A new year provides many of us with the opportunity to try something different or reflect upon what we accomplished during the previous year, but it is also a great time to revisit our plans for the future. This could not be more relevant for my family as we have spent the past week mourning the loss of a loved one, while concurrently going through the painstaking process of executing a will, finding proper long-term care for a disabled surviving spouse, and carrying out final wishes for a family spread out all over the country.
And while this certainly is a difficult time, I cannot express how much easier it has been due to the basic estate planning conversations we coincidentally had earlier in 2021. Talking about the end of life’s journey is never fun; however, we were able to take care of a lot over the past few days because of these prior conversations, and with very little legal assistance.
I encourage you to take action soon to ensure that you have made appropriate preparations for your own death, as well as to encourage or assist those you care about to do the same. At the bare minimum, the following documents should be in place for each individual:
- Advance Medical Directive – this allows a person to decide in advance who will make health care decisions for them if they become incapacitated and are unable to make their own decisions.
- Durable Power of Attorney – in this document, the writer appoints an individual he/she trusts to make other legal decisions, primarily financial, on their behalf if they become incapacitated.
- Last Will and Testament – this document provides key information and instructions regarding the distribution of assets, disposition of remains, and other final wishes on behalf of a deceased individual. It also can include instruction on who should be the guardian of any minor children of the individual who has died.
- Beneficiary Designations – perhaps the simplest part of the estate planning process, setting up beneficiaries for life insurance policies, retirement accounts, etc. allows account owners to predetermine the distribution of those assets after their death, and also to avoid the probate process for those assets.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of things that need to be taken care of; however, having the above protections in place ahead of time will save your loved ones a lot of time, money, and stress when the unfortunate time of a loved one’s passing ultimately arrives. You can learn more by visiting the Iowa Legal Aid website, or by attending one of the many Iowa State University Extension and Outreach programs available for Aging and Caregiving. The Iowa Concern Hotline (800-447-1985) has an attorney on staff who can provide information on legal topics as well.
Today’s guest blogger is Sandra McKinnon, Human Sciences Specialist in family finance serving southwest Iowa.
Are you managing money or property for a loved one who is unable to pay bills or make financial decisions? According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 40% of those over 60 years old have a power of attorney. That amounts to over 26 million people in the U.S. with this responsibility.
Being legally designated as power of attorney is one of 4
different types of financial caregivers, also known as a fiduciary. You must be
trustworthy, honest and act in good faith.
Other types of fiduciaries include: a court-appointed guardian of property (known as a conservator); a government fiduciary (such as a Social Security representative payee); and a trustee under a revocable living trust. Each of these is a separate responsibility.
Each has duties, powers and responsibilities. In general,
there are 4 basic legal duties of a fiduciary:
- Act only in best interest of your family member
- Manage their money and property carefully
- Keep their money and property separate from your
- Keep good records and report as required
Another role of a financial caregiver is to watch out for
financial exploitation and be on guard for consumer scams. If you suspect
exploitation of an older adult, call the Eldercare Locator 1-800-677-1116 or
visit www.eldercare.acl.gov. They
will assist you in finding the state or local agency that investigate.
For more information, visit https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/managing-someone-elses-money/
or seek guidance of an appropriate legal professional.
My brother recently attended a medical conference in which a lawyer spoke about the physician’s responsibility when providing care for someone who is unable to make medical decisions for themselves. If a patient has not completed a Power of Attorney for Health Care, the doctor is required to listen and weigh the concerns of all family members when caring for the patient. Speaking from our personal experience, my brother and I did not struggle while communicating with caregivers and making decisions for dad; we knew what dad’s wishes were and the two of us shared dad’s values and faith. Additionally, as Dad’s POA for Health Care, it made it easier for me to say “no” when a family member made a request that was clearly not in line with his wishes…even when there was support from a fourth sibling for that request.
In comparison, the family of my brother’s wife is learning (the hard way) what happens when someone has not designated a Power of Attorney for Health Care. Their mother had a major medical emergency that has left her unable to communicate her wishes. Early on in her health emergency, there were 8 – 13 people in her room at all times and an additional 3 – 5 being consulted by phone; basically, they were making decisions by a majority vote while under stress and in an emotional state. Can you imagine being the physician in this example…having to listen and weigh the concerns of all family members?
The Finances of Caregiving is a series of five 2-hour workshops to expand your understanding of options and to help families plan together for providing care for a loved one. Understanding your choices is only possible when you know your current situation. This series guides you through finding and collecting that information, and includes the importance of identifying a Power of Attorney for both Health Care and Financial matters. For more information on this program, visit https://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/finances-caregiving