Having a parent or loved one with any form of dementia in never easy. It comes with a continual sadness over the loss of the person you once new. The holidays can be a particularly difficult time to deal with this reality, but that is nothing compared to the difficulty you may fear by having your loved one visit during this season. With that in mind, I’m posting the following quick guide to make these experiences easier on the both of you.
1. The General Rules Still Apply
There are some best-practices employed by elder care providers, and these should be continued while your loved one is in your care. This is particularly important when visiting you because the environment may seem foreign to your loved one, increasing anxiety as well as the risk of disorientation. These practices include:
- Sticking to your loved one’s regular routine as much as possible
- Being mindful of hygiene, but also respect your loved one’s privacy
- Allowing your loved one do the activities that they can ordinarily do with safety
- Avoiding being domineering or expressing frustration, where possible
Powers of Attorney are a major tool in every estate planner and elder law attorney’s toolkit, and the concept has been fairly well ingrained in our cultural lexicon. Perhaps it’s because of that that it never ceases to amaze me how frequently misunderstood they are. It shouldn’t be surprising that a properly informed client does not translate to properly informed children a decade or two down the road, and yet, when my colleagues and I then try to set the record straight for family members, they do not want to believe us.
I have given some thought to what the easiest, proper explanation of a power of attorney is, and if I was pressed to boil it down to a single sentence, I’d go with the following:
A power of attorney is a document that allows an individual to share with another person their own ability to manage their money and property and make legally binding agreements on their behalf to the extent specified in the document.
However, since my goal is to provide a well-rounded discussion in these blog posts, and there’s no shortage of space, I’d like to break down a few key parts of that definition for those who are interested.
AARP volunteers help millions across the U.S. file their taxes each year.
Tax season is coming into full swing shortly, and this will be my third tax season volunteering with AARP’s TaxAide program. For me, it’s an opportunity to do some good and keep abreast of how all the different tax tweaks congress makes each year find their way into the IRS forms and filing requirements we actually deal with back here on Earth. For you – or for an elderly friend or loved one – it’s can be an opportunity to get your taxes done for free with friendly, convenient service. For the benefit of those who might be interested, I’ve reposted this FAQ article with a summary of the services we provide.
People in unique situations, like family business owners, parents of children with special needs, and people with substantial net worth are often very proactive about enlisting attorneys to craft a comprehensive estate plan. Most others understand the benefit of such planning – stating how your property would be divided up with specificity, appointing decisionmakers for any future incapacity, naming alternate guardians of minor children – but are hesitant to contact an attorney to set their affairs in order. This is entirely understandable. People rarely find themselves excited to consult an attorney in general, and even less so when the purpose is to contemplate your own mortality. The prospect of death or incapacity may seem unlikely for your age, making it easy to put off, and spending money on a backup plan may not seem like the best use of limited resources in a tight economy. Notions of costs in the thousands rather than hundreds or the belief that an expensive “living trust” is needed to avoid probate doesn’t help much either.
But for all of the practical difficulties people know are possible with a lack of planning, few are aware that there can be significant financial consequences of improper planning, even for those modest means. In most cases, even basic estate planning will offset significantly higher hidden costs in the future. After the break, three extremely common examples of these costs.
The Estate Planning Ticker will be undergoing some upgrades in the near future. It’s my hope to give the blog’s style a decent upgrade, then pull the rest of my website into it for a more consistent and interactive client experience. If you happen to notice a missing heading, oddly shifted pictures or mismatched colors, it’s all part of the process.
I continue to appreciate your readership.
The $45 will storage solution
A common non-legal question estate planning attorneys get is where you should keep the documents we draft for them. As is so often the case in law, the best answer is “it depends.” For most people, I feel a lock-box inside the house is usually the best solution, but in some cases, the traditional “valuables in the safe deposit box” approach remains a better choice. Here are some of the major considerations:
The Merits of the Fireproof Lock-Box
Most of my clients are people with spouses and children who get along well, or even if they bicker or are distant, have some modicum of respect and integrity amongst them. The kids will know the basics of their parents’ estate plans, and anyone who is asked to be a power of attorney, healthcare representative, or trustee of a trust will get copies of the documents naming them to those positions. You might even give the named executor a copy of your will. In any of these cases, I’m a big proponent of fireproof lock-boxes, like the Sentry 1100 or F2300 (also waterproof, pictured above). These and similar boxes, about the size of two small loaves of bread, can be kept in a bottom file drawer, closet, or under your bed. They are easy to find, can hold all of your important documents, and offer a modicum of fire and water protection. The locks are laughable – on the First Alert version it’s a plastic clasp – but this is usually a good thing: it’s sufficient to keep prying eyes away, but can be accessed in an emergency even without the key.
