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Women's History Month: Make Your Own Legacy

An Advance Health Care Directive, like other estate planningdocuments, is like Imodium: by the time you need one, it’s already too late to run out and get it. Planning for the unexpected (and sometimes unpleasant) is important! As women, we are all too often called upon to be the ones to plan ahead. Why should what happens to us when we are no longer able to care for ourselves or after we leave this earth be any different?

Everyone will eventually need documents like a Durable Power of Attorney, an Advance Health Care Directive, Will or Trust. Women’s History Month gives us a good excuse to talk about WHY!

Women are underrepresented in medical studies and research. As a result, women may not know what to look for when symptoms arise and often experience different side effects than are commonly known. There are also conditions, like the ones below, that affect women more than men.

HEALTH CONDITIONS

ALZHEIMER’S AND DEMENTIA

By now most of us have a loved one who has been affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia. Alzheimer’s affects women far more than men. First, two-thirds of people who have Alzheimer’s today are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Second, the majority of caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s are women.

Long before Alzheimer’s affects a person physical health or causes death, it slowly erodes a person’s mental capacity. The memory loss and cognitive impairments associated with the disease prevent you from creating or modifying your estate planning documents. This will lead family members of those with Alzheimer’s to go through an expensive process of conservatorship, where the court appoints someone to make decisions on your behalf and potentially probate to administer an estate.

STROKES

Like Alzheimer’s, a stroke can cause long-lasting cognitive impairments but can also cause severe physical disabilities or death. According to the National Stroke Association, there are 55,000 more women than men who suffer from a stroke each year and because women tend to outlive men, the long term effects can play out for years impacting families on many levels.

ADVANCE HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVES(AHCD) AND DURABLE POWERS OF ATTORNEY(DPOA)

What are these documents and why are they so important for everyone over 18 years old? The purpose of an AHCD is to appoint an agent to make medical decisions if you become mentally incapacitated. The DPOA does the same thing but for legal and financial decisions. Once you are over 18, no one can do this on your behalf without these documents. That means a spouse, parent of an 18 year old or adult child of an aging parent cannot make decisions for you if you lose mental capacity.

Without these documents, once you lose capacity, your family is headed to conservatorship. This court process starts at about $10,000 and costs about $3000-$5000 every year for the rest of your life. You don’t have to have a lot of money in order to trigger the need for a conservatorship, you just have to be over 18 years old, lose mental capacity due to accident or illness and not have your AHCD and DPOA created.

HEART DISEASE

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women across the country. Nonetheless, according to the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, heart attacks in women are “understudied, underdiagnosed, and undertreated.” Women often experience different symptoms than men do and don’t know what to expect, and women’s symptoms can sometimes be misattributed to a stomach flu. We once a heard a well-known doctor say “if you feel anything weird between your nose and your navel that doesn’t go away with rest and returns with physical exertion, CALL 911!”

The American Heart Association states that women can experience a heart attack with or without chest pressure. Some warning signs are also:

  • Nausea or vomiting;
  • Stomach, jaw or arm pain;
  • Cold sweats;
  • Dizziness;
  • Lightheadedness or fainting;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen;
  • Upper back pressure; or
  • Extreme fatigue.

WILLS AND TRUSTS

Since Wills and Trusts have similar functions, it is easy to be confused about what you need. It’s important to work with an attorney to determine which is right for your estate.

Simply put, Wills and Trusts state who gets your stuff when you die. If you have over $150,000 in assets that do not have beneficiary designations, your Will will go through probate. If you have minor children, your Will names a guardian.

Probate is very expensive (approximately 4% of your gross estate and you do not get to subtract the debt of a mortgage), it lasts for about a year (and for part of that year, the assets are frozen and no one can access them) and it’s a public process which requires notice to be given to family members (some of whom you may not want to know your business)! Worse yet, if you have minor children, they will inherit everything at 18 years old. Do you know of any 18 year old kids who can responsibly handle $5000, let alone more?

If you have more substantial assets like a house or more, a trust (if done correctly) will avoid probate. If you have children (those under about 30-35 or anyone with special needs), a Trust is recommended. It will not only avoid the expensive court process of probate but it will enable you to sprinkle assets to beneficiaries over time and have conditions for them to inherit. Yah, we call it, “controlling from the grave.”

ESTATE PLANNING

A comprehensive estate plan includes the Advance Health Care DirectiveDurable Power of AttorneyWill and Trust. Estate Plans are not only for the elderly and wealthy. Everyone over 18 years old needs some level of estate planning! The more assets you have or if you have children, the more critical it is to ultimately save money and give the gift of an estate plan to those you love.

An unexpected illness, accident or death in the family is hard under any circumstance, but it can be particularly traumatic when a loved one becomes incapacitated or passes away with no arrangements in place. Without proper planning, a judge will decide who cares for you, the law of intestacy will determine who receives your assets when you die and your estate will pay lawyers way too much money! The worst part of the failure to plan is that the family harmony you worked so hard to create may be destroyed after you are gone. And if you’re like most of us and have some family drama, poor planning can make it much worse!

CONCLUSION

As women, we spend much of our lives caring for others, whether it’s for our children, spouses, aging parents, grandparents, or sometimes strangers. Too often, though, we do not take care of ourselves. Having a full estate plan accomplishes both: it clarifies your wishes so your loved ones are less burdened when it comes time to make difficult decisions on your behalf, it will prevent the waste of financial and emotional resources in court and will hopefully maintain family harmony.

As Women’s History Month draws to a close remember, you have a chance to create your OWN legacy. Will it be messy and cause extra stress for your loved ones or will it be organized and allow your loved ones to seamlessly care for you when you need it and grieve when you’re gone? It’s your choice….

Our team at Goldfarb & Luu will care for your family as we would our own. We customize a plan that is realistic for your family; there’s no such thing as a cookie cutter plan for $999 that will actually work when you need it. The time, consideration and money you invest now may seem like a lot but it pales in comparison to what it will ultimately cost down the road if you wait too long.

You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Call us at 800.489.1984 to schedule a complimentary phone consultation.