In 2008, Congress recognized the need for the public to understand the importance and benefits of estate planning by passing House Resolution 1499, which designated the third week of October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week. Nevertheless, according to a 2019 survey carried out by Caring.com, 57% of adults in the United States have not prepared any estate planning documents such as a will or trust despite the fact that 76% viewed them as important. Many of the respondents said this was due to procrastination, but many others mistakenly believed that it was not necessary because they did not have many assets.
Why should you have an estate plan?
An estate plan can provide significant peace of mind by ensuring your assets are protected, plans are in place in the event you become ill, and your property is passed down according to your wishes.
What key topics should you consider?
- Do you have a last will and testament and/or a trust? If you do not have these important documents, state law will determine who will inherit your property—and thus it may not occur in the way you would have chosen. In addition, someone appointed by the court, instead of a trusted person of your choosing, will be in charge of caring for any children or pets. Spelling out your wishes in a will or trust will also prevent unnecessary confusion, anxiety, and expense for other family members when you are gone.
- Have the proper powers of attorney been prepared? A financial power of attorney will allow you to designate an individual to make financial and property decisions for you should you become unable to handle your own affairs. A medical power of attorney enables you to designate a person you trust to make medical decisions for you when you are otherwise unable to speak for yourself.
- Make sure that you have an advanced directive, also called a living will, which memorializes your wishes concerning your end of life care, such as whether you would like to receive life support if you are in a vegetative state or terminal condition.
- Do you have insurance? If you become incapacitated or die, it is important for your family or loved ones to have information about your insurance (such as life, health, disability, longterm care, etc.) so that claims can be filed.
- Compile a list of all of your accounts and other important information, including bank and investment accounts, titles to vehicles and homes, credit card accounts or loans, digital accounts (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and passwords, Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates, which may be needed to manage your property when you are incapacitated or settle your estate once you are gone. This information should be kept in a safe place and shared only with trusted family members or loved ones.
- A list of legal, financial, and medical professionals who have performed services for you is also important. The list should include their contact information so your family can easily reach them in the event their help is needed if you become disabled or die. If desired, you should also ensure HIPAA authorizations are in place with medical professionals to ensure your family members are able to obtain needed information.
How should you encourage your family members to create an estate plan?
Estate Planning Awareness Week is a great opportunity not only to take steps to make sure your own estate plan is in place, but also to talk to your family members, especially elderly parents, about creating an estate plan. Estate planning is often a difficult topic to broach, as it brings the unpleasant topics of aging and death to the forefront of our minds. Here are a few tips to help you start the conversation.
- Be sensitive to your family members’ feelings. Put yourself in their shoes, and keep in mind that few people are eager to dwell on the subject of their own death. One way to begin the conversation is to talk first about the need to plan for an illness and to provide instructions in the event they become too ill to communicate with doctors or handle financial matters for themselves. The conversation can then naturally progress to the importance of having an estate plan that will enable their assets to be transferred in the way that they wish, provide for the care of any dependents or pets, and minimize any taxes, court costs, and legal fees. Communicate that you are not trying to control their decisions, but only want to ensure that their own wishes regarding their medical care and their property are known—and that all their instructions are in writing to guarantee they are carried out.
- Involve other family members in the conversation. If you are planning to speak to your parents about the need for an estate plan, it is important to try to include any siblings in the discussion to avoid giving the impression that you are trying to influence or control your parents’ choices. You and your siblings should emphasize to your parents that none of you are asking about what you will inherit, but just want to make sure that their wishes are carried out if they become ill or pass away.
Consult an estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you and your family members create an estate plan tailored to meet each of your unique needs and carry out your wishes—or help you update a pre-existing estate plan. We can provide each family member with guidance and information about the options available to them. We can help each of you put a plan in place that will prevent unnecessary stress, legal expenses and taxes, uneven inheritances, disputes between family members, and delays in passing life savings on to loved ones. In addition, it will provide you and your family members with the peace of mind that comes with knowing there are plans in place for your care if any of you become ill and that your wishes will be honored once you pass away. Call us at 770-425-6060 today to set up a meeting or, for more information, click here for Our FREE “Get Your Ducks in a Row” Estate Planning Checklist!
