Legislature Tinkers With Power of Attorney Law

The Maryland legislature once again has tinkered with the law governing powers of attorney in Maryland. That law includes Power of Attorney Forms, which if used, or if one’s power of attorney is “in substantially the same form” as one of the form documents, then the law bestows certain rights on the holder of the power of attorney, namely, the right to obtain payment of one’s legal fees from the person or institution who refuses to honor the power of attorney where a legal action is taken to compel acceptance. This right to legal fees differs from the general “American rule” of jurisprudence which holds that each litigant in a legal action must pay his own legal fees.

Unfortunately, the forms in the statute are generally not sufficiently comprehensive and lack certain important provisions.

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October Brings New Laws Affecting Probate in Maryland

There are several new laws affecting probate in Maryland that became effective October 1, 2012. This article will address those statutory changes.

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When a Mere Guardianship is Not Enough

Father, who had been enjoying late middle age, had a brain aneurysm and now is in a permanent coma. Unfortunately, he did not have a power of attorney or advance directive, so his adult son could not access his bank account, in which he had $20,000. He has no other assets. Father’s hospital and nursing home bills now exceed $300,000.

Son applied for Medicaid for his father but was denied benefits because Medicaid will not be allowed if Father has more than $2,500. Unfortunately, without a power of attorney, no one has the authority to spend the funds in Father’s bank account so that he can get Medicaid benefits.

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Do I need a Lawyer to Apply for Medicaid?

Mr. GoodSon is in a bind. His mother has been in a nursing home for over a year. He applied for Medicaid when mother first entered the facility, and although the Medicaid caseworker indicated to him that the application was fine, she ultimately denied the Medicaid application because mother had a few hundred dollars too much in her bank account. So GoodSon reapplied for Medicaid. This time, he could not get all the bank statements requested by the Medicaid caseworker from the bank. GoodSon again got the message not to worry about it, but in the end the Medicaid application was denied for failure to submit all the requested information

You’ve heard the old adage, “the third time is a charm”. So it was in this case, too. However, while the third Medicaid application was successful and Medicaid was granted, it was granted with a 6 month penalty period, or period of Medicaid ineligibility as a consequence of mother having made gifts to family members in the years prior to entering the nursing home.

By the time Medicaid started to pay, there was well over $100,000 in outstanding charges at the nursing home, and mother had no money to pay it. Mr. GoodSon is retired with only his house and barely adequate retirement savings. Nevertheless, the nursing home sued both mother and Mr. GoodSon. However, it is GoodSon who is at risk of losing everything — mother already is destitute.

To make matters worse, Mr. GoodSon did not seek my assistance until a few days before the court was to enter summary judgment — in other words, the nursing home was about to get a judgment against mother and Mr. GoodSon for the outstanding debt because Mr. GoodSon had been pursuing his legal defense without a lawyer.

We quickly ascertained that GoodSon had a number of defenses to the lawsuit, and we were able to defeat summary judgment notwithstanding the short time I had to do so. We next educated the lawyer for the nursing home about the reasons his client could not collect the entire outstanding balance from Mr. GoodSon. Indeed, Medicaid and nursing home collection law is highly complex. Having done so, we were able to persuade the nursing home to settle the matter for a fraction of the outstanding balance.

Fortunately for Mr. GoodSon, he sought out competent legal assistance not a moment too soon. Had he not done so, he could have suffered financial devastation.

While Mr. GoodSon and his mother are an extreme case, many people find themselves paying tens of thousands of dollars more than they have to by attempting to navigate the complex matter of paying for nursing home care without proper guidance.

Don’t let yourself fall into the trap that caught Mr. GoodSon — seek out competent counsel as soon as possible if you or a loved one will require nursing home care.

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Medicaid Waiver and the Young

Some people require skilled care services even at a young age. For example, some people in their early 50′s with advanced Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis find that the only way to afford needed services is to reside in a nursing home where Medical Assistance will cover the costs of care.

Unfortunately, while such people need intensive physical care, they often do not suffer from dementia and are decades younger than most other nursing home residents. Consequently, a nursing home would not to be the most appropriate care environment from a socialization point of view.

The good news is that in Maryland and other states, the Medicaid program sometimes will waive the requirement that one reside in a nursing home to obtain Medicaid benefits for long term care costs. These programs are known as Medicaid Waiver programs. However, there is a vast waiting list for the Medicaid Waiver program in Maryland, and it can take three or four years before one’s name rises to the top of the list.