It’s a common situation. Your dad realizes he’s not getting any younger, so he adds your name to his bank account “just in case.” Or mom offhandedly tells you she “put you on [her] annuity,” though your name’s not on the statements. Maybe Mom’s not as sharp as she once was, and after requesting copies of her statements and faxing over your power of attorney as they asked, you find your name added to the account. Perhaps a decade ago your parents put away some college spending money for your son, and you’re listed as “Custodian under UTMA” on the bank statements.
If you have elderly parents, it’s likely you’ve come across one or more of these scenarios, and they tend to bring with them a bunch of questions, like:
- Does that mean it’s my money? Does half this interest go on my taxes now? Does all of it?
- Can I take out money if I want to?
- Does this mean I have to do anything? Will I get in trouble if I leave things as they are?
- Is this a gift? Can I take out money if I want to?
- What happens when they pass away? Can I just withdraw the money, or does it have to go through probate, or what?
The answers are fairly easy, yet it is a subject on which even veteran accountants and policy reps get their wires crossed. However, if you understand which of the three reasons has placed your name within your parent’s records, it’s easy to understand what is actually going on.
Life Alert is good, but a few tweaks to your home renovation plan can actually prevent falls later in life.
A little over a year into The Estate Planning Ticker, I’ve come to find that articles can be inspired by just about anything. Some are obvious – a new law, a sage or misleading news story, a cautionary tale manifested in a recent client; some less so. In this case, I was inspired by two consecutive life experiences. First, watching my mother put her insight as a geriatric nurse into practice as she renovated the family home, and second, helping to move her mother out of her home of 40 years because it had become unsafe.
Falls are among the most prominent health risks facing elderly Americans. They can cause serious injury, make you feel defeated and embarrassed, and terrify your adult children. That last bit explains why it’s one of the most frequently cited reasons for children to pressure their parents out of the home and into some form of managed care facility. What makes it that much worse is the simple fact that most falls, as well as other physical difficulties around the home, are completely preventable.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a home where you intend to spend your later years, and are planning renovations big or small, there are some simple considerations which, for an extra few hundred dollars, may save you from aggravation, injury, or additional contractors later in life. After the jump, a checklist of the more important considerations of elder-living architecture.
An article last week in the local lawyer’s trade paper, The Connnecticut Law Tribune, discussed the increasing prevalence of wills being delayed in the probate process through complaints, objections, and full-out challenging of wills admitted to probate.
It’s not surprising, given that the economy is at the lowest point most of us have ever and will ever see. There will always be maligned siblings looking for their fair share and suspicious later-in-life will changes, but in these tight times staying silent to keep the peace may not be the option it normally would be for some left-out relatives. At the same time, there’s likely a surge in opportunists who suspect (accurately, as it happens) that most legit beneficiaries would rather pay a small, quick settlement than see their own inheritances delayed and diminished by a protracted lawsuit.
It’s an unfortunate situation for those looking to plan for when they are no longer around. It’s also a good example of why it’s so important to have your will done by an attorney, in particular one who handles a great deal of wills and probate work.
If you’re looking to cut someone off because you question their responsibility or they have significant debts, several different types of trusts can be employed to address those concerns without completely disinheriting the person. If you just want someone out, the wording must be carefully chosen to meet legal standards. Depending on the situation, it may be better to employ a “carrot and stick” tactic, where the ousted person is actually given a small legacy under the will, but which is forfeited if he or she challenges the will in court.
Later-in-life will changes are particularly susceptible to challenge in court, as relatives may claim the author was not competent to make the will, or had been subjected to the manipulation and pressure of an overbearing child or confidante. An experienced estate planning or elder law attorney can take steps to help ensure the will will be upheld in court, such as careful selection of the location and people present at the execution ceremony (will signing), choice of witnesses, and videotaping the ceremony as future evidence.
For more information, feel free to call me at (203) 871-3830 or email email@example.com for a free consultation.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a lecture by a colleague discussing the benefits of certain will clauses as illustrated by notable wills in the public record. At one point we were discussing spendthrift clauses, a common technique to withhold a benefit from someone whose creditors would just end up with it anyways, using an excerpt from the self-written will of President (and attorney) Thomas Jefferson:
“Considering the insolvent state of affairs of my friend & son in law Thomas Mann Randolph, and that what will remain of my property will be the only resource against the want in which his family would otherwise be left, it must be his wish, as it is my duty, to guard that resource against all liability for his debts, engagements or purposes whatsoever, and to preclude the rights, powers and authorities over it which might result to him by operation of law, and which might, independantly (sic) of his will, bring it within the power of his creditors. . .”
The attorney noted how beautifully written the prose of those days went, how lofty and eloquent it was. I noticed something very different, though, and very disturbing. I saw precatory language.