For most of us, the aging process is rather slow and almost imperceptible as time moves along. One day doesn’t seem all that different from the next. However, as gerontologists and other aging experts explain, with each new year comes a greater risk for sudden, unforeseen changes in our health status.
None of us like to think about the possibility of a future illness or injury disrupting our lives and depleting our finances, but experts in elder law advise that it’s never too soon to start planning for the future from a legal and financial perspective. In fact, the sooner you begin planning for life’s unexpected twists and turns, the better off you’ll be in facing the future with confidence and peace of mind.
Authorities in elder law say that even for seniors in seemingly great health, legal and financial planning should be a top priority. This way, even if a health issue should occur, you won’t have to worry about getting your legal affairs in order under urgent, highly stressful circumstances.
The Value of Planning Ahead
Sue Sunderland, Executive Director at The Bridges at Warwick, a senior living community in Jamison, PA says, “Elder law planning, under the direction of specially trained and certified elder law experts, provides senior adults with the appropriate tools and expertise they need to protect their hard-earned finances and other assets, as well as to plan for how their personal health needs will be handled in the future.
“Elder law plans can also be a godsend for other family members who might otherwise be forced to make uninformed, uncomfortable decisions about their loved one’s health care and estate matters. Based on experience, we strongly encourage families to seek guidance from an elder law planning attorney to assist them in creating a customized plan that will protect their assets, prepare for any health-related contingencies and provided them with a sense of security.”
Elder Law Planning 101: Key Documents to Be Familiar With
Elder law specialists offer a variety of planning options for protecting your assets and creating a more secure, predictable future. Some of the more common legal documents used by elder law planners include:
Durable Power of Attorney – Naming someone your durable power of attorney (DPOA) gives that person the legal power to manage and make decisions about your care and finances, should you become unable to do so yourself. A DPOA is usually a spouse or trusted family member who understands your wishes and will make decisions that coincide with your best interests.
While a DPOA is responsible for making decisions on your behalf, they cannot legally override your decisions if you are still capable of making them. Choosing a DPOA should be handled carefully, as he or she may be responsible for making life-altering decisions. Communication with a DPOA is vital in order to ensure they understand your preferences and concerns regarding the management of your health care and assets.
Living Wills – A living will is a written legal document that specifies the plan for how you would like to be cared for if you become terminally ill, incapacitated or cannot communicate your healthcare wishes.
A living will ensures that you receive the healthcare and treatments that you prefer, even if you are unable to communicate at the time. Living wills can also include end-of-life preferences. To ensure that the wishes stated in a living will are carried out by healthcare providers, you can name a trusted loved one as your power of attorney to make sure your wishes are respected.
Living Trusts – Similar to a last will, a living trust allows you to pass on property after death. In order to do this, you must transfer the ownership and control of your assets to the trust during your lifetime. A trustee (either yourself, a chosen loved one or a bank) manages the assets put into the trust according to your plans. After death, your trusted assets are given to the beneficiaries you chose when creating the trust.
There are pros and cons to living trusts. In comparison to a last will, living trusts usually don’t require the costly and time-consuming court processes that wills do. Another benefit to a living trust is that your trustee will have the legal ability to handle your property if you ever become incompetent due to health issues.
On the other hand, living trusts cost more legal fees than last wills. They are also complex and vary based on type, so trusts require more research and understanding on your part. An elder law attorney and accountant can help you decide on the best kind of trust for your situation.
Sue adds, “Experts in elder law stress that it is extremely important to initiate legal planning for a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia as soon as possible after a diagnosis. This provides the greatest opportunity for the individual to be involved in the planning process and make important decisions for themselves.”
We invite you to learn more about important senior living topics by visiting our recurring blog articles on The Bridges at Warwick website.
Activity. Friendship. Support. Convenience. Value.
You’ll find it all at The Bridges at Warwick, located in beautiful Bucks County, where every day is a celebration of seniors. Our philosophy of “Celebrating Life” means that our residents enjoy a sense of purpose and contentment along with fun, personalized care and a focus on total well-being.
Our Personalized Supportive Care provides just the right amount of assistance to help you remain independent, along with life-enriching programs, services and amenities. Our exclusive Vista Transitional Living Program offers specialized programming our supportive care residents who have memory challenges but do not yet require a secure residence. For those whose memory loss is more advanced, we offer The Vista, our secure, comprehensive memory care residence.
In keeping with our founder Robert Basile’s personal philosophy, developed during his efforts to find quality senior living for his beloved father, senior adults remain our passion. We fill our residents’ lives with countless opportunities to engage with both new and treasured friends; events and programs to enjoy with family members and loved ones; as well as innovative and creative activities that foster engagement. Our dedication to total wellness – for mind, body and spirit – is woven into our culture every day.