Planning for the future is never easy. Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, long-term care and funerals are complicated topics that require us to make concrete decisions, explore complex legal topics and family dynamics and ultimately contemplate our own mortality. While it’s tempting to put these big decisions on the back burner, avoiding these topics will create financial and emotional burdens for your loved ones in the long run.
When it comes to estate planning, the best time to start is today.
“I always advise clients to plan as if something were going to happen tomorrow,” stated Sarah Smith of the Butler & College Law Firm, who focuses her practice on estate planning.
Having a comprehensive plan in place now is so important because estate plans consist of so much more than a will or trust. Health care and financial powers of attorney are a critical part of your plan because they give your trusted loved ones the ability to make important decisions on your behalf.
Smith posed the question, “What if you are in a car accident and you become incapacitated, and you don’t have anyone with legal authority to pay your bills or make important medical decisions?”
Without power of attorney documents in place, your loved ones would have to petition the court to be able to make decisions for you. But, with the proper documentation, they could act on your behalf immediately, which can be crucial in time-sensitive situations.
It’s a common misconception that trusts are only for the wealthy, but having the right legal documents will not only ensure that your estate is divided up the way that you envision but will also help streamline the estate administration process for your family, saving them precious time during an already stressful and harrowing situation. Aside from having a properly executed will or trust, “people don’t realize the importance of having assets titled in a proper way and having their beneficiary designations updated,” warned Smith.
The designations made on an individual account will override the wishes you’ve shared in your will, so it’s vital that they’re updated regularly. One of the many benefits of working with a professional like Smith is having someone to guide you through the legal process, ensuring all of the “i’s” are dotted and “t’s” crossed along the way.
Another benefit of getting your own estate in order is that it makes it easier to suggest that elderly family members do the same.
“It’s hard for my younger clients to have those conversations with their parents because they personally don’t want to think about their parents becoming older and passing away or not being able to take care of themselves,” shared Smith. “But I’ve seen that it’s a little easier when they’ve gone through the legal process themselves and started that conversation with their parents that way. It’s a great time for them to say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad. I just updated all of my documents. Let’s take a look at what you have.’”
Once your legal road map is in place, it’s important to consider the topic of long-term care. A professional like Smith can provide an easy transition into this topic, since she regularly helps clients prepare for the financial aspects of long-term care. With proper planning, there are several ways to lessen the burden of paying for in-home care or assisted living. If you consider your options early on, long-term care insurance, which helps to cover the cost of a wide range of options as you age, is certainly a possibility. Later in life, Smith can work with your financial advisor to offer other avenues which can help protect your assets from being diminished by long-term care expenses.
Having a clear plan in place well ahead of time makes the transition to assisted living easier on you and your loved ones because everyone knows what to expect. But how can you broach the subject with elderly family members when the transition is imminent? Understanding the signs that loved ones are in need of a higher level of care is the first step. Frequent trips to the doctor or emergency room, numerous falls, weight loss and increased risk of conditions such as pneumonia are a few of the things that may signal a loved one needs to seek skilled care.
“Knowing that you need help, as the caregiver or the patient, is key,” stressed Lynn Brooks of PruittHealth Hospice in Anderson, who offers different levels of care for patients in need, allowing them to stick within one team of providers throughout their long-term care journey.
Brooks recommended speaking to a few different care providers to find the one that will best address your loved ones’ specific needs. While the conversation about entering into long-term care treatment is never easy, it’s helpful to do your research beforehand so that you can get answers to questions as they arise. As you prepare to have this difficult conversation, keep in mind that getting the right help will make a world of difference for patients and caregivers alike.
Whether you’ve been avoiding these sensitive topics or you are trying to help guide elderly family members through the process of preparing for the future, having a well-thought-out plan will save your family members time, alleviate stress and protect your finances as you navigate the process of aging.
By Lindsay C. Bishop