While we truly believe that estate planning is important at any stage of life, it's absolutely necessary for seniors. Not only have retirees accrued assets over the course of their life that they want to leave to family, but they also tend to have clearly defined ideas about how they want to live the rest of their life. As such, it's quite important to thoughtfully plan for the specific needs of seniors, whether that be working directly with a senior or working with their loved ones. However, we find that through this process, there are a few common mistakes that people make. With that in mind, today we'll discuss 4 things not to do when it comes to estate planning for seniors, and the steps you can take to avoid them.
1. Avoid discussing estate planning details with family members
According to some of our past clients, estate planning for seniors is a lot like openly planning your funeral with loved ones. It can be morbid and make everyone uncomfortable. However, failure to talk to family about you'd like your estate distributed and waiting for them to figure out the details after you pass creates a lot of unnecessary stress.
At a minimum, make sure that your family members know where you keep all of your important documents (birth certificates, social security numbers, insurance records, etc). In the event of an emergency, these documents should be easily found.
You may also want to discuss your wishes for end-of-life care as well as how you envision your funeral. These conversations don't have to be awkward. In fact, your loved ones will likely appreciate that they'll be able to fulfill your wishes.
2. Don't make an advanced medical directive or choose a healthcare power of attorney (POA)
Another common mistake we see when estate planning for seniors is that older adults tend to delay making end-of-life care decisions as long as possible. This includes establishing an advanced directive that allows you to make medical decisions ahead of time.
For example, let's say that you encounter an accident, injury, or illness that would require artificial means to keep you alive. If this is not something you're interested in, you can name someone to make a decision on your behalf (also known as a healthcare POA) that prevents the use of breathing machines or otherwise to keep you alive.
Of course, referring back to mistake #1, it's important that you openly discuss your wishes with family members well in advance so that when these situations arise, they are prepared to act. It's also important that your family members have all the insurance information that they need (although most seniors in the United States are covered under Medicare).
3. Not assigning a durable power of attorney (POA)
Building on the previous point, many seniors also make the mistake of not naming someone to make legal and financial decisions on their behalf. While we can certainly appreciate a senior's desire to remain independent and capable of managing their own affairs for as long as possible, we also recognize that it does become necessary to have trusted individuals in your circle to help pay your bills, transfer money on your behalf or handle other legal or financial decisions with your best interests in mind.
We normally see this process as a gradual movement rather than immediate action. For example, you may establish one of your adult children as your POA while you're still working. However, 10 years into retirement, you find that you're not moving around quite as well as you used to. Your adult child starts to assist with tasks such as going with you to the bank or being present during legal conversations. When the time comes (or when you become physically or mentally incapacitated), the person with POA will fully step in to handle your affairs until you pass.
4. Failing to pre-plan funeral arrangements
We eluded to this point earlier. Planning your own funeral can make everyone feel a little uncomfortable but it's a necessary part of the estate planning for seniors process and can bring comfort to your family after you pass.
For example, we once had a client who passed away in his sleep. As the family started to go through his things, they found a simple document laying on his bedside table that described in detail how he wanted his funeral including paw bearers, the scripture he wanted read, and hymns he wanted to be played.
We can only imagine how he must have felt writing out all of those details, but his family felt as though they'd been given a gift with those instructions. There was comfort in knowing they could fully realize his wishes.
Make estate planning a priority!
All of that said, the biggest mistake we see with regard to estate planning for seniors is simply avoiding the task of doing an estate plan at all. Unfortunately, the longer you delay, the greater the chances of your estate not being handled to your satisfaction. If you are unsure how to get started, our estate planning attornies in Raleigh, NC are here to help Feel free to contact our office to schedule a consultation.