When an Elderly Parent Refuses to Make a Will

An elderly parent may need your encouragement to get an estate plan.
An elderly parent may need your encouragement to get an estate plan.

This is a tough scenario. It happens more often than you’d think. Your elderly parent or other family member owns a home, investment accounts and a retirement account, but doesn’t want to have an estate plan. They know they need to do something, but keep putting it off—until they die, and the family is left with an expensive and stressful mess. A recent article titled “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late” from Kiplinger, suggests ways to talk to a family member about the need for an estate plan.

Most people put off seeing an estate planning attorney, because they are afraid of death. They may also be overwhelmed by the thought of how much work is involved. They are also worried about what it all might cost. However, if there is no estate plan, the costs will be far higher for the family.

How do you get your elderly parent or other family member to understand that they need to move forward?

Talk with the financial professionals your elderly parent or family member already uses and trusts, like a CPA or financial advisor. Ask them for a referral to an estate planning attorney they think would be a good fit with your family member who doesn’t have an estate plan. It may be easier to hear this message from a CPA, than from an adult child.

Work with that professional to help your older family member get comfortable with the idea of talking about their wishes and values with the estate planning attorney. Offer to attend the meeting, or to facilitate the video conference, to make your loved one feel more comfortable.

An experienced estate planning attorney will have worked with reluctant people before. They’ll know how to put the older person at ease and explore their concerns. When the conversation is pleasant and productive, the person may understand that the process will not be as challenging as they had thought and that there will be a lot of help along the way.

If there is no trusted team of professionals, then offer to be a part of any conversations with the estate planning attorney to make the introductory discussion easier. Share your own experience in estate planning with your older family member and mention the reasons that prompted you to create an estate plan. Those reasons could include the peace of mind knowing that your family will not be faced with the time consuming and expensive task of trying to straighten out your affairs after you are gone.

Sometimes the best way to initiate a conversation with your elderly parents about estate planning is to mention that you are planning to do your own estate plan and ask their advice on what issues your should be considering. That may make it easier to ask your family member what they have done regarding their own estate plan.

Trying to force a person to engage in estate planning with a heavy hand, almost always ends up in a stubborn refusal. A gentle approach will always be more successful. Explaining how an estate plan includes not only distributing assets at death, but planning for medical decisions while the person is living, may motivate an otherwise reluctant family member to take that first step.

Describing what the family members will need to go through if there is no will, may or may not have an impact. Some people don’t care, and may simply shrug and say, “It’ll be their problem, not mine.” Consider what or who matters to the person. What if they could leave a gift to a favorite charity or create a fund for their grandchildren to go to college? That might be more motivating.

Another thing to consider: what if your elderly parent or family member has an estate plan and it is out of date? That may be just as bad as not having an estate plan at all, especially if tax laws have changed since the estate plan was made. Also, what if, instead of naming their children as agents to make medical decisions for them, an old health care directive names an undesirable person, such as a former brother-in-law to make medical decisions?

Most people really want to have an estate plan in place, but just never get around to doing it. You could provide a great service to your elderly parent or other family member by giving them the encouragement and assistance to move forward so they can cross this task off their list of things they need to take care of.

You may also be interested in https://www.galliganmanning.com/caring-for-an-elderly-parent-without-ruining-your-relationship/.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 11, 2020) “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late”

 

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Coronavirus Causes Increase in Estate Plan Updates

Many estate plan updates are being done by video conference.
Many estate plan updates are being done by video conference.

With the ever-increasing number of deaths from the coronavirus in Europe and the U.S., many people are now focusing on getting their estate plans in order. Phone meetings or videoconferences with estate planning attorneys have become the new way of updating estate plans, says Barron’s in the article “The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling to Set Their Estate Plans. Here Are Some Key Things to Know.” This is the case at Galligan & Manning where we have been meeting with our clients by phone or video conference and arranging for documents to be executed in the safety of our clients’ homes.

People are worried, and they are in a hurry too.

