Seniors – You can keep control after control slips with the right plan

Seniors – You can keep control after control slips with the right plan

In my humble opinion, senior lawyers handle some of the most compassionate legal cases. We help seniors manage their medical and financial needs when they are no longer able, and we help them develop a plan to do so before the time comes when they can no longer do it on their own. In almost every one of these cases, the client’s plans or decisions involve the cooperation of their spouses, children, other family members or loved ones. But without a plan, the future is not so certain.

The simplest yet most profound thing I’ve learned from another professional in this field is to keep in mind the two primary goals of an older person: maintaining control when control is in the process of being lost, and creating a legacy in the world when time is running out. (How to Tell Seniors: Bridging the Communication Gap with Our Elderly David Solie, MS, PA, Prentice Hall Press, 2004) In most cases, the latter goal is the easier one, accomplished by helping clients craft an estate plan (usually through a last will and testament or similar documents) that leaves their assets and worldly goods and possessions to those whom they deem worthy recipients after they are gone.

The former, on the other hand, is a more complex matter, helping older people maintain their dignity at a time when capacities fail and dignity seems to slip away. It’s the loss of control we all fear the most, and for good reason. “What will happen to me if I become senile, or get dementia, or fall victim to Alzheimer’s disease? Will I be okay? Who will take care of me and keep me safe? Who will make my decisions for me? Will my wishes to be carried out?” These questions are more pressing for those who are approaching the time when age-related diseases appear.

These very deep and valid questions are valid concerns that can be addressed before one ever gets to that point and that’s the beauty of planning ahead. If aging simply planned for these eventualities, they would be sure to make their final years as golden as they could make them. Advanced directives (powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, living wills), wills, trusts, Medicaid planning, and long-term care insurance are all tools an elder law attorney uses or recommends to craft a plan that meets the needs and finances of each specific client.

More importantly, they are the tools each individual has at their disposal to maintain control over their future. Because without this type of pre-planning, these decisions will be made by courts and laws that do not necessarily reflect the wishes of the individual. For example, without a will, state probate laws control who will receive an individual’s worldly goods after death. If you want to leave your property to a more distant relative or loved one and leave out closer relatives, your wishes should be made known in your will. Without a durable power of attorney or a revocable living trust, probate courts will decide who makes your financial decisions. And without health care powers of attorney and living wills, either the law (if your state has a “default” health care power of attorney law, like New York’s new law) or the probate court will make these decisions. Who wants their life controlled like this?

If you want to make sure your wishes are carried out when you are no longer able to do it yourself, contact an estate planning or elder care attorney to help you put together the right plan for your future. This way you maintain control over your decisions, your assets and your future – your way.

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