The best way to deal with aging parents and elder law is not to look at it as a completely legal situation. This is a progressive plan and you may be called upon to deal with your parents, close relatives or even close family members. We are such a transient society that our circle of friends has grown from all over and they are of all ages. No matter how progressive our society becomes, we all still return to the tribe. Our tribes are quite frequently just our family members, but often involve a circle of trusted life-long friends. In this circle, the Chieftain changes from time to time. The Chieftain is looked upon to take action for the aging elder. Many are surprised when they are looked asked to come up with a plan and taking action for the elder. The best plan is to make one now so that transition and execution can be easy and you can enjoy the relationship benefits through these transitions as opposed to it becoming a struggle.
The documents part in this plan is probably one of the most logical. Knowing where everything is located, having financials located and having the proper executed transitional plan that involves elder law is extremely important. These includes wills, durable power of attorneys, healthcare power of attorneys, living wills and other documents depending upon the particular state you live in so this transition becomes easy. These need to be properly executed and you should not use an online legal service to create these types of documents. The cost to undo the disaster that could be created with do-it-yourself kits can destroy this transitional process. It is not the documents that you are buying, but it is the advice and direction, along with proper counsel that you are receiving.
2. Living Situation.
This is part of the estate plan and should be addressed during the creation of this plan. Everyone needs a plan for stages which include what folks like to refer to as independent living, assisted living and even hospice. You need to plan what will fit the situation under any circumstances and have alternatives lined up in the event medical conditions change. As a part of this, it is certainly extremely important to understand how the expenses for these situations will be paid and this is part of the entire plan. We have some archaic and bizarre laws that do not really deal with the problems that we face with our elders and seeking proper advice and counseling in the creation of this plan is extremely important.
3. Financial Planning.
Some believe this is the most important part of creation of an elder law plan. It makes no difference if there some sound annuity or investments that will pay expenses for a definite number of years if the legal documentation and physical living arrangements do not fit the plan. The questions become what are the resources available for each stage of the plan and what is the potential. Creation and sustaining wealth is certainly important and wealth is a large definition. This can cover an individual that has a massive estate as well as one who has a simple pension, 401-K or simply Social Security to rely upon. These all need to fit within the entire plan and documentation needs to be tailored to fit the living needs as well a plan.
4. Trusted Relationships.
The trusted relationships involve the most important part of taking action. Who can be trusted to deal with the money? Who can be trusted to execute the living arrangements? Who can be trusted to take care of the elders? Estate litigation is ever increasing and actions against siblings, caretakers, financial advisers and the like is a new wave of litigation that will be ever increasing over the next decade. One only needs to look at some of the public estate litigation cases that have resulted with siblings and even close family friends. Who will take advantage and who will act properly is almost impossible to predict until it occurs. You should consider varying individuals with varying roles in devising a plan dealing with elders. A different individual should be involved with the money, a different individual should be involved with the legal execution and a different individual should be involved with the true caretaking. The elders’ attorney should be the most trusted confidante and the elder should be able to sit the attorney in confidence to determine who their circle can be the most trusted person. This confidante should have a direct and active role in being the executor or even the co-executor of the estate. This attorney should be a disinterested third party to insure that the plan moves as legally smooth as possible and the only family fights that occur will be who gets the elder for the holidays.
5. Moving Plan.
This cannot be overlooked because it is not necessarily a part of a legal plan or financial plan, but it can be overwhelming. We collect a lot of stuff over our lifetimes. Some of it is very important to us and some of it is simply decorative. The tangible stuff needs to be dealt with and it is best to have a plan up front on what is going to happen. Are there mementoes that certain family members really want, is the jewelry really worth much or does it have some sentimental value to special family members? Make these determinations up front so that when the moving day comes, it is not overwhelming. People put value on things in a variety of ways. Sometimes they look at it as simply as monetary value and sometimes they look at it as sentimental. We can thank the internet for this value assessment of the stuff that we have collected over our lives and quite frequently we find that it is not worth what we thought it was worth. The first question is “Is this sentimental or can this be given to Goodwill?” The next one is “Does this have value and should it be divided as part of the estate or part of an estate sale?” Any time you can engage in an estate sale which can occur before death, you should do so because the physical labor and time involved in packing and moving is best just to spend a weekend with everyone involved and make some determinations about when the move occurs and what is going to happen with the stuff. Different things have different value to different people. Personally, I did not care if my father had anything valuable that could be sold. I only cared about two items. One was an ivory slide rule that he used while in engineering at Auburn University (known at the time as Alabama Polytechnic Institute). I also have a copper framing square that was made in the 1920’s that his father used, he used and I have used quite frequently. It is an incredible tool and has no monetary value, but I will never let go of it.
Make your plan now, but involve a third party to assist you. This is the area where the best of attorneys can come out as their advice and counseling can guide you through this entire process.
Stephen Fuller is the managing partner of Fuller Sloan LLC and has practiced in business litigation and consulting for 37 years and has over 25 years representation of the founder of one of the largest sit-down casual restaurants in America. For more information, send Mr. Fuller an email.