Tips for Choosing a Fiduciary

One of the important tasks in creating a complete estate plan is selecting people (or financial institutions) to represent you, in case of incapacity or death. Most people think of naming an executor in their will, but there are many more roles, advises the article “What to consider when appointing a fiduciary?” from The Ledger.

Here are the most common roles that an estate planning attorney will ask you to select:

  • Executor or personal representative: a person named in your will and appointed by the court to administer your estate.
  • Agent-in-fact (under a durable power of attorney): a person who manages your financial affairs while you are living, if you are unable to do so.
  • Health care surrogate or agent: a person who makes health care decisions on your behalf while you are living, if you are incapacitated.
  • Trustee of a trust document: administers the trust that you have created.
  • Guardian or conservator: a person who makes health care and financial decisions on your behalf, if the court determines that other roles, like health care surrogate or agent-in-fact, are not sufficient.
  • Guardian for minor children: person(s) who make decisions for your children, if you are not able to because of death or a loss of capacity before the children reach adulthood.

The individuals or financial institutions who take on financial roles are considered fiduciaries; that is, they have a legal duty to put your well-being first. Their responsibilities may include applying for government benefits, managing and invest your assets and income, deciding where you will live, working with your attorneys, financial advisors, and accountants.

Many people name their spouse or eldest child to take on these roles. However, that’s not the only option. A few questions to consider before making this important decision include:

  • Does this person have the experience, skill, and maturity to manage my financial affairs?
  • Does this person have the time to serve as a fiduciary?
  • Would this person make the same health care decisions that I would make?
  • Can this person make a difficult decision for my health care?
  • Does this person live near enough to arrive quickly, if necessary?
  • How old is this person, and will they be living when I may need them?
  • What kind of response will my family have to this person being named?
  • Are my assets substantial enough to require a financial institution or accountant to manage?

These are just a few of the questions to consider when choosing fiduciaries or health care agents in your estate plan. Speak with your estate planning attorney to help determine the best decision for you and your family.

Reference: The Ledger (Oct. 16, 2019) “What to consider when appointing a fiduciary?”

How to Manage the Cost of Long-Term Care

A single woman has seen her annual premiums for long-term care rise by more than 60% over the last six years. Her cost in 2018 was $2,721, up from $1,626 in 2013. Despite the increase in cost, she’s keeping her policy, reports CNBC in the article “Long-term care insurance costs are way up. How advisors can help clients cope”

For her, the price she is paying is worth the cost. But even when someone believes that it’s worth it to pay the higher amounts for the benefits of insurance, these types of increases can take older individuals off guard, especially if they are living on a fixed income.

Last year, Genworth Financial received 120 approvals by state regulators to increase premiums on their long-term care insurance business. The weighted average rate increase was 45%. General Electric said earlier this year that it expects to raise premiums on its LTC policies by $1.7 billion in the next ten years. Insurers hold between $160 to $180 billion in LTC reserves, covering 6 to 7 million people, according to estimates from Fitch Ratings.

Eldercare services have also become increasingly expensive. The annual national median cost of a private room in a nursing home was $100,375 in 2018, according to Genworth Financial. The annual national median cost of a single home health care aide was $50,336 in 2018.

Insurers entering the business in the 1990s and early 2000s didn’t anticipate that so many policyholders would continue to pay their premiums and eventually file claims. Fewer than 1% of policyholders have let their policies lapse, and this caught many companies off guard.

Low-interest rates have also hurt overall profitability for the insurance companies.

About 40% of the bonds held in insurance companies’ general accounts had a maturity of more than 20 years at purchase, said the American Council of Life Insurers.

There are a few ways to tweak benefits to keep premiums more affordable while continuing to have this essential coverage.

Daily Benefit. Policies sold in 2015 had an average daily benefit of $259. Paring down the daily benefit could keep premiums down.

Benefit Period. Insurance contracts sold in the 1990s and early 2000 could payout for the remainder of a client’s life. Reducing that period to five or ten years could make premiums lower.

