Take The First Steps In Creating Your Estate Plan By Talking To An Elder Law Expert
Getting your estate and long-term care plans in order is increasingly important as you get older.
But many people put off these essential estate planning tasks, and leave their families – and themselves – at unnecessary risk of financial insecurity and undesirable outcomes.
A 2021 survey by Caring.com found that 2 out of 3 adults don’t even have a will, and that only 44% of those over 55 had an estate planning document of any kind.
Furthermore, many of those who do have estate planning documents haven’t updated them to reflect recent changes in family, finances or health.
Why do so many people put off this important task?
While the top reason is that they just haven’t gotten around to it yet, many of the people surveyed said that they either didn’t think they had enough assets to really need an estate plan or they simply didn’t know how to go about it.
Everyone Needs Estate Planning
It isn’t just the very wealthy who need an estate plan – even those with just a few assets need to plan for long-term care, assign power of attorney in case of incapacitation, and provide advance directives for family so they can make good medical decisions.
Wills and trusts can also help families avoid lengthy probate proceedings and protect their assets properly.
The good news is that an estate planning lawyer can help you navigate the process and set up all the documents you need to get your affairs in order.
It is recommended that older people seek the advice of an experienced elder law attorney and discuss their finances, family situation and health care concerns in order to forge an appropriate plan.
Here are some questions to ask when you talk to an elder law specialist about your estate.
These Seven Questions Will Help You Understand Your Options And Hire The Right Elder Law Specialist
- What Estate Planning Steps Do I Need To Take Now?
Estate planning isn’t just about wills.
It covers things that occur as you age, too, and includes things like planning and paying for nursing home care, codifying your wishes for medical care if you cannot decide for yourself, and disbursing assets in stages to avoid taxes or loss benefits like social security.
An estate plan can also include guardianship provisions for minors, plans for special needs dependents, and guardianship and conservatorship plans for you if you should need them.
Your estate plan may change as your health, family and financial situation evolves, but most older adults should have a few basic things in place no matter what their circumstance is.
- A living will or advance healthcare directive outlining your wishes if you are incapacitated
- Health care power of attorney
- Durable power of attorney, for financial and legal decisions
- A long-term care plan in place
- A will and/or trusts, as applicable to individual circumstances
An estate planning attorney can draft the necessary documents and help you take care of everything that needs to be handled.
Make sure any estate planning law firm you are considering is well-versed in these topics, and that they take the time to discuss your individual situation and answer any questions you may have.
- How Do I Handle Health And Long-Term Care Planning?
Your elder law attorney should discuss topics like advance healthcare directives and healthcare power of attorney with you as part of the estate planning process.
You should also discuss your long-term care options with them, including things like how you will pay for assisted living and protect your assets in case of incapacitation or prolonged facility stays.
A good elder law attorney should also be well-versed in patient rights and nursing home resident rights.
Having an established relationship with a lawyer who can fight for your interests as a patient or assisted living resident is very important as you get older, so be sure to ask about the firm’s experience in these areas of elder law, as well.
- Can You Help Me With Financial Planning And Asset Protection Strategies?
Even those who are not in higher tax brackets need to think about financial planning and asset protection.
An extended hospital or assisted living stay can easily deplete a lifetime of savings and deprive your family of their legacy.
And poor estate planning can result in unnecessary taxation, loss of social security benefits and other unexpected financial consequences for beneficiaries.
High net worth families will need specialized advice and an elder law attorney who is well-versed in things like living trusts, trustee designation, avoiding gift and estate taxes, and incapacitation planning.
Luckily, there are many ways to protect your assets and those of your loved ones as part of a good estate plan.
Discuss financial planning matters with any elder law attorney you are considering, and be sure they have good answers to your questions and experience helping families like yours.
- How Do Medicare And Medicaid Figure Into My Estate Plan?
Medicare, Medicaid and other things you may qualify for like social security and VA benefits should play an important role in your estate plan.
Two of the big errors people make in thinking about long-term care and estate planning are assuming they can’t qualify for Medicaid because of assets, or not realizing they may be eligible for VA or other benefits that can help pay for long-term care.
