#TuesdayTips: My Role as Court Appointed Counsel

Guardianship is the court process whereby an individual (usually a family member) is appointed by the court to make health care and/or financial decisions form someone who the court has deemed incompetent and not able to make those decisions him or herself. Because this is such an important proceeding, the legislature has felt it necessary that when a guardianship petition is filed in the court, the court shall appoint a member of the bar (an attorney) to represent the alleged disabled person (ADP for short) during the process.  The Court Appointed Counsel is responsible for representing the ADP and asserting their wishes and instructions regardless of their physical or mental status. 

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What is guardianship and do I need it?  Guardianship is the court process whereby an individual (usually a family member) is appointed by the court to make health care and/or financial decisions form someone who the court has deemed incompetent and not able to make those decisions him or herself.  It is what the court calls, “the means of last resort” because the court prefers alternatives over guardianship because it is so restrictive.  Such alternatives are powers of attorney, joint account ownership, etc.

Guardianship is taken by the court very seriously.  Why? The answer is actually simple.  When a person is incarcerated in prison, he or she has lost their liberty, i.e., their ability to make their own decisions.  With guardianship, even though it is a civil matter and not criminal, the court is making a determination that a person is not competent based on medical evidence, and essentially taking that person’s rights away to make medical and financial decisions from that point forward.  The only way to get guardianship removed is to prove that the medical condition no longer exists or the person has regained the ability to make their own decisions.

Because this is such an important proceeding, the legislature has felt it necessary that when a guardianship petition is filed in the court, the court shall appoint a member of the bar (an attorney) to represent the alleged disabled person (ADP for short) during the process.   That attorney is referred to as the Court-Appointed Counsel or CAC.  The CAC is responsible for representing the ADP and asserting their wishes and instructions regardless of their physical or mental status.  That means that if a person with end-stage Alzheimer’s Disease does not believe anything is wrong and does not want a guardian, it is the CAC’s job to tell the court the ADP does not want a guardian.

Additionally, as part of the job of a CAC, he or she may also interview family members, review medical records, request depositions of medical professionals, and although very rare, conduct a jury trial on behalf of the ADP if competency is strongly contested.  Often times, the ADP is either unconscious or non-communicative due to a disease or physical trauma, like a head injury.  The court will regularly call on the CAC to opine as to the best-suited person to serve as guardian because the CAC is the court’s eyes and ears during the guardianship process.

Since the guardianship process can be very intense and contentious, it is best to be prepared and get your estate planning documents in order.  The best part about estate planning is YOU get to choose who makes those difficult medical and financial decisions.  If a guardianship is initiated, you may not get who you want.  For example, you might not get along with your child, and would prefer your sibling be your guardian; however, if a guardianship is initiated, your child stands in a higher priority of appointment than your sibling.  Therefore, if the matter is contested, your sibling would have to prove that he/she is better suited to be your guardian than your child.  So as parting words of wisdom…make sure you are prepared!  Get your estate planning documents together so you can avoid guardianship at all costs!  Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790.

#TuesdayTips: DIY Estate Documents Gone Wrong

Estate planning can be a very complicated area of the law.  Before going online to print off your documents, ask yourself, if I needed open heart surgery, would I go to WebMD to get the “how-to” instructions?  Not likely, so why go online to get the how-to instructions to complete your own estate documents? 

Did you create your own documents?

Why pay a lawyer when I can get my estate documents online for free (or at least at a lesser cost than a lawyer)?  Every estate planning attorney has fielded that question at some point or another.  My response is usually: “I love online documents…because it usually means I’ll have more work that makes more money in the future.”  After I say that, I typically get a grin across the client’s face and then they ask “why”?

Using online documents to accomplish your estate planning goals is not generally a good idea and in many cases can lead to severe consequences.  Have you ever heard the saying, “you get what you pay for”?  When you get your documents online, you don’t have the opportunity to talk to an attorney, to ask questions about your specific situation unique to only you or your family, and your documents will not be tailored to your specific circumstances.

