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Caregiver's Guide to Estate Planning

Older couple with doctorDespite a career in financial planning and experience helping clients prepare their estate plans, Nancy Butler faced many of the same difficulties we all face when it came time to discuss an estate plan with her own family.

“It was really hard,” Ms. Butler said of communicating with her stepfather about estate plans for him and her mother.

Her stepfather had been the vice-president of a bank and later developed Alzheimer’s disease, meaning he needed dementia care and senior care. The combination of his background in finance and struggles with the brain disease, made it almost impossible to come to an agreement. “I wasn’t even his daughter, but I had to ensure my mother’s financial security as well,” she said.

Once her stepfather was moved into a nursing home, Ms. Butler was able to get long term care insurance for her mother and with her mother on a feeding tube now she is glad she pushed for that and paid the premiums herself for many years.

“My mother saw the process I went through with her husband, and how difficult it was, and that made it easier to deal with her,” she said.

Ms. Butler said that unless someone has dealt with family care giving, long-term care, and the financial aftermath once they have passed away, most people are reluctant to address the vast issue of estate planning.

“We all know we’re going to die,” she said. “People don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to think about it. Unless they have been around it, they don’t get it.”

Compounding the problem is waiting too long to discuss this important topic with one’s elderly parents. “The older people get, the more they get set in their ways,” she said. “They can’t handle a change in their daily routine, never mind how they want all their money managed.”

Research shows that the by the year 2020, one in six Americans will be a senior and the baby boomer generation “will swell the senior population from 39 million to 53 million.” 

Ms. Butler, whose business is Above All Else, Success in Life and Business, advises her clients that they need to consider how they want the last years of life to be literally spent. She said that people worry their money will all go to taxes, attorneys, and trusts, and then there won’t be anything left for them to live on.

“The first thing I would suggest is that they need one person to coordinate all the people on the team they will create,” she said. That team of professionals should include an elder law attorney, a Certified Professional Accountant, a financial advisor (one who is not also selling insurance), and a tax advisor. “To manage that entire team is mind-boggling,” she said. “You need one quarterback.”

Jules Haas, an estate-planning attorney, agreed that communication is the first step in estate planning. “I strongly advise my clients that estate planning should be a full family exercise,” he said. “Most of the litigation I see after a loved one passes is the result of family members who did not communicate with each other. For example, one sibling sometimes stays close to older parents while others move away and become less involved in what is going on with the family assets. This creates a scenario where one sibling becomes influential in major decisions about transferring property, managing investments and long-term care while parents are alive.”

And, Mr. Haas said people should not put off buying long term care insurance. “Long-term care insurance is an important tool to protect family assets if a loved one needs nursing care,” he said. “The last thing a family needs is a will frozen in probate court for years because an Assisted Living Community claims the family owes thousands of dollars in unpaid bills.”

Ms. Butler said that families need to consider that laws differ from state to state, and moving family to the same state can make financial and estate planning easier.

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