I can say with near certainty that planning ahead matters. I’ve seen so many circumstances with families where a little attention to looking to the future could have saved so much heartache. Who wants to think that Mom and Dad or Grammy and Grampie are going to die?
I never like to think about that possibility either, but the reality is that my father passed away a couple of years ago, and only my mother, grandmother, and stepfather remain. My grandparents we
re well prepared with a will, and the family was aware of their wishes. Unfortunately, my father had no plans and no will and passed away in a nursing home having had no discussions with myself or my siblings about his wishes. Thankfully, there were no issues as I disposed of his few possessions and his bank account.
Truthfully the “system” failed 100% to follow any rules which would have tied up his meager assets for probate, but that is a rare occasion. Over the last 14 years and with thousands of clients, I have seen some families who were fully prepared, but sadly in most cases, there is little to no preparation as it relates to the end-of-life issues that we are all going to experience.
In many cases, seniors come to see us when a crisis is in full swing. Often, when a family member takes ill, the members of the family that are responsible realize that though they may have a will and may have had discussions about their loved one’s wishes, there was additional documentation required in order to help their loved one while they are still alive.
When you are responsible for a family member either as the executor of their will, the oldest sibling, the most responsible sibling or however you came into this role, there are very specific documents that you should be looking for:
A will is designed, generally, to make the family aware of how a loved one’s estate is to be disposed of. Whether it is a substantial or meager estate is irrelevant; a will states, in writing, who gets what. Additionally, a will, if done properly, as more modern wills are done, there will be additional documents or other facets of the will that will speak to advance directives and power of attorney (POA).
An advance directive is designed so that family members know what is expected by their loved one should they become debilitated and can no longer vocalize their own healthcare wants, while a power of attorney is designed to allow the responsible party to make certain healthcare decisions, as well as certain financial decisions for their loved one.
These documents can be complicated, but generally, with the help of a competent attorney, they are highly customizable and designed to allow your loved one to be very specific about their wishes. In many cases, when we are meeting with responsible family members, we discover that these documents are either not in place or have not been updated in a substantial number of years. It’s important to note that as time goes on, your loved one may have a change of opinion as to who should be responsible for their estate and who should be responsible for their financial and healthcare decisions, as this can be multiple people.
We have seen, in many families, that when a crisis strikes, even when families are close, chaos ensues. The infighting between siblings starts and, all too often, puts the family in a state of paralysis where they cannot make an effective decision for their loved one.
In a world where private information is such a hot topic to protect, families will find it nearly impossible to accomplish what is necessary for their loved ones if these documents are not in place. It is also important to note that laws vary based on state, and on occasion, those laws will be updated, making an advance directive or power of attorney ineffective.
I always find it intriguing, as we meet with families during a crisis, how naive they tend to be about what their loved one wants or about how difficult things can become when other family members begin to state their opinions and assert their perceived authority. I cannot recommend enough that families begin to communicate about the need for this kind of documentation as people reach their mid-50s. The value of the investment in retirement planning and a very candid conversation with your loved ones cannot be understated.
Find the courage to get these conversations started early and commit to getting things clear as soon as possible. Set reminders every 10 years or so, or as you feel needed, their value will only be realized when the need for them arises.
Brad Dyer is CEO/Founder of Hometown Senior Solutions, an Agency that specializes in providing expertise to seniors primarily around Medicare Health Plan options and many other issues seniors wrestle with. He is a Licensed Insurance Broker in Maine, Texas, and New Hampshire.