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Who Me? Do I Really Need to Plan?

Published November 9, 2021

By Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney

It is not uncommon for younger family members to accompany a parent or other relative to an estate planning or elder law consultation with one of our attorneys at the firm. I have often observed that many of our clients are motivated to take action due to a family crisis. For example, dad had a stroke and needs care at a rehabilitation facility, or mom was recently diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and needs some help at home.

Recently, I have noticed that as we discuss a care plan for the elderly relative that there has been a heightened interest by younger family members who now recognize the need to do their own planning before a crisis occurs. To that end, we are often asked, “When should I start planning for these issues?” What a great question!

I like to think of elder care planning as a journey and not as a destination. It is a process and sometimes there are tweaks that need to be made to the plan along the way, but it is something that everyone eventually needs to think about. Here are some things to think about:

  1. We are all getting older. This is true, whether we like it or not!
  2. No one gets off this planet alive; there is only one way out and it is called dying.
  3. If we are lucky enough to live long, our medical care costs will continue to increase as we age — regardless of whether we need care in a nursing home, assisted living, or at our home.
  4. Failing to plan for this time in your life can have significant financial and quality of life consequences for you and your family. You can really make things easier for you and your loved ones by thinking through these issues in advance.
  5. If you have not updated your estate plan in the past few years or if you have a change in family circumstances, it is probably time to take a fresh look.
  6. If you are like many clients, a significant portion of your estate is in your IRA or other retirement accounts which have beneficiary designations. Have you considered that your will does not control the disposition of these assets?
  7. Do you have special circumstances in your family such as someone who has special needs or who has a drug, alcohol, or spending problem? This may necessitate using a trust in your estate plan.

The reason many of us do not like to plan ahead is that it forces us to think about and discuss our own morbidity or infirmity. We would much rather talk about our next vacation or home-remodeling project.

Everyone’s situation is different. We all have different medical conditions, family histories, financial assets, goals, etc. Within our financial portfolios, there is a wide variety of assets such as individual retirement accounts, real estate, non-IRA investments, etc. The treatment of each client’s plan varies depending on these factors and many more. So, what works for one person probably will not be the answer for someone else.

Many clients have said to us that they just want things to be simple for their family when they go. Others say that they do not want to be a burden to others or are concerned about reducing taxes owed at death. All of these are good reasons to get planning before something happens that prevents you from reaching your goals.

So, what is the best time to start planning for your future? Answer: there is no better time than the present. It basically boils down to how much risk you are willing to take. If you have a high tolerance for risk, then I guess you can wait and hope that nothing happens to you or that it will not be too late to take necessary steps at that time. However, if you are wrong, it could prove costly. For most folks planning in advance is the way to go. There is little to no downside (and tons of upside) of planning early since a well-drafted plan can usually be adjusted or updated, if necessary, as things change along your life journey.

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