If you’ve already met with your Atlanta estate planning attorney to put together your wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and other long-term plans, then congratulations! You’ve taken a really important step toward being prepared for the future and making things easier on your family and friends should you pass away or become unable to make decisions for yourself.
In order to ensure that your estate plans still fit your needs, you should review them at the beginning of every year. There are certain life changes that can have a huge overall effect on your estate planning, so taking the time to accommodate those changes now will save a significant amount of difficulty later. Have you experienced any of the following in the last year (or longer, if you haven’t updated your plans in a while)? If so, you’ll want to set up a time to chat with your Atlanta wills and trusts attorney right away.
1. Did you experience a change in marital status? If you were married, divorced, or widowed in the previous year, then you will need to update your estate plans to reflect this. It may be necessary to change beneficiaries. Most people who go through a divorce will want to change their wills, trusts, and other important documents to remove the former spouse’s name. In the case of a new marriage, the new spouse will likely be added. If you have been widowed, this may change how your inheritance will be dispersed.
2. Did you become a parent? Whether you gave birth to a child, adopted, or became a step parent in the last year, it makes sense to change your estate plans to reflect this change. Remember that you may want to change the beneficiaries listed on insurance policies and bank accounts, as well as to name guardians and possibly set up trusts to care for your child’s future should you be unable to do so personally.
3. Have you changed jobs or retired? Your retirement plans and 401Ks may be affected by the change in employment status. Your Atlanta estate planning attorney can offer you advice on whether to roll over an existing plan or to start a new one, as well as how to deal with dispersal if it is time for your to start drawing on your retirement or pension plan.
4. Have you sold or purchased property? There are specific laws that pertain to the inheritance of property, as well as the taxes involved. Adding or removing property from your existing estate plan can help to avoid unnecessary taxes and to protect your heirs’ interests in the property.
There are a number of changes which can impact your estate plan. By working with a qualified Atlanta attorney, you can help to clarify what needs to be done to keep yourself on track and on target for your estate planning goals.
Once you’ve gone through your estate planning in Atlanta, you’ve likely become aware of just what valuables you have. In many cases, such as jewelry, you may want to keep them in your home so you can have access to them whenever you would like. In other cases, though, it makes sense to secure them in a safe deposit box at a bank.
The types of items one chooses to keep in a safety deposit box can vary, but here are some common ones:
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Social Security card
- Copy of your will
- Copies of degrees and professional licenses
- Copies of divorce or separation papers
- Military records
- Deeds, titles, and insurance for real estate
- Deeds, title, and insurance for vehicles
- Valuable assets you don’t need to access (jewelry, coins, guns, etc.)
- Stock certificates and bonds
- Business documents
The safe deposit box is intended to keep your important items somewhere secure, but there are some that you need to access more easily than through a trip to the bank. When you talk with your estate planning attorney, he or she will help you understand when you should have copies of certain documents available to you at home, as well as in your safe deposit box.
Access to Your Safe Deposit Box
For obvious reasons, access to your safe deposit is strictly limited. If you want to make it accessible to another person, you’ll have to have them accompany you to the bank so that the proper ID can be shown and they can sign a signature card. This usually means that he or she now has access to your safe deposit box at any time.
You may be able to limit the access by foregoing the trip to the bank and naming the person as an executor of your trust. When the time comes, he or she can take the appropriate documentation to the bank and be granted access. This may require a certified copy of your death certificate along with the individual’s own identification.
As you can imagine, there are some documents that need to be accessed immediately if you should become incapacitated or deceased. It is typically of utmost importance for medical directives and guardianships of minor children to be produced, for example. Because it can take a fair amount of time to obtain these things from a safe deposit box, an alternate plan needs to be in place.
Your probate attorney in Atlanta will be able to offer insight into how best to make these documents accessible at the right times and by the appropriate people. Keeping copies in your safe deposit box is still a good idea, however, to ensure that they are protected in case some sort of catastrophic event (like a house fire) were to damage other copies or originals. You will also benefit from talking directly to the employees at your bank to fully understand their policies.
The holidays are a traditional time for multiple generations to gather together, and are also a perfect opportunity for adult children to perform a reality check on how their aging parents are doing health-wise as well as assess financial and medical planning issues.
The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance provides these tips:
Check your elderly relatives’ home for potential fall hazards. If there is unopened mail and unpaid bills laying around, it may be a sign they are having difficulty coping with everyday living.
Check the pantry and refrigerator to ensure it is well stocked. If a parent has lost weight or there is spoiled food around, this is a sign that they may need some additional help around the house.
Make a list of all your parents’ medications and get the phone numbers of their primary care physicians.
Be sure you have the license numbers of all vehicles in case one is stolen or your parent goes missing.
Talk to your parents about advance health care directives. If they don’t have one, help them find a personal family lawyer (our Marietta family estate planning law firm can help you there) to talk to about creating these and other important estate planning documents.
