Around the country, millions of adults are responsible for helping their parents and older loved ones remain safe and healthy, well into their golden years. If you’re a family caregiver helping to support an aging parent or loved one, you know how important it is to be present and live in the moment – while also keeping one eye on the future.
For example: When was the last time you and your senior loved one had a conversation about estate planning?
If you’re like many families, it may have been quite a while.
Studies show that talking about estate planning and preparing for “end of life” matters does not come easy. In fact, a recent study suggests that there are around 7 million people aged 65 and over who have never had a conversation with family about estate planning, long-term care, or end of life transitions. While 79 percent of older adults and younger family members consider these difficult conversations to be important to have, less than a quarter have actually started them.
Meanwhile, studies have suggested that more than half of all Americans do not have a will in place. Other research indicates that there is a major breakdown in communication between older adults and their younger family members when it comes to estate planning. According to research from Fidelity, for instance, 92 percent of parents expect one of their children to assume the role of executor of their estate, yet 27 percent of the kids expected to fill this role don’t know about it. Similarly, 69 percent of parents expect one of their children to help manage their finances in retirement – yet 36 percent of the kids identified as filling this role didn’t know about their parents’ expectations or plans.
The Importance of Estate Planning
Having an estate plan in place is one of the most important things adults can do to safeguard their families down the line. Preparing an effective estate plan can help your assets avoid probate, which can be costly and time intensive. Even more importantly, creating an estate plan can provide clarity and help your family members make tough decisions in a difficult time, all while easing transitions on their behalf.
As attorney Jenny Jeltes, principal of the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd. has explained:
“Estate planning is one of the most important things you can do to provide for your family in the future. Importantly, an estate plan allows you to choose who will protect your children if you cannot. It dictates who will guard the money that you leave behind for your children. It can determine whether your child will receive their inheritance upon your passing, or at another time.”
Creating an Effective Estate Plan: Where to Start
What elements should be considered as part of an estate plan? Over on her site, Jenny spotlights a few important courses of action for older adults and their families to consider and discuss, including:
- Wills. A will is an important legal document through which a person expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death, and names an executor in order to oversee the distribution process.
- Trusts. Trusts are incredibly important estate planning tools. A trust is a legal agreement wherein a person with assets allows another person or institution to hold those assets, and manage or distribute them for a recipient, also called a beneficiary. There are different types of trusts, including revocable living trusts and irrevocable trusts. Trusts can also be combined with other estate planning tools, such as pour-over wills. This type of will outlines that all property that passes through the will is put into a trust.
- Power of Attorney. Put simply, power of attorney is a way for you to name the person or people who will be allowed to make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. There are different types of power of attorney to plan for, including healthcare power of attorney (which outlines who will make your medical decisions if you are incapacitated) and property power of attorney (outlining who will make your financial decisions if you are ever incapacitated).
- Living Will/Advanced Directive. A living will or an advanced directive is a legal document outlining a short medical directive, expressing your wishes for how you want to receive medical treatment in case you are ever incapacitated or unable to give consent.
It’s incredibly important to keep these documents and plans up to date as time goes on. This is particularly true for older adults, who may have started estate planning while they were younger, but find themselves in a new financial or personal position later in life.
Keep your sensitive documents and information secure, but make sure that your estate plan will be accessible to any family members who will be responsible for executing your wishes, managing your finances, and making crucial decisions down the line.
As an older adult’s needs, goals, and estate plan change over time, it may help to keep up an ongoing discussion among the family, to make sure everyone is informed and on the same page.
Talking About Estate Planning: How to Have the Conversation
Talking about estate planning and end of life transitions can be difficult, and many people try to avoid having these crucial discussions altogether. After all, talking about these subjects can lead to some sensitive topics, including death, finances, and the future.
However, for seniors and their adult children, it’s important to address estate planning head on, and have open and honest conversations about it. The more you talk about estate planning and major life transitions, the more you can bring everyone onto the same page, and help ensure that there isn’t any confusion or conflict down the line.
Here are a few ideas that may help you and yours make the most of any estate planning talks:
- Start the discussion early. It can be much easier and more productive to have these conversations while seniors are healthy and in good spirits, when there is less of a time crunch and people can be more objective about their situation. Don’t wait for something to go wrong before you start making a plan for the future.
- Be patient and empathetic. As we’ve noted, these subjects can be difficult to talk about, so go in with an open mind, and be empathetic and willing to listen. Try to be as transparent and open as possible, and but be ready to pick up the conversation several times. Avoid putting too much pressure on your senior loved ones, or other family members who may have a say.
- Find a way in. It can be daunting to start these heavy talks. To open the dialogue, consider starting with something lighter, such as leading with an anecdote or story, or citing a recent event or a news item that may spark a more open, relaxed discussion.
- Bring in an experienced professional. Don’t be afraid to bring on some outside help. A trusted relative or family friend can help mediate the conversation. Senior care and long-term care experts may be able to lend some valuable insight, as well. Finally, consider consulting with an attorney, such as Jenny and her team. Life transition attorneys can lead discussions fairly and objectively, bring extensive information and experience to the table, and may help you consider topics you and your loved one may not have thought to address on your own.
Looking to begin the estate planning conversation with your aging loved one? Curious about the state of your senior family’s estate plan, or want to help them update their most important planning documents? Reaching out to an experienced attorney in your area can be a great first step.
Here in Chicagoland, the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, Ltd. offer quality, affordable representation during life’s most difficult transitions. This skilled team of compassionate advocates is dedicated to helping their clients efficiently and effectively meet their goals. Jenny and her team can assist with probate administration and asset division, and help develop a comprehensive estate plan, including preparing wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and advance directives.
The Importance of Planning for Long-Term Care
According to recent estimates, about 70 percent of those 65 or older can expect to use long-term care at some point – and yet, fewer than 30 percent of adults have had a conversation about long-term care planning. It’s important to look to the future, and have a plan in place for helping your senior loved one age in place comfortably, safely, and independently. For many families, home care is going to be crucial. This flexible, affordable, and convenient type of care can help empower older adults to live life to the fullest, while allowing family caregivers to rest, recharge, and refocus.
Want to talk about any aspect of aging in place for seniors, including in-home care? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at Companions for Seniors!
Here at Companions for Seniors, our mission is to empower seniors to live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own homes by helping them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships. Our Companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and our team can help your family to develop and implement a personalized care plan, all to help seniors and their family caregivers maintain a higher quality of life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Have any questions? Ready to start thinking seriously about long-term care? Give us a call at 866-910-9020 or reach out online to get the conversation started.