Estate Plans at Any Age
The term “Elder Law” is misleading. An estate plan is a constantly evolving thing. It changes as your life and needs do. The plan you have at 18 will not be the same plan you have at age 85. A good attorney who specializes in the area of Elder Law can help you have a plan at any age to deal with life’s problems. Below is the hypothetical life span of “Sara” and some examples of planning issues that may present themselves throughout her life.
Age 18: Sara is leaving for college. She has no assets, just a small bank account in her home town. She still relies on her parents to help her handle her finances.
Even though Sara has no assets to speak of, she should execute a power of attorney for health care and finances. At this age parents are no longer legally able to handle your finances for you or able to obtain access to your medical records. A financial POA allows them to handle your money for you if you are away at college, and a health care POA allows for them to make health care decisions, should there be an accident. Sara may want to make her bank account payable on death to her parents to avoid probate.
Age 25: Sara has graduated college and is working full time. She has a small amount of assets; a car, a bank account and a retirement account. She also has some debts.
If Sara worries about leaving debts or costs of burial expenses to her family, she may want to weigh the costs of life insurance against whether she has enough assets to cover the costs. If she wishes to leave property to anyone besides her parents she will need to update her plan. Though she may not need life insurance, Sara may want to consider a disability insurance policy to protect herself.
Age 30: Sara has gotten married and is looking for a house with her new husband, John. They have just moved to a new state, but kept his house as a rental property.
Sara should update her estate plan so all her assets would pass to her new husband and he would have the power to make financial and medical decisions for her should she become incapacitated. The fact that she will have property in two states may need a revocable living trust. Also since she is in a new state, she should make sure her documents comply with local laws.
Age 35: Sara and John are expecting their first child.
They need to update their wills to nominate someone to be guardian for their child if they were to die in a common accident. They may want to look into insurance policies to provide for the family should one of them pass away.
Age 40: Sara and John have gotten a divorce.
Sara will need to update her estate plan to reflect her new situation and exclude John. She should consider who would make difficult financial and health decisions for her if she were unable to.
Age 45: Sara is getting remarried to Sam. It is also Sam’s second marriage. Both have children from outside of their marriage.
They may want to consider a prenuptual agreement and they need to update their estate plan to decide how assets would pass should they die. Since they both have children from outside the marriage, they may want to provide for their spouse in a trust rather than a will.
Age 50: Sara’s children are still at home. Sara’s dad has passed away and Sara’s mom cannot live at home alone and would like to move in with Sara.
Sara and her mother should get legal counsel to handle her father’s estate and to look into a care plan for how Sara’s mother can move in with her without possibly jeopardizing future options of care.
Age 55: Sara’s youngest child is disabled and about to turn 18.
An attorney can help set up a disability trust for the child and help Sara become his guardian so that she can continue to make legal decisions for him.
Age 60: Sara’s mother has alzheimer’s disease and is no longer safe at home.
An attorney can help get Sara get guardianship over her mother, and help Sara find the best nursing home option for her and help Sara get her mother on Medicaid to pay for that care.
Age 65: Sara is preparing to retire.
An elder law attorney can help advise her on when she should start accepting IRA’s, Social Security, and Medicare and answer questions on how she will transition from having a constant paycheck to retirement.
Age 70: Sara’s husband Sam has been diagnosed with Parkinsons. Sara is wondering how they will pay for his care, and how it will affect her. She would like to keep Sam home with her as long as possible.
An attorney can help advise her on Medicaid, Long term care, or home services available. She can also refer Sara to proper resources that may help in this difficult time.
Age 75: Sam is getting more advanced in his disease. Sam’s illness has passed the point of Sara being able to care for him.
She needs to place Sam in a nursing home, and is wondering how this will affect her. An attorney can help her understand Medicaid or Long term care insurance if she has it. Sara needs to find out who will help her manage things now that Sam is unable to.
Age 80: Sam has passed away. Sara is lonely in the house now that Sam is gone. She can still manage well on her own but her children are concerned about her driving. She is thinking of moving in to an assisted living.
An attorney can provide information for Sara about assisted living, home services, and nursing homes. She can also discuss what Sara might do to avoid future problems should she need Medicaid one day. An attorney can also help administering Sam’s estate, collecting on life insurance policies and updating Sara’s estate plan
Age 85: Sara’s daughter has married a man Sara doesn’t trust. It has caused a great amount of tension between Sara and her daughter.
An attorney can help remove the daughter from decision making roles. Sara also may be able to set up a trust to provide for the daughter but not benefit the son in law, or disinherit her daughter entirely.
Age 90: Sara has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Sara would like to make sure that her legacy is preserved for her family, that the right people are making her health decisions. She may decide she’d like proceeds of her estate to go to benefit cancer charities, or donate her body to science. She should decide whether she wants a living will. She can learn more about prepaid funeral arrangements and hospice care.
Age 95: Sara has passed away.
Sara’s children should see an attorney for help in administering her estate.
People are unique and so are the challenges they face. There is no one size fits all in estate planning. The plan may change as our lives do, but a good Elder law attorney can help navigate the changes life brings and help at all stages of life. The important thing is that you have a plan in place so that when a crisis arises you are prepared.