Getting Old Isn't for Cowards
The title of this article is an exact quote from a deceased client of mine, who lived to a ripe old age of ninety eight. What she was getting across to me was the point that once the infirmities of old age set in, all kinds of problems that never existed before raise their ugly heads and they are not always easy to face. Here are a few she and others experienced.
Updating beneficiaries. If an elderly unmarried person without children has an old will that names brothers or sisters as beneficiaries, that may no longer make sense, because if that brother or sister needs nursing home care, you may be far better off leaving it to their children. Then, if the brother or sister needs homecare, the funds will not disqualify them from the several Federal and State programs that can pay for homecare. Their children can then use the funds to supplement the government provided services to keep them at home. And if a nursing home is absolutely needed, the funds will not be lost.
An example from years ago, is a woman we helped get on Title 19 (Medicaid) in a nursing home. A few months later her 94 year old sister died leaving her several hundred thousand dollars. That money then went to the State of Connecticut and to the nursing home until my client died.
Another variation on the beneficiaries is IRA and 401K accounts. The decades roll by and everyone forgets who they named when they were young. Make sure you have named the beneficiaries you want. Illness, divorce and other events may lead you to decide to eliminate some beneficiaries and add others.
Yet another variation is joint bank accounts. There are numerous court cases where people have disputed who really is entitled to a joint bank account. If you intend to leave someone an inheritance with a joint survivorship account, it might be wise to state that in writing, especially if there are others who might object, because other heirs could claim, rightly or wrongly, that the account was set up merely for convenience in handling the account, and was not intended to be the survivor’s upon death.
Health care decisions can also lead to family strife unless you clearly designate a health care representative in a health care proxy, and state your wishes in a Living Will. This is not always an easy decision because of the fear of offending one child or another. But you need the courage to choose the one who will make the best decisions for you.
Financial decisions can result in conflict between children if you become incapacitated. For that reason, a well thought out Durable Power of Attorney is a must. That might mean choosing one or more children over others, but the rule of thumb is to choose those who have solid heads on their shoulders and who will not take advantage of you. That is sometimes a decision taking courage, because parents usually don’t want to offend the sensibilities of any child.
Seeking the advice of professionals, such as an elder law attorney who deal with such matters, can help avoid the pitfalls that might be lying dormant in old documents you signed when younger. Please note, I said when “younger”, because none of us are old, even though we may be older. Get the advice and don’t be afraid to make the decisions you need to make for your well being, and that of your family.