Thursday, July 27, 2017

Attorney Shannon Wynn: The power of advanced directives

living will, POA, advanced directive

There are dozens of intersections in life that call for an attorney's insight. Wynn at Law LLC gladly steps in to advise clients who have reached those intersections, like bankruptcy or buying a home. One of the most emotionally taxing of the intersections is how to handle the decisions at the end of a life, whether it's sudden or the result of a long-term illness. Planning ahead, before you reach this inevitable intersection, can make the situation more bearable, or at least manageable.

In one of our earlier articles, we talked about the Last Will and Testament -- a crucial part of estate planning after someone passes. A Living Will is a legal document that sets out a person's healthcare wishes in the event they cannot articulate the wishes. A Healthcare Power of Attorney (POA) is a separate alternative. The Living Will has your instructions -- what you will and will not permit. The POA designates an 'agent' to make the decisions. Usually, the agent is a spouse, but can be a close friend. No matter who you choose, you have to let that agent know your wishes clearly.

The POA is even more powerful when it goes beyond healthcare decisions to include financial decisions as well. This Durable POA ensures the person making the healthcare calls has the money to pay for the procedures. The signer gets to choose how limited in scope the POA is: For example, it can be limited to using bank accounts only and not things like selling the house.

Where Wynn at Law LLC adds value with such a POA is that the document and our Firm can be – if needed – the go-between if things get charged up among family members or family and caregivers. Things like resuscitation, painkillers, tube feeding, and organ donation can be powderkeg issues when they're not backed up by a Living Will or a POA.

'Why would you create a Durable POA over creating a Living Will?' is a common question. The answer is simple: The POA agent can represent your thoughts on things for which you didn't foresee in drafting a Living Will. You can't plan for everything in writing in a Living Will, and the bills don't stop just because a person is hospitalized. When you and your family come upon this intersection in life, these estate planning tools help keep the focus on the care you would have chosen and nobody has to guess.

*The content and material in this original post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  

Photo by Viktor Levi, used with permission.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Attorney Shannon Wynn: Flood damage and selling a property

flood, real estate, law, disclosure
The record-setting flooding we saw in Walworth, Racine, and Kenosha counties brings to mind an important disclosure topic for real estate transactions… but first, our thoughts and hearts at Wynn at Law, LLC go out to everyone impacted by the flooding. We hope things return to normal for all of you as quickly as possible.

In some of our earlier articles we’ve talked about real estate disclosures. Flood damage is one of those things that must be disclosed by the seller before the transaction. Specifically, the form asks if the property owner was ‘aware’ of ‘any’ past flooding. It’s difficult for anyone to not be ‘aware’ of the current flooding, the worst in history. The issue is the word ‘any.’ If a seller knew of flooding back in 2008, it has to be disclosed. If the sellers know the property flooded in 1973 – another historic flood event in our area – even if the homeowner didn’t live there, it has to be disclosed.

Past transactions on the real estate can identify flooding disclosures that happened before the current one.

Sellers should fully explain the circumstances behind any flooding damage and give as much accurate detail as possible. If it only happened once, say so. If it only happened in the record-smashing deluge we just went through, say so. Most importantly, in the disclosure, you can be very specific about the cleanup and repairs you made, as well as any steps you took to (hopefully) prevent the next massive downpour from causing the same damage this downpour created.

If a property was on the market before the rivers overflowed, the previous disclosure from before the flood might be inaccurate. In that case, the disclosure should be amended.

Both the buyer’s and seller’s attorney (and their real estate agents, too) have legal responsibilities related to the disclosure form. As fiduciaries, they are bound to advise their clients with entire openness. This requirement applies even if the seller just doesn’t want to disclose the current flooding because, ‘It was once in a lifetime and will never happen again and this will sabotage my sale or selling price.’

Does a buyer have to abort plans to buy a house just because it is or was ever in a flood? Of course not. Flooding in an extraordinary event like the one we’ve just seen does not mean the property will flood in every storm. If this storm tells us anything, it’s that even extraordinary records can fall.


