Haims: Avoid unnecessary heartache and anxiety by putting your estate plans in writing (column)
Currently, I am watching a client’s family being torn apart by sadness, anxiety and a deep sense of hopelessness. It’s hard to watch and it has raised emotions within our office. No, a loved one has not passed away — yet. And this is the problem.
When this family’s father passed away a few years ago, their mourning and sadness were somewhat isolated to just the emotional loss of their dad. His will clearly defined his final wishes and his financial affairs were, for the most part, in order. A couple of years after their father’s passing, the adult children thought it best that their mother come live with the son here in Colorado. The son set up a checking and savings account at a local Colorado bank and had Social Security payments, investment accounts and real estate interests redirected to the new account. All was good — so he thought.
Recently, the mother experienced a stroke while exercising and was hospitalized. While she was hospitalized, the family had been informed that they could not access many of their mother’s financial accounts nor completely respect her health care directives. It seems that when the mother moved here, she was in good health and of sound mind. Therefore, nobody had thought about having their names added to financial accounts nor updating medical powers of attorney documents and HIPAA consent forms.
Now, there is finger pointing, criticism, tears and guilt. It’s splitting up the family and likely causing irreversible harm.
Rich or poor, or somewhere in between, we all have ideas of what we’d like to see our future look like. Most people don’t envision a time spent in court, arguing with siblings and other family members or fighting with financial institutions and health providers to uphold end-of-life wishes and the management of personal assets.
Unfortunately, for people who have not taken the time to get educated about planning for end-of-life legal, financial and medical matters, heartache and turmoil, along with family and sibling quarrelling, may be inevitable.
Estate planning doesn’t only apply to wealthy individuals. If you or your aging loved ones own property or other assets such as stocks and bonds, then it is important you educate yourself about documents such as a will, advance directives, powers of attorney (both financial and health matters) and various types of trusts.
Regrettably, there are few educational courses that teach people how to prepare for medial or financial emergencies, in addition to the intricacies of the distribution of an estate. According to an article by Forbes, 51 percent of Americans ages 55 to 64 and 62 percent ages 45 to 54 have the most fundamental document — a will.
When it comes managing your or your loved one’s health care and financial wishes upon death, laws are quite specific about who can participate in health care and finance-related conversations and decisions. Pre-planning will greatly assist family members and loved ones to know what medical and financial efforts you or your ill family member(s) would want. Further, having the proper documents in order will provide you and your family members the legal means to carry out those wishes.
In the Wednesday, Oct. 18, Vail Daily columnist attorney Rohn Robbins wrote a great article addressing estate planning and listing the types of documentation you should have in order. Please make the time to go online and read his article. I guarantee you will benefit from the information he provided.
But, at the end of the day, legal documents will not solve all problems. The best approach to developing a well-conceived “plan” will start with a conversation that occurs well before an unexpected issue arises. Speak with your partner, family and sibling(s), about what your wishes are. Without proper legal documents, at best, assets may go to probate and tax implications may eat away at your wealth and inheritance. At worst, family and loved ones may see the worst in each other.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.