Here are a few tips:

Everyone should have three basic documents: a last will or revocable living trust, a financial durable power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney. These documents will allow assets to be distributed, give another person the ability to make financial decisions, if you are too sick to do so, and  allow another person to talk to medical professionals and make medical desisions on your behalf . These same documents are also a good idea for any young adults in the family, anyone older than 18 in Texas.

However, there’s more. In addition to these basic documents, everyone needs to review their beneficiary designations on assets that include bank accounts, IRAs, annuities, insurance policies and any other assets. If family situations have changed, these may be out of date.

Also, parents of minor children need to execute documents appointing guardians to care for their minor children in the event the parent is unable to do so.

While young adults may be more worried about the financial impact of the pandemic, seniors and the elderly are concerned about having documents in order. Wealthy people are concerned about the impact that the pandemic may have on estate planning law, and some are engaged in planning to make substantial gifts, in case the current estate and give tax exemptions are lowered.

Specific issues to be discussed with an estate planning attorney:

  • The advantages of certain trusts, which provide an opportunity to direct how assets will be held, invested and distributed before and after death.
  • Financial durable powers of attorney, which appoint an agent to make financial decisions.
  • Medical powers of attorney which let people designate an agent to make health decisions on their behalf
  • HIPAA Releases which allow family members receive health care and medical information from your health care providers.
  • Living wills, which allow people to designate whether to provide life-prolonging treatment, if in a terminal state

To learn more about what you need to consider when updating your estate plan see https://www.galliganmanning.com/estate-planning-life-stages/.

Reference: Barron’s (March 22, 2020) “The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling to Set Their Estate Plans. Here Are Some Key Things to Know”

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COVID-19 UPDATE: You Need a Medical Power of Attorney Now

Due to the coronavirus, now more than ever it’s important to have a medical power of attorney naming agents to make medical decisions for you if you cannot.

If you have not yet named someone with Medical Power of Attorney,  get this crucial planning in place now.  As Claire Horner and I spoke about in this Facebook Live video, https://www.facebook.com/galligan.manning/videos/1442796115909715/, it is very important to create this document, now more than ever with the coronavirus, and it can be prepared quickly and easily.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A medical power of attorney is a legal document you use to give someone else authority to make medical decisions for you when you can no longer make them yourself.  This person, also known as an agent, can only exercise this power if your doctor says you are unable to make key decisions yourself.

Other Terms for Medical Power of Attorney

Depending on the state where you live, the medical power of attorney may be called something else. You may have seen this referred to as a health care power of attorney, an advance directive, advance health care directive, a durable power of attorney for health care, etc. There are many variations, but they all mean fundamentally the same thing.  In some states, your preferences are worked into the document itself, such as your preferences for surgeries, pain treatment, religious preferences and so on.  Texas tends not to include wishes within the document, so it is very important to discuss your medical wishes and preferences with your agent.

Be aware that each state has their own laws about medical powers of attorney, so it’s important to work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure your decisions will be enforced through legally binding documents. Also, some states may not honor documents from other states (Texas often does this), so even if you made these decisions and created documents in another state, it’s wise to review with an estate attorney to ensure they are legally valid in your state now.  If there are any doubts, a new medical power of attorney can be prepared quickly.

What Can My Medical Agent Do for Me?

Some of the things a medical power of attorney authorizes your agent to decide for you:

  • Which doctors or facilities to work with and whether to change
  • Give consent for additional testing or treatment
  • How aggressively to treat
  • Give consent to surgeries, medications and so on

I won’t fully discuss it here as I wanted to focus on the most basic medical decision-making document, but there are other similar documents that are also very important, such as a living will which directs end-of-life decisions and a HIPAA release which will facilitate your agent receiving information to make these decisions.  See here for a fuller discussion of the other documents.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/making-end-of-life-decisions-part-of-your-estate-plan/

We are ready to help walk you through these decisions and prepare a medical power of attorney naming the agent who you trust to make these decisions for you. We are currently offering no-contact initial conferences remotely if you prefer and can arrange for remote document signings. Contact our office today and let us help you make the right choices for yourself and your loved ones.

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