I gave a presentation the other night at a local assisted living facility. The topic was powers of attorney and guardianships and conservatorships. Half of the attendees were children of residents at the assisted living facility. Based on the questions that they asked me, it was clear that most of them just had a basic or rudimentary understanding of the estate planning needs of their parents. This got me thinking about putting together a short estate planning checklist for family members who are assisting a parent or elderly family member with estate planning.
Healthcare or medical power of attorney. This document allows the elderly family member to designate a person or persons to assist him or her with his or her personal affairs and medical care. It allows for a family member or close friend to make decisions on behalf of the elderly family member about medical treatment options if that person loses the ability to decide for himself or herself.
HIPAA authorization. This document allows the elderly family member to name which individuals are entitled to receive information concerning his or her medical condition, which would otherwise be considered to be confidential. Its purpose in the estate planning context is typically to authorize medical providers to share information with family.
Living will. This document is an advance directive to medical providers which states that if the elderly person is in a hospital and the doctor has determined that the person has an irreversible, terminal condition with only a short period of time to live, it is that person’s decision that he or she does not want to be kept alive by means that only prolong the dying process.
Durable financial power of attorney. This document enables the elderly family member to designate a person or persons to assist him or her with financial matters and decision-making in the event he or she is unable to personally handle finances.
Last will and testament or revocable living trust. The will is one’s written instructions as to how financial affairs are to be handled upon death as to any probate assets. It comes into play only at death and requires a judicial proceeding called a probate to administer. The will provides directions over what assets are to be distributed to whom and who is in charge. A revocable trust is similar to the will but also has lifetime application to the individual, particularly asset management and incapacity planning. Upon death, the assets in the trust are not subject to judicial probate proceedings.
Beneficiary designations and asset ownership review. Many assets, such as retirement accounts, life insurance and annuities, allow for the designation of beneficiaries to receive the asset or proceeds upon the death of the owner. Other assets may not have beneficiary designations but may be held jointly with other individuals. Thus, all assets should be reviewed for ownership and beneficiary designations, with the thought in mind that they should be set up in a manner that will accomplish the plans that the elderly individual has in place or wishes to achieve.
Memorial instructions. These can include written wishes as to cremation or burial, the types of service the elderly family member may desire and his or her wishes as to scriptures, music, flower arrangements, pallbearers, etc.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list but it should serve as a useful reference for those assisting elderly family members with their planning.