Why Estate Planning and Advance Care Directives Matter
When you’re caring for older loved ones, it’s easy to focus on the issues that are right in front of you, like making sure their nutritional needs are met, handling medical appointments, and tackling home maintenance issues. Depending on the type of support that’s required, a Care Manager or Personal Assistant can be helpful in managing these everyday needs.
But long-term planning is equally important to ensuring older adults’ security and well-being. Two areas where long-term planning is especially important? Estate planning and advance care directives.
Estate planning is the process of arranging for the management and disposal of a person’s estate both during their lifetime and after their death.
Why is an estate plan necessary? A carefully structured estate plan will ensure that an individual’s affairs are managed by another when they no longer have the ability to manage them on their own, and that their assets will be distributed according to their wishes after their passing.
An estate plan involves everything from deciding who will inherit a person’s assets to ensuring that these assets are transferred to the chosen beneficiaries with minimal tax burdens.
Rebecca Paul, Director of Fiduciary Services at JFCS, says, “Individuals have the option to name JFCS as their legal agent in their estate plans. This allows us to help ease the burden for families when an individual is no longer able to manage their own affairs, or after they pass away. We’re honored to be able to help clients in this way.”
The lack of an estate plan could lead to family tensions, increased costs, legal battles, and unnecessary taxation. Most importantly, the absence of a plan could result in the court determining the fate of a person’s assets—which may not be in alignment with their intentions.
The specific needs of a person’s estate will determine which estate planning tools are used; here are some of the most common ones:
- Will: A legal document that dictates how assets will be distributed after a person’s death.
- Trust: A legal arrangement that can help bypass the probate process, potentially reducing time and expenses, and can also offer greater control over asset distribution.
- Beneficiary Designations: Specific individuals who have been named to benefit from particular assets, such as retirement accounts.
- Power of Attorney: Someone who has been appointed to manage financial matters should an individual become incapacitated.
Advance Care Directives
While financial estate planning focuses on assets and beneficiaries, advance care directives (ACDs) are related to making healthcare decisions for an individual when they can no longer make those decisions for themselves. An ACD ensures that an individual’s wishes regarding medical treatments and interventions are respected, especially when they’re unable to communicate them directly.
There are two basic components of ACDs:
- Living Will: A document that details an individual’s preferences for end-of-life care, including life-sustaining treatments such as resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, or feeding tubes.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (also known as a Health Care Proxy): This designates a trusted individual to make sure that another person’s healthcare decisions are respected should they become incapacitated and unable to speak for themselves.
Without ACDs, families may face incredibly difficult decisions without guidance from their loved one; there’s also a risk that medical professionals might use treatments that the patient wouldn’t have wanted. When an ACD is in place, an individual’s wishes are respected, and their loved ones benefit from the clarity of understanding the person’s intentions.
The Big Picture
Long-term planning is all about preparing a roadmap for the future to ensure that personal wishes and values are upheld. By considering the future and planning ahead, your older loved one can provide clarity and direction that will be useful during potentially tumultuous times.
The planning process can be stressful, but Seniors At Home is here to help. Our team of licensed Fiduciaries, Care Managers, and other professionals can offer comprehensive support by overseeing financial affairs and healthcare needs. Please reach out if we can be of assistance while you and your loved one navigate long-term planning. Remember, we’re all in this together!