As family members gather together for the holidays, it is a good time to check in with aging parents and other relatives and see how they are doing. For many children who live far away from their parents, or simply busy throughout the year with work and their own families, they may not see the everyday signs of aging until they visit in person. While many things can be attributed to normal aging, you should pay careful attention to signs of beginning dementia or other illnesses, and begin a conversation with your parents about estate planning. It may be the one time of year where family members are together at the same time.
Starting the conversation can be as simple as finding out if they already have an estate plan in place, and where their important documents are located. Parents may not be ready to, nor should they be required to, share the details of their estate plan or finances with their children, but it is critical to let their children and appointed fiduciaries know where their legal documents are located in the event of an emergency.
If your parents do not have an estate plan in place (or it has not been updated in 20, 30 or 40+ years), you can begin by asking them who would take over managing things if they became sick or incapacitated. A Power of Attorney and a Health Care Proxy are necessary documents that everyone should have in place to ensure that your affairs will be managed by someone you choose. A Last Will & Testament is necessary to make sure your assets get distributed to the beneficiaries you want after your death. A Will should be reviewed every 5-8 years (or earlier when life circumstances change) to ensure that it is up-to-date. Some people feel very strongly about preferences for end-of-life decision making, funeral or memorial arrangements, and burial/ cremation instructions. Without discussing these difficult topics, or having documents such as a Living Will, Disposition of Remains Appointment (DORA) and pre-planned funeral, family members may be left to argue what their loved one may or may not have wanted.
Another important conversation to have is where would your parents want to receive care in the event they become disabled or need help with everyday activities. Most often people would want to stay at home and be taken care of at home. However, the next two questions are: Who would provide the care at home? and How would the care be paid for? These are tough questions, but to ensure the best outcome requires careful planning in advance. More than 65 million people provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged spouse, parent, family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one. However, family caregivers often face tremendous financial burdens, stress, health issues and burnout.
There are several options to pay for long-term care needs, such as long term care insurance, Medicaid and Veteran’s benefits, and the time to plan is before you actually need the care. With careful planning it is possible to stay at home, and avoid going to an assisted living facility or nursing home, when possible. For example, New York’s Community Medicaid does provide in-home care if you meet the medical and financial eligibility requirements. Talking to an experienced Elder Law attorney can help you know your options and plan in advance. The attorneys and paralegals at the Herzog Law Firm can walk you through the process and may help you avoid asset spend downs or penalty periods.
Lastly, for the parents who have adult children visiting, this is an opportunity to share with your children the plans you have put into place so they are prepared in the event of an emergency. Besides completing legal documents, it is equally helpful to compile a list of your bank accounts and other assets, with account numbers and/or passwords for online accounts, so that your children would be able to handle your finances in an emergency. It is also useful have a list of doctors, medical conditions and health insurance plans to assist your child in making medical decisions for you.
So, in conclusion, in between the turkey and the football and the catching up this holiday, put some time aside to go over legal and financial planning with your parents. You will be glad you did some day in the future! Contact the Herzog Law Firm at 1-800-777-7581 to schedule a free Estate Planning consultation or review.