Planning for Incapacity … or not?

I’ve spoken many times about “Planning for Incapacity” and I even have a book on that topic.  You can order it on Amazon, or come by the office to get a copy for free.

But, as many times as I talk or write about it, it is still worth mentioning again.

What happens to my stuff when I die?

When it comes to estate planning, most people automatically think about taking legal steps to ensure the right people inherit their stuff when they die. And these people aren’t wrong.

Putting strategies in place to protect and pass on your wealth and other assets is a fundamental part of the planning equation. However, providing for the proper distribution of your assets upon your death is just one part of the process.

And it’s not even the most critical part.

Incapacity may be the big issue

Planning that’s focused solely on who gets what when you die is ignoring the fact that death isn’t the only thing you must prepare for. You must also consider that at some point before your eventual death, you could be incapacitated by accident or illness.

Like death, each of us is at constant risk of experiencing a devastating accident or disease that renders us incapable of caring for ourselves or our loved ones. But unlike death, which is by definition a final outcome, incapacity comes with an uncertain outcome and timeframe.

Incapacity can be a temporary event from which you eventually recover, or it can be the start of a long and costly event that ultimately ends in your death. Indeed, incapacity can drag out over many years, leaving you and your family in an agonizing limbo. This uncertainty is what makes incapacity planning so incredibly important.

In fact, incapacity can be a far greater burden for your loved ones than your death. This is true not only in terms of its potentially ruinous financial costs, but also for the emotional trauma, contentious court battles, and internal conflict your family may endure if you fail to address it in your plan.

The goal of effective estate planning is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict no matter what happens to you. So if you only plan for your death, you’re leaving your family—and yourself—extremely vulnerable to potentially tragic consequences.

Where to start?

Planning for incapacity requires a different mindset and different tools than planning for death. If you’re incapacitated by illness or injury, you’ll still be alive when these planning strategies take effect. What’s more, the legal authority you grant others to manage your incapacity is only viable while you remain alive and unable to make decisions about your own welfare.

If you regain the cognitive ability to make your own decisions, for instance, the legal power you granted others may be revoked. The same goes if you should eventually succumb to your condition—your death renders these powers null and void.

To this end, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “If I’m ever incapacitated and unable to care for myself, who would I want making decisions on my behalf?” Specifically, you’ll be selecting the person, or persons, you want making your healthcare, financial, and legal decisions for you until you either recover or pass away.

You must name someone

The most important thing to remember is that you must choose someone. If you don’t legally name someone to make these decisions during your incapacity, the court will choose someone for you. And this is where things can get extremely difficult for your loved ones.

Although laws differ by state, in the absence of proper estate planning, the court will typically appoint a guardian or conservator to make these decisions on your behalf. This person could be a family member you’d never want managing your affairs, or a professional guardian who charges exorbitant fees. Either way, the choice is out of your hands.

Furthermore, like most court proceedings, the process of naming a guardian is often quite time consuming, costly, and emotionally draining for your family. If you’re lying unconscious in a hospital bed, the last thing you’d want is to waste time or impose additional hardship on your loved ones. And this is assuming your family members agree about what’s in your best interest.

For example, if your family members disagree about the course of your medical treatment, this could lead to ugly court battles between your loved ones. Such conflicts can tear your family apart and drain your estate’s finances. And in the end, the individual the court eventually appoints may choose treatment options, such as invasive surgeries, that are the exact opposite of what you’d actually want.

This potential turmoil and expense can be easily avoided through proper estate planning and conversations.

An effective plan would give the individuals you’ve chosen immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake or conflict about how these vital decisions should be made.

What won’t work

Determining which planning tools you should use to grant and guide this decision-making authority depends entirely on your personal circumstances. There are several options available, but choosing what’s best is something you should ultimately decide after consulting with an experienced lawyer like us.

That said, we can tell you one planning tool that’s totally worthless when it comes to your incapacity: a will.

Sounds strange for an estate planning attorney to say, right?  But look at it from the legal perspective … A will only goes into effect upon your death, and then it merely governs how your assets should be divided, so having a will does nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity.

The proper tools for the job

There are multiple planning vehicles to choose from when creating an incapacity plan. And this shouldn’t be just a single document; instead, it should include a comprehensive variety of multiple planning tools, each serving a different purpose.

