Sound Advice with Richard Adams
April 24, 2019
Sound Advice is a charitably-minded series from BCF by professional advisors in Baltimore. Do you have advice to share with colleagues? Contact Rosemary Calderalo today.
Richard L. Adams, Esq., is an attorney in Rosenberg Martin Greenberg’s Tax and Wealth Planning group.
A proper estate plan is critical for everyone – no matter their level of wealth or income. At its core, estate planning is not really about the value of assets involved, but the desire to control and ensure that your wishes are honored when you are no longer able to speak for yourself. Don’t let yourself be silent by failing to plan for the inevitable. With this in mind, the following documents should be in place for all, regardless of wealth or income status:
- Last Will and Testament. This document allows you to control how the assets held in your name alone will be distributed upon your death. You can also nominate Guardians of your minor children and name a Personal Representative of your choosing to handle your affairs. A Will allows for incredible flexibility as to bequests to individuals or entities that you wish to benefit from your estate upon your death, regardless of their family relationship to you.
- Personal Financial Power of Attorney. This document allows you to appoint someone else to handle your financial affairs on your behalf. It grants very broad powers to this Attorney-in-Fact, giving them the authority to basically do anything you can do financially, but with the duty to perform such action in your best interest. This document also helps to avoid the need to petition the Circuit Court for guardianship over you when you are no longer able to handle your affairs, as the Attorney-in-Fact can perform such actions on your behalf.
- Advance Medical Directive/Living Will. This document allows you to appoint someone else to make medical decisions on your behalf, in the event you are unable to do so. It also allows your agent to interact with your medical professionals, serving as a resource to you related to ongoing medical needs. The document also provides guidance as to your end-life wishes.
Depending on your specific situation, you may also wish to implement the following documents:
- Trusts (Revocable/Irrevocable). Trusts can be created to serve a variety of purposes, for the benefit of your spouse, children, or other family members. Unlike a Last Will and Testament, which must be publicly filed when you pass away, a Trust is a private disposition of your assets. It can also be a useful tool to protect funds for those with special needs, or from those that are not responsible with money. Trusts are very useful tools, when used for the proper reasons.
- Deeds. The titling of real estate is important to any estate plan. There are different ways to hold property that may coincide with your goals, such as holding property as tenants-by-the-entirety with your spouse, or by owning a life interest in your property so that upon your death, the property would flow directly to your children, by operation of law.
Another important aspect of the estate planning process is the desire and ability to engage in charitable planning. Often, members of the LGBTQ community prefer to leave a portion of their assets to support charitable endeavors, including those that specifically support and protect vulnerable members of the community. Working with the Baltimore Community Foundation can be beneficial for anyone working through the estate planning process. In fact, just last year, BCF created the LGBTQ Fund to serve as a source of funding for life-sustaining and life-affirming supports for Baltimore's diverse LGBTQ community, particularly vulnerable young people. There are a host of additional funds available, and if there isn’t one that resonates with you – you can work closely with BCF to simply create one! It’s an amazing opportunity to give back while also provide peace of mind during the planning process.
Essential to any estate plan discussion involves a careful review of how your assets are titled, including the beneficiary designations currently in effect for your retirement accounts and life insurance policies. All of these financial pieces need to be reviewed and considered when putting a plan in place.
In Maryland, if you do not have these documents in place, then the decisions related to your body and assets, both when you are alive and when you pass away, are controlled by the State of Maryland, rather than you. Sometimes, this can mean that a family member that does not agree with your membership in the LGBTQ community, or would not honor your wishes, is granted broad authority over you. Current law assumes that such power should be granted based on blood relation, rather than personal connection. Thus, it is essential that members of the LGBTQ community have such documents in place.