“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.” – Tia Walker
As we grow into adulthood, it’s our parents’ responsibility to take care of us – to nurture our dreams, protect us, and provide for us. Unfortunately, as we age, so do they. Roles shift, and often it is up to the adult child to take care of the parent.
End-of-life planning can be an emotionally overwhelming endeavor, but it’s important to have tough conversations. As your parents ease into the next phase of their lives, a few questions come to light. Will they be able to navigate throughout the house comfortably? If not, is it time to downsize and sell their home? How will their assets be distributed? Who can make decisions for them if they’re incapacitated?
No one likes to think about what life will be like when their parents are no longer around or no longer able to take care of themselves. However, proper planning and preparation can alleviate much of the stress and uncertainty associated with losing a loved one, as well as make your parents’ remaining years enjoyable. In this blog, we’ll break down the many legal documents involved with estate planning and leave you with helpful tips on talking to your aging parents about estate planning.
Failure to Prepare is Preparing to Fail
Do you or your family have a living will? What about durable power of attorney in the event that your parent becomes incapacitated? It’s okay if you haven’t made any key estate planning decisions yet. Even if your parents are in great health, it’s never too early to start estate planning. Truth is, many of us are unprepared for end-of-life planning as these statistics will show…
- 50–60% of Americans don’t have a will.
- The percentage of Americans with wills continues to decrease, with 44% saying they had a will in 2016 and 51% saying they had one in 2005. (Gallup)
- 30% of Americans don’t know if their parents have a will. (Brookdale Senior Living)
- 40% of Americans don’t know what’s in their parents’ wills. (Brookdale Senior Living)
- Roughly $59 trillion will be transferred from approximately 94 million estates in America between 2007 and 2061. (Boston College)
- 58% of Americans without a will haven’t started thinking about it or making a plan. (Caring)
- Only 18% of Americans aged 55+ have a will, health care directive, and durable power of attorney.
The good news is, you’re not alone. The better news is Attorney Ben Weaver at 23 Legal is an expert at estate planning. The first order of business is to discuss the many different estate planning documents and how they are used to set your family up for success.
Common Estate Planning Documents
Fundamentally, an estate plan is a legal document that can protect your family financially, even when you or a loved one aren’t physically present or capable of making important decisions. In this section we will explore each estate planning document and what they provide…
- Living Will: A living will is a legal document that contains detailed instructions regarding your preferences for your parents’ care should they be unable to make decisions for themselves. Living wills cover many different aspects of end-of-life planning including, but not limited to:
- Setting up trust accounts in the name of beneficiaries
- Appointing guardians for living dependents
- Establishing an executor of the estate to oversee the terms of the will
- Detailing funeral arrangement plans
- Durable Power of Attorney: Granting a loved one durable power of attorney assigns that individual the power to make financial decisions for your parent, should they be incapacitated. Asset management, investments, bill payments, and other financial responsibilities can be completed on your loved ones behalf, so make sure it’s someone your family trusts.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare: Another name for this document is “health care proxy”. This key legal document designates who has the agency to make medical decisions on your parents’ or loved one’s behalf. A Health Care Proxy can make sure all your medical documents are in order and ready at a moment’s notice. Health complications can be unexpected and can happen to anyone at any age, so having this document completed is a necessity. Choose someone who meets the following criteria:
- Meets state requirements for a health care agent
- Is comfortable discussing medical care and end-of-life issues with you and your family
- Can be trusted to make decisions that fall in line with your family’s values and wishes.
- Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR): A do-not-resuscitate order, or DNR order, is a medical order written by a doctor. It instructs health care providers not to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if a patient’s breathing stops or if the patient’s heart stops beating. A variation of the DNR order is called a Do Not Intubate order, or DNI for short. In medical terms, a DNI that a patient does not want a breathing tube inserted into their trachea to maintain breathing. For end-of-life planning, patients and their families have the right to decide whether or not they will accept specific treatments, such as:
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Artificial nutrition/hydration
- A Provision for Anatomical Gifts: Have you ever been asked if you’re an organ donor? Originally enacted in 1968, the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act is a federal framework that sets how anatomical gifts can be made. Every state has enacted the provisions of the act in some form. The act allows a decedent or surviving relatives to donate certain parts of the decedent’s organs for certain purposes, such as giving to those in need or for medical research. The act was revised in 1987 and again in 2006. The revisions made in 2006 aimed to address shortages and encourage donation. The 2006 revised act: expanded the list of persons who can consent to organ donation on behalf of an individual; gave every individual the opportunity to donate their organs at or near death; and stated that individuals who refuse to donate must explicitly state so.
- Last Will and Testament: This document coordinates who receives your possessions and assets in the event of your death. It appoints the guardians for any children that are still minors. The last will and testament designates the beneficiaries of any insurance policies as well. This document is extremely important because without it, your state government is in charge of handling your affairs, which is typically less than ideal.
