A Continuum in Estate Planning

I have a picture on my desk of my beautiful daughter at age 3 months, taken on one of the proudest days of my life — the day I was sworn into the New York State Bar Association.  I was working hard to build a better life for my family and make ends meet.  

Now, twenty-five years later, I am amazed at the passage of time.  My daughter is grown and gone – independent, successful and still beautiful.  I enjoy my work, being with my husband and good friends.  I am determined to travel and do “things” while I still can.  

I spend significant amounts of time every week assisting my father manage my mother’s care and their finances on a fixed income.  Mom has late-stage Alzheimer’s and requires total care.  She can no longer communicate or recognize her family.  Mom is gone — all that remains is a shrunken remnant that is almost unrecognizable, but still is a person who needs to be loved and respected.  My father visits her daily.  It is both beautiful and heartbreaking.  Dad is great for 87, but still needs help.

My life is not so different from many of my clients.   There are a spectrum of legal concerns and planning needs.  They are both ordinary and important.  There have been numerous changes within the family to income, savings, health, relationships, individual capabilities, tax laws, insurance and the cost of everything.  What was appropriate 25 years ago is dramatically different today.  The estate plan must be reviewed thoroughly and adjusted periodically to account for all these changes.

As a parent of a minor, what was most important in the Will was appointment of the right person as Guardian, and as Trustee for my daughter until she was independent.  Health Care Proxy and Living Will, as well as Power of Attorney, were important so matters could be taken care of if there were a sudden illness or accident.

Today, I am concerned with probate avoidance and ensuring my assets are managed so they get to my intended beneficiaries in the most efficient manner possible.  The Health Care Proxy has been asked for more often.

As recently as 6 months ago, Dad could not conceive that it would be necessary to place Mom in a residential facility.  Long ago, they created as Asset Protection Trust for their house and listed each other as beneficiary on everything.  Recently, however, the plan was changed.  Dad no longer leaves everything to Mom.  No amount of money would improve her situation or quality of care.  Any assets will stay in the trust.  I, the Trustee, will make sure Mom has everything she needs.  Anything left after death will go to the kids instead of paying a nursing home or repaying New York State.  The Health Care Proxy and Living Will are critically important.

This progression in estate planning needs and strategy is typical.  It shows that estate planning is not a once in a lifetime event, but needs to be adapted and reviewed as life happens.  Give us a call to help you review and make plans that are suited to your current circumstances with an eye to what may be coming.

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