Elder Law: Why Seniors Should Be Proactive About Estate Planning
Only four in ten American adults have a will or living trust, AARP reports. While most adults over 18 haven’t put documents in place in case of their death, 81% of those aged 72 and over, and 58% of boomers (aged between 53-71), do have estate-planning documents. As people age, the need for an estate plan becomes increasingly important. Nursing home residents should therefore prioritize getting their end-of-life documents and plans in order.
Legal documents require a certain level of mental capacity in order to be signed. Although your cognitive capacity may be healthy now, events like a fall, stroke or concussion can happen, and may cause a sudden and fast decline in cognitive abilities. However, if a loved one already has a serious condition (such as dementia or Parkinson’s) that interferes with their cognitive abilities, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have the requisite capacity to execute legal documents.
Elderly people potentially in need of Medicaid in the future shouldn’t put off estate planning while they still can. Life circumstances can change at any time and when we least expect it: a sudden fall, for example, can result in an unexpected loss of capacity overnight. An elderly person placed in hospital on short notice and in need of long term care will likely not be able to get Medicaid documents signed easily. As such, that individual's family may also struggle to get help from Medicaid (a process which includes having to structure assets and income so they’re determined eligible). It’s therefore important that seniors act now to ensure expenses and long-term care needs will be covered in the future.
Understanding the plan
Once an estate plan has been drawn up, it’s equally important that individuals understand exactly what their plan means, which entails seeking the right kind of legal aid. A specialized elder law attorney focuses on helping families to navigate elder law and create a comprehensive estate plan that suits their individual situation. While wills are documents that dictate where assets will be distributed upon death, they can also be used in probate court if an individual dies with assets in their name alone. Wills can also be used to name the person who’ll take care of the probate of the estate. As an alternative to wills, living trusts eliminate the risk of probate court, which means assets are distributed sooner and with less taken out in taxes. Trusts save time and money, as well as avoid will contests involving heirs disputing the inheritance.
Estate planning is important at every age to ensure your loved ones will be taken care of in the future. It’s essential that nursing home residents take the time to meet with an elder law attorney and create an estate plan that’s right for them.