Without proper legal planning, caring for aging
loved ones is often emotionally and financially
distressing for everyone involved. Families struggle
at the last minute to find information, guidance and
assistance to handle the complex health care,
financial and legal needs.
By planning ahead and obtaining the right legal
documents, families can help their aging relatives
gain security, take advantage of public benefits,
and preserve their assets.
First, estate plans are key. They can help
families avoid probate, which occurs when an
individual owns assets in his or her name alone, and
the court determines distribution. If not handled
properly, probate can be time-consuming and costly
while providing no privacy for the family.
Estate plans include wills or trusts, durable
powers of attorney, health-care surrogate
designations, and living wills. These documents
enable individuals to manage their assets during
their lifetime and upon incapacity, as well as after
their death. Planning can help minimize or avoid
estate taxes and ensure the senior – not the state –
retains control of his or her assets.
If nothing else is done, individuals should
obtain advance directives. These documents help
ensure their wishes are carried out (financially and
medically) in the event of their incapacity.
Advance directives include:
- Living Will: Documents an individual’s
wishes concerning prolonging life through
artificial means when there is no other hope of
- Health-Care Surrogate: Grants an
individual’s designee the power to access
medical information otherwise prohibited by
- Durable Power of Attorney: Gives an
individual the power to direct the giving of
gifts, apply for Medicaid, pay expenses, access
retirement benefits and sell real estate.
Without these documents, a guardianship will
likely be required. In addition to being costly,
guardianships enable the judges – not the family
members – to make critical decisions. In addition,
guardianship courts hesitate to “gift away” a Ward’s
assets for medical planning.
Families should work with trusted legal experts
with experience handling elder law issues. Obtaining
the right legal documents can eliminate the stress
of caring for aging loved ones and give families a
priceless asset: peace of mind.
Additional Public Sources for Information:
Elder Care Locator:
Elder Law Answers:
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