This picture speaks volumes. Momma has suffered a sudden health crisis and now you are scurrying around to find out whether she has any estate planning documents that will help you help her through this crisis. I hope you are not in this situation, but we have worked with many kids who have been there last minute. Crisis planning is no fun.
Hopefully, you have a little time to help Momma plan. Has Momma taken the steps necessary to make sure that her plans for her future actually happen? If not, Momma is in good company. I have heard it estimated that 70% of Americans have done no legal planning at all. If they have a legal plan, it is often very old, obsolete and no longer relevant.
As a brief review, we have been discussing on this blog, the elements of a complete Bridge of Life Plan. The 3 components are: (1) Preferences – What does Momma want?; (2) Financial – Assess what assets or income is available to her to pay for her current and future needs; and (3) Legal, which we will talk about today.
By the way, if you are Momma and are reading this article, then you have the option to be proactive and take the estate planning “bull by the horns”. You (the Senior) can and should be the one to start this process. It is the only way to make sure that your wishes are more than just wishes. By putting what you want in writing, you can (1) Appoint the people you want to administer your estate; (2) Decide who will receive your estate; and (3) Appoint those you want to carry out your health care directives (among other benefits).
Where to start
The reason this article is written to the “kids” is that most folks (Momma in this post) are part of the 70% group referenced above and do not plan. When Mom starts to decline, the kids become concerned about this issue and scramble to take action. They begin to have thoughts such as “I wonder whether Momma has a Will? Power of Attorney? Health Care Documents? I heard her say that she and Dad signed a will when he went into the military (50 years ago) but have never seen it.” Then after some digging or questioning, they discover that Momma has no documents OR that she does in fact have a will that was signed before the kids were born.
Things to Discuss
When people think about estate planning for seniors, they naturally think about a will or a trust, which will direct the disposition of remaining assets at death. While wills and trusts are important, it is critical for a declining Senior with capacity to also discuss the following with their Elder Law Attorney:
- Financial Power of Attorney. It is very important to appoint the person you want to make critical financial or real property decisions for you if you are no longer able to act. This document should state your chosen agent, along with a backup. It also typically details the scope of their authority to act on your behalf.
- Health Care Documents. This is an area that is often overlooked. While you have capacity, you should state who you want to make healthcare decisions for you in the event that you are not able to make them yourself. This document could authorize your appointee to make all healthcare decisions, including whether (or not) to have surgery, therapy, life sustaining procedures and end of life decisions. You can also choose which individuals get to see your protected healthcare information should you become incapacitated and not be able to make this decision while in a hospital.
- Life Care Plan. We refer to this as the Bridge of Life Plan, which incorporates everything discussed in this article, along with the items discussed in Parts 1 & 2 in this series. While most Elder Law Attorneys won’t be familiar with the term “Bridge of Life Plan” many will be familiar with the concept of Life Care Plan and will be able to assist you with the process of planning out what you want now and in the future should health decline.
This wraps up the 4 part series on Bridge of Life Planning. If you missed the prior articles, this would be a great time to go back and review them. (1) Start with the points discussed in Part One of this series, “What Does Momma want?”; (2) Then meet with your Financial Advisor as discussed in Part 2a and Part 2b; (3) Finally, meet with your Elder Law Attorney to discuss the items mentioned in this article. The key thing is to take action. Best wishes with the implementation of your Bridge of Life Plan.