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Liza Horvath, Senior Advocate: Fees for health agent’s services and a blind trust

By Liza Horvath

Senior Advocate

Q: I am the agent under a Health Care Directive for a friend. She is becoming more reliant on me and I am going with her to doctor’s appointments so I can learn more about her medical needs. I am spending a lot of time on this “volunteer” project! Is it reasonable to be paid and, if so, how much?

A: As your friend’s health care agent, she is looking to you to step in and make medical decisions on her behalf should she become incapable of making decisions herself. When selecting an agent, we should look to someone who knows us well, will remain calm in a crisis and be comfortable in asking questions of doctors to determine a best course of action. Our agent should also be able to reassure family members during an emergency and stand up to those family members who may not agree with certain decisions made on our behalf.

The weight of this responsibility can be daunting. I commend you on accompanying her to appointments and speaking with her doctors now. This knowledge puts you in a better position to advocate for her later, if needed.

Agents are often family members who do not seek compensation. However, whether a friend or family member acts in this capacity, it is reasonable to seek compensation. There are professionals who will act as health care agents which underscores the fact that it is a “real” job.

Rates are generally $25 to $50 per hour. Speak with your friend about being compensated and be sure she understands you want to be paid. Also, this is taxable income to you so reporting is required.

Q: Liza, I love reading your column. My question is how to find the current trustee? Are trusts filed somewhere? My daughter is married to a trust fund recipient. He has become mentally impaired and doesn’t know anything about his monthly stipend from the trust. He now needs 24/7 care and she wants to know if his trust provides for additional funding for his condition.

A: I appreciate your compliment, thank you! The short answer is no, there is not a central place where trusts are filed. One of the attractions of using a trust as our estate planning tool is that it generally remains confidential whereas a probate is public and our will, along with lists of assets and their values, would be filed with the court. Far too public for many! To add to the difficult task your daughter is facing, some states allow for “blind trusts” where the trustee is directed to never disclose the maker of a trust or its terms.

Start with the stipend: If it comes by check, it should show the name of the account it is drawn on. If directly deposited into the husband’s account, the bank knows where it is coming from and statements may provide helpful information. Also, he may be getting a K-1 tax reporting document each year and this may contain needed information.

Your daughter can check the public records for the counties where her husband has lived. While trusts themselves are not generally filed, there could have been a probate that ordered that the trust be established. Finally, can family members shed some light? What about the family attorney? If all fails, consider seeking the services of a private investigator. Good luck!

Liza Horvath has over 30 years’ experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. Questions? Email or call (831) 646-5262.

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