*The content and material in this original post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  

Photo by Scott Stevens, used with permission.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Attorney Shannon Wynn: What exactly is ‘probate'?

probate, law, will

Wynn at Law LLC provides estate planning services – wills are one example. ‘Probate’ is a commonly used term in estate planning, especially these days when many clients have an estate worth more than $50,000. First, a bit on probate… then why $50,000 is an important number.

Probate is a court process whereby a will is legally ‘proven’ as the true last testament of the deceased. Essentially, the document is reviewed and validated. It came to be a more common process in the 16th century when greedy relatives (or non-relatives) began making phony claims on a dead person’s property. It comes from the same Latin roots as ‘probation.’ In probation, a person has to prove he can live within the law… in probate, a document has to be proven to be authentic and created within the law. Probation and probate have nothing else in common other than the root word, meaning proof.

The ruling of a probate court is the first step in resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property in a will. The court officially designates an executor to carry out the will’s instructions. Usually, the executor is named already when the person made out the will. If a will is contested, it happens in probate court.

What else happens in probate?

·         Creditors must be notified and legal notices published.

·         Homes/property/other possessions may have to be sold off to pay those debts, or otherwise make distributions evenly to the beneficiaries.

·         If there is a lawsuit over the death, or the deceased was party to pending lawsuits, those are noted and settled (if possible).

·         Estate taxes, gift taxes or inheritance taxes must be considered if the estate exceeds certain thresholds. Working with an estate planner can minimize these.

Some assets, like life insurance, are not counted because they are transferred directly to the beneficiaries and avoid probate. Death benefits are not included in an estate. Living Trusts – usually created to hold large assets – also are excluded from probate. Joint tenants (e.g. husband and wife) are allowed the joint property in a ‘right of survivorship’ if one dies, and this, too, avoids probate. Bank or investment accounts designated Transfer on Death (TOD) avoid probate as well. Real Estate can also be re-titled to avoid to probate, through tools such as a Transfer on Death Deed (TODD).

Here’s where the $50,000 comes into play. For estates in Wisconsin, after all those subtractions, the small estate threshold is $50,000. If the estate is valued below that and there is a will, probate is avoided. If there is no will, or if the estate is more than $50,000, probate is required. Most probate proceedings in Wisconsin aren’t very onerous. They are informal, with no squabbles between beneficiaries and few creditors. This is little more than an application to the court, followed by a summary judgment. A more formal proceeding requires the court to help distribute assets.

Wynn at Law LLC works with clients to secure their assets in a will or trusts to hold up in probate, or avoid it all together.

*The content and material in this original post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  
Photo by Marzky Ragma Jr., used with permission.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Attorney Shannon Wynn: Medical bills a threat to financial independence

bankruptcy, medical bills, law

We are frequently seeing clients with ‘surprise’ medical bills when Wynn at Law,LLC counsels people through bankruptcy proceedings. Catastrophic medical bills are, unfortunately, one of the more common reasons for Chapter 7. Usually those clients didn’t have insurance coverage. The surprise medical bills to which this article refers are bills health insurance did not cover.
For example, you schedule an in-network procedure. You’re assured your insurance is covering the cost. But a few weeks later, an OUT-of-network bill arrives. The Jan. 2017 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) pointed out the problem. “The average anesthesiologist, emergency physician, pathologist, and radiologist charge more than four times what Medicare pays for similar services, often leaving privately insured consumers stuck with surprise medical bills that are much higher than they anticipated.”
Wisconsin, by the way, is among the states with the highest out-of-network markups according to the study.
As a patient, you don’t get to select the specialists like the anesthesiologists – who charge six times what insurance customarily pays based on the Medicare rate. But you do get the specialist’s invoice once your insurer carves out how much it will pay. States and Congress will sort out how customers avoid surprise billings. Maybe the solution is in Healthcare Reform… might be in state laws capping out-of-network charges… either way, it doesn’t change the immediate danger it puts your financial independence in.
Wynn at Law, LLC works with clients to try to avoid a bankruptcy filing if they can. Sometimes, it’s as simple as talking with the insurance company and the out-of-network provider about the crushing surprise bill.
Our team here at Wynn at Law LLC hope you had an enjoyable and safe Independence Day, and we want you to know that we’re by your side if your financial independence is put in jeopardy.

*The content and material in this original post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

Photo by Sean Prior, used with permission.