Fortunately, there is a shortcut to the top of the Medicaid waiver waiting list. If an individual is receiving long term care in a nursing home and applies for and is awarded Medicaid, for which there is no waiting list, then, once Medicaid is established, such person could transfer to assisted living, or even return home and receive home care, and have the Medicaid dollars follow him out.

In other words, the Medicaid eligible nursing home resident can move to another care environment and immediately qualify for the Medicaid Waiver program, bypassing the waiting list altogether.

Thus, relatively young people who suffer from advanced debilitating disease may be able to obtain Medicaid dollars to cover the care costs in an appropriate care setting. However, such person may first have to undergo a less appropriate nursing home stay in order to secure such benefits.

The Gatesman Law Office assists clients in obtaining public benefits to cover essential and prohibitively expensive health care coverage which otherwise would be unavailable.

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Probate to Remove a Cloud on Title

William M. Gatesman and the Michael G. Day Law Office recently assisted a client in the following situation. During her husband’s lifetime, the client and her husband transferred their real estate to various trusts using deeds that identified the trust as the recipient or grantee of the property, specifically using the name of the trust without including the name of the trustee.

Deed to Trust Must Name Trustee
Under current Maryland law, such a deed would be effective to convey the property to the trust. However, at the time the deed was signed, Maryland law required that the trustee of the trust (i.e. an actual person) be listed as the grantee in order for the deed to be effective. Listing the trust itself as grantee without also listing the trustee by name was ineffectual. Consequently the client’s deeds were not effective and there was a “cloud on title”, meaning that the property could not be sold until the problem was resolved.

In this case, because the original deeds to the trusts were not effective, we needed husband and wife to sign confirmatory deeds that included the name of the trustee as grantee. However, because husband had died, he could no longer sign a confirmatory deed. And even though his wife held his power of attorney, a power of attorney is no longer effective when the principal dies.

Ancillary Probate
To complicate matters further, while the real property is located in Maryland, the couple had since moved to another state. Since all of their other property had effectively been conveyed to the trusts, no probate proceeding was necessary in such other state even though their wills were on file with the court in that state.

Typically, in cases were an individual is domiciled in another state and dies owning real property in Maryland, one first opens an estate in the state of residence and then undertakes a streamlined “ancillary administration” in the Maryland probate court.

No Clear Procedure
While our office resolved this matter some time ago, it is evident from inquiries by other probate lawyers in an email discussion forum that some lawyers wonder whether a Maryland probate can be opened to address such an issue if there is no probate in the state of domicile.

In fact, Maryland’s rules of procedure and the statutes addressing the jurisdiction of Maryland’s probate court do allow a family member to open a probate estate in Maryland in such circumstance. On that basis, we were able to have a Personal Representative appointed in Maryland for husband’s estate for the sole purpose of executing the confirmatory deed which wife also signed. In this way, we were able to remove the cloud on title that affected the marketability of the properties.

This is one example of the type of complex situation we are called upon to resolve on behalf of our clients on a day to day basis.

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New Power of Attorney Law

As of October 1, 2010, there is a new law governing Powers of Attorney in Maryland. In order to be effective, any power of attorney executed in Maryland after October 1, 2010, must be signed by two witnesses and notarized. The notary may be one of the witnesses.

Moreover, if one uses one of the form powers of attorney set forth in the statute and a financial institution refuses to accept the power of attorney, one could sue the bank and, contrary to the usual rules of court, get a court order commanding the bank to pay your legal fees.

However, the form documents provided by the statute are woefully inadequate for some purposes, particularly for those people who wish to ensure that appropriate asset protection planning can be accomplished should they ever require long term care in a nursing home.

While the statute allows for powers of attorney with added provisions to be considered statutory forms with the same benefits as the bare-bones form set forth in the law, Maryland estate planning lawyers have been struggling for months with how to devise powers of attorney with significant additional provisions that nevertheless comply with the new law.

The Gatesman Law Office has developed just such a Power of Attorney. For a limited time, we will offer to our existing clients a special discount to obtain the new power of attorney plus get a complimentary review of their estate plan in light of their current situations.

I am pleased to offer the same discount to readers of this website who contact us by October 31, 2010. Be sure to mention this offer when you call or email us. To reach us, simply click Contact Us for further instructions.

