George Fox talks about ‘legal common sense for 2019’
George Fox, part-time resident of Big Canoe, Sandy Springs attorney and Smoke Signals contributor, spoke at the February 1 Squires & Stags breakfast on the subject of “Wealth, Health and Hassles: Legal Common Sense for 2019.”
Living wills don’t require a person to make decisions for you, Fox told the breakfast crowd. He said the document that is person-specific is Georgia’s Advanced Directive for Health Care.
“It says if anything happens to me, here are the people who can make healthcare decisions for me,” Fox said. “ If you don’t have that document, some court gets to appoint a guardian for you.”
“That’s a waste of money, a waste of time,” Fox said. “But if you don’t have that document, somebody has to determine who can make decisions for you.”
Guardian vs. conservator
“A guardian is your person who makes health care decisions,” Fox explained. “A conservator is who is going to handle your POA dues, your investments, etc. The courts can appoint anyone they want.”
Two informal positions that can help you get through a health event are a health care advocate and a “listener.”
“A health care advocate sits in the hospital room with a computer in front of them and looks up on Google or Bing when something (medical procedure, treatment, etc.) is being recommended,” Fox said. “Somebody has got to look at what treatment is being recommended to you and do you want to go through with it. Your spouse, child or good friend can do it and there are no forms to fill out.”
The other is a health care listener who is someone to go to the doctor’s office with you and keep notes as to what the doctor is really saying. Sometimes the patient is not capable of grasping what is said.
“You don’t want to find out down the road that there were alternatives to medicines, etc.,” Fox said.
A DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) is an order and has to be signed by the doctor. There is a second form called POLSC (Physicians Order of Life Saving Treatment) that contains a lot of details and choices, according to Fox.
“The problem with a POLSC is that it may take choices away from your spouse,” Fox said. “And the illness may have alternative treatments. We recommend that you skip the POLSC. You need to have a DNR order. Ambulance services throughout the metro area will not transfer you from a hospital to a hospice unless you have a DNR so that if you have a heart attack while in route the driver has no requirement to stop and resuscitate you.”
Without an advanced directive for health care, information about a patient cannot be shared with family members because of HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), Fox said.
When are you considered disabled?
“When it comes to financial affairs, as long as you can communicate you are not disabled,” Fox said. “If you can supervise the people who are doing the financials you are not disabled. If you can nod your head yes or no or can squeeze your hand yes or no that works out as well.”
There are lots of illnesses where people know what’s going on, according to Fox.
“The people you want to have judge that are the people who are close to you,” Fox said. “ If you are going to use your children, put in one contemporary, someone on the same level age wise and understands what is going on.”
Georgia has a law that helps survivors during the difficult period after the death of a parent.
Georgia, alone among the states, has a procedure that is called “Year’s Support,” Fox explained. The court has the power to award assets to the spouse and to the minor children to provide for them and it comes ahead of all creditors.
“They get nothing as it is designed to get a family through a difficult period,” Fox said. “It is a blessing. It helps a family get through a tough time.”
No will is required if all the family agrees on how assets will be divided and a “No administration necessary” is filed, according to Fox.
Wills should also include provisions for how to deal with digital assets.
“That can be flyer miles, Face Book… anything that has a password,” Fox said.
In the case of divorce, Fox recommends changing the will before the completion of the divorce, not afterward.
Roselle Wilkerson of Big Canoe talked to the crowd about protection from lawsuits from those who might become injured or cause damage while working on your property.
“You want to make sure that they are carrying coverage to protect you in the case that something like that might happen,” Wilkerson said. “If they don’t have general liability coverage of course it’s going to go to your homeowner’s policy. Worker’s compensation claims can also come to you.”
The way to get around that is to ask them for a certificate of insurance, according to Fox.
“There is an awful lot of fraud going on with certificates of insurance where the information that appears on the certificate is fraud,” she said.
Wilkerson suggested checking the date on the certificate to make sure it is current and call the agent if the certificate came from the contractor and not directly from the agent. She also said you can verify worker’s compensation at the Georgia State Board of Worker’s Compensation website.
In the area of new things, Fox announced that in the future, Big Canoe residents (and eventually, all Georgians) would have access to Georgia’s new “Yellow Dot Program.” For free, you’ll be able to get two yellow dot stickers. You put one on the back window of your car and it tells emergency responders that in the glove department of the car is your healthcare information. Otherwise they don’t know. You place the second yellow dot on your house door that tells emergency responders to look on the side of the refrigerator for an envelope with health care information.
There have also been changes in the Internal Revenue Code. A new Section 199A (not 199a) deals with rental property taxation of a triple net lease (where the tenant pays for everything). Fox suggested that rental property owners should check with their accountant. The final regulations have not been issued.
Fox also talked about the simplicity of not trying to beat probate, because with a properly-drawn document, for under $200 you can probate a will yourself.
“But don’t automatically assume that a will is the ‘be all, end all,’” Fox said. There are other assets that don’t pass under the will that you still have to take care of.”
In 2026, laws affecting gift exemptions is halved from $11 million to $5.5 million, Fox noted and suggests planning for that change now if you have that amount in assets.
Fox’s firm has come up with a “How I feel” document that a person can fill out that helps the family make decisions based on the patient’s feelings about how they want to be treated in the event they cannot make medical decisions. That form is available free to whoever would like a copy, according to Fox.
Squires & Stags meets on the first Friday of the month in the Mountains Grille at the Clubhouse at Lake Sconti. Coffee is ready at 7:45 a.m. followed by a buffet breakfast served at 8 a.m. Big Canoe residents and guests are invited to attend the meeting. The price of breakfast is $13 payable on your POA account or by cash at the door. Reservations are required and must be received by noon on Thursday before the Friday morning meeting. You may also call (706) 268-3346 to make reservations.