Seniors should consider a variety of legal issues when planning for the future.
When we think about a gift for our families, an estate plan might not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, it’s actually something valuable to give to your loved ones—and a way for you to plan for the future.
Estate planning becomes a more pressing concern as we age, and it is important to ensure certain legal pieces are in place. An estate plan is an opportunity to make decisions and communicate your wishes about what will happen when you pass away or become unable to handle your own finances or medical decisions. Christopher Young, an attorney with The Alvarez Firm, advises people to begin thinking about their estate plan early. “It’s never fun to think about these topics,” says Young, whose focus is elder law, estate planning, trust and probate administration. “But the best gift you can give to your spouse or your children is putting proper planning in place so that the eventuality is dealt with.”
More than simply having logistics in place, preparing these documents will lift the burden from loved ones, saving them from having to make tough decisions during an emotional time.
Power of Attorney Document
One of the most important legal documents is power of attorney, a written authorization that allows another person to act on your behalf. This document ensures the person you choose is the one making financial decisions for you if you are unable to do that yourself. A critical part of this document is ensuring that it is a durable power of attorney, says Young. A durable power of attorney guarantees that the document stays in effect if you become incapacitated whereas a nondurable power of attorney automatically ends if you become incapacitated.
Advance Health Care Directive
Another critical legal issue for anyone but especially seniors is creating an advance health care directive. This document informs family and physicians about your health care preferences, specifically what treatment you do or do not want to receive if you are facing a medical crisis and are unable to speak for yourself. Talking with your physician can give you an idea of what issues you’ll need to address. Young says this is something that people at any age should consider. “There’s no reason every adult shouldn’t have an advance health care directive,” he says.
Declaration of Incapacity
Incapacity is another subject to consider in estate planning. Incapacity can mean different things in different contexts, but is frequently defined as the time when a person becomes mentally unable to manage his or her financial and/or medical affairs. This is when power of attorney and advance health care directive documents become especially important. However, because the meaning of incapacity can vary among individuals, settling on your own criteria for incapacity is a crucial part of estate planning. Young says that some people want their primary doctor, or even two separate doctors, to determine when they have met the criteria for incapacity, while others leave the decision to a loved one.
Plan Ahead With a Professional
Though people tend to avoid estate planning, Young says planning ahead helps deal with unexpected situations. “Have something in place. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you can always go back and make changes and make it better over the years,” he says. “But just having something down in writing, reflecting your own personal values and wishes, is what is most important.”
While it’s best to work with a professional who knows you to create these documents, you can do some research to prepare for the conversation.The American Bar Association offers a guide to wills and estates, with state-specific information, as well as an introduction to power of attorney considerations.