Unfortunately, many parents of children with special needs wait until their child turns 18 to consider creating a Special Needs Trust. Sometimes, they even wait until their child eventually needs government benefits like SSI or Medicaid. However, Special Needs Trusts do a lot more than just protect the beneficiary’s access to government benefits and should be created as soon as possible. Below are a few reasons why.
A Special Needs Trust secures the child’s future
The best reason for creating a Special Needs Trust with a Marietta Special Needs Lawyer before your child turns 18 is the same reason that parents of children without special needs should have an estate plan – to ensure the stability and security of their family members if something unexpected happens to them. Creating a Special Needs Trust before a child needs it ensures that the Trust will be there during all of life’s transitions. If a parent of a child with disabilities dies unexpectedly and a Special Needs Trust is not established, the direct inheritance could make them ineligible for any government assistance. The Trust would also allow someone else, called a Successor Trustee, to immediately step in and start helping your child financially without having to wait for the courts to get involved.
They can receive gifts from parents or grandparents
Parents may decide to establish a Special Needs Trust for their minor child so that the grandparents and other relatives can fund it with gifts. Also, older relatives who are planning on leaving an inheritance for the child with special needs can bequest the funds directly to the Trust. Having a Special Needs Trust guarantees that if the child needs government benefits in the future, he or she will not have large amounts of money in their name that could negatively impact eligibility.
Life insurance benefits can be protected
One way that parents sometimes ensure that their child will have money for future care is to purchase a life insurance policy where the payout goes into the child’s Special Needs Trust. The earlier the parents start funding the life insurance policy, the bigger the financial benefit for their child with special needs. This funding can start well before a child turns 18, so it makes sense to create a Special Needs Trust to hold the proceeds even if the child is not yet receiving government benefits.
You can create a care management plan
Special Needs Trusts can provide a care management plan as well as a structure for family involvement in the daily life of the person with special needs. In addition, professional special needs trustees can serve as resources for families that are looking for additional care options for their child.
Creating your child’s Special Needs Trust and keeping it updated can be a very effective planning strategy for reasons that go way beyond preserving government benefits. Even if the Trust is unfunded during the parent’s lives, having it can create a solid, stable foundation for the child if it is needed. If you have not yet created a Special Needs Trust for your child, call our Marietta Special Needs Lawyers office at 770-425-6060 to set up a consultation today.
You could never fit the dreams, goals, and desires of your family into a one-size-fits-all box. Nor can you fully anticipate the unique challenges, changes, and loss you and your loved ones may face ahead.
As impossible as it is to predict your future and generalize your dreams, that’s how equally impossible it would be to protect your family with a one-size-fits-all estate and long-term care plan.
What works for you may not work for the family down the street, and vice versa. Your family dynamics are different, your health situation is unique, your finances are different, your wishes are different, and what brings you “peace of mind” is different.
That’s why when choosing a firm to help you craft an estate or long-term care plan, it’s important to select one as unique as your family that will help you design a personalized plan to take care of your every want and need.
Most online will and trust services (…and even lawyers!) will simply plug your name into a standardized will or trust document and hit “print.” These documents rarely take into account any of the circumstances mentioned above. It’s a simple “search and replace” job.
But, what happens in the future if you can no longer care for yourself, or you decide to do something different with your life (like become a snowbird and live in multiple states), or you get sick or need to start moving assets around to fund your care? Will those documents protect you? Likely not, as the “one-size-fits-all” language will cause your documents to be out of date and irrelevant to your situation.
When you work with our Marietta estate and elder law firm, you are not just paying for a set of documents, but a relationship with an attorney who will guide you through all of life’s transitions:
- We ensure that the investment in your planning is a solid one, and the documents created on your behalf will support you now as well as in the future.
