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Here are some tips:
• Learn what is important to your loved ones in making financial and health care decisions. Help them to implement a plan that will ensure their wishes are carried out.
• Discuss the options of planning ahead for finances and health care so that your loved ones can have their wishes honored.
• Encourage the use of an attorney or financial planner if your family members are reluctant to discuss personal matters with you.
• When formal documents have been created, make sure their location is readily available and encourage your loved ones to review them at least every two years.
• Estate planning and terminology can vary from place to place. Enlisting the help of an elder law attorney may be beneficial. The increase in the older adult population in the U.S. has given rise to the specialty of elder law attorneys who focus on the many legal issues specific to older adults. In addition to the many legal complexities, elder law attorneys have experience with older adults and an appreciation for many of the physical and mental challenges associated with the aging process. These lawyers can assist older persons and their families with such issues as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, estate planning and preservation of assets.
Where there’s a will…
One important legal consideration for your family members is the creation of a will. When creating a will, they need to consider:
• Is there a need for trusts for a spouse or other dependents?
• How will the assets be divided?
• Are charitable gifts a consideration?
• Who will be named executor of the estate?
• What might the tax considerations be?
• Once a will has been created, make sure the original is kept in a safe place and the executor knows where it is.
Managing financial affairs
At some point, you or someone identified by your loved ones may have to make financial or health care decisions for them.
They should consider establishing powers of attorney, identifying the individual or individuals they trust to make these decisions on their behalf if the need should arise.
The best choice is usually a spouse, adult child or other family member. However, because of age, incapacity, distance or estrangement, family may not always be the best choice. A trusted friend or perhaps an attorney may sometimes be a valid option. It is also wise to consider an alternate agent in the event that one’s first choice is unable to serve.
The creation of a living will requires considerable thought.
Areas to consider might be:
• What are some of the usual procedures and care options for those who are seriously ill, such as antibiotics, intravenous hydration, pain medication, artificial nutrition (feeding tube), CPR or diagnostic testing (labs, X-rays)? Are there any treatments or procedures that they would specifically refuse?
• What are their beliefs about the use of external life-support machines and medications?
• In creating a living will, your family members should try to be specific, thinking of it as a blueprint for someone else to follow. It can serve as a guide for the individual(s) they identify as power of attorney for health care matters.
You can find additional information about important legal considerations for older Americans in a free booklet from the MetLife Mature Market Institute called “Legal Matters.” It is part of the “Since You Care” series of guides created in cooperation with the National Alliance for Caregiving. It includes information, resources and checklists. Get a copy by calling 203-221-6580, visiting www.maturemarketinstitute.com or writing MetLife Mature Market Institute, 57 Greens Farms Road, Westport, CT 06880.