The holidays present opportunities to discuss family issues and learn about new developments that might prompt you to start thinking about next steps for life care planning. For example, does your loved one need assistance due to cognitive impairment? Do you and your siblings want to encourage mom and dad to get their affairs in order? Has it prompted you to get your own affairs in order? Is Aunt Jenny no longer the best choice for guardian over your minor children should the need arise? Did you designate your brother-in-law as your power of attorney and now he and your sister have announced their pending divorce?
In the event of any major life change (marriage, divorce, death, disability) it is important to revisit your estate planning documents such as wills, special needs trusts, property transfers, and powers of attorney. Talk to the seniors in your life about long term care, how do they plan on funding it? The cost of this care could consume all of their nest egg. Perhaps they might want to discuss asset protection strategies and Medicaid Trusts. Perhaps they have long term care insurance or need to get it. Do they want to stay at home and have home health care come in, or do they want to stay in an assisted living facility?
We suggest opening the conversation to determine what the family member’s wishes are, instead of telling them what to do. Talk to your siblings (including step siblings) about what they see the future looking like. Don’t make assumptions. This could prevent a fight in the future over guardianship or other care. People need time to wrap their brain around the idea of a nursing facility. Make sure your family is on the same page or at least start the conversation. Do you want to be a caretaker, or do you already know that is something you cannot undertake? Failing to prepare for the expensive and stressful job of caretaker can cause a rift between siblings and other family members.
In the event of cognitive impairment (dementia or Alzheimer’s) ideally your loved one has a power of attorney executed when they have capacity to sign a document.Power of attorney documents prevent the need for expensive, lengthy, and cumbersome guardianship. Encourage your elderly family members (and for that matter ALL adult family members) to execute powers of attorney documents for both financial and medical needs. Powers of attorney govern who takes care of the individual’s affairs while they are alive but likely incapacitated.
Let your loved one be in control of their life but you need to know their wishes so that you can carry them out. Important topics to discuss: Housing, Finances, Health Care, and Disposition of Assets.
Most of all be reminded that the holiday season is about spending precious time with your family. Assisting your seniors with getting the conversation going on elder law services might be the best gift you can give them (and don’t forget to take care of your own planning while you’re at it).