Estate planning really should be considered as soon as you acquire your first asset, have a child, or step into adulthood in any truly meaningful way. And yet many of us put it off for far too long, leaving ourselves and our families at risk of getting stuck in the court system in the event of an unexpected accident, illness, or injury.
Once you (or your parents) reach senior status, you can no longer pretend that estate planning is something you can put off. The effects of aging become impossible to ignore, and the fact that you’re not going to live forever moves to the front of your mind.
While planning for your incapacity and death can be scary, it’s even more frightening to think of the potential tragedies that can arise if you and your family don’t have the right planning in place. More and more, the media is highlighting the reality that without proper planning, the elderly can lose everything, even if they have family looking after them.
At the senior stage of life, effective estate planning is urgent, both for you and the people you love. And if you aren’t a senior yet yourself but have senior parents, get your own planning handled, and then use that as a model to get your parents’ planning taken care of.
Here are a few of the most common errors seniors make when it comes to estate planning and how to fix them:
Not creating advance medical directives
In your senior years, health care matters become much more relevant and urgent. At this age, you can no longer afford to put off important decisions related to your medical needs.
Two of the most important considerations you face are how you want your medical care handled in the event you become incapacitated, and how you want medical care to be handled at the end of your life. Both of these situations can be addressed using advance medical directives, specifically a medical power of attorney and a living will.
Medical power of attorney allows you to name the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated and unable to make decisions yourself.
You also want to make sure you have a living will, which provides guidelines for how your medical care should be handled, if you become unable to voice your wishes. In addition to guidelines about how you want your medical care handled, your living will may also include instructions on the type of food you want to be fed to you, as well as who should be able to visit you.
In order to ensure that your health care wishes are properly handled—even in the most dire circumstances—creating these advance directives is a must.
Relying only on a will
Many people, particularly older folks, believe that a will is the only estate planning tool they need. While wills are definitely one key aspect of estate planning, they come with some serious limitations:
Wills require your family to go through probate, which is open to the public and often expensive.
Wills don’t offer you any protection if you become incapacitated and unable to make legal and financial decisions.
Wills don’t cover jointly owned assets or those with beneficiary designations, such as life insurance policies.
Wills don’t shield assets from your creditors or those of your heirs.
Wills don’t provide protections or guidance for when and how your heirs take control of their inheritance.
Fortunately, all of the above areas can be effectively managed using a trust. However, some people are reluctant to use trusts because they’re unfamiliar with them and have been told a will is all they need.
What’s more, because until fairly recently trusts were primarily used by the ultra-wealthy, many believe they’re an extravagance they don’t need and can’t afford. But the truth is, people of all income levels and asset values can afford and benefit from trusts, which provide numerous protections unavailable through wills.
If you’re relying solely on a will for estate planning, you’re missing out on many valuable safeguards for your assets, while also guaranteeing your family will have to got to court when you die.
If you aren’t sure what you need, begin by contacting us for a Family Wealth Planning Session. Your Family Wealth Planning Session is custom-designed to your assets, your family, your wishes, and to educate you on the best way to reach your objectives for the people you love.
Not keeping your plan current
Far too often people prepare a will or trust when they’re young, put it into a drawer, and forget about it. But your estate plan is worthless if you don’t regularly update it when your assets, family situation, and/or the laws change.
We recommend you review your plan annually to make sure it’s up to date and immediately amend it following events like divorce, deaths, births, and inheritances. With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we have built-in processes to ensure these updates are made right away.
And when it comes to a trust, it’s not enough to simply list the assets you want it to cover. You have to transfer the legal title of certain assets—real estate, bank accounts, securities, brokerage accounts—to the trust, known as “funding” the trust, in order for them to be distributed properly.
While most lawyers will create a trust for you, few will ensure your assets are properly funded. But with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ve got processes in place to keep track of your assets over life, make sure none are lost to your state’s Department of Unclaimed Property, and that you don’t inadvertently force your family into court because your plan wasn’t fully completed.
Not pre-planning funeral arrangements
Although most people don’t want to think about their own funerals, pre-planning these services is a key facet of estate planning, especially for seniors. By taking care of your funeral arrangements ahead of time, you not only eliminate the burden and expense for your family, you’re able to make your memorial ceremony more meaningful, as well.
In addition to basic wishes, such as whether you prefer to be buried or cremated, you can choose what kind of memorial service you want—simple, elaborate, or maybe none at all. Are there songs you want played? Prayers or poems recited? Do you have a specific burial plot or a spot where you want your ashes scattered?
Pre-planning these things can help relieve significant stress and sadness for your family, while ensuring your memory is honored exactly how you want.