“Too many people are complacent – and misinformed – about the need for proper estate and long-term care planning.”
There, I’ve said it. I say it every day, in fact. Because I see it every day! As an Elder Law attorney for 33 years, I’ve witnessed first-hand how inaction, or inadequate planning, can result in devastation for seniors and their families. In fact, some of the things I’ve seen are genuine horror stories…
- Being secretive with family about your assets, and avoiding discussion of possible long-term care issues.
- Not coordinating beneficiary designations with the desires expressed in the will.
- Relying on outdated or inadequate documents – especially durable powers of attorney and living wills (advance directives).
- Naming the wrong person to make decisions.
- Not understanding the rules for Medicaid benefits, and how to use them for long-term care – a cause-and-effect that can result in total impoverishment.
- Not providing for guardianship or trust for minor children.
“A Lawyer’s Advice Is Her Stock in Trade”. I can’t take credit for that bit of wisdom; Abraham Lincoln said it. But there’s a reason I’m quoting him. We’re not talking only about documents, here. We’re also talking about the interaction, the advice, the wisdom, the counseling (hence “Counselor at Law”) that an Elder Law attorney can provide.
In our office, we discuss the issues families could not possibly anticipate on their own. Just like a doctor, we have the expertise to find cures for problems, with proper, information and the proper “treatment” or “prescription.” That’s why we spend a lot of time with our clients, especially at our first meeting; we can spot issues before they become problems.
This time of the year is especially important. During tax season many financial professionals will be seeing their clients. They’re in the perfect position to discuss the disastrous effects of failing to plan with their clients. And they can find out important information. Is someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s? Is there a family-member with special needs who might require special planning? Has there been a death in the family? Is someone headed for a nursing home?
New Durable Power of Attorney. At the very least we should all update our Durable Powers of Attorney – because the Florida law regarding them changed drastically on Oct. 1.
My Horror Stories: Every Elder Law attorney can recite horror stories about “do-it-yourself” clients or procrastinators. My personal favorite was a will so poorly drawn that the assets kept reverting to a trust, which kept pouring them right back into the will…never providing for distribution! Of course, we had to go to Court for a resolution!
Most distressing, to me, is the family that fails to prepare for long-term care issues, and finds itself in a crisis situation that could have been avoided. Another horror story involves a client who spent down hundreds of thousands of dollars to get her mother eligible for nursing-home care – unnecessarily!
My latest horror story, however, is about to unfold. A client is procrastinating, and spending money on fixing up the house…while out there is an old trust of her late-husband that’s about to bite her in the butt. For one thing, it’s not consistent with her overall estate plan. And for another, if she ever needs Medicaid for long-term care, the assets she’s been “spending down” will count as available…and make her ineligible for Medicaid! The only person who can save her now is an experienced Elder Law attorney.
Conclusion: Most people don’t want to address the issues of mortality and incapacity. Let’s be realistic; it ain’t a happy conversation! But if you fail to have this conversation, the conversation you’ll eventually have will be a lot worse.
If you could see what I see every day, you’d know the truth of that old axiom: if you’re failing to plan, you’re planning to fail. (And in an area, I might add, in which you probably can’t afford to fail!)