Estate planning pointers for unmarried couples

Are you in a long-term relationship, or even engaged to be married? Is that wedding postponed indefinitely due to the current pandemic? Do you have children who would need a guardian if you pass away? Do you have children from a previous relationship? Do you want to make sure that your partner is the one who will inherit your estate, or will be the one who’s allowed to handle your financial affairs and your medical decisions if you become critically ill?

The “laws of intestacy” specify that the estate of an unmarried person who has no Will would pass in equal shares to the children equally and if a child was deceased, then his/her share would pass to his/her descendants if any. If the deceased has no children, the estate passes to his/her surviving parent or parents, and if none, then to the descendants of the parents (i.e., the deceased’s siblings or nieces and nephews). If a single individual dies and has no surviving parents, children, siblings or nieces/nephews, the estate will pass to further remote relatives such as cousins. Ultimately, the estate can escheat to the State of New Jersey when there are no kin who can be located.

The only way to be sure that your estate will pass to your partner is to structure things properly in writing. There will be NJ inheritance tax due if it passes to your partner who isn’t your spouse, so that needs to be factored into the planning. The passage of the estate can be managed through a Last Will and Testament or a Living Trust, (or both) as well as certain beneficiary designations, depending on your specific situation.  Each case needs individual attention.

With a Will or Trust  you can make specific arrangements to protect the well-being of your own children, whether that’s by designating a Guardian (for minors) or structuring the way their inheritance would be managed.

As for decisions to be made during your lifetime if you become incapacitated, there is a preference in the statutes for next of kin as decision-makers. If you want your partner to be the primary Agent on your behalf, you would need to sign legal documents to that effect — power of attorney, health care power of attorney. You can also sign an Appointment of Funeral Agent. All of this documentation goes a long way to prevent disputes over who has authority, who inherits, and who should make decisions for you.

You may be wondering if you can just wait until after the wedding. Of course you can. Should you? That’s a different issue. Careful planning can prevent a crisis.

Call us to prepare or update your estate plan …….. 732-382-6070

Good Reasons to have a Power of Attorney in Place After Age 18

Once a person turns 18, s/he is presumed competent in the eyes of the law and their parents are no longer actually authorized to sign documents for them. This can create a vacuum especially if the parents have generally been managing everything for this young adult.

At the other end of the spectrum, older adults may not have anybody who actually has any legal authority to handle things for them. This creates a vacuum if the older adult cannot conduct this business on their own anymore. What kind of things need to be handled? Bill paying. Sale of property. Taking out home equity Loans. Closing or opening bank accounts.  Setting up a reverse mortgage. Selling or buying stock.  Decisions about medical treatment. Changing an insurance policy. Collecting financial records to submit with benefits applications. Many people have informal arrangements in place in which a person who is aged or disabled has another person who handles their bills and accompanies them to appointments, doctors, etc. to help them get things done. But those arrangements can only go so far.

In a Power of Attorney document, you select a trusted person who will be authorized to act on your behalf if necessary, and you can name additional back-up people also. The document can be tailored to your personal situation.  The powers of attorney you need are designed to ensure that there is somebody with actual legal authority who can step in when necessary, and that there is a successor as well. We have streamlined the document signing process to minimize in-person contact, and we are doing our legal consultations by telephone.

 

Call for advice and to set up your power of attorney.We have streamlined the document signing process to minimize in-person contact, and we are doing our legal consultations by telephone. Mention FRE-L at Home … 732-382-6070

Medical Aid-in-Dying Act signed by Governor Murphy

On April 12th, New Jersey joined seven other States which have enacted laws authorizing a terminally patient to self-ingest a drug that would end their life. Oregon was the first State to allow this, in 1997. The New Jersey bill was A1504/S1072. It will go into effect on August 1, 2018. Over two dozen other States are actively considering such legislation.

The Act specifies criteria for who is eligible to take advantage of its protections: The individual must be an adult over 18 and able to self-ingest the medication. They must have a terminal diagnosis with a prognosis of six months of less, and they must be determined to have full mental capacity. The Act allows such an individual to make and carry out an “informed decision” to ingest a fatal drug. Informed decision is defined as:

   “a decision by a qualified terminally ill patient to request and obtain a prescription for medication that the patient may choose to self-administer to end the patient’s life in a humane and dignified manner, which is based on an appreciation of the relevant facts and after being fully informed by the attending physician of:

(1)   the patient’s medical diagnosis;

(2)   the patient’s prognosis;

(3)   the potential risks associated with taking the medication to be prescribed;

(4)   the probable result of taking the medication to be prescribed; and

(5)   the feasible alternatives to taking the medication, including, but not limited to, concurrent or additional treatment opportunities, palliative care, comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.

 

There are many steps in the procedure protocol. First, the individual must originate the request by making two spoken (oral) requests to the physician, with a 15 day waiting period in between; the doctor must bring in a consulting specialist to confirm capacity; the doctors may refer the individual for psychological or psychiatrist for further capacity evaluation if capacity is not clear; the doctor must offer the patient the option to rescind his or her request. The individual also must complete a specific form and submit it to their doctor; the form will be titled “REQUEST FOR MEDICATION TO END MY LIFE IN A HUMANE AND DIGNIFIED MANNER.”

The written request must be witnessed in a manner similar to other legal documents, in which two witnesses attest to the individual’s capacity (competence) and willful voluntary act. One of the witnesses must be “disinterested” — not standing to benefit in any way from this death. The physician must also refer the individual to an appropriate health care professional for a discussion about other treatments or palliative care at the end of life. Ultimately, the doctor can then prescribe the medication.

