Posted by: BlogMaster | January 13, 2013

What “Elder Law” Means to Your Family…

Elder law (or, what my parents call ‘elder care law’) means that family members and their senior parents or loved ones must do an annual ‘assessment’. 

What is that?  It means open and honest conversations about not only health, safety at home and well-being for aging, but also transparency about financial needs, and, in some cases, paying for care to keep the senior at home. My own family discusses this each year – both seriously and with a sense of humor. Here are the important tips to review:

1) Basic identification. Make sure financial information and personal data are kept in a safe place in the home. Tell your family where this data is and provide them with keys or passwords (so critical in this e-age), as needed to access the data. For a death certificate, your children or other designated family members will need to provide your exact birth date, social security number, both parents’ full legal names and mother’s maiden name.

2) Burial wishes. Although many families dismiss this as an unpleasant topic, it still must be addressed. Section 4201 of the NYS Public Health Law – Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains – permits you to place your burial wishes in writing and designate an agent to carry out your wishes. Even in the most loving families, the decision for cremation, in particular, may cause strong disagreements. If you are selecting cremation, remember to tell your family or agent specifically where you want your ashes scattered or disposed – and write down your instructions in exact detail.

3) Legal documents. Review all of your legal documents – powers of attorney, health care proxy, burial wishes, wills, trusts, etc. – to make sure your documents are still valid and enforceable, and that they express your current wishes. Disputes of access to finances is the #1 reason families end up in court – during a senior’s lifetime or, after death. If you have power of attorney for finances that requires your agents to act together, make sure that the titling of your assets also requires this. You don’t want an agent on a power of attorney to bypass his or her duties and responsibility to a joint agent simply because his or her name appears on the account. This can cause litigation between family members, particularly if there is secrecy. Remember also that no changes can be made by hand to your own legal documents, including your will. Any changes must be typed and notarized to be enforceable. Make the time to properly update your legal documents to save your loved ones undue stress and distress after you are gone. 

4) Cash. If you are concerned about your family not having adequate cash to pay your immediate estate or burial expenses, consider opening a separate bank account for a family member entitled ‘POD’ (payable on death) or adding a designated family member as co-owner for your own account. I urge you to discuss this decision with your entire family so no one person mistakenly accuses another of overreaching or illegally influencing you in selecting who controls the cash.

5) Keys to the kingdom. Give someone in your family an extra key to your home or tell them where your spare key is ‘hidden.’ Make the same arrangement for the extra key to your bank safe deposit box, in order to avoid expensive fees if the bank has to open the box after your death.   

6) Smile – Laugh. Remember to keep your sense of humor throughout this potentially distressing planning process. To relieve the tension of our discussions, my parents and I spent time laughing together about some of their decisions. No one, not even this elder law attorney, wants to be reminded of their parents’ aging and difficult future decisions. But a pinch of humor helps.

If you have questions about putting together a plan for your family, please call my office.

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