Though the planning strategies you ultimately put in place will be based on your particular circumstances, it’s likely that your incapacity plan will include some, or all, of the following:

  • Healthcare power of attorney: An advanced directive that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions about your medical treatment in the event of your incapacity.
  • Living will: An advanced directive that provides specific guidance about how your medical decisions should be made during your incapacity.
  • Durable financial power of attorney: A planning document that grants an individual of your choice the immediate legal authority to make decisions related to the management of your finances, real estate, and business interests.
  • Revocable living trust: A planning document that immediately transfers control of all assets held by the trust to a person of your choosing to be used for your benefit in the event of your incapacity. The trust can include legally binding instructions for how your care should be managed and even spell out specific conditions that must be met for you to be deemed incapacitated.

Don’t let a bad situation become much worse

You may be powerless to prevent your potential incapacity, but proper estate planning can at least give you control over how your life and assets will be managed if it does occur. Moreover, such planning can prevent your family from enduring needless trauma, conflict, and expense during this already trying time.

Next Steps

If you’ve yet to plan for incapacity, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® right away. We can counsel you on the proper planning vehicles to put in place, and help you select the individuals best suited to make such critical decisions on your behalf. If you already have planning strategies in place, we can review your plan to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated.

Contact us today to get started.

919-883-2800

Planning for Incapacity

Luke Perry’s Death Demonstrates the  Importance of Planning for Incapacity

In late February 2019, Luke Perry, who became famous starring in the 1990s TV series Beverly Hills 90210, suffered a massive stroke at age 52. He was hospitalized under heavy sedation, and five days later, when it became clear he wouldn’t recover, his family decided to remove life support.

Perry died on March 4th, 2019 surrounded by his two children—21-year-old Jack and 18-year-old Sophie—along with his fiancé, ex-wife, mother, siblings, and others.

Life and Death happen in a moment

Whether or not you were a Luke Perry fan, it’s hard not to be somewhat shocked when someone so young, successful, and seemingly healthy passes away so suddenly. In these moments, the fragile impermanence of life becomes glaringly obvious. It’s life’s way of reminding us that incapacity and death can strike at any time, no matter who you are.

Such reminders can make you feel extremely vulnerable. And they can also be a precious reminder to make the most of life now.

Reminders of the fleeting nature of life can actually be a wonderful thing, if it motivates you to savor life now AND take the proper action to protect the ones you love through proper estate planning. And while we don’t yet know exactly what levels of planning Perry had in place, it appears he was thoughtful and responsible enough to have at least covered the basics.

Planning for incapacity and death

Perry was reportedly inspired to create his own estate plan following a fairly recent health scare. In 2015, after discovering he had precancerous growths during a colonoscopy, Perry created a will, leaving everything to his two children. Since Perry was worth an estimated $10 million, divorced with kids from the first marriage, and about to be married again, creating a will was the very least he could do.

But wills are just a small part of the planning equation. Wills only apply to the distribution of your assets following death, and even then, your will must go through the court process known as probate for your assets to be distributed. Because a will only comes into play upon your death, if you’re ever incapacitated by accident or illness as Perry was, it offers neither you nor your family any protections.

In Perry’s case, he was incapacitated by a stroke and on life support for nearly a week before he died. During this period, the fact Perry had a will was irrelevant because he was still alive. But given how events unfolded, it appears Perry had other planning vehicles in place to prepare for just this situation.

The power over life and death

During the time he was incapacitated, someone was called upon to make crucial medical decisions for Perry’s welfare, while his family was summoned to his side. To this end, it’s likely that Perry designated someone to serve as his medical decision-maker by granting them medical power of attorney. He may have also created a living will, which would provide specific instructions to this individual regarding how to make these medical decisions.

Granting medical power of attorney gives the person you name the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. The document that does this is known as an advance healthcare directive, and it’s an absolute must-have for every adult over age 18.

Perry was put on life support for nearly a week, and then he was removed from it and allowed to die without ever regaining consciousness—and without any apparent conflict between his loved ones. This indicates that someone in his family likely had the legal authority to make those heart-wrenching decisions over Perry’s life and death.

Without medical power of attorney, if any of Perry’s family were in disagreement over how his medical care should be handled, the family may have needed a court order to terminate life support. This could have needlessly prolonged the family’s suffering and made his death even more public, costly, and traumatic for those he left behind.

The power over your money

Along with medical power of attorney, every adult should also have a financial durable power of attorney. In the event of your incapacity, financial durable power of attorney is an estate planning tool that gives the person you choose immediate authority to manage your finances, such as paying your bills, collecting government benefits, and overseeing your bank accounts.