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Helping Seniors Beat the Heat

The entire east coast is undergoing a severe heat wave, with record setting temperatures and code red air quality for days on end. It is important that every person, and especially seniors, take steps to ensure that they are not overcome by a heat related illness.

The following tips from Dr. Robert Luchi, a Professor of Medicine-Geriatrics, and from About.com can help seniors beat the heat:

* If you don’t have air conditioning head to to the shopping mall, senior center, library, movie theater, or place of worship, and plan to spend some time there in the cool air.

* Cool baths or showers can provide relief. Ice bags and wet towels are also helpful.

* Beware of dehydration. Drink water before outdoor activities and drink water at regular intervals during the day, even if you are not thirsty. Avoid beverages with caffeine or alcoholic beverages because such drinks can lead to dehydration.

* Curtail physical activity during extremely hot weather. Activity adds to heart strain. If you must do something outside, take frequent rest breaks, preferably in the shade. Try to schedule outdoor activities for cooler times of the day–before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

* Avoid heavy meals. Limit salt use.

* Wearing loose fitting, lightweight clothing will allow for good air circulation around your body.

* Use a hat or umbrella to protect your head and neck from sun exposure and be sure to use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater anytime you go outside.

* Take the heat seriously. Dizziness, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, nausea, headache, chest pain, mental changes or breathing problems are warning signs that you should seek immediate medical attention.

* If you have a chronic medical problem, talk with your doctor about additional precautions you should take to prevent heat related illness. Some conditions and medications may place you at higher risk.

* If you show any signs of heat related illness try to get to a cooler place as soon as possible, sip some cool fluids and sponge yourself off with with lukewarm tap water.

The Gatesman Law Office wishes you a safe and healthy summertime.

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Is It OK to Pay My Way?

Mother has a stroke and moves in with you to live in the in-law suite in your home.  Mother pays you each month to cover her share of the utilities and to pay for the separate phone line installed in her room,  which line is included on your own personal telephone account.

Some time later, Mother needs long term care in a nursing home.  Unfortunately, she has only $1,000 in the bank and has been subsisting month to month on her income.  So you help your mother to apply for  Medicaid benefits to cover her nursing home costs.

The Medicaid caseworker accepts your application and does nothing for several months.  The nursing home, knowing that you have applied for Medicaid, requires that your mother only pay her income to the nursing home per month, which she must do in order to get Medicaid.  However, such payment is substantially less than the $8,500 per month the nursing would cost without Medicaid.

Five months after filing the Medicaid application, which is a typical application processing period, the caseworker informs you that mother’s contributions to the household expenses and the telephone bill will be treated as gifts to you, causing your mother to be ineligible for Medicaid.  In response, the nursing home sends you a bill for $40,000 for five months of care and will start billing $8,500 per month for future months.

“That’s outrageous,”  you exclaim, “my mother simply paid for the cost of heating and cooling her living space and for her private telephone line!  Those were not gifts to me!”

Outrageous as that may seem, it is true that the Medicaid rules penalize that type of cost sharing unless it is supported by a contract between you and your mother.

For this reason, any time a senior family member is contemplating entering into a financial transaction or co-living arrangement with another family member, it is wise to seek competent legal counsel.   Indeed, seemingly commonsense actions could have far reaching adverse consequences if nursing home care ever becomes a necessity.

The Gatesman Law Office stands ready to assist your family in doing appropriate planning to ensure that such surprises do not occur in your life or the lives of your parents.

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More Than One Way to Skin a Cat

You’ve heard the old saw: “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” Such folk wisdom can inspire estate planners to dream up creative solutions to thorny legal problems.

Recently, the Gatesman Law Office had been assisting a family in revising the distribution pattern under their estate plan. Husband and wife each had a revocable trust, which trusts held property in further trust for one of their children after both husband and wife died. The share for their other child was to be given to him outright, free of trust.

However, as time passed, the conditions that prompted the desire to hold property in trust for the couple’s now adult child no longer existed and they were in the process of revising their revocable trusts to eliminate the trust for such adult child.

Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, husband died. As a consequence, husband could no longer amend his revocable trust. While wife, who survived her husband, was now the trustee and beneficiary of husband’s trust, she did not have the power to amend the trust to change how trust assets would be distributed after her death.

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