Having the Conversation About Estate Planning with Aging Parents
- Seek Professional Help: A well-crafted estate plan should involve a qualified professional like Attorney Ben Weaver at 23 Legal. Talking with an expert estate attorney will give you the clarity you need to start the process of securing the future for yourself and your loved ones. Ben understands these conversations can sometimes feel overwhelming, and that’s why he makes the time to really get to know his clients and customize a plan that fits their needs.
- Understand the Documents: As we discussed above, it’s imperative that you and your family have a clear understanding of the documents involved in estate planning and what powers they grant. Each document serves its own purpose. Find out if your parents already have any of these documents in place. If they do, consider if they need any revisions.
- Recognize the Family Dynamic: Determine who should be involved in the conversation. If you have siblings, this is an excellent time to get on the same page. If you’re part of a blended family, it’s a chance to clarify the chain of command. Getting all this information hashed out now can help your family avoid disputes later.
- Designate a Specific Time to Talk: Think about setting a specific time to bring up the conversation. Have your talking points ready and ease into it. There are plenty of scripts and strategies that can serve as conversation starters. Let your loved ones know how important this conversation is and make sure to give them time to prepare as well. Don’t spring it on them randomly.
- Set Long Term Goals: Setting long-term goals together can prevent unpleasant surprises, but it will take open and honest communication. Sometimes, these conversations may not be pleasant. If necessary, have a team of professionals mediate the conversation. That way, everyone involved can be seen and heard.
- Follow Up: It’s not helpful to think of estate planning as a one-and-done conversation. Living situations evolve, things change. Proper estate planning involves frequent check-ins and follow ups.
Key Estate Planning Conversation Topics
Once the actual estate planning conversation begins, you and your family will want to set tangible goals for the conversation. You should leave the conversation having covered several topics including:
- Estate Plan: Each child or beneficiary should have a clear understanding and interpretation of how the estate will be administered per the documents. This is the time to ask your parents questions to make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Plans for Property: Decide what will happen to the family home or any other property your parents own. Is there any important repair work that needs to be done? Are you selling the home? If so, hire an attorney to help with the process.
- Net-Worth Statement: A net-worth statement gives the children an overall understanding of their parent’s wealth. “While this helps the family understand the potential inheritance, it can also give children peace of mind that their parents have the wealth to cover expenses later in life, such as health expenses.
- Family Business: If your family runs its own business, discuss what happens to the assets and liabilities. Will your family continue to run the business? In the event that the business is sold, who receives the money and how much of it? These are all questions you should ask.
- Trusts: A trust is established in order to distribute assets according to the wishes of the trustor. It saves time, reduces paperwork, and can even help avoid or reduce inheritance/estate taxes. During the conversation, discuss with your parents and professional if a trust is the best idea for your family.
It can be difficult watching your parents age. Don’t wait until your loved ones pass away to take action. Prepare their accommodations ahead of time so your family isn’t scrambling to make extremely important decisions hastily. When you prepare for the future it gives you peace of mind to know things will be taken care of.
Ben Weaver at 23 Legal is an expert in the laws of probate; the paperwork that is the foundation of the administration of your estate. As a lawyer who specializes in wills and estates, we want to remove any insecurity a family might have over the administration of your capital. After a lifetime of hard work, investing, saving and creating wealth, the last thing you want is for the government to take it all back. An estate planning attorney can protect you!
Attorney Ben Weaver has earned a reputation as a trustworthy lawyer who truly cares about his clients. In these uncertain times, make your loved ones feel safe. Here’s what a client of ours has to say about their experience working with Ben…
“Ben did an excellent job for us on our wills & trust, and so we definitely chose him to work on our real estate sale & purchase as well. Very timely and responsive, highly competent work, and friendly. Glad to finally have a lawyer worth coming back to.”
– Client Testimonial
Whether you need assistance with selling your parents’ home, drafting a will, or reviewing legal documents, 23 Legal is here to help. Let’s work together to make sure your parents can enjoy life to the fullest knowing everything is in order.
There’s no time like the present to secure your family’s financial future!
Contact 23 Legal today to learn about how we can help your family with estate planning!
Why Choose 23 Legal
23 Legal offers Real Estate and Estate Planning legal services to individuals, families, community associations and small business owners throughout Chicagoland. We know how intimidating “the law” can be. In fact, when most people think of law offices, they think of stuffy leather chairs, huge wooden desks and pompous lawyers who charge outrageous fees. That’s not us! We believe in 1-to-1; the same lawyer should work with you all the way through. Whether you have an estate planning issue, family trust concern, or you have a legal problem in regard to a new home, business, real estate or remodel, you need a lawyer who cares. That’s where Ben comes in! We are great listeners; more than that, we are lawyers who believe that our clients always come first.