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Estate Planning for Parkinson Patients and Guardianship of Disabled Adults

Compiled by Kenneth Vercammen, Past Vice-Chair, ABA Elder Law Committee, GP Section

If a person has been diagnosed with Parkinsons disease, it is important to immediately conduct Estate Planning with the assistance of an attorney.

Many Americans are thought to have Parkinsons disease - yet half of them remain undiagnosed.

Its all too easy to mistake many early Parkinsons disease symptoms for natural signs of aging. Symptoms can also vary widely among individuals.

Recognizing and treating Parkinsons disease early is vital. Early diagnosis of Parkinsons disease is important because that is when the most can be done to slow the progression of symptoms. Early treatment can have a significant effect on maintaining a patients current level of ability.

Find help for yourself. Many people concerned about Parkinsons disease discover that they need additional answers. Your doctor is your primary source of information about Parkinsons disease.

If a person has been diagnosed with Parkinsons disease, and is still mentally competent, a formal Power of Attorney, Will and Living Will should be prepared immediately. Generally, many attorneys will require: 1. A note from the Doctor indicating the person is competent to sign a Power of Attorney. [and Will if the Will has not yet been prepared] 2. The client to specifically advise the attorney they want to appoint the specific person to handle their financial affairs. [The attorney cannot rely on a family member saying what the client/ patient wants]

Prior to an individual being unable to manage his or her life as a result of a mental or physical disability, legal planning should be done. If a legally prepared Power of Attorney was signed, a trusted family member, friend or professional can legally act on that persons affairs. If a Power of Attorney was not signed, an attorney may be retained to file a formal complaint and other legal pleadings in the Superior Court to permit the trusted family member, friend or professional to be able to handle financial affairs.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney is a written document in which a competent adult individual (the "principal") appoints another competent adult individual (the "attorney-in-fact") to act on the principals behalf. In general, an attorney-in-fact may perform any legal function or task which the principal has a legal right to do for him/herself. Therefore, the doctor often must determine if the recently diagnosed Parkinson patient is competent to sign a Power of Attorney. The term "durable" in reference to a Power of Attorney means that the power remains in force for the lifetime of the principal, even if he/she becomes mentally incapacitated. A principal may cancel a Power of Attorney at any time for any reason. Powers granted on a Power of Attorney document can be very broad or very narrow in accordance with the needs of the principal.

Why is Power of Attorney so important? Every adult has day-to-day affairs to manage, such as paying the bills. Many people are under the impression that, in the event of catastrophic illness or injury, a spouse or child can automatically act for them. Unfortunately, this is often wrong, even when joint ownership situations exist.

The lack of properly prepared and executed Power of Attorney can cause extreme difficulties when an individual is stricken with severe illness or injury rendering him/her unable to make decisions or manage financial and medical affairs. New Jersey has legal procedures, guardianships or conservatorships, to provide for appointment of a Guardian. These require formal proceedings and are expensive in court. This means requirement of lawyers to prepare and file the necessary papers and doctors to provide medical certifications or testimony regarding the mental incapacity of the subject of the action. The procedures also require the involvement of a temporary guardian to investigate, even intercede, in surrogate proceedings. This can be slow, costly, and very frustrating. Advance preparation of the Power of Attorney can avoid the inconvenience and expense of legal Guardianship proceedings. This needs to be done while the principal is competent, alert and aware of the consequences of his/her decision. Once a serious problem occurs, it is too late.

Powers of Attorney are generally given by one person to another so that if the grantor of the power becomes ill or incapacitated, the Power of Attorney will permit the holder of it to pay the grantors bills and to handle the grantors affairs during the inability of the grantor to do the same.

Without a legal Power of Attorney or court ordered guardianship, even a spouse does not have the legal authority to sign their spouses signature. If a valid Power of Attorney is not legally prepared, signed and acknowledged in front of an attorney or notary, it is invalid. Without a Power of Attorney, a Guardianship Order and Judgment must be obtained from the Superior Court to permit complete legal decision making.

According to Disability Law, A Legal Primer published by the New Jersey State Bar Association, "A guardian is a person appointed by a court to make financial and personal decisions for a person proven to be a legally incompetent/ incapacitated person." p11

1. When is a guardian needed? A guardian is needed when an individual can not manage his or her life as a result of a mental or physical disability, alcohol or drug addiction. The person for whom a guardian is appointed is called a "ward". Disability Law at p11

Legislation (P.L. 1997, c 379) changed the designation of "mental incompetent" to "incapacitated person" in all laws, rules, regulations and documents. New Jersey Lawyer March 23, 1998

2. What rights does a incompetent/ incapacitated person lose? Unless a Court orders otherwise, a ward/ incompetent/ incapacitated person does not have the right to decide where to live, spend money, use property, appear in Court or undergo medical treatment without the approval of his or her guardian. An unmarried incompetent/ incapacitated person also loses the right to marry.

