hurting my best friends in this world which are Carolyn Rose and Paul Hartman. I Live in total fear of this man Kevin Bart McCarthy and try to praise him as a good man to keep us ALL from his bad deeds. This man could easy have some one cause us a very bad disability. You have to PRAISAE in order TO PROTECT yourself. He lies and makes up stories about people and then tries to steal if THEY OWN THRU THE COURTS A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO PROTECT, EX> Our Lady of America DEVOTION. EVERYONE who reads this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL of Kevin Bart McCarthy of Indianapolis, IN My Phone No. IS 419-435-3838.

  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.