Why Estate Planning Procrastination Kills Your Options
Elder Law Attorney Stuart Furman explains why estate planning procrastination kills your medical and financial options in later life, and why planning early is important to keeping your independence.
Estate Planning Procrastination
In my elder law practice, far and above all other concerns is client procrastination. Most people wait until something bad happens before they take action or make decisions. Unfortunately, with eldercare, this can severely limit your options.
In my book, “The ElderCare Ready Book,” I have a chapter titled “Famous Last Words.” These are things I have heard from clients that make me cringe, as I know how these circumstances can destroy any hope of using helpful planning techniques to assist them and their families.
Reasons People Procrastinate
Here are five reasons why clients commonly procrastinate:
- They don’t want to deal with their mortality or mental incapacity so they say they “will take care of it later.”
- They don’t want to pay attorney’s fees to draft their estate plan, notwithstanding these documents are arguably the most important papers in a person’s life, and will almost always save money in the long run.
- They don’t want to decide how to divide their estate.
- They don’t want to expose their life to another person, such as their child, and feel as though this gives up their autonomy.
- They fear that if authority is given to a child, they will put them in a nursing home, which is an historical fear from a time when a myriad of residential options were not available.
Reasons to Start Estate Planning Early
Why should you start estate planning early? Consider:
1. Ability to Sign Documents: A parent cannot validly execute any documents if they are no longer mentally competent to do so. This inability to sign documents can cause a whole buffet of problems for the family. For example, court action may be needed to gain access to a parent’s finances and health records, which then subjects the caretaker or guardian to annual reviews and accountings to the Court. These proceedings, typically called a “conservatorship” or adult “guardianship”, are expensive, time consuming, stressful, and publicly invasive to the elder’s privacy. Having appropriate estate planning documents in place, before a problem arises, can provide the children access to information when it is needed most.
2. Clear End-of-Life Wishes: An incompetent parent cannot clearly communicate his or her end-of-life decisions, health care decisions, bequests, and more. The children are then left to just speculate, with each child often having his or her own opinion. Especially declaring one’s end-of-life desires well ahead of time will minimize or even eliminate the guilt a child will feel in carrying out the final act, and help to avoid conflict.
3. Changing Living Conditions to Meet Care Needs is Easier: Without a clear-minded parent, residential living choices cannot be communicated to the children. Understandably, parents don’t want to give up their freedom and so they are very hesitant to address their residential options if they need to move from their family home. I toured seven different large assisted living communities with my parents over a year before they needed to consider moving. They were quite surprised at the livability of the communities, which eliminated the stigma of being put into a stereotype of a nursing home. They were much more receptive to discussions on a variety of topics after that. It is highly recommended to determine all of the residential living options (from home care to skilled nursing centers) while the parents can still provide input. A senior placement agency can provide valuable information on these options, which can be tailored specifically to the parent’s health and wishes.
4. Maintain Family Harmony: Without clarity, knowledge and detailed planning early on in the eldercare journey, the stress levels can go through the roof, a lot of money may be needlessly spent and relationships between family members can become strained as each has their own idea of how, and where, the care should be provided.
5. Greater Access to Financing Long Term Care: Financial planning options for long-term care may no longer be available due to the health of the parent. For example, long-term care insurance may not be available if the parent’s mental or physical health has declined. Additionally the parent may have lost his or her ability to communicate their investment comfort levels. Once families decide to address planning before a care crisis occurs, the initial discomfort of addressing these issues is greatly outweighed by the lasting positive effects of having good preparations in place.
After watching thousands of families struggle through this process, I wrote a book and accompanying guide that takes out all the guesswork for families starting their eldercare journey by showing them how to pack all the necessary information into one place. Whether you go it alone or use a resource like my books, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of planning ahead.
About the Author
Stuart Furman, Esq., is an elder law attorney of 34 years. He is President of the Southern California Legal Center, Inc. and ElderCare Ready, LLC, and author of The ElderCare Ready Book (2015) and The ElderCare Ready Pack (2015). He has been featured on AARP, Forbes, Maria Shriver, and many others. His books are available online with most online retailers. For further information, and a link to purchase the books, please visit www.eldercareready.com. You can also reach him at 877-820-3335.
Do you or a loved one have an estate plan prepared? What tips do you have for others that are just beginning this process? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
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