Financial and legal matters, for the most part, are daunting, very dry and boring topics. However, who wants their loved one’s estate or will to be in a straight-jacket with the State; i.e. probate, while it is being authenticated and validated? Or having this same will in a legal conflict with morally bankrupt family members? No one would argue that protecting one’s estate or will is vital, if not urgent.
Therefore, the following is my attempt to help you unpack your way through the possible effects of NOT dealing with some of these legal and financial matters.
First, know what the consequences are if there is no will. Probate, for example, is a smarmy holding cell where assets and money sit, twiddling their thumbs, until all is verified and validated. This can take years.
Here are a few suggestions to avoid Probate, or problems with family members.
1) Obtain a will. Googling the topic “legal and financial matters,” or “wills and trusts” offers lawyers in your local area who are proficient in this type of law. “Americanbar.org," “legalzoom.com,” or “Wills and Trusts Kit for Dummies,” by Aaron Larson are three good options.
Another option is to call the Alzheimer’s Association and ask if pro bono legal aid is available in your community.
You might also want to contact an attorney you know to see if they either practice this type of law, or can refer you to someone who does. If they do practice this type of law, you can then ask if they do pro bono work, or what their preparation fee would be for an estate or will.
Is this a headache we caregiver’s need to take on? Actually, yes. Because the consequence of not dealing with this legality will only postpone the headache that will invariably turn into a migraine.
Mom, God bless her, wanted to bulletproof her will and estate before she lost her legal competency. It was 18 months of hard work and a lot of money to get through all that she needed to do to accomplish this; however in the end, she preserved what she and Dad built and did her best to keep me out of court after she passes.
This is when I really got it that I am a custodian. Whatever Mom and I have is the work of Mom and Dad. They were the ones who labored to build what they have. I am simply a caretaker of these things, not an owner. Therefore, out of respect for them and their parents, my grandparents who also labored, I am honored to preserve what they have established.
(2) Another item to put into place is a Healthcare Advance Directive. This is a legal document that outlines your loved one’s wishes for all medical decisions. It stipulates who can make decision(s) medically. This can be an individual, a medical team, or both. A “Do Not Resuscitate,” or DNR, is a division of a Healthcare Directive.
(3) Obtaining a Durable Power of Attorney is a must. This document authorizes a person to represent, or act, on another’s behalf in private affairs, business, or some other legal matter. These individuals are known as a Principal, Grantor or Donor. I had to submit a POA, (Power of Attorney), to banks, insurance companies, doctor’s offices, DMV, State Treasurer, the IRS, her CPA, Utility Companies, and even the pharmacy! You will be surprised at what you need in place to, at the very least, pay their bills!
(4) Lastly, have your loved one’s financial advisor work directly with the estate attorney, and CPA. Their work goes hand-in-hand-in-hand.
2 WARNINGS: POAs and Wills tend to form rivalries within families. Be ready for slamming doors, heated discussions, the severing of ties, throwing sand in the sandbox, and all-around juvenile behavior. Caregiving shows us who we are. Caregiving also shows us who others are as well.
Beware of hiring Conservators or Guardians to take over this aspect of your loved one’s life. Conservators and Guardians are appointed by the court to manage an individual’s affairs who are unable to care for themselves. You would think being appointed by the court assumes a modicum of trust. It does not. It only makes a crook’s motives official. Think of it as our trust of them becoming the fire that lights the fuse.
On my Forgive and Forget Website (www.forgive-and-forget.com) there are two articles in the THINGS TO KNOW section with the heading “Legal Matters & Financial Planning” that I suggest may be of help to you. Both are excellent reads and both are scary as hell. Bottom line, it is up to you to keep your loved one safe, calm and happy. “Safe” includes, but is not limited to, financial, legal, emotional and physical.
THE ONE BRICK WALL:
Procrastination. This is our BIGGEST foe. For me, I loathe appearing or feeling inadequate. When I do not know how to do something, or when I do not understand a subject matter, several things happen. My armpits tingle, and I have to start wearing Depends. I don’t sleep well at night, and I find other tasks to side-bar my having to deal. The other day I caught myself tamping down weed-cloth in the back yard and painting a guest bedroom because I didn’t want to have to do something. The funny thing is the amount of time stewing and stressing takes far longer than if I had just faced the task and done it in the first place. Exercise falls into this camp. I’d weigh 41lbs if my worry and silliness counted as the actual workout!
HOW TO PUSH THROUGH: Bite size pieces. Inasmuch as my moral code is to keep Mom “safe, calm, and happy,” then I can do that on a moment by moment, decision by decision, basis. I can make that phone call. I can manage a finite bit of time to gather information, and I look no further than that.
I also consider the consequence if I don’t deal. The clean-up is far worse than if I just dealt with it in the first place.
WHAT IS TRUE FOR ME
Looking back, walking with Mom in this arena of legal and financial matters was worth it, not only to squash a lawsuit from poopy family members, but it was a way of taking care of something for Mom that was important to Mom.
Handling financial and legal matters is no different than any other task we caregivers take on except it carries more weight.
Like everything else, this assignment takes time. Expect delay after delay, roadblock after roadblock. Know that issues never get resolved in one phone call that is under 10 minutes with no wait time to speak with someone. It takes multiple phone calls, good note taking, a lot of time, and the patience of St. Job.
WHY CARE AT ALL? Because I respect Mom and Dad’s life’s work. It is as simple as that.
*PODCAST available on this topic at "Forgive and Forget's Podcast."
*Also see articles in our THINGS TO KNOW section under "Legal and Financial Matters."