Estate planning is important for people of all ages, but as we age, the need for planning becomes even more critical. Many people avoid estate planning, because they do not want to think about the end of life, failing health or disability. Others believe that an estate plan is only for rich people. However, an estate plan is helpful for the senior adult and their families regardless of overall wealth.
The estate is all the property owned both individually and jointly, including bank accounts, real estate, jewelry, etc., and what is owed. Without an estate plan, it can be very difficult to carry out a person's wishes and can bring on a long, drawn out settlement process that can be very expensive for the family. If an estate plan is in place, it can provide peace of mind for the senior adult and their family, as well as protection for the wishes of the senior.
Below are some basic guidelines for what should be included in an estate plan.
- Will. A will provides for an personal representative of the estate, who will take care of managing the estate, paying debts, and distributing property as specified. The distribution of assets can be outlined in the will. This can be as broad or detailed as a person wishes. In a will, beneficiaries and guardians for minor children should be assigned. It may not seem necessary to discuss minor children when discussing seniors and estate planning, but with the rise of grandparents raising grandchildren, this may indeed be an important part of the will. A senior adult can spell out, in the will, how they want their funeral and burial to be carried out as well.
- Living Will. A living will outlines a senior's wishes for end of life medical care. It can include, in as much detail as the senior wishes, what medical treatments the senior would or would not like to have in specific situations. A living will takes the stress of making those decisions off of family members and helps to keep peace in families during times that can be difficult and emotional.
- Patient Advocate Designation. A Patient Advocate Designation is also a key part of an estate plan. This legal document provides for someone to legally make healthcare decisions for a senior adult if two doctors first certify that the senior cannot make their own decisions due to illness, dementia, or disability.
- Financial Power of Attorney. A financial power of attorney names an agent who has the power to act in the place of the senior adult for matters relating to finances. The durable financial power of attorney stays in effect if the senior adult becomes unable to handle their affairs. By having a financial power of attorney in place, the stress and expense of a conservatorship can be avoided, and the senior has the final say in who will make decisions relating to finances.
- Trusts. Setting up a trust can be beneficial for the distribution of specific assets or pieces of property. The benefit of a trust is that it does not go through probate, as compared to a will. Property is still distributed at the death of the trustmaker, but it is done without the need of a court. Trusts can also be used to minimize nursing home costs, minimize taxes, protect assets for the people inheriting from divorce, lawsuits, and creditors, and provide for disabled beneficiaries or beneficiaries with special needs so that they do not lose their government benefits. Trusts are also useful for providing management of assets upon incapacity in the event of a long-term disability.
Having an estate plan is necessary if you or your senior loved one wishes to have a say in what happens in the end of life and with assets after death. Consulting and planning with an elder law attorney will help to ensure that all options are explored and the best possible solution is utilized. The elder law attorney can walk you through all of the necessary parts of the estate plan, provide explanation, and prepare the paperwork. Elder law attorneys will help take the guesswork out of estate planning.
If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact us. Andrew Byers is an estate planning and elder law attorney who helps seniors to establish estate and longevity plans.