Asset Protection.....but from whom?
So, who are we worried about protecting our assets “from” and for “who”?
At the Boles Law Firm, we list ‘ASSET PROTECTION” in all our advertising. So, who are we worried about protecting our assets “from” and for “who”? The “from” is easy. Primarily it is Family, Consumer Debt, Medical Debt and Long-Term Care Debt. “Who” we are protecting is you, your spouse and your family. Since “Family” is on both lists let us address “family” first!
FAMILY: The National Council on Aging reports that 90% of elder abuse occurs from family members. Sad but true. “Financial abuse” can occur when well-meaning parents add their child’s name to their bank accounts or investments. When you put someone’s name on your account you open the door to that person’s creditors. Let’s forget the fact that “Junior” can go right down to the bank and pull out all your money, (because none of us have dishonest children, of course, that’s somebody else’s sorry offspring!!). Let’s say good hearted “Junior” is delivering meals to the poor in the rain. He has a wreck, it’s his fault and someone gets a judgment against him, (or for any other reason). The holder of that judgment can come get “YOUR” money because his name is on your account. The irony in that is they generally can’t garnish Junior’s bank account if he is the primary wage earner in his family.
CONSUMER DEBT: All debt is by contract. You must sign that credit card application to be on the hook. I had a sweet widow whose husband had “FORTY CREDIT CARDS’ when he died. She was heart sick because she thought spouses were on the hook for the debts of the other. The fifty grand he owed would have wiped here out! I told her to ignore them unless she signed the credit card applications. “No”, she indignantly informed me, ” I chided him regularly for his credit excesses.” A traditional woman she balked at my suggestion to just throw away the bills. So, I asked her to put a box by the door and put all his bills in there and bring them to my office every thirty days and I would “take care of them.” Then I would throw them away! Six months later no more bills and no more phone calls. She was not on the hook for his debt!
MEDICAL DEBT: When “John” fell off the roof “Mary” his wife called 911 and rode with him in the ambulance to the Tri-County Trauma Center in their rural area. They wheeled “John” into the triage area and had “Mary” sign some papers. She did so without reading them, of course, because she was desperate to know how her Husband was doing. Unfortunately, she walked out of that Trauma Center a widow. Later she found out she also owed a considerable sum for his treatment leading up to his death. If “Mary” had been his “Durable Power of Attorney”, (a document giving her the right to sign for him while he was incompetent), she would not have been “on the hook” for his bill. As a matter of fact, she really didn’t need to sign at all. The Trauma Center didn’t need her permission to treat him, (they will treat a homeless person brought in alone), they wanted someone to be financially responsible because “John” couldn’t sign for himself. So, get that Durable Power of Attorney document. I think its greatest power is protecting the signer from financial responsibility.
LONG TERM CARE DEBT: The man came into my office saying, “My Wife has been in a nursing home for five years and I’m down to my last thirty thousand dollars, I need help!” I told him he should have come in about 90 thousand dollars earlier, but he didn’t know. It also isn’t the nursing home’s responsibility to monitor his financial abilities, their job was to look after his wife. His was to write the monthly check. He just didn’t have a clue. So, let me plant a seed in your mind. Long Term Care (skilled nursing care) can be financially devastating if you don’t have a plan. If your wife is in “rehab” for her illness and she reaches “MMI” (maximum medical improvement) but still can’t go home, she will be determined to be “Long Term Care”. Then Medicare says “goodbye” and doesn’t pay another dime! You will either be private pay (which means you write a check each month for about $10,000 dollars until your loved one “goes on to glory”) or begin the process to get your spouse qualified for Nursing Home “Medicaid”. Not MediCARE but MediCAID., similar names BUT big DIFFERENCE. Many people do not get their plans in place and end up paying many thousands of dollars to the facility until they can get qualified. Its not a very complicated process, (sure you say, not for lawyers, maybe) but there are some basic Estate Planning steps to take in case you find yourself in that position. Those same steps are needed to perhaps avoid probate, protect your assets while you are still alive and protect your assets for your beneficiaries.
So, don’t wait around any longer. CALL AN ATTORNEY NOW. Get one that advertises Asset Protection, Estate Planning, Probate Avoidance, Elder Law, etc. You can probably find one that has a “free initial consultation” like us, the Boles Law Firm. There are lots of good local attorneys out there and if you call us, we’ll keep an eye out for you!
Joseph L. Boles, Jr. Attorney at Law
Boles Law Firm (904) 824-4278
Originally published in the St. Augustine Woman's Journal Feb 2020