Family caregivers today face a wide variety of challenges as their loved ones age, including preserving dignity and independence to the greatest degree possible. The family also wants to ensure that their loved one has continued care in the event of disease or advanced aging conditions, like loss of cognitive ability.  How does an estate plan fit into a senior’s plan for the future?

A plan is meant to be used!

One of my office’s key phrases for estate planning is that “A plan is meant to be used.”  It’s not at all uncommon for folks to create an estate plan and throw it in a box.  
Perhaps, the biggest takeaway from this post is that any planning you do for yourself, and especially, on behalf of your loved one, should be something you actually intend on using.  

What is an “estate plan”?

Estate planning is more than planning for death; it is also the planning for life.  An estate plan, from a legal perspective, contains tools that encapsulate the wishes of its creator related to dispositions of property during life and after death, tax planning, and charitable giving. It designates agents to act on your behalf if you’re unable to conduct your own affairs, gives agents access to your public benefits planning like Medicaid planning, and much more.

What might be included in a basic estate plan?

Any basic, or, as we often refer to it in the estate planning world, a “simple estate plan,” should include a last will and testament that directs the disposition of property at death, medical powers of attorney, financial powers of attorney, a living will, and HIPAA release.   Other ancillary documents may be included, but the core documents discussed above ensure that during a person’s life others may act on his or her behalf for financial and medical decisions, providing a directive to loved ones and caregivers in the event of a terminal or irreversible conditions.    Of growing importance for many seniors and their caregivers is the selection of the person’s caregivers, who are agents under powers of attorneys, trustees, and their successors. One of the keys to estate planning is that someone in these positions should be someone you know AND trust. Simply going with a family member or friend you know can lead to horrible results, if the family or friend is not someone you trust.

How do I get my loved one to make an estate plan?

Planning for an aging loved one who may soon need or is receiving senior care services places a high premium on getting it right as soon as possible.  Loss of ability to actually execute or finalize an estate plan can create family tension, unnecessary expenses of a guardianship or conservatorship, or gaps in elder care services.   These days many people are turning to online solutions for estate planning; however, an estate plan is NOT just the documents—it’s also the advice on how to “use” it when appropriate.  Moreover, a qualified attorney can also ensure that your documents meet your state standards to be what they say they are.   As legal practitioners, we encounter so many people that have turned to self-help remedies that have failed because they don’t meet statutory requirements or they simply are not appropriate in an individual’s case. As a family caregiver, assisting a loved one who is able to create or modify an estate plan, find an attorney to assist with their planning objectives can be the key to ensuring their future success that reflects their goals and wishes. A good and periodically reviewed estate plan creates comfort in providing the assurance that someone has taken the steps necessary for themselves and for those whom they care about. 

For more information about the legal rights and obligations of Family Caregivers, check out the CareAcademy “Basic Skills” track of care courses. 

This post is intended for general information purposes only.  As always, consult a licensed lawyer near you to ensure you achieve your estate plan goals and objectives.

John B. Henry III, Esq

John Henry is attorney focused on guardianship, probate and estate administration, estate planning, special needs planning and elder law. Mr. Henry's experience with these areas of law began in the non-profit arena, including serving as a licensed long-term care ombudsman in Illinois. He continues to devote his volunteer time to increasing access to justice for low-income Texans.

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