Have your worked on your New Year’s resolutions? You probably wanted to make some that you could actually count on satisfying, that would be really beneficial and that would make you sound like a mature, responsible adult. If you haven’t made them, we can help.
Time for “the conversation”
Have you talked about end-of-life treatment issues with your family yet? If not, this would be a good time. We know that you don’t want to address this unpleasant topic with your family, because they know what you want. Guess what – they probably don’t…. unless you’ve told them. They might guess, but their guesses will probably be more conservative than your actual wishes. You should give your family instructions. Tell them what you want, and put it in writing. Sign a health care directive or healthcare power of attorney (or both).
It’s actually not even enough to sign the advance directives – you still have to have the “conversation”. Why? Because you’re not only telling the person you designated as your agent, you’re also telling the rest of the family. You are telling them what you want, that you’ve really thought about it, and that you really did mean to name your agent as agent. You’re heading off family disputes and possible disharmony. If your family doesn’t know for sure what you want, the result is likely to be more aggressive treatment than what you’d probably choose? And, during the conversation, you might want to listen. You might be surprised to find that some of your family members have strong feelings themselves. They might be persuasive, or at least give you more to think about.
Take for instance, Mrs. Baker. She had signed advance directives. She named her Missouri daughter, Linda, as agent. She had expressly instructed that she be kept at home, even if her doctors thought she should be hospitalized or institutionalized. She made it explicitly clear that her entire savings should be exhausted, if necessary, in keeping her at home. When Mrs. Baker lost her capacity to discuss her preferences or reason with visitors, a long-estranged daughter (Judy) arrived from out-of-town. She insisted that the Linda must have persuaded their Mom to sign the documents, hoping to be able to stay in Mom’s house as long as possible. Judy claimed that Mom would never have signed the documents if she had been in her right mind at the time.
The result? A non-family member was appointed by the Court as guardian temporarily, while an investigation was undertaken. The guardian, worried about possible liability, moved Mom to the nursing home – where she died a few weeks later, before the Court hearing.
Though Mom signed all the documents she should have, and made her wishes clear, the result was exactly what she did not want. What could she have done differently? If she had talked with (or at least written to) her estranged daughter Judy, would the outcome have been different? The lesson here is to have the conversation and include even those family members who will not be in charge of the decisions.
Update your estate plan
This would be a good time to pull out your old will and trust, review them, and schedule an appointment with your attorney. Have the laws changed since your signed your will? But more importantly, did you life situation change? Do your children (now in their 30s or 40s) really need to have a guardian named, as they did when you signed your will when they were young? Have your moved or changed your assets significantly?
Once again, “my family know what I want” just won’t cut it. We see lots of families in litigation over things that might seem trivial. don’t think it will happen with our family, since everyone gets along so well? We hope that’s correct, but it’s not always true.
Since you signed your will and trust, have you put one child on as joint owner of your bank account (to take care of things if “something happens”)? Have any of your children gotten divorced, or married, or had children? Do you still want the child who lived close to you 20 years ago to be your executor or trustee, even though you’ve moved across the country to be near a different child? Have you taken care of your beneficiary deed? All of those things affect and need to be taken care of in your estate plan.
Do you have enough (or too much) life insurance? How about long-term care insurance? Shouldn’t you talk with someone about your insurance status, and see what needs to be changed?
Long-term care expenses, particularly, have changed a lot in the last few years. Long-term care insurance is a maturing market, which means that older policies need to be revisited – and people who have not gotten around to looking into the policies should set aside some time to do so. Our firm does not give advice directly (except to advise people that they need to get more information). We recommend that you talk with a respected agent, and make sure that they have your entire insurance picture. Right after that, call us to set up your appointment to update your estate plan.
We are always here to help and give you peace of mind. Please call us at 314/962-0186 to make that appointment!