By Linda T. Cammuso
While more people do estate planning earlier in their lifetimes today, there are many who have yet to take that important step. Even though most seniors are aware of the need for proper planning, the mere thought of an “estate plan” can seem confusing and overwhelming, especially in today’s challenging economic climate. Often as people age, many come to rely on their immediate family or other relatives to help navigate the complicated legal and financial landscape.
Families of aging parents are in a delicate position. Sensitive to their parents’ privacy and desire for autonomy, children are often hesitant to approach legal and financial issues with their parents. Yet at the same time, they realize that at some point they are likely to be called upon to help. If parents do not plan properly, or if they wait until it is too late, it is usually the children who must respond to the crisis. This can range from serving as a guardian or conservator if a parent loses legal capacity and has not put a power of attorney or health care proxy into effect, to undertaking the sad task of liquidating parents’ assets to pay for nursing home care.
Hard as it may be to speak to parents about estate planning and long-term care, it is an important conversation. Every family is dealing with these same issues. No one likes to think about them or talk about them. But facing these challenges head-on and putting a solid plan in place will allow families to move on and enjoy these years together.
One way for children to approach the discussion could be to frame the conversation around how they have planned for their own futures, the pitfalls they discovered along the way and their desire to see their parents’ needs met and wishes honored. Perhaps the easier approach is to suggest that parents and family members see an attorney together to have such a discussion.
Families would be well-served to keep in mind the following:
Consulting with an attorney often neutralizes the awkwardness parents and children feel about this process. The parent and child can become a team, weighing the various options and costs to arrive at the best decision for the parent.
When it comes time to speak with an attorney, the parent is the client and the ultimate decision-maker. The focus should be on the parent’s needs and wishes. However, children should not underestimate their roles as advocates for and educators of their parents.
You should always get your facts from an attorney. Parents and children have all received “advice” from relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbors (usually all saying something different!). While these people are well-intentioned, you should only take legal advice from a legal professional.
Consulting with a qualified estate planning/elder law attorney is a must. Many attorneys will prepare a will or power of attorney for a client but do not understand the long-term care exposures that the client is facing. In today’s complicated world, dealing with an estate planning professional is critical.
Linda T. Cammuso, a founding partner at Estate Preservation Law Offices and an estate planning professional, has extensive experience in elder law and long-term care planning. Linda may be reached at www.estatepreservationlaw.com or by calling 508-751-5010.