Prior to your documents being drafted, you meet with an attorney to discuss your estate planning goals and objectives at the consultation.  My estate planning consultations usually last at least an hour if not an hour and a half.  During the consultation, we review your health status, family status and financial status all before we even mention the words “will” or “power of attorney” or “trust.”  You also have the opportunity to ask questions and receive specific answers related to your situation.  When you get your documents online, they are almost  never tailored to your specific situation.

What happens if you are a blended family?  I can almost guarantee you that the basic online Will does not address how to provide for your spouse and your biological children if you were to die first.  Many estate litigation cases arise from blended family situations where the surviving step parent does a new will after the spouse dies cutting out the spouse’s biological children from any inheritance.

What about your million-dollar IRA?  Who does that go to?  Many clients think the Will directs who gets that money.  WRONG!!  If you have beneficiaries on that IRA, then the beneficiaries listed on the IRA account receive the money and the beneficiaries named in the Will get none of it!  So many people believe the Will controls everything, and unfortunately, if you get your documents online, you will not be educated on what happens to each asset that comprises your estate.

What if you own property in multiple states?  Chances are you were not advised by the online website that you will have to likely do probate in each state you own property.  To avoid this common situation, often times estate planning attorneys will employ trusts so that ownership of those properties are consolidated into the Trust.  That way, upon the death of the owner, the Trustee can sell the properties and does not have to go through the probate/ancillary probate process in each state the Decedent owned property.

Estate planning can be a very complicated area of the law.  Before going online to print off your documents, ask yourself, if I needed open heart surgery, would I go to WebMD to get the “how-to” instructions?  Not likely, so why go online to get the how-to instructions to complete your own estate documents?  Instead, call ERA Law Group, LLC at (410) 919-1790 today!

#FamilyFriday – Parenting Plans

You’ve heard it, we’ve written about it, and everyone knows it – divorce can get ugly and children are often the first to suffer.  Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to discuss the importance of Parenting Plans.  You’ve heard it, we’ve written about it, and everyone knows it – divorce can get ugly and children are often the first to suffer.  Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children, how best to co-parent, and how to anticipate and/or address the various changes in their lives at the time of its creation and in the future.

Frequently parties obtain their divorce, receive their Judgment of Absolute Divorce, and some form of an access schedule, holiday schedule, and child support.  What happens when this changes?  What about claiming the children on your taxes?  What about switching schools?  Sports?  Doctors?  The Judgment of Absolute Divorce is frequently silent on many of these issues which results in continuous litigation.  A well-drafted Parenting Plan can resolve many, if not all, of these issues.  More importantly, it allows parents to come together as parents – not as spouses.  They may no longer be spouses but they will always be parents.

Attorneys and mediators can help you and your family create a Parenting Plan that best suits your family dynamic and situation.  Additionally, attorneys and mediators often know what questions to ask, problems to prepare for, things to consider that many parents in the moment don’t think about.  Most importantly, settling the disputes between the spouses when it comes to them as parents also make the divorce process less painful for children.  Their parents may not be married but their family will have consistency and a plan in place.

Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 and ask about our mediation and parenting plan services!

#TuesdayTips – Filing for Guardianship

When a person is no longer able to appropriately care for themselves or manage their property, it is important to ensure that they are protected.  

Many people find themselves in a precarious situation when their spouse, parent, sibling, friend, etc. are no longer able to feed themselves regularly, pay their bills, see the doctor, and generally not take care of their person or finances.  When a person is no longer able to appropriately care for themselves or manage their property, it is important to ensure that they are protected.  When a person will not or cannot voluntarily seek assistance on their own, you may have to request the Court to intervene in order to ensure their safety.  On this week’s #TuesdayTips article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to discuss the process of filing for Guardianship.

When filing a Petition for Guardianship of the Person and/or Property, the Petitioner is seeking the Court to declare the alleged disabled person incompetent and therefore unable to care for themselves and/or manage their property/finances.  This would let the Petitioner, when appointed Guardian, to act on behalf of the alleged disabled person and make sure they are taken care of physically and financially.