We can’t be sure at this point whether or not Perry put in place durable power of attorney, but since this planning document goes hand-in hand with medical power of attorney, it’s almost certain he did. Yet seeing that Perry was only incapacitated for five days before his death, durable power of attorney may not seem totally necessary in his case.

But what if Perry’s incapacity had lasted a lot longer?

Given that Perry could have lingered on life support for months or years, it’s crucial that someone he trusted had the authority to manage his finances during his incapacity. Without durable power of attorney, the court will choose someone to manage your finances, and that someone might be a person you wouldn’t want anywhere near your life savings or checkbook.

What’s more, that someone could even be a “professional” who gets paid hefty hourly fees to handle things, even if you have family members who want to serve.

Learn from Perry’s example

While Perry’s death is certainly sad, if it inspires you to put the proper estate planning in place, it can ultimately prove immensely beneficial. Whether you already have a basic plan in place or nothing at all, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to get educated about the specifics necessary to keep your family out of court and out conflict if and when something happens to you.

We’ll help ensure that in the event of your incapacity, or when you die, your loved ones will have the same protections Perry’s had—and more. Contact us today to attend one of our live educational events or get started with a private Family Wealth Planning Session.

Downsizing your aging loved ones

The Downsizing Generation: How to Handle a Surplus of Stuff When a Loved One Ages

The baby boomer generation is aging – and downsizing – which means that more and more adult children will be tasked with going through their loved one’s belongings to decide what to do with everything. As more and more people downsize after retirement, china sets, furniture, heirlooms, and other belongings are often left behind and unwanted.

Traditionally, these items have been passed down to the next generation. But today, the next generation has different needs, tastes, and wants. As a result, there is a surplus of “stuff” baby boomers don’t need or have room for, and their adult children don’t want. Maybe that includes you.

This is an all too common problem with a few helpful solutions.

The thought of tossing a lifetime of belongings in the trash is more than many can bear, which explains the advent of the senior move management industry. Today, there are a plethora of professionals who can help your loved one go through each item to decide what should be kept, what should be given away, and what should go to charity or donated.

The cost of this professional service is very reasonable for typical estates, but can be up to $5,000 for a large estate.  Regardless of the cost, it eases the burden on the adult children and ensures the loved one’s wishes are listened to and honored.

Too Many Donations?

Interestingly, as the baby boomer generation ages, charities and nonprofits that typically accept used furniture and other belongings are faced with the burden of too much stuff. The dated styles baby boomers preferred during their prime don’t fit the tastes and needs of today’s generation.

The current generation views belongings like furniture and dishes as functional and more disposable, better suited to their urban, fast-paced lives where minimalism and portability are more prized than sentimentality and tradition.

What is an heirloom?

Another way to decrease the time and effort it takes to dispose of all your belongings is to be very clear about what you consider to be heirlooms and valuable items by indicating in your will, or in a separate writing ancillary to your will, exactly what’s important to you and what isn’t.  In that way, your family can see, in the Will, what matters to you and they can handle things accordingly.

One of my clients has gone through several downsizes … each time losing items that were of sentimental value.  In the next version, she will end up in skilled nursing, with very little space.  To the extent possible she has been able to give away most of the items she cared about.  That softens the loss.  But, be aware that some aging elders will have significant grief associated with the loss of sentimental items.  Try to give things away that matter to your loved ones so you can enjoy their delight at receiving a treasured item.

Have the conversation!

Most importantly, talk to your children or other heirs to see what they want and don’t want. And to make sure they know what’s important to you, and what isn’t. The more you can communicate about this now with your loved ones, the better.

You may be surprised to discover that many family fights that break up families aren’t over money at all, but over mom and dad’s personal property … the fight arises because there were no clear instructions.

Plan ahead

As more baby boomers age and non-profits turn away dated donations,  the need for thoughtful estate planning is greater than ever. A comprehensive estate plan can ensure your belongings either go to those who will cherish them or to charities that will benefit from them.

Contact us!

If you need assistance with finding the right resource, or just a way to facilitate a conversation about possessions, we are here to help.

Call us at 919-883-2800, or schedule a meeting.

Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples

4 Estate Planning Must-Haves for Unmarried Couples

Estate planning is often considered something you only need to worry about once you get married. But the reality is every adult, regardless of age, income level, or marital status, needs to have some fundamental planning strategies in place if you want to keep the people you love out of court and out of conflict.

In fact, estate planning can be even more critical for unmarried couples. Regardless if you’ve been together for decades and act just like a married couple, you likely aren’t viewed as one in the eyes of the law. And in the event one of you becomes incapacitated or when one of you dies, not having any planning in place can have disastrous consequences.