If you’d like to learn more about wills, living wills, advance health care directives, power of attorney for health care designations or any other aspects of estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.
One of the many documents a trust attorney in the Atlanta area will encourage clients to put together is a living will. These documents have been considered incredibly important in both the legal and medical fields for 40+ years. A living will provides you with the opportunity to make your medical wishes known should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions at the time. A living will often considers things like whether or not you want to be on life support and how you feel about doctors taking “extraordinary” measures to prolong your life.
There are a lot of positives to a living will. For example, it can take some of the burden off of your loved ones who are likely already in a state of shock over your incapacitation. In addition to worrying about your health and grieving over your condition, the people closest to you may also be called upon to make incredibly difficult decisions regarding your health care. Choosing to end life support for a spouse or parent is a heart-wrenching decision, and if you can take that burden from your loved one, then why wouldn’t you?
A recent Wall Street Journal article takes a deeper look into the usefulness of living wills, and some of their findings are contrary to popular belief about these documents. You can take a look at the article, “A New Look at Living Wills,” but some of the basic points made include:
- Living wills may be too “black and white,” while actual medical emergencies often fall into a “gray area.”
- Doctors have a limited ability to predict a patient’s outcome, so it is difficult to use their best guesses as a measure against which to determine if life support should be withdrawn or not.
- In addition to doctors and patients, ethicists are weighing in on the usefulness of living wills, and many of them are leaning away from using them at all.
One of the biggest problems with a living will is that the wording can be rather vague. This can be especially true if you use a fill-in-the-blank document you find online, rather than working with a knowledgeable trust attorney in Atlanta. In order to make your living will as helpful to your loved ones and medical staff as possible, it may be a good idea to be very thorough and to define what you mean by things like “quality of life” and “reasonable chance.”
Many people are moving toward these more comprehensive living wills, although it is certainly difficult to anticipate every situation that can arise. According to the WSJ articles, some people are now foregoing the living will altogether and opting instead to have their estate planning attorney assist them in naming a health care agent with whom you discuss your views and values before leaving the decision-making responsibilities in his or her hands.
If this is something you would like to explore further in your particular situation, or you have further questions about creating a living will here in Atlanta, please feel free to give our Marietta estate planning and elder law firm a call at 770-425-6060 and ask to schedule a complimentary Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session with the mention of this article.
Many people approach estate planning attorneys in order to determine how their assets will be divided among survivors after their death. Unfortunately, a huge number of them don’t take the high likelihood of long-term care into consideration. Elder law attorneys in Atlanta see this situation come up time and again, and it is important to educate clients on the options they have available.
First of all, long-term care is a very likely scenario. People are now living longer than they ever have before. This can be a great thing, but it also means that the period of time in which we cannot fully care for ourselves may be longer, too. More and more people find that they truly need some form of long-term care. In some cases, this can be handled through an in-home healthcare worker rather than in a nursing home, but even that is expensive.
Nursing homes are a common solution when it comes to long-term care, and a good elder law attorney should help you plan for how to make this possibility happen. It’s common for people to think that the government will simply pay for their needs or that a nursing home isn’t any more expensive than renting an apartment. Both ideas are usually untrue.
So, how does one pay for long-term care? Elder care attorneys typically see four approaches:
- Private Pay – Any care that is needed, from nursing homes to prescriptions drugs (including co-payments or full costs) are covered out of pocket. Elder care services tend to be very expensive, and the costs associated with them are incredibly high. It’s not unusual for assisted-living placements to cost upwards of $8,000 a month. That means that “simple” basics that are required for day-to-day living come out to $96,000 a year.
- Medicare – Medicare is a health insurance program administered through the government. Elder law attorneys work with this program a lot because one of the basic requirements is that you must be over 65 to receive benefits. Many people are surprised to learn that Medicare does not typically cover long-term care. So, even if you qualify for this program, it cannot be used to cover nursing home care or in-home healthcare professionals for more than about 100 days.
- Medicaid – Medicaid is used by those with great financial need, and you must apply and qualify for the benefits. Many people are shocked when their elder law attorney explains that Medicaid is not actually available to everyone, and if you have much by way of assets (even a modest home or a few thousand dollars in the bank), you may not qualify at all. If you hope to qualify for Medicaid, you must prepare several years in advance to protect your assets.
- Long-Term Care Insurance – This type of insurance can help to cover or offset the costs associated with long-term care, such as an in-home healthcare worker or nursing home care. Policies can be somewhat confusing and expensive, so it’s highly recommended to work with an impartial elder law attorney when reviewing potential policies to ensure you understand them and are getting what you expect.
There are many issues to take into consideration when planning for your future, and long-term care is undoubtedly one of the most important. Working with an elder care attorney in Atlanta means that you will understand the options that are available to you and how they apply according to state and federal law.