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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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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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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Estate Plan Checkup

For our younger readers, this time of year is heralded by the hustle-bustle of back to school activities.  It is the time for parents of young children to double check that the kids have shoes that fit for gym class, warm clothes for the winter months, and pens, pencils, and rulers to stock the kids’ backpacks for the first day of school.

For all adults, now is a good time to review your estate plan to make sure that your plan is in order to meet your changing needs.  Have you executed a Power of Attorney to ensure that a trusted agent can manage your financial affairs should you become incapacitated?  Do you have an advance health care directive to ensure that appropriate medical choices are made even if you cannot communicate those choices to your health care providers?

Are the individuals you have chosen to serve as your agents in those documents still the best choices, or have your or their circumstances changed significantly so that choosing other agents is appropriate?

Do you have a Will?  Does your will impose limits because your children were minors when you wrote it, limits that are no longer appropriate?

By asking yourself these and other questions, you will discover whether it is time to review your estate plan with your legal counsel.  This type of periodic review of your estate plan will ensure that your plan continues to meet your needs even as your needs change over the years.

Happy autumn from the Gatesman Law Office.

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Estate Plan Check Up

Many people are in the habit of visiting their doctors for an annual physical or other regular check-up.  Still more visit their accountants each year to assist them with their income taxes.  And most people regularly visit their auto mechanics to change the oil in their cars every three months or so.

The practice with lawyers is different, however, and people may put themselves in peril if they do not periodically review their affairs with their attorney.

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Tying the Hands of Your Health Care Agent

This office has recommended, and most estate planners will agree, that one should consider appointing a trusted individual to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so. I wrote a comprehensive article on that topic on October 7, 2007.

Maryland law not only allows one to appoint a Health Care Agent, the statute provides forms one may use to do so. While I have always recommended that one seek experienced legal counsel when appointing a Health Care Agent – one of the statutory forms curiously omits a significant provision – such advice is even more compelling in light of a new ruling by Maryland’s Attorney General.

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Appeals Court Imposes Augmented Estate Rules

Schoukroun v. Karsenty (Md. App. December 11, 2007). A Technical Article for Maryland Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorneys

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, in a seismic shift to the estates and trusts law of Maryland, issued an opinion on December 11, 2007, imposing augmented estate rules on the State of Maryland. This decision has significant consequences affecting Medicaid asset preservation planners, estate planners, family law practitioners and CPAs.

Prior to this decision, the Maryland legislature, despite years long advocacy by some members of the Estates and Trusts section of the Maryland State Bar Association, refused to add augmented estate rules to the estates and trusts law of Maryland.

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Fed up with complicated legal language?

“Whereas, Wherefore, Where art thou?” Did you ever wonder why lawyers use such archaic language in their legal documents? One reason is that lawyers like to stick with tried and true methods. Another reason legal documents tend to be so complex is that lawyers want to be sure to cover all the bases, so they write paragraphs full of synonyms for the same descriptive term just in case one of the synonyms has a slightly different shade of meaning to ensure that the legal document will be effective in all relevant circumstances. But is this really necessary?

The Gatesman Law Office has undertaken the task of simplifying our legal documents. However, we must exercise great care to ensure that our more simple language does not result in a document that fails to cover all the bases. After careful review, we have created a five page, easy to understand Will to accomplish sophisticated estate tax planning that replaces our more archaic fifteen page document.

While there has been a movement in the legal profession that supports the use of “plain language” documents, it does not appear to have caught on with most lawyers. We are doing our best to promote the plain language ideal to simplify matters for our clients.

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Does everybody need a revocable trust?

Many of you have heard the clarion call – “You need a revocable trust!” This cry emanates from the full page newspaper ads touting the one-day seminars on revocable trusts. This cry emanates from the 60-second spots on the radio informing you that your estate plan is not complete without a living trust. Such marketing tactics might lead one to believe that everyone should use a revocable trust. But is it a good idea for you?

While revocable trusts can be good estate planning tools, they are not for everyone. Any advertisement that implies this is misleading. Indeed, by using a revocable trust, seniors can lock themselves out of a powerful asset preservation strategy. Before reviewing that strategy, however, lets take a closer look at revocable trusts.

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