Planning Well: Elder Care, Will and Estate Planning

SUBMITTED BY CHARLIE JORDAN - 04/08/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent economic impact have brought uncertainty to most people around the world. For many of us, concerns about financial and job security take a back seat to real and perceived threats to our health and those we care most about. While few will be severely impacted health-wise, the coronavirus has shined a light on our mortality.

This particular coronavirus causes the majority of problems for adults over the age of 60. For Baby Boomers, many already struggling with how to care for aging parents in their 80s and 90s, this is serving as a wake-up call to get their own estate in order. This health crisis heightens the need to review the estate and eldercare plan for both their parents and for themselves.

With most of us now sheltering in place for the near-term, this could be the time to consider setting up a phone call or Zoom video meeting with an attorney to make important decisions about an elderly parents' health and their finances as well as your own. While each family's needs are different, here are some essential documents and areas of focus:

Durable Power of Attorney
What happens if you or one of your family members gets sick and cannot take care of their daily obligations, such as paying bills? This essential document gives an agent – usually a spouse or adult child – the ability to handle all financial and legal matters on your behalf. Having a power of attorney is critical for access to financial accounts and other vital information.

This person provides flexibility for managing the affairs of the affected person. In a time of crisis, and especially during this unusual social distancing period, a power of attorney is even more valuable.

Advanced Health Care Directive
This document – formerly called a Living Will -- accomplishes two goals: 

  1. Appoints a health care agent, allowing them to make critical decisions on your care and gives them access to private health information so that they can communicate decisions to medical staff and prevent potential disputes.
  2. Provides your agent and medical professionals with your preferred medical treatment as you near death.

Difficult decisions about end of life care are more heart-wrenching, and outside the control of family members, without clear instructions. 
   
Last Will & Testament
This document expresses the wishes on how property gets distributed at death. It also names one or more persons, the executor(s), to manage the estate until its final distribution.
Because this distribution of a large estate can be complicated, working directly with an attorney to establish or update a will is recommended. They can help you make critical decisions and will represent your interests if others ever challenge the will. Without a trusted attorney who knows elder care law, there may be additional problems down the road if these documents fail to achieve the intended goals.

IRA Beneficiary Designations for Non-Spouse Beneficiaries
When the SECURE Act was signed into law in December of 2019, it significantly changed the tax treatment of non-spouse beneficiaries of retirement plans. The previous law would generally allow non-spouse beneficiaries to "stretch" their required distributions of an inherited IRA over their lifetime.  Now that timeframe is limited to 10 years. That means that the entire balance of the inherited IRA must be distributed ten years after receipt of the inheritance.

For those whose IRA beneficiaries are currently non-spouses (most common is the adult children of a widow or widower), this is potentially a huge change. If your estate or your parents' estate has not been reviewed for this change, now is a time to discuss with your advisor and estate attorney.

Time to Get Organized?
There is nothing like a quarantine to help you get to some of those important, non-urgent tasks. For many, simple estate organization (what you own, where is it, who has access to it, etc.?) is an overwhelming and often procrastinated task. Whether you use a simple yellow pad to record all these things, or use an online system such as Everplans (www.everplans.com), making sure your powers of attorney, executors, and loved ones know how to locate and manage your affairs could be one of the most valuable gifts of time you ever provide.

Whether you are in the middle of this health crisis, or fortunate enough to be safe and healthy, use this time to evaluate your plan. It's easy to get caught up in the daily market volatility and miss a crucial element of your overall financial plan.  Our advisors are here to help with that review and to connect you to an attorney who will make sure your documents are sound.

 

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