The law contains requirements related to patient record-keeping so that every step of the process is well documented. Persons who participate in good faith with the process, or to decline to participate, are given immunity against criminal and civil liability, and are protected against professional disciplinary action related to their licenses. There are also protections that prevent life insurance and other contracts from restricting an individual’s rights under the Act, and each step of the way must be carried out by the individual and not by a proxy.  For example, neither a legal guardian, agent under power of attorney, or health care representative could act in the place of the individual.

For individuals facing harrowing end of life decisions, the new Act will provide important and welcome relief from suffering. A plan can be put in place to assure that the transition for the individuals, and the safety and security of those left behind, can be as peaceful as possible.

Talk to us about life care planning and elder care planning… 732-382-6070

Thoughtful Catholic approach to conversations about end of life care

I had the opportunity today to read a very thoughtful article about a meeting of Catholic physicians who are helping their very ill patients to wrestle with hard decisions about whether to utilize palliative care in place of active treatment with mechanical life support. The organization is the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) and the online newsletter article in the section on Physicians Articles is called  “Pathways to Convergence: EXAMINING DIVERSE PERSPECTIVES OF CATHOLICS ON ADVANCE CARE PLANNING, PALLIATIVE CARE, AND END-OF-LIFE CARE IN THE UNITED STATES,” subtitled ” Untangling the Gordian Knot of Language and Attitude about Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning: Pathways to Convergence,”

The article reports on the findings that stemmed from a 2015 initiative in which the Pew Charitable Trusts “gathered a group of six Catholic ethicists who worked in and with the Catholic health ministry from a variety of perspectives. All of them served as resources to help organizations in the ministry remain faithful to and compliant with Catholic teaching. Serving as a kind of steering committee, this initial group sketched out a framework for a project that would look at three main topics in Catholic health care” [including] …”:3. the specific issues and decisions made by patients and families and providers in the setting of living with serious illness and, ultimately, dying from it.”

The article goes on to report thatPathways to Convergence, a project supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, enabled a broad array of clergy, clinicians, practitioners and ethicists to explore Catholic perspectives on these issues for more than a year. Participants engaged in a series of in-depth conversations on how Catholics accompany the sick and dying, how end-of-life medical decisions are made and what role the church has in promoting its message and vision in the public square. It was acknowledged at the outset that although Catholics share many strongly held views that converge, they also hold divergent views and practices that cause confusion and misunderstanding. The project was established with the hope that, through a respectful exploration of the convergence and divergence of views, participants could recognize a path forward that would enable Catholics to speak more clearly and distinctly about these issues to one another and to others as well. …”

Discussions between physician and patient, or patient and nurse practitioner, about care at end of life are challenging, sensitive, and fraught with the difficulty of accepting certain medical inevitabilities without giving up hope. One’s concept of what constitutes good life at end of life must be explored. Individuals can sign advance directives, and patients or their authorized proxies can confer with physicians about POLST – Physicians Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment — that become part of the medical record both in and out of the hospital. Above all, the issues need to be explored with the team that is important to the patient, which will often include clergy as well as health care personnel and trusted family members.

 

Call us for advice on personalized advance care senior planning … 732-382-6070

Hospital’s Failure to apply for charity care for psychiatric emergency patient leaves hospital holding the bag

DRAFT   MUST REWRITE    text from daily briefingHEALTH CARE LAW

New Jersey has a Charity Care program which pays for hospital care for uninsured individuals who meet the stringent income and asset requirements and also file an application. If an eligible individual enters the hospital as an emergency room admission, the hospital is required to prepare and submit the application and to take measures to obtain the necessary verifications. If an individual is admitted to the hospital without first going through the emergency room, on the other hand, the individual bears that responsibility. The application can be filed by the individual or a responsible party and the hospital, at its discretion, can accept the application up to two years after discharge, which is also the deadline for a hospital to submit the claim to the state program for processing. The regulations are found at N.J.A.C. 10:51-11. This issue was addressed in the recent Appellate Division decision of Newton Med. Ctr. v. D.B.

The patient had been  involuntarily committed to the hospital’s short-term care facility on an emergent basis when the county PESS determined that he was a danger to himself and others. He met the financial qualifications for charity care, and filled out an application. However, due to his condition, he did not submit all the needed documentation within the required time period, and evidently did not seek the help of another person to gather and submit the required verifications. The hospital eventually sued him for the substantial unpaid bill. He argued that the hospital had a duty to submit the application on his behalf because his emergency psychiatric hospitalization placed him in the same category as a medical patient coming in through the emergency room. Although the trial court ruled against him, the Appellate Division reversed.

In a decision which discusses in depth the history and purpose of the Charity Care Program, the court held that the statute did not explicitly limit the category of emergency room hospitalizations  to medical needs as opposed to  psychiatric need, and that the Legislature intended that all patients in such desperate straits who enter a hospital for emergency treatment be relieved of the responsibility to submit their own applications. The Court placed the responsibility upon the hospital staff to follow the procedures mandated in the regulations for all such patients, and dismissed the collections action.

Admission to any hospital  raises the need for a patient to have an advocate and assistant watching out for his or her interests. Careful planning with powers of attorney, records release authorizations, HIPPA authorizations and health care proxies, including psychiatric health care proxies, can add a layer of protection for an individual in the throes of severe illness.

Call us for advice on elder & disability issues … 732-382-6070