myths and legends.
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Disclaimer: The content on this website does not constitute legal advice. A qualified attorney in your state should be consulted concerning any legal questions, issues or matters that you have.
Whatever you think you may already know about "elder law", or estate planning is a myth or urban legend. We were just like you- unsure about the status of our parents' Estate, confused financial planning with estate planning and made assumptions about our entitlements as Dad's daughters.
One of the biggest myths about Estate Planning is that it is only for the rich. This is so not true! It is for anyone who wants to have a better view about their long-term care: where will it happen, who will do it, how will it be funded and what happens to everything once the loved one passes away. Estate planning even goes as far as helping families avoid the drama that is associated with all of this.
As a reminder, none of this should be considered legal advice. This information should be considered a warning to help you avoid making assumptions based on what you think you may know about this topic. However, one bit of advise we do offer is encourage everyone to seek out services of a qualified attorney in your state about any legal questions, issues or concerns. Finding legal advise should not be feared because of its cost. There are many affordable legal services available online.
There are going to be many unexpected challenges along the way but when you address the potential legal ones now, it will help create a more successful journey for you while in your role as The Caregiver. Rely on resources to help you become better prepared for what lies ahead.
Lets understand this better.
"My name is on my parent's bank accounts so I don't have to worry about anything."
"My parents created a POA years ago, so they are in good shape."
"We'll just transfer mom's house into my name"
"They don't need a Will."
This is not a plan.
These are only myths.
What is Estate Planning all about?
There are many urban legends about Estate Planning that discourage people from doing it at all - its only for the wealthy or its too expensive. Both or are not true!
Basically, this process is in getting one's stuff together. How much Estate Planning is needed? Well, that all depends on how far one wants to go in order to protect everything thing they've work for all of their life. It also depends on how much drama they want to cause for their family as their health condition deteriorates or when they pass away.
What happens when your loved one makes no preparations, what so ever? Then it becomes the Caregiver's responsibility to deal with all of it.
Don't let this become your situation. It does not take that much effort to put even the most simple Estate Plan in place.
Here is some information to help you and your parents as you begin to venture into the Estate Planning process.
There are several key documents that are typically involved in the Estate Planning process - A Power of Attorney (POA), Health Care Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, and Last Will. Just by putting any one of them in place, would be considered a "basic" Estate Plan.
Legal Zoom has provided these descriptions to help us explain how each one of them functions:
POWER OF ATTORNEY - A power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that lets you appoint someone to handle financial and legal matters on your behalf. With a power of attorney, the person you appoint will be legally permitted to take care of important matters for you, including paying your bills and managing your investments, if you are unable to do so for yourself.
HEALTH CARE POWER OF ATTORNEY - The health care power of attorney is a document in which you designate someone to be your representative, or agent, in the event you are unable to make or communicate decisions about all aspects of your health care. In the most basic form, a health care power of attorney merely says, "I want this person to make decisions about my health care if I am unable to do so."
HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE - A living will, commonly referred to as an advance directive, is a document that provides instructions regarding end-of-life care. Living wills allow you to make your own choices about life support and helps prevent confusion about the type of care you do or do not want in the event you become incapable of communicating your wishes. Without a living will, the laws in your state will determine who will make your health care decisions.
LAST WILL - A last will and testament is a legal document that lets you designate individuals or charities to receive your property and possessions when you pass away. These individuals and charities are commonly referred to as beneficiaries in your last will. The main purpose of a will is to ensure that your wishes, and not the default laws of the state, will be followed upon your death.
Let's see what else is involved in this process.
Words of Trust
Another word often used in the Estate Planning process is a "Trust". Most of us have heard about it in urban legends but no one really understands what it is or how it works.
We learned about it during the Estate Planning process with our Dad. Basically, it is just another way to protect one's stuff.
We came across this video Will vs. Trust by Mark J Kohler that offers some helpful insight about Trusts and how they fit into the Estate Planning process.
Navigating Estate Planning
Putting a value on Professional advice
Nothing measures up to the experience of working with an Estate Planning Attorney. These are professionals specializing in Elder Care law. They are more than just a lawyer offering legal advice and creating documents for you. They become your official guide who helps you in navigating this journey with your aging loved.
When working with an Estate Planning attorney, there is a personal relationship that will develop. This level of intimacy helps them understand your family dynamic in order to help your loved one and the family members who are participating in this process to work through the challenges that come with it.
In addition to providing legal advice, they will educate you on other matters related to Elder Care; such as Medicare and Medicaid. You could spend hours trying to learn this on your own and still not fully understand the ins and outs of this benefit. Plus, they will let you know of other benefits your loved one may be entitled to that you may not even know exist.
Basically, consider your Estate Planning Attorney as a Captain of a ship. It is their job to create a smooth sailing journey so your loved one reaches their destination as securely as possible. The Estate Plan becomes the map that will navigate your journey towards calmer waters, steer it into the wind to reach important ports, and to keep it anchored at bay during storms.
Take our advice, meet with an Estate Planning attorney. Many offer FREE consultations. Consider this time as getting some initial training about the process.
Advice from Cyber Space
Not comfortable about the thought of using an Estate Planning attorney. Then perhaps using one of these online legal resources may be the right solution for your family situation. Online legal services take the edge off of this intimidating process by giving you a way of addressing this from the comfort of your couch.
Here are some resources worth checking out:
FREEWILL - Why is FreeWill free? FreeWill is made possible by the support of many nonprofit organizations. Many of the users choose to leave a portion of their estate to charity.
EVERPLANS APP - This app helps your parent become organized. It creates a secure and shareable digital document archive as well as a means to organize those end of life documents. The site will help them compose a just-in-case letter for the survivors with info about bank accounts, insurance passwords and so on.
Another benefit of using an online Legal service is they are a great educational resource and knowledge base. Start off working with an one of them to obtain a basic understand of the process and to identify topics that should be included with that "talk" with your loved one.
Thankfully, with so many amazing resources like these, Estate Planning is becoming easier, convenient and more affordable. As a bonus, when you need more help, some of these online Legal services offer an opportunity to speak with an Attorney for an additional FEE.
Navigating Family Drama
Estate Planning is more than just about protecting one's assets, it also addresses many of concerns Caregivers have and it helps to navigate future family drama.
There is a dark side that always seems to surfaces whenever the time comes for family members to participate in caring for a loved one or when that loved one passes away.
All of a sudden lists of reasons appear as to why they cannot be part of the loved one's Care Team and/or why they are entitled to certain parts of the deceased estate. Unfortunately, it is the Caregiver who is the one who ends up with the stress of managing it all:
"I didn't get paid for what I was doing so I should get more of the Estate."
"I should get the house because I sold mine to move in with Dad to care for him."
"I used my money to care for Mom."
"I gave up my life and career to care for Dad."
"I have kids so I cannot help with caring for Mom."
"I have a full-time job so Dad can't move in with me."
This is one of the top reasons for working with an Estate Planning or Elder Care Attorney. They will act as a mediator to help families through issues like these. So even now when it is unknown which sibling will be Mom and Dad's future caregiver, at least their Estate Plan will include Care Plan details, a formal Caregiver compensation agreement and beneficiary entitlements; if any.
Estate Planning helps to mitigate much of the management issues; usually ones that involve the control of money therefore it is an important step that should be part of the planning process.