“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty four?” When Paul McCartney penned those lines he was in his 20s. 64 must have seemed ancient to him. He is well past the 64 mark now, but the tune still resonates. Not quite hidden beneath the clarinets is a serious question about what will happen to us as we grow older. It doesn’t hurt to think about this question and use all the legal tools possible to plan for a future where we are at best old and losing our hair, and at worst unable to care for ourselves.
First Things First
It is not easy or fun to think about what would happen if you suddenly, or even gradually, lose the ability to care for yourself or make important decisions for yourself. In fact, it’s scary to do so. One of the best ways to calm those fears is to figure out who you would trust to step up and help you if such a situation arises, and then put the legal documents in place to empower that person should something bad happen.
We recommend putting three different documents in place that will designate a person or people you trust to make various decisions on your behalf should a time come when they need to do so:
- A durable power of attorney for finances designates someone to take over your finances. Should the need arise, your designee can step in and pay your bills, manage your accounts, and even buy and sell property on your behalf.
- A living will or advance directive spells out your end-of-life wishes. If you want the doctors to do everything possible to keep you alive, no matter the risk or the cost, you can say so. If you want only to be kept comfortable and be allowed to drift off, you can say that too. Making these decisions now means your family members or doctors won’t be making them for you when they don’t really know what you would prefer.
- A medical power of attorney document names someone you trust to follow the directions in your living will and make healthcare decisions on your behalf if your precise wishes are not known.
Together, these documents give you the best chance possible of calling your own shots until the very end.
The Financial Side Of Things
You might have noticed that the person given medical power of attorney gets some guidance from the living will, but the person given financial power of attorney seems to be free to do whatever he or she sees fit. This is because the powers of the person holding a financial power of attorney document are limited in other ways. A comprehensive estate plan will lay out what is to happen to significant assets, and these plans are often implemented well before the need for a power of attorney arises.
Planning for disability or incapacity typically necessitates planning for long-term care in a nursing home facility or with some sort of in-home help. The cost of these services is astronomical, and very few families can afford to pay for it out of pocket. Most end up relying on Medicaid.
In order to qualify for Medicaid without spending one’s self into destitution, it is wise to start transferring assets to a trust, or to the people you want to inherit them, well before you believe you might need to apply for Medicaid.
This too is a difficult topic to think about. At the Hegwood Law Group we understand how unsettling it is to face your own mortality, and all the “what if’s?” and “might have beens.” We do our best to make planning for disability and incapacity as stress-free and simple as possible.
Written by Kimberly Hegwood, Founder of the Hegwood Law Group in Houston,Texas. Attorney Hegwood practices exclusively in elder law, asset protection planning, estate planning, and related practice areas. Attorney Hegwood is a Member of the National ElderCare Matters Alliance, and she and her firm are Featured in ElderCareMatters.com– America’s National Directory of Elder Care / Senior Care Resources to help families plan for and deal with the issues of Aging.