Question: “My sister and I have powers of attorney for our mother. Mom also has her assets in a trust and we are joint trustees in the trust. We need to take over bill paying and handle financial matters for her. Would you please answer the following four (4) short elder care financial questions for us?”
1. When we pay bills, can we sign our own names to the checks since we are joint trustees on her accounts, including her checking?
Answer: If the checking account is in the trust, depending on the terms of the trust agreement and your state trust code, either one or both trustees should sign the checks in their own name(s) as trustee(s).
2. When depositing her checks from her long term care insurance company, do we endorse the checks with our names or hers?
Answer: How checks are to be endorsed depends on to whom they are payable. Generally, LTC insurance benefit checks are payable to the insured, in which case they should be endorsed either in your name, followed by “agent under power of attorney”, or in some states and depending on the terms of the power of attorney, it may be proper for you to sign her name, then “by [your name], agent under power of attorney”.
Personally, I am uncomfortable with anyone signing someone else’s name, so I recommend that the agent sign his or her own name, followed by agent under power of attorney. (Agent is the more modern title, but many powers of attorney still use the title “attorney-in-fact” or even just “attorney” for the agent, so use the terminology preferred in your state and used in your mother’s document.)
3. Do the powers of attorney cover her trust assets or do we just use our rights as joint trustees in dealing with her banks?
Answer: In general, no. There may be exceptions, but in general, powers of attorney granted by an individual are ineffective at controlling transactions within a trust. The trustees are the fiduciaries responsible for transactions with trust assets and income.
4. Do we have to send copies of the powers of attorney to her utility and insurance companies in order to have her bills sent to us to pay?”
Answer: If utility and insurance accounts are in your mother’s personal name as an individual, you will deal with them by power of attorney. The companies will probably require a copy of your mother’s power of attorney in order to release information to you about her accounts and to enable you to make any changes in her accounts, such as to change the mailing address.
Martin C. Womer, Esq.
Maine Center for Elder Law, LLC
Kennebunk, Maine 04043