May was a busy month for us as we moved our office and added new team members to our Goldfarb & Luu family. However, it was also an important month for seniors, as it was Older American's Month. So here is our post, albeit a little late.
May has long been set aside as a time to celebrate senior citizens and focus on their unique needs, which becomes increasingly relevant as the Baby Boomers take over as the largest age group in the U.S.
According to the Administration for Community Living, this year’s theme was “Connect, Create, Contribute.” Here, we’ll share ways to connect with resources just for you, explain why you need an updated estate plan, address some general elder law issues and provide ideas for how to contribute to your family, community and future.
Connect with Resources
There are several websites and organizations dedicated to the care, wellness and happiness of older adults. Here, we’ve highlighted a few organizations that stand out as well-established resources for senior citizens and their families.
- Wise & Healthy Aging– advances the dignity and quality of life of older adults through leadership, advocacy and high quality, innovative services.
- California Department of Aging– This government site provides resources for California seniors, caregivers, and adults with disabilities
- National Council on Aging– A trusted source to help find senior programs and resources in your area
- Eldercare Locator– This is a fantastic resource to help you find housing, transportation, and other support services right in your area
But don’t just stop here! Google your county, city, neighborhood, special interests, and needs. There are countless resources available to you!
What the hell is Elder Law? We define it as the time in our lives where we start needing consistent help from others, namely family and friends. Typically, this happens in our 80s, 90s and beyond but it can certainly occur earlier. The earliest case of Alzheimer’s is 27 years old! The statistics reveal that 50% of us over 80 will develop dementia. We are all living longer and this means that we may need care for longer, which is a burden on our families and our bank accounts. At Goldfarb & Luu, we are experts in talking about these issues, thinking outside of the box and creating estate and family plans to minimize conflict and preserve family harmony.
Create an Estate Plan
It’s time to create or update your estate plan. An estate plan is a carefully chosen set of documents designed to help you prepare for your healthcare and financial needs in the future, as well as determine the best way to distribute your property when you’re gone. It is not a static plan and should be reviewed and updated at least once every five years, or whenever you have a major life change.
If you already have an estate plan, but it hasn’t been reviewed or updated in a while, ask yourself the following:
- Are you 100% sure you retitled the assets from your name to your trust’s name or made the trust your beneficiary when you created your estate plan?
- Do you have any new assets since then?
- Are there any new beneficiaries that need to be added?
- Are the rules for inheriting still the same or do you need to update them?
- Are your listed fiduciaries (e.g., Healthcare Directive, Power of Attorney, Trustees,Executors,Guardians) still able to serve that role?
- Have your health or medical conditions changed?
If anything has changed, it’s important to update your plan to reflect those changes. Having a comprehensive estate plan is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family and loved ones. But if it’s not up to date, it’s likely to cause problems (like landing your family in expensive court proceedings) rather than help when the time comes to put it to use.
Advance Healthcare Directives, Powers of Attorney, Trusts and Wills are standard estate planning documents, but if you are older or haven’t updated your plan in decades, there are a few changes in the law that you need to know about!
- HIPAA Authorization – TheHealth Insurance Portability and Accountability Act became law in 2004. It is the federal privacy act between you and the medical community. Each state has its own version too. While its intensions were good, it can be devastating for families. If you don’t have a HIPAA waiver and are not able to give your permission (due to a severe accident, acute illness or diminished mental capacity), the medical community is legally not allowed to speak to a parent of an adult (over 18), a spouse or an aging parent. Although the medical community is known to violate this law and speak to family anyway, they often do not. Can you imagine your loved one is the hospital and no one will tell you what’s going on? Be sure to create your HIPAA waiver and list everyone you want to receive medical information should you be unable to authorize it!
- Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST)– POLST’s are a relatively new concept in estate planning, but one that is creating a lot of buzz. They have replaced the more familiar, but outdated, Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Orders. The purpose of the POLST (the new DNR) is to make sure that your wishes get honored. It’s on a hot pink piece of card stock paper and the instructions are VERY simple and easy to implement. It should be posted in your house and follow you to the hospital and rehab facility (if needed). So here’s the question, if you die of a heart attack, do you want those around you to call 911 and have them do EVERYTHING necessary to bring you back? For younger / healthy folks, the answer is OF COURSE. However, as we age, first responders and medical personnel will break your ribs and the chances of coming back at all, let alone in the same mental condition you were in begin to diminish. It’s an important conversation to have with your doctor.
- Provision for Digital Assets – If you’re over 50, you probably clearly remember when banking was done in person and pictures took 3 minutes to print out of a bulky camera. Today, everything is digital. Email, family photos, social media accounts, you name it; it’s all being stored on a computer somewhere. Unfortunately, older estate planning documents do not address these assets. Your Durable Power of Attorney must give your agent access to these digital assets if you are incapacitated and your Trust or Will must have provisions for what to do with all that information.
- Estate Tax – The laws regarding estate tax have drastically changed over the past decade and more. Many older and traditionally drafted trusts still plan for estate taxes when most people will never need to pay them. Currently the federal estate tax exemption is $11.4M per person. This means that if you have under $11.4M, you will not pay estate tax. California does not have an inheritance tax anymore. Other states still do, however.The way that older trusts are structured to address estate taxes is cumbersome, expensive to administer and limits the surviving spouse’s ability to access the family money. Your Trust should be reviewed to make sure it’s structured the way you expect!
If you don’t have an estate plan, it’s not too late to start.
- Make sure your wishes are known– A comprehensive estate plan is the only way to ensure your loved ones know your wishes and will carry them out.
- Avoid court– A detailed and well-drafted estate plan will enable your family to avoid court. Don’t waste your money … going to court is VERY expensive. Spend wisely now and create or update your estate plan with a lawyer who specializes in estate planning!
- Family harmony– Having a family member lose mental or physical capacity is very stressful and losing a loved one is devastating. These times may bring out family drama. It’s human nature. But having no estate plan or an out-of-date, incomplete or poorly drafted one will certainly make it worse. Sadly, it’s common for these situations to lead to family feuds that are never resolved. An estate planning lawyer who practices elder law can create a plan to avoid or minimize these family dramas to preserve harmony long after you are gone.
Contribute to your Community
Last, but not least, May (and every month) is the time to remember that people in their golden years have plenty to offer! More than ever, senior citizens are living it up and enjoying their retirement years. Here are a few ideas for contributing to your community:
- Host a fundraising event to benefit a local non-profit, animal shelter or other organization.
- Volunteer at the local elementary or middle school. Many districts have programs that invite members of the community to read-aloud to the children.
- Coordinatea community event using your own skills. Are you a gardener? Work with your local community leaders to develop a community garden. Are you an avid knitter? Talk to your local leaders about starting a program to knit blankets for the homeless.
- Become a Buddy through a non-profit. There are many programs that assist homebound elderly people via phone calls, house visits, trips to the park or movies, etc.
Whatever it is, remember that May is your month! Create your estate plan, connect with your community, and contribute where you can!
If you’re ready to update or create your estate plan, Goldfarb & Luu can help. We’ll review your documents, discuss your goals in great detail and design a plan that is tailored to you and your family. Contact us today!