The steps to file the Petition can be confusing as the Petition requires specific information and documents for filing.  For example:

  1. The Petition requires various information about the alleged disabled person, including but not limited to their finances, the purpose of the filing, the diagnosis, etc.
  2. The Petition requires time sensitive certificates related to the alleged disabled person’s disability from two medical providers.
  3. After filing, the Court will appoint the alleged disabled person an attorney to represent them in the proceeding. The attorney will meet and speak with the alleged disabled person and contact anyone else, including the Petitioner, that s/he feels is necessary.
  4. The Petitioners will also be required to notify certain people and facilities that would need to be made aware of the Petition.
  5. Finally, there will be a hearing to decide whether the findings are such that the Court will declare the person incompetent and appoint a Guardian, presumably the Petitioner.

In most cases this process is painless.  In the other cases the process can be litigious and emotionally challenging for the Petitioner, the family, and the alleged disabled person.  In either case, it would be in your best interests to speak with an attorney to make sure the Guardianship process is completed effectively and accurately.  In the event you oppose the Petition, it’s important to make sure your opportunity to object does not expire and your objections are appropriately identified.

The health, safety, and well-being of your friend or family member is of utmost importance.  Call the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC today to help navigate you through this process.

#TuesdayTips – How to Find YOUR Attorney?

Searching for a lawyer can be stressful and overwhelming especially when you don’t know where to start.  To help, we’ve identified 5 resources to consider while begin your search.

Searching for a lawyer can be stressful and overwhelming especially when you don’t know where to start.  On this week’s #TuesdayTip’s article, the attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC want to give you some pointers on how to find your attorney.  Below we’ve identified 5 resources to consider while begin your search:

  1. Lawyer Referral Services. Call your local bar association and see if there is a referral panel.  Counties such as Prince George’s and Anne Arundel can refer you to an attorney that can assist you with your specific matter.
  2. Utilize attorney search engines.  Look up attorneys in your area with sites like Avvo.com.  Attorneys who maintain their profiles often identify their practice areas, contact information, rates, and you may also find former client reviews.
  3. Attorney Websites. You can review attorney bios, practice areas, information about the firm, and other resources that they may include on their website.
  4. Social Media.  Many attorneys and firms utilize social media networks such as Facebook to promote their firm and often post recent articles, blog posts,  and upcoming events.
  5. Word of Mouth. You likely know someone that has needed an attorney at some point in their life.  Ask your friends and family for recommendations.

Above all, meeting your potential attorney is key.  You want to make sure you connect, trust, and communicate with your prospective attorney.  Here at ERA Law Group, LLC we are passionate about ensuring our clients feel comfortable and their voices are heard.  Call the attorneys at ERA today at (443) 906-3566 and schedule your consultation!

#TuesdayTips – When to NOT Do-It-Yourself

Many individuals find themselves in a precarious situation when they decide to handle certain matters without an attorney.  These “cost saving measures” sometimes result in quite a heavy burden.

This week’s #TuesdayTips article comes one day after a recent United States Tax Court ruling in the case of Summers v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (Docket No. 32259-15).  Many individuals find themselves in a precarious situation when they decide to handle certain matters without an attorney.  These “cost saving measures” sometimes result in quite a heavy burden.

In this specific case, Mr. Summers and his wife divorced amicably and decided to move forward without attorneys.  Pursuant to their agreement, Mr. Summers was to withdraw funds from his IRA and provide them to his wife.  Typically, this is done via a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).  Pursuant to 26 U.S. Code Section 72(t)(1), distributions from a QDRO are exempt from the 10% additional tax typically imposed on early distributions.  Unbeknownst to Mr. Summers, taking an early distribution made directly to himself would not qualify for the tax exemption even though he immediately transferred said funds to his wife for her sole benefit.  As a result of an honest mistake, Mr. Summers was forced to suffer the 10% early distribution tax.

Don’t let yourself fall victim to an honest mistake.  The attorneys at ERA Law Group, LLC offer fixed fee QDRO services!  Call us today at (443) 906-3566.