Transfer on Death and Pay on Death Designations

TOD account

“Transfer on death” (TOD) and “pay on death” (POD) accounts are your property and completely in your control during your life. At your death, they are paid or transferred to the persons you name as the recipients. No one other than you has any right to this property during your life. The property passes outside of probate to the named recipient, rather than the person listed in your Will or your heirs, when you die. You can change the beneficiaries on these accounts at any time. Real estate and personal property such as furnishings and automobiles can be transferred on death by a Deed, bill of sale, or other proper written instrument.

Payable-on-death bank accounts offer an option to keep money out of probate – just fill out a simple form at the bank naming the person you want to inherit the money in the account at your death. As long as you are alive, the person you named does not have any rights to the account. You can spend the money, name a different beneficiary, or close the account. At your death, your named beneficiary can go to the bank with proof of identity and your death certificate and receive the funds. If the bank account is joint, the pay-on-death designation does not come into play until after the death of the joint owner. Also, your retirement accounts (such as 401(k)s and IRAs) give you the option to name a beneficiary, which act the same as a pay-on-death designation.

Indiana has adopted a law (Uniform Transfer-on-Death Securities Registration Act) that allows you to name a beneficiary to inherit your stocks, bonds, or brokerage accounts. When you register ownership, you make a request to take ownership in “beneficiary form.” The beneficiary will have no rights to the stock, bond, etc. as long as you are alive. After your death, the beneficiary you named can claim the securities. Similarly, you can name someone to inherit your vehicle by indicating a beneficiary on your certificate of registration. With real estate, you can sign a Transfer on Death deed that will transfer the real estate to whom you name at your death.

VLP Receives Pro Bono Service Award


The Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana received a pro bono service award in recognition of its bankruptcy program. The award was presented to the VLP at the 66th Annual 7th Circuit Bar Association meeting held in Indianapolis on May 1. The bankruptcy panel that received the award comprises over 25 attorneys committed to helping people without adequate funds achieve equal access to quality legal representation.

The award presentation and dinner was held at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis in conjunction with the 7th Circuit Judicial Conference. Attendees were honored to hear the following featured speakers: Hon. Elena Kagan, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States and Eva Mozes Kor, survivor of the Holocaust and founder of the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center. Ms. Ruth de Wit, Executive Director of the Volunteer Lawyer Program, gratefully accepted this prestigious award on behalf the volunteers and in recognition of the countless hours of pro bono service provided over many years in Northeast Indiana.

The Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana serves families and individuals at 200% or below the federal poverty guidelines in many areas of civil law. Over 200 volunteer attorneys representing northeast Indiana make up the panels of legal expertise, including our very own Tracy Troyer and Leah Good. Tracy and Leah specifically help individuals in services of estate administration, estate planning, and guardianship.

Those seeking assistance from the VLP must first call the office to see if they qualify for the program. Qualification is based on household income and assets, case type, and availability of volunteer attorneys. Callers should be prepared to provide this personal financial information when they call.  Once a client qualifies for the program, he/she will need to provide the VLP with the necessary financial and legal documents required for the successful completion of the qualification process. Staff members from the VLP then attempt to place the client with a volunteer attorney.

For more information, check out their website.

7 Important Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents

aging parents

No matter what age we are, it is vital that we have our estate planning documents in place. However, this area becomes especially important as we get older. For your parents who are getting older, you want to make sure they have all the necessary legal documents in place. As such, here are seven important questions you should ask your parents:

