Guest article provided by: Dr. Beverly M. Griffor
As our loved ones age, it is important to help them to maintain their dignity. This is true even in the face of physical disability, loss of mental sharpness, and even through dementia. Our loved ones have often dedicated their lives to us, and in their later years we owe them the respect they are due despite any infirmity.
Families with aging relatives should not be afraid to have honest conversations about their priorities later in their lives. These honest conversations aid families in making plans to care for their loved ones in a way that is consistent with their wishes. Unfortunately, sometimes the desires of our loved ones cannot be met for reasons beyond our control, such as an unexpected illness of our loved one. Financial restrictions can also play a role in the decisions made about the care of aging family members.
In some situations, an estate planning or elder law attorney can assist with these kinds of needs, especially when decisions about in-home care, assisted living, or long-term hospitalizations must be made. Frequently, such an attorney can help families protect assets of their loved ones and navigate through the choices which need to be made with the whole family. If our loved one is able to make decisions for themselves, then we will guide them and provide all the information they need to make those decisions-even if they have to be made slowly. If our loved one is no longer able to make decisions, an attorney can help you seek the authority to make them on our loved one’s behalf.
Many probate attorneys do more than drafting Wills, Trusts, and Powers of attorney (although we can do that if it what your family needs to protect your loved one). Our primary focus is to protect the voice and dignity of the older adult, help the family involved to understand what they want, and make the best recommendation possible to meet those goals. Our aging loved ones still need us, although what they need and how they need it can look different. A few of the things that we can do to support these family members are:
Wills & Trusts
These instruments allow you loved ones to be sure that their legacy is bequeathed according to their wishes. Depending on their needs, it is possible to avoid having the family go through the court process to follow their final wishes when the time comes. Many people take comfort in knowing that their families will not be arguing over their financial legacy.
This kind of work shields the property and retirement funds that you loved ones have accumulated from depletion or from liability or double taxation. This often is explored when loved ones own property or accounts with other people, when they maintain self-directed work/employment, or when they have had multiple beloved partners in their lives.
This option is discussed when a family member needs a level of medical care which would otherwise deplete their lifetime of savings. This is more frequently necessary when the loved one is married and both spouses need to rely on that nest egg. We work with our loved on in order to discus how best to preserve the bulk of their assets in the face of a great need.
Guardianships are sought when our loved one can no longer make decisions about their own care or are incapable of caring for themselves due to mental or physical difficulty. This is the process where someone is selected to help the family member to make these decisions and handle their day to day needs – either in person or through managing those who are, such as in-home care or assisted living facilities.
Conservatorships are used when our loved one can no longer take care of their finances. It is not unusual for an older person to be able to care for their physical person, but no longer be able to understand their stock portfolio or monthly bills. This process makes sure that the loved one has someone in place to manage their finances safely to protect them from predatory transactions or other financial missteps.
It is important that our loved one be included in all of these processes to the greatest extent possible. Giving them the opportunity to understand how their legacy is to be maintained allows them their dignity in even the most challenging situations. For me, that is the most important piece.
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