“THE LEGAL CORNER”
By Sam A. Moak
PLANNING TO LIVE LONGER
The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstance.
A great deal of focus has been placed on the importance of the changes in the federal estate tax laws; however, our ever increasing life expectancies should cause us to carefully plan for our futures.
The number of individuals living over age 90 has tripled in just the past 30 years according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This increase is not projected to slow down either.
Issues like housing options, quality of care, caregiving, vulnerability and exploitation will have to be considered as we live longer. Another key issue will be cognitive impairment illnesses of the aging population. Many of us have loved ones or friends whom we have witnessed go through the costs and quality of life issues brought on by dementia. You should talk to your family about these concerns, but most importantly, your estate plan should anticipate and address the variety of issues that dementia brings.
Most people do not want to end up in a nursing home and certainly do not want to see their estates wasted. There is a wealth of mis-information and many urban myths about government benefits.
The problem with traditional estate planning is that it has focused too long on how wealth should pass at death, ignoring the reality of how wealth often does pass at death and during life. We live in an age in which there is an older generation with some wealth and a generation just below them that has largely failed to plan for their later years. The tension between these two generations, and the unwholesome focus of the younger generation on the resources of their parents and grandparents is the source of much overseeking, many bad decisions and much misinformation. A personal pet peeve of mine is the industry of professional exploiters (see older columns of mine on Snake Oil Salesmen and the Senior Consumer). These “professionals” put on “educational seminars,” offer free dinner or lunch, all with the purpose of causing fear and panic about the aging process in order to sell inappropriate and sometimes detrimental legal and financial products.
What you need to understand is that decisions about protecting your assets and preparing for the quality of care in the future can’t be separated. What the government pays for today is not particularly generous, and what the government will pay for in the future is speculative at best and frightening at worst. Many worry about planning how the estate will be handled at death, without considering how property should be managed during periods of impairment.
Many older folks turn to family members for assistance in their later years. However, these arrangements are a minefield for family conflicts. Questions about whether the care-giving child should get paid for these services or receive a supplemental share of the estate upon death are common issues of dispute among siblings. You can avoid these issues with careful planning.
We are all human and anyone is susceptible to a life altering accident or illness. You should seek the advice of your financial planner and an attorney experienced in elder law for these events. With careful planning you can live to enjoy, comfortably, the Golden Years.
Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Moak & Moak, P.C. He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.