Most of us associate “estate planning” with death. I know I viewed it that way when my husband and I did our will the first time. It was right after we had our son and were taking a trip overseas without him. We wanted to make sure we had the plans in place in case we died on our trip. Very unlikely, but it is a big fear for many new parents and it’s usually the first time couples create estate plans. At that time, our plan consisted of a will and a durable power of attorney.
Good Estate Planning is for the Living
After caring for two parents, my opinion of estate planning has radically changed. In general, lawyers do a terrible job of educating us on the legal documents every adult over 18 should have in place. The failure to communicate the benefits of creating powers of attorney (financial and healthcare) just adds overwhelm to caregivers already working to help their loved ones. Rightly or wrongly, most of us view estate planning as planning for what happens after we die.
If you are on the path to becoming a caregiver, you will need these two documents to be an effective advocate for your loved one:
- Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA). Simply stated, a DPOA allows someone to act on your behalf for legal and financial reasons.There are several situations where even a spouse needs to have this document to act on behalf of their betrothed.
- Healthcare Directives (otherwise called a medical power of attorney) gives an individual the ability to be your medical advocate and typically includes your wishes if you are severely ill or injured.
These two documents should not cost you more than a few hundred dollars. I recommend you work with a lawyer, because WHEN you run into resistance for the durable power of attorney, you will want the lawyers help.
The Department of Health & Human Services tells us that 70% of American’s turning 65 will need three or more years of long-term care services. That means most of us will need someone who can act as our advocate for our finances, and possibly even need to sell a home or use our assets to pay for our care.
My parents had property and a variety of retirement and investment accounts and set up a trust when they redid their estate plans in 2002. It made several aspects of managing their affairs much easier for me while they were alive and even more so after they passed away.
During my time as their primary adult caregiver, many of their financial institutions refused to acknowledge their durable power of attorney. We have a statute in Virginia that would have allowed me to file a lawsuit, but on top of caregiving, that was the last thing I wanted to add to my checklist of to-dos.
It doesn’t make sense that the trust was more accepted document, but it was and several elder care attorneys have confirmed this response from financial services firms. Luckily, I didn’t have to solely rely on the durable power of attorney that was declined by firms such as Wells Fargo, USAA, and Fidelity.
The trust gives you the ability to define how you want to live your life and for that reason, it was incredibly helpful to me when I needed to be able to help my parents. It also and include a host of instructions on how to use the money.
I’m not a lawyer, just an adult family caregiver who found this legal tool incredibly useful. Let me know if you would like the name of a trusted lawyer to help you draw up your documents. Believed.