  1. Do you have a Will or Trust? Wills and Trusts are legal methods to direct what happens to your possessions and assets when you pass. The best way to make your wishes clear is to have a Will or Trust that clearly states who will be in charge of your estate and who will receive your assets. When your parents’ wishes are in writing, this can help avoid confusion and arguing among family members. It also keeps everyone on the same page as to what Mom and Dad wanted for their family.
  2. Do you have a Power of Attorney? A financial Power of Attorney allows you to appoint someone (called an attorney-in-fact) to act on your behalf for financial matters in case you are not able to. For example, the attorney-in-fact can pay bills and write checks for you. As your parents get older, they may not be able to care for their financial matters anymore. It is important that they have a Power of Attorney in place before they reach that point.
  3. Do you have Advance Directives for Health Care? Advance Directives for Health Care allow you to appoint an attorney-in-fact to act on your behalf for health care matters when you are unable to do so yourself. The attorney-in-fact would be able to make decisions for you regarding medication, end-of-life treatment, and health records. It is essential that your parents have this in place before they are unable to care for themselves.
  4. Where can I find your legal documents if I need them? These legal documents won’t be very helpful to your parents in an emergency if nobody knows where they are located or how to access them. Your parents should keep their documents at home where they are easily accessible at any time. If the documents are in a fire-safe, then make sure you have the combination and know how to get inside.
  5. Are your documents current and up-to-date? Perhaps your parents created these documents many years ago, even decades ago. Make sure that the documents reflect your parents’ current situation and current wishes. There may be new additions to or deaths in the family. Also, the laws and legal requirements can change so it is a good idea to have an estate planning attorney review your parents’ documents so that they are up-to-date legally.
  6. If you are unable to care for yourself at home, where would you prefer to live? Start the discussion early before your parents require assisted-living care. By involving your parents in the process, you can find out what their preferences are regarding assisted-living communities.
  7. Do you have long-term care insurance? The cost for assisted-living and nursing home care can overwhelm your parents’ financial situation. It’s important to make sure they have some type of long-term care insurance in place or are planning for Medicaid. Read over the insurance policy to make sure you understand it and call the insurer if you have any questions about what is and is not covered.

By discussing these seven important questions with your aging parents, you can be better prepared to deal with the future and make sure your parents are prepared as well.

Respectful Caregiving for Elderly Loved Ones


If your loved one has dementia, he may not be acting like himself anymore. He may become increasingly confused and need more care as his disease progresses. It’s important to remember, though, that your loved one is an adult, not a child, and to treat him as such. Our elderly loved ones deserve respectful treatment that dignifies them as an adult, despite their deterioration. You can show respect and honor for your elder loved ones by honoring their wishes and trying to maintain a similar lifestyle to what they had prior to dementia. This will bring them a measure of comfort and reassurance. Here are some tips to caring for your loved ones with dementia while maintaining their dignity:

  • Do not parent them. When you are helping someone with the basic activities of life (such as using the restroom or getting dressed), you may tend toward a parental tone with them. Parenting your elderly loved one can come across as disrespectful and condescending. It can make them feel like a child. Avoid using childlike words such as potty, diaper, or bib. Instead try to use more respectful terms such as bathroom, underwear, or apron. Be mindful of your tone and word choices. Try to speak to your loved one as an equal as much as possible.
  • Be open-ended. Help your loved one in conversation by focusing on open-ended discussion rather than specific details. For example, rather than asking how many children he has, ask how he felt raising his children or his favorite memories of them growing up. It may be difficult for your loved one to recall specific details.
  • Being right is not most important. Sometimes your loved one may be in a different time or incorrectly recalling certain events. Rather than correcting your loved one, listen to him and encourage more discussion. Those dealing with dementia often struggle with sequencing and logical thought. It can be appropriate to fib to your loved one when telling the truth would cause pain, anxiety, or confusion. For example, if your loved one wants to drive to the store but is no longer a safe driver, you could tell him that the car is in the repair shop or that you will drive because you need to go out anyway. This can be more loving than telling him that he is no longer a safe driver due to his dementia, which may cause pain and confusion.
  • Get out of the house. It can be difficult to go out of the house with your loved one if social situations make him anxious or stressed. Rather than isolating your loved one at home, take the time to plan a successful outing. This can be rewarding and offer a change of pace for the day. Choose a time of day when your loved one is most active and in the best mood. Allow for ample time to get ready and arrive to where you are going. Think about the types of things your loved one enjoys and incorporate that into the outing. Try to be relaxed and calm because this will help your loved one to feel the same.