If you’re in a committed relationship and have yet to get—or even have no plans to get—married, the following estate planning documents are an absolute must:

Wills and trusts

If you’re unmarried and die without planning, the assets you leave behind will be distributed according to your state’s intestate laws to your family members: parents, siblings, and possibly even other, more distant relatives if you have no living parents or siblings. North Carolina’s laws would provide NO protection for your unmarried partner. Given this, if you want your partner to receive any of your assets upon your death, you need to – at the very least – create a will.

A will details how you want your assets distributed after you die, and you can name your unmarried partner, or even a friend, to inherit some or all of your assets. However, certain assets like life insurance, pensions, and 401(k)s, are not transferred through a will. Instead, those assets will go to the person named in the beneficiary designation, so be sure to name your partner as beneficiary if you’d like him or her to inherit those assets.

However, there could be an even better way.

Although wills and beneficiary designations offer one way for your unmarried partner to inherit your assets, they’re not always the best option. First and foremost, they do not operate in the event of your incapacity, which could occur before your death. In that case, your partner may not have access to needed assets to pay bills, or he or she could potentially even be kicked out of your home by a family member appointed as your guardian during your incapacity.

Moreover, a will requires probate, a court process that can take quite some time to navigate. And finally, assets passed by beneficiary designation go outright to your partner, with no protection from creditors or lawsuits. To protect those assets for your partner, you’ll need a different planning strategy.

Trusts may be the best option

A far better option would be to place the assets you want your partner to inherit in a living trust. First off, trusts can be used to transfer assets in the event of your incapacity, not just upon your death. Trusts also do not have to go through probate, saving your partner precious time and money.

What’s more, leaving your assets in a continued trust that your partner could control would ensure the assets are protected from creditors, future relationships, and/or unexpected lawsuits.

Consult with us for help deciding which option – a will or trust – is best suited for passing on your assets.

Durable power of attorney

When it comes to estate planning, most people focus only on what happens when they die. However, it’s just as important – if not even more so – to plan for your potential incapacity due to an accident or illness.

If you become incapacitated and haven’t legally named someone to handle your finances while you’re unable to do so, the court will pick someone for you. And this person could be a family member, who doesn’t care for or want to support your partner, or it could be a professional guardian who will charge hefty fees, possibly draining your estate.

Since it’s unlikely that your unmarried partner will be the court’s first choice, What can you do?  If you want your partner (or even a friend)  to manage your finances in the event you become incapacitated, you would grant your partner (or friend) a durable power of attorney.

Durable power of attorney is an estate planning tool that will give your partner immediate authority to manage your financial matters in the event of your incapacity. He or she will have a broad range of powers to handle things like paying your bills and taxes, running your business, collecting government benefits, selling your home, as well as managing your banking and investment accounts.

Granting a durable power of attorney to your partner is especially important if you live together, because without it, the person who is named by the court could legally force your partner out with little to no notice, leaving your partner homeless.

Most people tend to view estate planning as something only married couples need to worry about. However, estate planning can be even more critical for those in committed relationships who are unmarried.

Because your relationship with one another is frequently not legally recognized, if one of you becomes incapacitated or when one of you dies, not having any planning can have disastrous consequences. Your age, income level, and marital status makes no difference – every adult needs to have some fundamental planning strategies in place if you want to keep the people you love out of court and out of conflict.

So far, we discussed wills, trusts, and durable power of attorney. Next, we’ll look at two more must-have estate planning tools, both of which are designed to protect your choices about the type of medical treatment you’d want if tragedy should strike.

Medical power of attorney

In addition to naming someone to manage your finances in the event of your incapacity, you also need to name someone who can make health-care decisions for you. If you want your partner to have any say in how your health care is handled during your incapacity, you should grant your partner medical power of attorney.

This gives your partner the ability to make health-care decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to do so yourself. This is particularly important if you’re unmarried, seeing that your family could leave your partner totally out of the medical decision-making process, and even deny your him or her the right to visit you in the hospital.

Don’t forget to provide your partner with HIPAA authorization within the medical power of attorney, so he or she will have access to your medical records to make educated decisions about your care.

Living will

While medical power of attorney names who can make health-care decisions in the event of your incapacity, a living will explains how your care should be handled, particularly at the end of life. If you want your partner to have control over how your end-of-life care is managed, you should name them as your agent in a living will.

A living will explains how you’d like important medical decisions made, including if and when you want life support removed, whether you would want hydration and nutrition, and even what kind of food you want and who can visit you.