- The focus of our practice is exclusively on estate and elder law planning, so you can feel good knowing you are receiving a cutting-edge plan which protects your assets and the people you love….no matter what happens!
- If the laws change, we’re going to contact you and get your plan updated. If your life circumstances change, we’ll be on the front lines helping you utilize the provisions in your documents which will allow you to stay in control and make decisions from a place of empowerment, not pressure.
- What we offer is education and legal counseling, so you can feel good knowing you have the right legal tools to protect yourself and the people you love.
If you are still comparing long-term care planning services, we invite print out the following “10 Questions to Ask an Elder Law Attorney” below to take with you to your appointments when choosing a law firm that is fully equipped to meet the needs of your family. The 10 questions to ask are as follows:
- How do you bill clients? Do you work on a flat-fee basis or will I receive a bill for every phone call, email, or fax sent to your office?
- How often will you communicate with me?
- Will you periodically review my plan to ensure it’s up-to-date as my life and the law changes through the years? Is this included in my planning fee?
- What if I change my mind or want to make changes to my plan? How does that work?
- Will you help me fund my trust and ensure my assets are titled the right way? How will you do that?
- What happens if my (or my loved ones’) medical situation suddenly changes? Will we need a brand new plan, or do you have “trigger” provisions built in that allow us to achieve new goals with the documents we already have?
- Will you prepare custom documents for me based on my unique circumstances, family dynamics, and wishes, or will I be receiving a templated set of documents?
- What is your process for helping me protect as much as possible of my life’s savings and assets from long-term care and nursing home costs?
- What if I have a pension, retirement account, or money in the bank? I’ve been told I have “too much” to receive Medicaid benefits. How can you still help me qualify without having to spend it all first?
- How can you help me protect my independence? What if I or a loved one wants to stay at home as long as possible? What can you do to make that happen?
We are ready to answer these questions and educate you on the ways that Georgia Estate Plan: Worrall Law LLC can help your family create an estate and elder care plan that meets your needs both now and in the future. If you’d like to schedule a consultation at our Marietta Elder Law Attorney’s office, simply call 770-425-6060.
Elder care lawyers in Marietta work with families to prepare for any number of situations in the estate planning process. One circumstance that is especially relevant to elder care law is dementia. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are almost exclusively conditions which appear late in life.
Along with the emotional turmoil on the patient and family members, dementia also takes quite a financial toll. Alzheimer’s and related illnesses are typically degenerative, progressing slowly over time, while requiring considerable medical and personal care. An Elder care lawyer in Marietta has experience helping clients create plans that provide for both the medical and the quality-of-life aspects of these expenses.
Of course, early planning is critical. If it is suspected that you or a family member is developing Alzheimer’s disease or any other ailment that impairs thinking, estate planning and other provisions should be arranged with an elder care lawyer as soon as possible. A dementia patient’s mental capacity will decline, and in order for predefined wishes to be followed, his or her current capacity cannot be in question. Getting started as soon as an issue is suspected is one of the best ways to ensure having the greatest say in the future.
Because of the progression of the disease, some of the most important decisions to be made are medical ones. For example, an advance healthcare directive needs to be drawn up to designate a trustworthy person to make medical decisions for the patient when he or she is no longer able to do so. If this person is not chosen in advance, it is likely the courts will need to appoint one at a later date. Again, taking care of this issue with an elder care lawyer in Marietta now means that you have more control over what happens later.
Asset protection is another major concern for dementia patients. The physical progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can take many years, while the mental progression may be much faster. This means the individual may require specialized care (including monitoring, nursing, and other personal needs) for a very long time, therefore depleting existing finances. Learning how to maximize the value of assets now can greatly impact the quality of care one can afford down the road. There is also concern regarding estate planning, as the costs associated with dementia can easily wipe out any potential inheritance unless the proper plans have been put into place.
When it comes to elder care, it makes good sense to seek a qualified elder care attorney who can help navigate the ins and outs of the system as it relates the special needs of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. If you are ready to get started, simply call our Marietta elder law firm at 770-425-6060 and ask to schedule a consultation.