Above all, it is important to remember that your elderly one is still the same person you have known and loved. The dementia may cause him to act differently and require extra care, but he still deserves to be treated respectfully and as an adult. These tips can help you to accomplish that as you continue to care for your loved ones with dementia.


Talking to Your Parents About Assisted Living

Looking after your loved ones

Talking to your parents about moving to an assisted living facility can be daunting and stressful. Many elderly ones resist this conversation and move because they don’t want to leave their home or lose their independence. You may be avoiding this conversation as well because you may fear your parent’s reaction and don’t want to face the reality of their situation. However, it is important that you prepare for this move to assisted living (if that’s what they need) before a crisis. These tips can help you discuss the move to assisted living with your parents in a way that doesn’t result in accusations and anger.

1. Make it a process instead of “the talk”. Before your parent reaches the point of needing an assisted living facility, begin the process of talking to them about it. You can discuss the future with them in a non-threatening way by asking what their wishes are regarding their care. Instead of ganging up on your parent with “the talk,” you can make it an ongoing discussion of opinions and options. If the time comes for your parent to move to an assisted living facility, it will already be an open topic of discussion.

2. Control your tone and watch your words. Speak in a positive and upbuilding manner to diffuse potential frustration and anger. Use words like community or condo rather than facility or rooms. Focus on the opportunities and social activities instead of the doctors and medications. Speak in a tone of voice that is calm, quiet, and pleasant. If your parent feels he is not being heard, he may speak louder or shout. Do not respond loudly or you will end up in a shouting match. Listen and validate your parent’s feelings. Make sure he knows that the final decision is his. This will help your parents feel in control and calmer about the situation.

3. Find out what they want. If both your parents are alive, tactfully speak with them about possible future events, such as one of them dying or needing to sell the house. It can be difficult and sad to discuss these things, but getting your parents’ wishes on the matter will help you if the situation arises to handle it in the best way possible. This will also show to your parents that you value their feelings and want to give them the best care possible.

4. Be understanding. Understand your parents’ feelings on why they are resistant to moving to an assisted living facility. Many people feel that they are going there to die. It is difficult to face your own mortality. It may also be difficult for your parent to face their changing role with you. It can be hard for them to accept that you are now taking care of them instead of them taking care of you. Moving to an assisted living facility can also mean a loss of independence and leaving a home they may love. Keep these concerns in mind and be empathetic to their feelings. Give them the ability to make as many decisions as possible regarding where, how, and when they will receive additional care.

5. Learn about the options. Do your research and find out the different types of senior living communities. If they are healthy enough, you can bring your parents with you to tour different facilities. Figure out the costs for different places in your parents’ area. Although it may be a private topic for your parents, try to discuss with them their financial situation. You will need to help them figure out what they can afford. It would also be a good idea to research different funding options, such as Medicaid or long-term care insurance.

6. Understand their illness. If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or another disease, take the time to research the progression of their illness or speak with their doctors. This can help you understand how the illness will impact your parents’ ability to stay at home. Ask the different senior communities how they will provide for your parents’ needs and what services they offer.

While discussing the move to an assisted living facility can still be daunting and stressful, applying these tips can help the discussion to go as smoothly as possible.

How to Communicate When They Have Alzheimer’s


When our loved ones are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, or another form of dementia, we may feel overwhelmed and unprepared to deal with the impending challenges. Watching our loved one deteriorate as the disease progresses can be very painful. As their simple forgetfulness becomes greater and greater, we are faced with the challenge of how to communicate with them successfully. Knowing how to communicate with our loved ones who suffer from dementia can be an important key as their condition worsens.

