Five Myths about Estate Planning

Five Myths about Estate Planning Image

A recent book has an intriguing title, “When I Need Your Help, I will Let You Know” and Other Senior Myths That Can Lead to Disaster. The premise of the book is that unless we plan for financial, medical, emotional and family changes that accompany aging and declining health, we are denying reality. The book addresses five common myths that we Elder Law attorneys hear frequently.

Myth #1 “When I need your help, I will let you know”. The reality is that we usually do not know when need help. We slowly adapt and before we know it -- before others know it -- we are unable to take care of ourselves and are subject to injury and loss. Each of us needs to prepare for possible incapacity with tools such as powers of attorney and nonlegal resources.

Myth #2 “I will live in my own home until I die". While we all want this, and increasingly there are resources, programs techniques and strategies that can help us remain in the home, this requires careful planning and very often the assistance of others. Most women have a 50% chance of living to age 90. There are not many of us who do not need assistance once we reach age 90. If you have not planned for the appropriate support and resources to live in your own home by the time you reach your 80's it may be too late and you have, by default, guaranteed you will be displaced from your home.

Myth #3 “When I am old, ill and dying, my family will take care of me”. This myth may have been true, in a time when we rarely lived past age 65 and had very large families. The advance of medical science causes us to live much longer than our parents and our families are much smaller. The older we get the more frail we become and the more care we need. It is impractical to think that our children -- who are working and caring for their own children -- will be able to provide their elders with a level of care sufficient to keep them in the home.

I once had a client who needed full-time care and had 10 nurses among her children, grandchildren and nieces who were candidates to provide that care. However, full-time care translated into 21 separate eight-hour shifts to fill every week. The ten nurses were not able to care for her in the home, as this meant each one had to provide at least two shifts or 16 hours a week caring for her, and one child had to spend 24 hours a week with her mother. With jobs, family responsibilities and commuting burdens they were unable to provide her care.

Myth #4 “When I can no longer manage my money and financial affairs, a trusted person will handle my finances”. The reality is that unless you set up a legal mechanism with responsible individuals predesignated who are prepared and trained to handle your finances, the likelihood of confusion, abuse and loss is great.

Myth #5 “I do not want to do any estate planning and I do not need anything because when I die my family will sort it out”. Failure to plan, and particularly to legally designate a person to administer your property once you pass away almost always causes conflict and competition within the family. Even with a careful plan and designations of personal representatives and trustees, administration of an estate can be difficult.

You have to realize, when a parent dies the relationship among the children changes. You cannot expect your family to act the same way once you have died as they do now when you are living. Sibling personalities, once restrained or influenced by the parent are now unfettered.

If you have been waiting for the time when you know you need help, I’d like to suggest the time is now. To avoid the disaster predicted in the book title, give us a call today at 302-651-0113.