In my humble opinion, senior lawyers handle some of the most compassionate court cases. We help the elderly meet their medical and financial needs when they are no longer able to, and we help them come up with a plan to do so before the time comes when they can no longer do it themselves. In almost all of these cases, the client’s plans or decisions involve the cooperation of their spouses, children, other relatives, or loved ones. But without a plan, the future is not so certain.
The simplest, yet most profound thing I’ve ever learned from any other professional in this field is to keep in mind the older person’s two main goals: to maintain control when control is lost, and to create a legacy in the world when time is running out. (How to say it to seniors: closing the communication gap with our elderly, David Solie, MS, PA, Prentice Hall Press, 2004.) In most cases, the latter goal is the easier one, done by helping clients prepare an estate plan (usually through a will or similar documents) that will leave their assets and worldly goods and possessions to those they deem worthy recipients after they are gone.
The former, on the other hand, is a trickier business, namely helping the elderly maintain their dignity at a time when their faculties are failing and dignity seems to be slipping away. It’s that loss of control that we all fear the most, and rightly so. “What will happen to me if I become senile, or develop dementia, or become a victim of Alzheimer’s? Will I be okay? Who will take care of me and watch over me? Who will make my decisions for me? Will my wishes be carried out?” These questions are more urgent for those who are approaching the moment when the ailments of old age appear.
These very deep and valid questions are legitimate concerns that can be answered before a person gets to that point sometime, and that’s the beauty of pre-planning. If aging would simply plan for these eventual events, they will be sure that their final years will be as gold as they can make. Advanced guidelines (powers of attorney, health care proxies, wills), wills, trusts, Medicaid planning, and long-term care insurance – these are all tools that the elder attorney uses or recommends to create a plan that fits the needs and finances of each specific customer.
More importantly, they are the tools each individual has at their disposal to maintain control of their future. Because without this kind of advance planning, these decisions are made by courts and laws that don’t necessarily reflect the wishes of the individual. For example, without a will, a state’s probate laws determine who will receive the individual’s worldly goods upon death. If you want to leave your estate to a more distant relative or skip over loved ones and close relatives, your wishes should be known in your will. Without a durable power of attorney or revocable living trust, the custody courts will decide who will make your financial decisions. And without health care powers of attorney and living wills, the law (if your state has a “standard” health care power of attorney law, such as New York’s new law) or a custody court will make those decisions. Who wants their life to be controlled in this way?
If you want to ensure that your wishes are carried out when you can no longer do it yourself, consult an estate planning or elder care lawyer to help you create the right plan for your future. This is how you stay in control of your decisions, your wealth and your future – your way.