Without a valid living will, doctors will most likely rely entirely on the decisions of your family or the named medical power of attorney holder when determining what course of treatment to pursue. Without a living will, those choices may not be the choices you—or your partner—would want.

We can help

If you’re involved in a committed relationship – married or not – or you just want to make sure that the people you choose are making your most important life-and-death decisions, consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® to put these essential estate planning tools in place.

With our help, we can support you in identifying the best planning strategies for your unique needs and situation. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.

Call 919-883-2800

And, if you have friends who are unmarried, ask them to call us too!

 

They know what I want…

A recent article from Northwestern Mutual says otherwise.

An astonishing 69% of people have not planned and NEVER ASKED the people they expect to provide care for them … those family members who will provide care for loved ones don’t know what is coming!

If they do not know what you want, or that you want THEM to be a part of the decisions, things WILL NOT GO AS YOU HOPE!

Don’t keep your wishes a secret!

Have the conversation with your loved ones about how you want to be treated, and how you want to be cared for as you age.  “Hoping” is not a plan.  “Thinking” about doing something is not a plan.

Take steps today to PLAN.  What should you set up first?

Money Matters

You should have Financial Powers of Attorney planned, completed, and recorded with your county (yes, I know, recording isn’t required anymore … do it anyway).  These powers allow someone to help make decisions for you when you cannot.  For example, paying your bills, making sure your living accommodations are taken care of, and keeping current with taxes.

Does it matter?

You bet!  I had a client a couple of years ago who stopped her auto-withdrawal from the bank for her mortgage.  She suffered from dementia and didn’t trust the bank and thought they were stealing from her.

Guess what?   You probably know … her house was foreclosed on, and she died alone in a nursing home.

What about Medical decisions?

Same thing … you need a Medical Power of Attorney to be sure that someone can make medical decisions when you cannot.  For example, if you have a stroke and need care, what are your planned wishes for care?  No one will know if you can’t speak for yourself.  Proper Medical Documents allow us to help you put your thoughts into writing, so you can speak through your agent.

Don’t delay!  Life can change in an instant!

Do you drive a car?  Then, you are at risk of an accident every minute!
Do you walk around your house or apartment?  Then, you can trip and fall!

I have clients for whom both have happened, with tragic results.

Come see us!

Make the plans.  Powers of Attorney, and Wills and/or trusts.  Then, have the conversation with your family!

We can help with all your needs, including protecting your children!!

Call today!  919-883-2800

Or, schedule a session with us.

Don’t wait!

No, I’m not kidding, do not wait another minute!  Call 919-883-2800 right now.

Elder Abuse is a national problem

Why does mom have a black eye?  Is it elder abuse?  I work with many families in my practice.  A lot of them have a loved one with some sort of dementia. From time to time, I see behaviors that look a lot like elder abuse. I bet you do too.

Active Elder Abuse

Active elder abuse such as striking the elder (physical), or yelling at them (psychological), or stealing their debit card (financial) are the obvious events.  These should be reported and families should be on the lookout for this type of abuse.  Observe whenever the elder is visited by any family member.  Ask questions and don’t let “oh, I am fine, dear” be the only answer when you suspect some problem.  Dig deeper … your elder may need an advocate.

When the elder is ignored, is that elder abuse?  It may be if it leads to bed sores, falls that injure the elder, or worse.  What about simply their making bad decisions on their own because there is no one watching over them?  It is hard for a family to kow.  Is letting dad live on his own  “respectful distance” and allowing him the freedom to thrive?  When does it become a situation that is actively dangerous?  And, it is hard to know when to change gears from passive observation to an active role in protecting or managing the elder.

Competence is the real issue … does making a “bad” decision mean he is incompetent?  Does purchasing a minor repair for an outrageous sum of money rise to the level of incompetence of the elder or a criminal act by the seller?  Probably not.  Morally reprehensible maybe, but abuse?   That is a hard line to draw.

Resources

Here is a link to a resource from “Aging In Place”, a national organization that supports the needs of families and elders in the aging process.  It reminds us of the statistics and what you can do about elder abuse.  Most important is not to ignore it… too often that leads to worse things for the elder and their families. Never wait if you spot active elder abuse.

Here is another blog posting you can reference when you visit your elder .. not only during the holidays but every time you visit.  And here is a guide for visits to communities or their home.

Contact my office if you have questions about elder planning, legal documents, Wills and Trusts, or how to find resources to help you and your loved ones.  We are happy to help!

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