This has been coming up a lot lately – a person calls me to discuss his or her estate planning, but has hit a roadblock – there’s no one they trust enough to appoint as their personal representative/executor, trustee, or agent on their financial or health care powers of attorney. Or, maybe they have one person they trust – a spouse, child, or sibling – but no one to name as a backup to that person. They need “helpers.”
When this happens, money matters. If you have some liquid assets (bank or investment accounts), hiring a professional to serve in those roles makes sense. There are large and small trust companies to handle your assets and your estate, and there are professional fiduciaries, accountants, lawyers, and care managers who will serve as your “helpers” for a fee. There’s no fee for just naming them in your estate planning documents – the fees are incurred when the professional actually steps into the role.
But what if you don’t have sufficient liquid assets to pay for a professional? Realistically, your best bet is to name those family members and friends who likely won’t take a fee for doing all the work – especially if they’re also your beneficiaries. Fees are taxable income but gifts are tax-free. If you can name at least one person as a helper, that’s better than nothing.
But what if the only person you named as a “helper” can’t or won’t serve when the time comes? Well, if you’re not around (physically or mentally) a judge is going to appoint someone for you. It could be some relative that crawled out of the woodwork that you wouldn’t trust to take care of your dog. Or it could be a professional guardian that came up next on the county’s rotating assignment list. If you have assets, they will be used to pay for your helper’s fees. If you don’t have any assets, then the taxpayers will pay your helper a minimal fee to take care of you.
But as long as your have excellent estate planning documents in place, any person who serves as your “helper” will be bound by those documents unless a judge modifies them.
So, if you have a limited bench of people who can or will serve as your “helpers” when the time comes, and you have a nice nest egg, do some homework and find good professionals to name as your potential “helpers” on your estate planning documents. Your estate planning attorney should be able to supply you with some recommendations.
If you have minimal assets that would be quickly eaten up by fees, then really dig deep to find family and friends who would be willing and able to serve. Ask your friends who may be in the same boat whether you can serve as “helpers” for each other.
But rest assured that even if you’re completely destitute, someone will be appointed to take care of you when needed, as soon as DCF, a neighbor or friend, or a family member makes the courts aware of your situation.
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Ready to make sure everything’s in order for your loved ones in the event you become incapacitated or die? Give Manasota Elder Law a call at 941-444-5958. We’ll help you determine whether you’re all set, or whether there are still some things that need to be done to protect what’s most important to you … your family.