The Power of Estate Planning Documents

My wife, Margaret Ann, and I are walking through the season of life where caring for parents has become a significant responsibility. While it has been a blessing to journey with our parents through their latter stages of life, it has also taught us the importance of preparation and planning in order to make this time as enjoyable and stress free as possible. I thought I would share some of the things we have learned in the hope that it might benefit you and bless your family.

I could spend this entire article talking about the psychological impact and adjustment that takes place as we watch our parents age, and in many cases, as we have to do things for them that they have always done for themselves. I could also talk about the process of saying goodbye to a parent as their physical and mental health declines and we gradually see them slip away from the parent that we have known and loved throughout our life. But I will save that for a later article. I will primarily focus more on the financial documents to consider and plan for when preparing for this important stage of life.

You have heard from us here at Whitcomb & Hess about the importance of putting estate planning documents in place for yourself. But we don’t always remind our clients to make sure these documents are in place for your parents and loved ones. Properly drafted documents are critical to allow you to effectively care for your family member or loved one. In addition to wills and other documents that are important to end-of-life matters, it is equally important to have documents in place to assist with the care of loved ones during their life. These include a durable power of attorney for financial matters, a health care power of attorney for medical issues, and a living will. They may also include a trust depending on the unique circumstances of your family member.

These documents should be carefully thought out by each person as they consider who they want to make important financial and healthcare decisions on their behalf. This is as true for your parents as it is for you. Additionally, I would strongly encourage you to be sure your parents or loved ones review these documents at least every five years to make sure the individuals that they named for these vital roles are still the people they are most comfortable with serving in these capacities. I realize that you can’t make your parents do these things, but sometimes through gentle persuasion (I call it the “lean and smile” method) you can encourage them to move forward with their planning.

Finally, I would suggest that you encourage your loved one to work with an attorney and CPA regarding the titling of their assets, including bank accounts and investment accounts. The titling of these accounts can have a significant impact on whether or not their power of attorney papers will actually permit the designated individual to act on their behalf. For example, if their bank account is titled in the name of their revocable trust, their power of attorney document alone will not enable the named person to access their account.

Please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss this important planning process in more detail for yourself or your loved ones.

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