3. How does somebody become the guardian of another?

Guardians are appointed by Courts after the person in need of guardianship is proven incompetent. Guardianship actions can be brought under the general incompetency statute (N.J.S.A. 3B:12-25 et seq.) or under the statute dealing with people who receive services from the State Division of Developmental Disabilities. N.J.S.A.. 30:4-165.4 et seq. Guardians who are married to the incompetent/ incapacitated person or are parents of an unmarried incompetent/ incapacitated person can choose who will become the guardian after the guardians die and include a clause designating their successor in their Wills. Disability Laws p12. Under the general incompetency statute, a Complaint requesting Guardianship must be filed in the Superior Court, plus a detailed Affidavit by the person requesting to be Guardian detailing the assets of the incompetent/ incapacitated person plus reasons why the incompetent/ incapacitated person is no longer able to manage their affairs. Affidavits of two doctors are also needed. The Court will appoint a temporary attorney to interview the incompetent/ incapacitated person and prepare a report to the Court. The court costs and legal fees often exceeds $4,000.

4. Who can be a guardian?

Generally, a close relative or a person with a close relationship to the proposed incompetent/ incapacitated person who will act to protect the incompetent/ incapacitated persons best interests can be guardian. When a close friend or relative is not available, the Court may appoint the Public Guardian (for persons over 60) or an Attorney to serve as guardian.

5. What are the rights of the proposed incompetent/ incapacitated person prior to hearing?

The proposed incompetent/ incapacitated person is entitled to receive advance notice of the guardianship hearing, to be represented by a lawyer and to present a defense at the hearing.

6. Is court approval required to sell real estate if someone is declared incompetent/ incapacitated?

Yes. Your attorney can discuss transferring certain assets to qualify for Medicaid.


Kenneth Vercammen was the Middlesex County Bar Municipal Court Attorney of the Year

   
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Kenneth Vercammen is the Managing Attorney at Kenneth Vercammen & Associates in Edison, NJ. He is a New Jersey trial attorney has devoted a substantial portion of his professional time to the preparation and trial of litigated matters. He has appeared in Courts throughout New Jersey each week for litigation and contested Probate hearings.

Mr. Vercammen has published over 125 legal articles in national and New Jersey publications on elder law, probate and litigation topics. He is a highly regarded lecturer on litigation issues for the American Bar Association, NJ ICLE, New Jersey State Bar Association and Middlesex County Bar Association. His articles have been published in noted publications included New Jersey Law Journal, ABA Law Practice Management Magazine, and New Jersey Lawyer.

He is chair of the Elder Law Committee of the American Bar Association General Practice Division. He is also Editor of the ABA Estate Planning Probate Committee Newsletter and also the Criminal Law Committee newsletter. Mr. Vercammen is a recipient of the NJSBA- YLD Service to the Bar Award. And past Winner "General Practice Attorney of the Year" from the NJ State Bar Association. He is a 22 year active member of the American Bar Association. He is also a member of the ABA Real Property, Probate & Trust Section.

He established the NJlaws website which includes many articles on Elder Law. Mr. Vercammen received his B.S., cum laude, from the University of Scranton and his J.D. from Widener/Delaware Law School, where he was the Case Note Editor of the Delaware Law Forum, a member of the Law Review and the winner of the Delaware Trial Competition.

RECENT SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS ON WILLS, ELDER LAW, AND PROBATE

Edison Adult School -Wills, Elder Law & Probate- 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 [inc Edison TV], 2001, 2000,1999,1998,1997
Nuts & Bolts of Elder Law - NJ Institute for Continuing Legal Education/ NJ State Bar ICLE/NJSBA 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2000, 1999, 1996
Elder Law and Estate Planning- American Bar Association Miami 2007
Elder Law Practice, New Ethical Ideas to Improve Your Practice by Giving Clients What They Want and Need American Bar Association Hawaii 2006
South Plainfield Seniors- New Probate Law 2005, East Brunswick Seniors- New Probate Law 2005
Old Bridge AARP 2002; Guardian Angeles/ Edison 2002; St. Cecilia/ Woodbridge Seniors 2002;
East Brunswick/ Halls Corner 2002;
Linden AARP 2002
Woodbridge Adult School -Wills and Estate Administration -2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996
Woodbridge Housing 2001; Metuchen Seniors & Metuchen TV 2001; Frigidare/ Local 401 Edison 2001; Chelsea/ East Brunswick 2001, Village Court/ Edison 2001; Old Bridge Rotary 2001; Sacred Heart/ South Amboy 2001; Livingston Manor/ New Brunswick 2001; Sunrise East Brunswick 2001; Strawberry Hill/ Woodbridge 2001;
Wills and Elder Law - Metuchen Adult School 1999,1997,1996,1995,1994,1993
Clara Barton Senior Citizens- Wills & Elder Law-Edison 2002, 1995
AARP Participating Attorney in Legal Plan for NJ AARP members 1999-2005

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