I have no hesitation saying that my wife and I are DIYers, but we recognize our limits. Doing it yourself can save you some dough, but you need to be smart about it. It doesn’t save you one dime if you later need to call in a professional to fix your mistakes, and like brain surgery, some things should be left to the professionals.
As a Marietta Estate Planning Attorney, I can assure you that estate planning falls into the professional category.
Could you do it yourself? Well, when it comes to your legal planning, I’ll say that you could do something, but do you really understand what you are doing and the consequences of the words on paper? For most people the answer will be a resounding “NO.”
With the advent of the internet it seems that more and more people want to attempt their own documents. And here is the key: Planning is not about the documents. Yes, the documents are needed to communicate your instructions to others, but the process of creating the instructions is what is critical. If you don’t know what you want or more importantly don’t understand the ramifications of what you think you want you are just wasting your time and money.
Fill in the blank, push a button, hand over your credit card, and get some documents. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? And it is—BUT what do you have? What do you need? Will it actually work? As with many things we often don’t know what we don’t know.
Instead, let me clear this up for you by sharing a real-life story that demonstrates what happens if you don’t fully understand the outcome of your actions.
Dennis had always been resourceful, and he also didn’t like to spend money if it wasn’t necessary. Dennis, age 56, was divorced and did not have any children. His only sibling was an estranged half-sister with whom he had not been on good terms for a number of years. The people who were important to him and who he wanted to leave a little something to were his friends, people that cared about him.
After doing some research on the internet and reading a book or two about how to make a will, Dennis decided to make his will by himself. He hand-wrote all the provisions, signed it, and had it witnessed. He took it out a year later and decided to make some changes. He crossed out certain provisions. He did not initial the cross-outs nor did he date them.
One year later Dennis died. Approximately one month before his death, Dennis was hospitalized and told Janet that he wanted his property to be divided equally among his friends Mary, Mark, Janet, and Sam, and he would be changing his will to reflect this. Unfortunately, he never did, and only succeeded in creating a big mess.
As Dennis’s executor, Janet collected and reviewed all Dennis’s assets and she was amazed. Her friend had a much bigger estate than she ever imagined. Janet hired a lawyer to help her with the estate. After her visit with the probate lawyer, Janet was astounded at all the ways Dennis got it wrong.
First, the lawyer told Janet that there would be two probates. There would be one probate in Georgia because that’s where Dennis lived when he died. She said that a second probate would be required in Florida because Dennis owned real estate there. The lawyer also found problems with the will. The clause giving his house to Janet and the clause giving the remainder of his estate to Sam were the clauses that Dennis made the modifications to. He crossed out Sam’s name and did not replace it with anything. He crossed out Janet’s name and above it wrote Sam’s name, then he crossed this out as well, but did not replace it with anything. This meant that for most of Dennis’s property there was no will and the property would be distributed according to the intestate succession laws of the State of Georgia.
And there was more bad news. The life insurance policy and IRA listed Dennis’s ex-wife as beneficiary. Janet knew that Dennis did not intend to leave these assets to his ex-wife, and she couldn’t help thinking how careless Dennis had been not to change the beneficiary designations after the divorce. Finally, the lawyer told Janet the probate (in two states) could cost the estate a total of over $10,000!
Janet could not believe what she was hearing. Not only would she not receive Dennis’s house, but she would have to expend a great deal of time with the two probates to ensure that the bulk of Dennis’s estate would go to his estranged half-sister and his ex-wife, instead of going to the people that he cared about and that cared about him—exactly the opposite of what he intended! What a mess!
Of course that’s just one of MANY tragic situations that can happen when you do your own estate planning. As I always tell my clients, you just don’t know what you don’t know and estate planning is one of those things best left to the professionals.
So if you have DIY estate planning documents and you are now concerned that you’ve made a key omission or mistake that could cause your wishes to be ignored or overlooked in a court of law following your passing, I invite you to call me at 770-425-6060 to schedule a comprehensive Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session so we can review and update your current documentation.