July 23, 2010
Real-life examples of why estate planning is key in helping our elders thrive and stay protected through life’s complicated transitions.
From the desk of Heather Chubb, Gold River Elder Lawyer
A few months ago, I received two back-to-back emergency calls that really got me thinking.
Not only did it get me thinking, but it made me adjust the way I approach planning because the “traditional” way of planning just doesn’t meet all your needs.
The first call was from a man summoned to Sacramento from the east coast to try to deal with his mother. Now that may not seem unusual, but his circumstances are both common and uncommon at the same time. First, he has not had much contact with his mother in the last 30 years, but because he was the next of kin here he was flying to Sacramento.
Unfortunately, the situation is common because mom does not have any planning in place—no one to legally step in and make decisions on her behalf when she can’t.
So, now mom is in the hospital and about to be kicked out. She fell in her apartment and is now unable to live independently. Her son thought she had remarried years ago, but as it turns out she never had. She was living with a man and involved with his family, but when she fell those people had no legal authority or responsibility to help her, and pawned her off on her son. In fact the “stepdaughter” is now being very unhelpful—not releasing mom’s driver’s license, giving son a social security number that does not belong to mom and in general creating havoc.
The son called me seeking advice on how to help mom. He was being told by the doctors that he needed a power of attorney to take mom out of the hospital.
But here’s the catch—mom may or may not have the mental capacity to execute a power of attorney! If she doesn’t have capacity, the only alternative is to go to court and establish a temporary conservatorship on an emergency basis, then take mom back east and transfer the conservatorship to the court there.
What a mess! What a lot of stress added to this poor man’s life and to mom’s. It all could have been avoided easily with a little bit of estate planning.
And, the planning doesn’t need to be expensive. It is best done with the guidance of a trained professional whose practice focuses on life transition issues. A good Sacramento estate planning attorney will educate you about the issues, thoroughly explain them, help you create tools tailored for you and your situation, and take the time to show you how to use your plan.
The second situation arose only days after the first. This time I was introduced to another person’s mother who was in the hospital with congestive heart failure. At least in this situation she was without a doubt mentally competent, although still weak, and the doctors said her heart could fail at any time.
Dad on the other hand is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It is clear that mom cannot care for him and he should not be driving—although he is trying to get his driver’s license renewed. While mom will be a more capable driver than dad once she is released from the hospital, with her condition all I could think was “Yikes!”
From a Sacramento estate planning perspective, this situation is actually more positive than the first situation. Mom and dad still have capacity. They have a daughter willing to help out. Now is the time to get some planning in place.
This planning needs to focus on what I call “taking care of instructions” for mom and dad while they are alive, rather than just instructions for after their death. At a minimum they need powers of attorney (to help with finances), advance healthcare directives and HIPAA authorizations.
They should be carefully drafted with the guidance of a professional, not just form documents. Why go to the extra time and expense when form documents might do? It does no good to have documents lying around without the knowledge of how to use them. This would be like trying to program your new DVR/DVD without the instruction manual (or a teenager). Custom designing the documents takes your unique perspective and circumstances into account.
I realize that meeting with a Sacramento elder lawyer to take care of estate planning needs is not high on many people’s list of things to do, as statistics show 75% of Americans do not even have a simple Will in place, let alone planning tools to take care of them while they are still alive.
Of course that’s because there is still a prevalent misperception that estate planning is all about death and taxes.
Well, that is the old way of thinking (and entirely NOT true as you can see by my real-life examples above). In my practice I am using a new term, “life transitions planning” because it is really much more descriptive of what I accomplish for my clients and what planning should be about.
You see, life transitions planning is more than death planning, more than just about taxes. It is about keeping you in control—whether directly or through your hand selected helpers—and providing take care of instructions during your life and providing guidance and direction about how to take care of things upon your death.
If your assets are under the proposed $1 million dollar mark when the estate tax comes back in 2011, you may not need to worry about avoiding taxes in your plan… BUT you do need to think about a whole host of other issues that are important while you are still alive. Like the ones that got me thinking earlier this week.
So what’s holding you back from making an appointment with a Sacramento elder lawyer to get your (or your parents!) financial and legal ducks in a row?
If it’s the cost of an appointment, I’m going to make things super easy for you by offering a FREE Peace of Mind Planning Session (Normally $750) by simply mentioning this blog post. Simply call 916-241-9961 to reserve your spot. But act fast, this offer is limited to 10 appointments per month, so reserve your space today!