Don’t Risk it: Protect Your Finances From Coronavirus Complications

Category: COVID-19 Updates

By Hertz Schram

Many Americans spend a lot of time and effort in managing their finances. While most are worried about how the coronavirus (COVID-19) will impact their income—whether that’s because they are temporarily furloughed, find themselves suddenly without a job, or watching their investment and retirement accounts dwindle—there is another way COVID-19 can wreak havoc on American’s finances: lack of incapacity planning. 

As the coronavirus continues to expand across the country, thousands of Americans are unable to carry out normal financial responsibilities because they are too ill, they are stuck abroad and unable to travel home, or they lack the necessary resources due to being isolated at home.

While feeling healthy, individuals should plan ahead now and ensure that someone will take care of their financial duties by setting up a Durable Power of Attorney. This important legal document will not only protect your finances should you fall ill from COVID-19, but it also applies in other events that might leave you incapacitated, like an injury or accident. 

Durable Power of Attorney: what is it?

A Durable Power of Attorney (“DPA”) allows you to select a trusted family member or friend who will be responsible for managing your money and other property if you become mentally incapacitated (unable to make your own decisions) due to illness or injury. Without this document, bills won’t get paid, tax returns won’t be filed, bank and investment accounts held in your name will become inaccessible, retirement distributions can’t be requested, and property can’t be bought, sold, or managed.

What happens if I don’t have a Durable Power of Attorney and get sick?

If you get sick and are unable to make or communicate your financial decisions and don’t have an updated DPA in place, a judge can appoint someone to take control of your assets and make all personal and medical decisions for you through a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship. However, this costs time and money.

Why would a court do this, you may ask?  As an adult, no one is automatically able to act for you; you must legally appoint them through the use of an DPA. Without it, you and your loved ones could lose valuable time, money, and control.

WORD OF CAUTION: Don’t think you’re protected just because your assets are held jointly with your spouse, child, or family member. Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t rely on joint ownership:

  1. Limited power. While a joint account holder may be able to access your bank account to pay bills or access your brokerage account to manage investments, a joint owner of real estate will not be able to mortgage or sell the property without the consent of all other owners.
  2. Tax liability. By adding a family member’s name to your accounts or real estate titles you might be saddling them with gift tax liability.
  3. Property seizure. You read that correctly. If your joint owner is sued than your property could be seized in order to pay their debt. 
  4. Medicaid disqualification. Putting a loved one’s name on a joint bank account or property title can disqualify them from receiving government benefits, such as Medicaid.  

Only a comprehensive incapacity plan will protect you and your assets from a court-supervised guardianship or conservatorship and the misdeeds of your joint owners. Do not rely on joint ownership as your plan—it’s simply too risky and unreliable.

Already have a Durable Power of Attorney? Chances are it’s outdated.

A DPA can become “obsolete” in as short as one year. This is because many institutions don’t want to rely on stale, outdated documents. Depending on your circumstances, a stale, obsolete power of attorney may not be able to help you and your family with insurance contracts, retirement plans, banking and investment accounts, online personal accounts such as email, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and elder care and special needs planning.

If it’s been more than a year or two since you’ve signed your power of attorney, it might be time for a fresh one. Call us! We can help make sure you and your family are fully protected by helping you determine:

  • Who would be the best choice for this responsibility,
  • How much authority you should give your financial agent, and
  • When to make your power of attorney become effective.

Regardless of your priorities, there is a durable power of attorney right for your situation and goals. It is important to determine your specific needs while you are of sound mind. If you are wavering between your options or if you need legal advice, give us a call.

Richard Schloss       248-230-2699         rschloss@hertzschram.com  

Jeffrey Robbins       248-230-2722          jrobbins@hertzschram.com

Laurie Raab             248-636-1566           lraab@hertzschram.com

Kenneth Silver        248-636-1575            ksilver@hertzschram.com

We encourage you to reach out with any questions or if you have any other business or personal needs, please contact the Hertz Schram legal team at (248) 335-5000 if you would like to learn more about your legal rights and options.     

Hoping all of you and your families stay healthy and SAFE during this crisis.

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