Communication allows us to create a strong emotional connection. Because our loved ones with dementia are suffering from memory and cognitive impairment, we need to adjust our communication skills to their needs. Here are some communication tips that can help:

  1. Think big instead of small. It is best to ask open-ended questions, rather than detailed ones, because this encourages discussion and conversation without making our loved one feel frustrated that they cannot remember a certain point or detail.
  2. Do not judge or be critical. We never want to be judgmental or critical, but we want to make them feel comfortable and at ease. Instead of correcting our loved one, try to be compassionate and let any misstatements or inaccuracies go.
  3. No distractions. Speak with your loved one in a distraction-free and quiet environment. This will allow your loved one to focus all their mental energy on the conversation.
  4. Be a good listener. Nod your head and smile throughout the conversation. If you don’t understand something, ask an open-ended question to encourage more conversation. When you maintain eye contact and have comfortable body language, your loved one will feel at ease and recognize that you are someone familiar, even if they don’t remember who you are.
  5. Speak calmly. Speak clearly in a calm voice and do not use excitable language. Use people’s names rather than pronouns to help your loved one follow along. Make sure to greet your loved one by name and use it in the conversation.
  6. Be agreeable. Accept the blame when something is wrong instead of arguing with your loved one. Agree with your loved one and allow plenty of time for them to understand what you are saying. Be patient, reassuring, and forgiving. Try to focus on how they are feeling rather than what they are saying. Do not argue with them or confront them. Leave the room if you must to avoid confrontation.
  7. Keep it simple. Use short simple sentences for better comprehension. When giving instructions, use the same wording each time to help them remember. You may need to repeat instructions several times. Speak clearly and naturally on one subject at a time.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. Your loved one may have good days and bad days. Always do your best to keep the communication positive and pleasant. Be patient with your loved one and always be loving and respectful. Reflect on the good memories with your loved one and recognize that they cannot control their deterioration. Knowing how to communicate more effectively can help you cope with this difficult situation.


Case Study: Contest Sufficiency

Trust contest

A recent Indiana court case addressed an issue surrounding the grounds to properly contest a Trust. Ms. Seberger executed her Trust in 1992 and amended it several times. She died in 2014. Ms. Schrage, an heir to Ms. Seberger’s estate, requested a complete copy of the Trust from the Trustee. The Trustee responded by serving her with a Notice to Beneficiary and Trust Certification, stating that he was under no obligation to provide her with a complete copy of the trust and providing notice that she had ninety days to contest the validity of the Trust. The Notice also contained a redacted copy of the Third Restatement of the Trust. Within ninety days, Ms. Schrage filed her Verified Complaint Contesting Validity of the Trust. The Trustee filed a motion to dismiss so the trial court held a hearing and entered an order. The order granted the Trustee’s motion to dismiss because Ms. Schrage failed to properly commence the action pursuant to Indiana Trial Rules and failed to name parties upon whom liability may be imposed (i.e. tortfeasors). The trial court also said she failed to properly docket the Trust.

However, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded. First, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court had erred in dismissing Ms. Schrage’s complaint for failing to properly commence the action and name possible liable parties. The appellees did not identify any person that Ms. Schrage failed to notify. They simply suggested that certain alleged tortfeasors were not notified. Ms. Schrage stated in her complaint that the Trustee also served as Ms. Seberger’s attorney and drafted the Trust, creating a presumption that certain amendments and restatements of the Trust were obtained by fraud. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissal and remanded that Ms. Schrage must amend her complaint and plead her allegations with sufficient specificity.

The Court of Appeals next addressed the trial court’s dismissal on the basis that a complaint contesting the validity of a Trust must be filed after the Trust is first docketed. The trial court treated Ms. Schrage’s failure to docket the trust as a matter of jurisdiction rather than a mere procedural defect. Thus, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court erred in that determination. It also found that the relevant statute plainly provides that Ms. Schrage was not required to first docket the Trust before bringing a challenge to its validity.