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Kennett Square Probate & Estate Administration Law Blog

Durable, limited, whatever: Power of attorney is a flexible tool

Pennsylvania law stipulates that a power of attorney is presumed to be a durable power of attorney. As we explained in our Sept. 8, 2014, post, the authority conveyed with a power of attorney differs significantly from the authority conveyed with a durable power of attorney. The question is not really about what the agent (the person accepting the responsibility) can do. Rather, it is about how long the agent's authority lasts.

Generally, a power of attorney remains in effect up to the point that the principal (the person granting the authority) dies or becomes incapacitated. Under a durable power of attorney, the agent retains the authority during the principal's incapacity and even after the principal's death.

Robin Williams' estate put in the spotlight

It is not at all uncommon when a celebrity or some famous personage dies that a spate of talk arises regarding the individual’s estate plan—what they did well, what they overlooked, and how we can all learn some lesson from their example. Robin Williams is among the most recent to be subjected to this scrutiny, and we’re happy to participate in the chatter. After all, we can indeed learn valuable lessons from the way the rich and famous handle their estates.

In Williams’ case, the details of his estate plan are not entirely clear, but it seems that he did not leave a Last Will and Testament. Rather, he had in recent years set up a couple of trusts, one for his real estate and another one in connection with his divorce from Marsha Garces. In that trust, which appears to be more connected to the divorce, he provided for his three children. The real estate trust was set up, at least in part, to achieve tax savings, which was a smart move. 

Joan Rivers' death a high-profile exercise of power of attorney

When comedian Joan Rivers went into cardiac and respiratory arrest during an outpatient procedure, the public vigil began. For the following six days, it felt as if news outlets reported on her condition hourly. While everyone outside of her hospital room waited for a change in Joan's condition, her daughter Melissa was facing a difficult decision.

According to a variety of news sources, Joan had drawn up a durable power of attorney that named her only child, Melissa, as her agent. It would be up to Melissa, the reports said, to make any decisions about her mother's care -- including the decision to remove the 81-year-old entertainer from life support.

Melissa did just that, and, on Sept. 4, her mother passed away.

Orphans' Court protects people who cannot protect themselves

Probate and estate matters are governed by state law. The federal government may tax an estate, but it does not handle will contests or, for example, guardianships. Pennsylvania does not have a probate court, per se. Rather, it has Orphans' Court.

We are one of two states to have an Orphans' Court, so the term may sound unfamiliar or even antiquated. The first step to understanding what the court does, though, is to understand that the term "orphan" has a broader definition than the one we are used to, the one in novels by Charles Dickens. Orphans in this case are people who lack protection; the Orphans' Court steps in to protect the rights, both personal and property, of Pennsylvanians who cannot handle their affairs on their own. Minors, incapacitated individuals, decedents, nonprofits and trusts are all included in the court's jurisdiction.

Do you know how a special needs trust could help your child?

Do you have a special needs child? A child with a disability that will keep him from managing day-to-day living? You know you are not alone. Looking ahead, though, you worry that your child will be alone and unable to care for himself. Whether the disability is congenital or is the result of an accident, all you know is that you will not be around forever to look after him.

A good trust attorney can help you ensure that your child is taken care of, no matter what happens to you. Your attorney will walk you through the options -- yes, there are options -- and help you decide which planning tool is best for your child.

PA law keeps 'finders' finders not keepers

Life insurance looks pretty straightforward on the surface. You purchase a policy and name a beneficiary, you pay the premiums, you die, and the insurance company pays the beneficiary.

The problem is that years can pass between the day you name the beneficiary and the day you pass away, and you may not have updated your beneficiary information in all that time. Your beneficiary, let's say it's your nephew, has moved a few times, and you lost touch in your last years. How does the insurance company find your nephew?

US House to estate tax: We'll repeal you in September

Only a few states have their own death taxes, and Pennsylvania is one of them. A good estate plan will take both the state's inheritance tax and the federal estate tax into consideration. If the U.S. House of Representatives has its way, though, the federal tax may be nothing more than an unpleasant memory.

In September, when Congress returns from its summer vacation, the House is expected to have a full vote on a bill that would eliminate the federal estate tax, eliminate the generation-skipping transfer tax and permanently change the gift-tax rate to 35 percent with a lifetime exclusion at $5 million.

Dear beneficiary: It seemed like such a good idea at the time ...

While we tell ourselves and our kids not to wait until the last minute to do something, the U.S. Supreme Court seems to hand out its big decisions right at the end of the session. It is impossible to know if the docket is the cause, if the court spends extra time deliberating and crossing t's on some cases or if, perhaps, the court enjoys building anticipation before the justices leave for the summer.

One of the decisions handed down near the close of the 2013 session involved retirement accounts -- specifically, inherited retirement accounts. The decision got us to thinking about how important it is to consider a variety of possible scenarios when planning retirement or devising an estate plan

Women outlive men, but are they as careful with estate planning? p2

We just saw an article about the gender wage gap. According to the White House, women in the U.S. -- and in Pennsylvania, for that matter -- make just 77 percent of what men make. That leaves roughly half the workforce 23 cents short for every hour they work. That wage gap, if nothing else, should be an incentive for women to be especially careful in their retirement and estate plans.

The goal, then, is to be careful with your savings and your retirement income. For the most part, we would rather not use up our retirement money on medical bills. But some of us face a real risk of a long final illness. Or we know that living alone could mean recuperating from an accident in a nursing home.

Women outlive men, but are they as careful with estate planning?

It is a mixed blessing, really, that women tend to live longer than men. On one hand, the extra years -- about six, according to researchers -- give women more time to spend with family and friends, a couple more elections to vote in and a few more Chester County's Fourth of July celebrations to enjoy.

On the other hand, though, women may have six more years of medical expense to bear, or they may have six years of living without their husbands and their husbands' retirement benefits. There are as many risks as there are opportunities, it seems.

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Larmore Scarlett LLP

Larmore Scarlett, LLP
123 E. Linden Street,
P.O. Box 384

Kennett Square, PA 19348

Phone: 610-444-3737
Fax: 610-444-9532
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