Sixty Plus students and faculty spend hours talking to citizens who are over the age of 60. One thing is certain. By the time you reach the age of 60, you are usually comfortable discussing end-of-life planning. The fact is, everyone needs estate planning, no matter the age. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how many people are in your family, what you did in your career, or your level of education. People of even modest means should sit down with an attorney who has expertise in estate planning. – WMU-Cooley professor and elder law expert Kimberly O’Leary
Even if you are not over the age of 60, you probably know of people who could benefit by having this conversation. Here’s why. Don’t wait for the crisis. End-of-life issues affect everyone. If you wait until it’s too late, your options may be limited or decisions will need to be made by someone other than yourself.
Those conversations can include:
- Independence planning: If you become ill or disabled at some point in the future in any way that makes it difficult for you to take care of your personal business or your life, you can appoint a trusted friend or family member to assist you. Such illness or disability might be temporary or might be permanent, and in either event, you can plan for help. You do not have to be old or ill to need this kind of help, although statistically you are more likely to need help the older you are. If you do NOT have anyone you trust to help you, this type of conversation can be even more important. Planning these kinds of arrangements long in advance of when you may need them gives you a greater say in how your life will unfold in the event you become ill or infirm.
- Medical decisions: You may have a time in your life when you are unable to make your own medical decisions. If you were diagnosed with a terminal illness, and unable to make end-of-life decisions, who would make them for you? You can plan that in advance. A good elder law attorney can sit down and discuss all of the factors you will want to consider. You can write this in any way that makes sense to you.
- Wills, trusts, transfer on death deeds and bank accounts: Everyone should plan how to leave their assets after they pass away. There are pros and cons to different approaches and not every approach is right for every person. If you draft these documents yourself, you may unintentionally trigger a bad consequence you had not considered. Sometimes people who own property of small value monetarily have items of great personal value to their family and friends. You can decide how you want those items divided.
- Long-term care financial planning: If you might need to enter a nursing home, or receive long-term care at home, in the future, how will you pay for that? A good elder law attorney can help you understand Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, long-term care insurance and how all of these program interact.
- Other miscellaneous issues: If you are 60 years of age or older, seeing an elder law attorney rather than a general practitioner is a good idea, even for legal work unrelated to “typical” elder law topics. This is because an elder law attorney will be looking for things a GP will not necessarily see: how a divorce settlement interacts with Medicare is one example. Are there signs of financial exploitation or elder abuse? Are there hints someone might file for a guardianship? These are the types of issues an elder law attorney can help.
WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Kimberly O’Leary supervises and teaches third-year law students in its Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic. The clinic works to help older adults by drafting documents to help them plan for the future, allowing them to maintain independence for as long as possible. Professor O’Leary has written extensively in the field of attorney-client counseling, housing law, diversity training, the relationship between social justice goals and clinical law offices and clinical teaching. Other blog articles by Professor O’Leary: Aging parents should plan ahead to avoid being another exploitation or scam statistic and Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic recognized for decades of service to older adults.