2009-03-27 / Columnists

Spotlight on Elderlaw

What you should know about your parents' estate planning
Commentary By Nancy J. Brady, RN, Esq. And Linda Faith Marshak, Esq.

Talking to your parents about planning for illness, incapacity and death is not an easy conversation to have.

It is, however, much easier to have the conversation, and implement a plan well ahead of time than to have done no planning at all and jeopardize their hard earned savings to pay for long term care, or estate taxes.

The worst time to plan is after an emergency or catastrophe, when you might have to scramble for financial information, or if there is no power of attorney, apply for guardianship to manage your parents' affairs.

If your parents' have no Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy forms in place, they should see an attorney as soon as possible to get at least those basic forms in place.

Who would your parents select to manage their affairs if they were unable to manage alone? What are their wishes regarding end of life care if they are terminally ill?

If your parents own a home, they should seek the advice of an elderlaw attorney as to how to protect their home should they require nursing home care at any point in their lives. Would they consider transferring title of the home to a trust that can avoid losing any part of the value of the home to finance long term care?

If your parents have substantial liquid assets (over and above $200,000.00) they should seek the advice of an elderlaw attorney to protect the liquid assets as well.

Perhaps your parents have a substantial amount of assets.

How will that affect your estate planning? Will an inheritance from your parents increase the size of your estate resulting in estate taxes upon your death? Should your parents consider lifetime gifts? Should they finance college savings plans for your children? Planning in advance can avoid that scenario as well.

When you talk to your parents, you might find that they have done little or no planning at all. Perhaps they did Wills many years ago that no longer reflect their wishes.

Is the Executor appointed in the Will still the person they would like to serve as Executor? Does the Will provide for who will inherit a partic- ular child's share if that child should predecease them? Even if they have those old Wills, it is likely that they never completed Power of Attorney forms or Health Care Proxy designations.

All too often in our practice we see families of loved ones who have suffered a catastrophic illness or event, and the families have no idea where important legal and financial documents are kept.

Perhaps one of your parents manages the finances. If that parent becomes ill or passes away, will the survivor of them be able to manage?

In addition to talking about legal and financial planning, you should talk about things that have no monetary value, but are equally as important to them — like keepsakes for family members, values and memories that they have and would like to pass on to you and your children.

You should talk to your parents about their wishes for their funeral and burial as well.

Often we find the parents are grateful and relieved to have these conversations and planning done well ahead of time. The attorneys can be reached at 718-738-8500.

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