Special planning measures like a qualified income trust can be established to help you qualify for Medicaid, and there are ways to help those who served qualify for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit, which pays for long-term care.
Medicaid planning, Veterans Aid, and other asset protection measures can help you pay for long-term medical and nursing home care without depleting your hard-earned savings.
Any attorney you are considering should be well-versed in these important estate law topics and be able to explain how they apply to your situation.
- How Can I Plan For A Situation Where I Am Incapacitated?
A well-considered estate plan should include planning for situations where you are temporarily unable to manage your affairs and for long-term illness and incapacitation.
You will need to figure out who will provide care for dependents, who will manage your assets and property, and who will make healthcare decisions for you.
You should also make sure your end-of-life treatment preferences are known to ensure your desired quality of life is protected.
Your elder law attorney should walk you through all the possible scenarios and find out how you want each situation handled.
The process will likely include appointing a durable power of attorney for financial matters, designating a different person for healthcare power of attorney, and creating a living will.
You may also want to create a revocable trust that you can change as your wishes and circumstances change.
Establishing these measures in advance will ensure your healthcare and financial decisions are in good hands, no matter what happens.
Having a trusted elder law expert to guide you and prepare all the necessary legal documents will also give you peace of mind, and help your family avoid power struggles or legal battles during a difficult time.
- How Can I Ensure The Needs Of My Dependents Are Met?
Ensuring the needs of dependents – or of adult heirs – are met is not always as simple as just making a will.
An inheritance windfall can lead to the loss of benefits, including disability benefits, or be subject to seizure or garnishment in some circumstances.
Special needs dependents, in particular, must be protected and provided for through a careful, long-range plan.
Adult heirs who might be irresponsible with money may also need protection through the establishment of certain controls.
Legal instruments like special needs trusts, spendthrift trusts, custodial accounts and the appointment of trustees can help you make sure your legacy lasts and protects those you love.
Guardianships and conservatorships also provide ways to protect minor and adult children with disabilities.
Your elder law attorney can discuss your different legal options for ensuring your loved ones’ needs are met in a variety of circumstances.
- What Is Your Fee Structure?
One of the biggest reasons people put off estate planning is because they worry about the cost.
While estate planning costs will vary widely depending on individual circumstances, a plan that covers all your needs can be very affordable, and it is worth every penny because of the peace of mind it provides.
Estate planning lawyers may offer flat fee arrangements for certain services, or they may bill by the hour.
Any lawyer you are considering should be able to explain how their fees are structured and give you an idea of what you can expect to pay ahead of time.
Many firms offer a free initial consultation, and this is a great place to discuss legal costs and other financial issues that may be on your mind.
Why You Shouldn’t Wait To Talk To A Canton Elder Law Attorney
Even younger seniors and those enjoying an active retirement shouldn’t wait to talk to an elder law specialist.
Having the basics in place, including a will, an advance healthcare directive, and long-term care insurance, is too important to put off.
Those with dependent minor or special needs adult children need to take care of custodial and financial provisions, just in case something happens.
A good estate plan can also help reduce your family’s tax exposure for years to come, making it a cost-effective measure and a smart financial planning move.
Furthermore, even if you already have a will or other estate plans set up, it is still a good idea to review it with a lawyer periodically and make sure it still fits your situation and achieves your future goals.
State and federal laws regarding wills, trusts and other estate issues change fairly often, too, so a review can help you catch and fix any potential issues.
Finally, establishing a relationship with an experienced elder law firm now ensures your family will have access to their trusted guidance in the future, right when they need it most.
Don’t Wait! Talk To A Local Elder Law Attorney Now
Ready to take the first step in planning your estate, or want to make sure your existing plan still fits? Call us at (770) 479-1500 for a free consultation today.
We can discuss all your options and craft an estate plan that’s right for you.
Amanda Speights is a co-founder and lead family law attorney at Speights Law, PC in Cherokee County. She is an experienced family law lawyer who handles an assortment of domestic cases, including divorce, child custody, child support, appeals and other types of litigation in the state of Georgia. To contact Amanda, please visit our contact page.