Why do today what we can put off until tomorrow? Sounds funny – but that seems to be the motto of many folks who don’t do the planning that they know they need to do. The American Bar Association estimates that around 70% of people have never done estate planning at all. After having practiced law for over 24 years, I feel that this number is low. We all know why we don’t plan - we love to procrastinate! However, in this article, I want to discuss five reasons why people REALLY should plan.
1. Once you lose your mental capacity to plan, it’s too late for you to sign documents. Sometimes folks plan to plan, but never get around to it. Then Alzheimer’s, stroke or other mental or physical ailments creep up a little at a time, until you reach the point that – IT’S TOO LATE! And when it’s too late, it is too late forever. If this has happened to someone in your family, don’t despair – there are still some good crisis planning strategies. However, if you’re reading this and still have your capacity, don’t wait any longer. Contact your elder law or estate planning attorney and do something NOW, while you still have the capacity to do so.
2. There is now a 5 year look-back rule on all transfers. This means that if you transfer (give) assets to someone for less than full and fair value, which is referred to in the business as an ‘uncompensated transfer’, then you may suffer a penalty as a result of the transfer. This means that because of the transfer, you may not be able to receive Medicaid benefits for many months. This also means that because of this uncompensated transfer, the person who needs care may not be able to get it or may have to sell assets that they could have otherwise kept had proper pre-planning been done.
3. If you do proper estate planning more than 5 years before the onset of incapacity, you can protect many valued assets (such as the family farm, money, rent houses, etc.). Many times, those going into a nursing home will have a special asset, such as the family farm, money, rent houses, etc. , that they do not want to lose. Families often tell me that they don’t mind spending the money for long term care, but they really don’t want to lose the farm or other treasured asset. With proper pre-planning, done more than 5 years before the need for long term care arises, these treasured family assets can often be protected.
4. When you pre-plan your estate, your reasoned, thought-out choices will be carried out, rather than some last minute, band-aid “fix”. No one knows your business or your family better than you. This statement is obvious. If you meet with an elder law or estate planning attorney while you still have capacity, you will not only be able to protect your assets from certain types of financial loss, but you, with their help, will be able to craft a plan that will greatly benefit your family, sometimes for generations. Last minute planning often results in band-aid fixes which is never as good as planning when time, capacity and resources are all on your side.
5. You can make decisions regarding who handles your estate during incapacity and who makes health care decisions for you. When people think about estate planning, they are often thinking of a will or a trust. However, the most important estate planning documents are neither of the above. A properly prepared financial power of attorney, a separate health care power of attorney, a private living will and a HIPAA Authorization, are all critical documents, because they determine who has control over your finances, property and health care decisions while you are alive. It is critical to understand the workings of the health care decision making process and to discuss this process with your family and with your attorney. We will discuss this process and the documents that make it all happen in our next blog.
Hopefully, after reading this your will not walk, but run (carefully!!!) to your elder law or estate planning attorney’s office and start work on a properly prepared estate plan for you and your family TODAY.