Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Atlanta attorney Kristen M. Lewis has a very interesting article in the July/August issue of the ABA's publication Probate & Property. In "The Crime of the 21st Century: Financial Abuse of Elders," Lewis brings to bear her experience in estate planning and wealth protection, including use of special needs trusts, to examine examples of elder financial abuse, for which she coins the acronym "EFA."
While I wish Lewis had included more citations of authority to support observations regarding prevalence of financial abuse, what I find unique about the article is the discussion of "defensive use" of powers of attorney and revocable living trusts. She advocates careful drafting of powers for individuals serving in these fiduciary roles and to consider the use of co-agents or co-trustees. Their roles may be limited but can expressly include "oversight."
On a related concern, in my experience POAs are often silent on the issue of compensation for agents, thus opening a door to confusion or worse about an agent's "self-payment." In contrast, Lewis recommends that POAs
"... should outline whether and how the agent is to be compensated for services while acting as agent (for example, hourly at a specified rate or a fee based on the value of the assets under management). Fairly compensating an agent can encourage him to be more honest, attentive, and diligent in the exercise of his duties."
For revocable living trusts (RLTs), she advises "it is imperative to identify a lineup of disinterested trustees, persons who have no interest in the assets remaining in the RLT on the elder's death." Further, she observes that increasingly, "attorneys specializing in estate planning or elder law are agreeing to serve as trustee for their clients' RLTs, or as co-trustee with a corporate fiduciary. Such professionals are typically compensated based on the regular hourly rate they would otherwise charge their clients." I suspect Lewis is thinking about trusts with substantial assets.
The full article is currently available only in hard copy, but American Bar Association magazines are usually eventually posted at the ABA website, and the website for the Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section of the ABA is here.