Inflation Protection. Inflation riders help stay ahead of the rising cost of care. For older policyholders, this might reduce the inflation protection.

Waiting Period. Most policies have a waiting period before benefits will be received. Adjusting this period of time might reduce benefits.

Policyholders are advised to speak with the insurance company directly, instead of relying on the premium increase notices. This may reveal more options that can be used to reduce the premiums, without sacrificing too much in the way of coverage.

Reference: CNBC (September 8, 2019) “Long-term care insurance costs are way up. How advisors can help clients cope”

What Should I Know About Medicaid?

Medicaid is the federal program that gives healthcare benefits to those who cannot afford them. Many people who end up requiring long-term care can pay for it out of their own assets, at least initially.

However, because long-term care expenses are so astronomical, many people end up accessing Medicaid benefits, after their own assets have been depleted.

The Medicaid program can help with paying for home care, assisted living, and nursing home care, explains Insurance News Net’s recent article, “Medicaid planning.”

It would be great if people would plan to qualify for Medicaid before they become completely broke, which would preserve their children’s inheritance.

For those who are thinking of transferring all of their assets to their children to qualify for Medicaid, the government has already thought of that. If you gift any assets to your children within the 60 months leading up to the date you apply for Medicaid, the government will calculate a penalty period, depending on the amount of the gift. You will have to wait until the end of the penalty period before you are eligible for Medicaid. However, there are perfectly legal strategies that a senior can use to become eligible for Medicaid, while still preserving considerable assets for their family and children.

That’s why you should talk to an elder law or Medicaid planning attorney. These practitioners specialize in helping people qualify for Medicaid benefits far in advance of their assets becoming depleted.

Assets may be freely transferred between spouses to help gain eligibility for a spouse that needs care.

There are also many assets that are exempt for purposes of gaining eligibility. This includes a primary residence, certain IRAs and most vehicles.

It’s also important to remember that a person can enter into contracts with family members to provide care in exchange for a fee. The payments to family members won’t be considered a gift for the 60-month lookback period.

With the guidance and planning from qualified legal counsel, seniors who require long-term care can get the benefit of government healthcare, while preserving assets for their heirs.

Please contact an experienced Medicaid planning or elder law attorney for additional information.

Reference: Insurance News Net (September 29, 2019) “Medicaid planning”

What Taxes are Due if I Gift My Home to my Child?

It’s not unusual for a senior to consider gifting their home to a married child or to a grandchild. However, there are tax consequences to consider before you do this.

nj.com’s recent article on this subject asks “What should I know about taxes before I gift my home?” The article explains that you can gift your home or any other asset to anyone, provided that person is capable of receiving the gift and takes delivery or ownership of it. However, if the grandchild is a minor, the gift would have to be made either in trust with a trustee or through a Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) account that has a custodian, until they attain the age of majority.

The federal government has a gift tax, but not everyone will be subject to the tax. That’s because each year, you can give anyone up to a $15,000 gift tax-free. If you’re married, you and your spouse could each make those gifts, totaling $30,000 per year, per recipient without any gift tax.

Gifts to an individual more than $15,000 per year that aren’t under an exclusion or exemption are subject to federal gift tax. As a result, you must file a federal gift tax return on IRS Form 709. However, it’s not likely that you’ll actually have to pay any gift tax, even though you have to file a return. The reason is that under the federal unified estate and gift tax system, each person has a lifetime exclusion from gift and estate taxes of $11.4 million, over and above the annual $15,000 per person gift tax exclusion. That number is doubled for married couples ($22.8 million). So, you can transfer up to $11.4 million, whether as a gift during your lifetime or as a bequest after your death, before any gift or estate taxes are actually due. Keep in mind, though, that if you make gifts that use up your $11.4 million exemption, that your exemption is reduced by that amount when your estate tax is calculated on your death.

In addition, you can make unlimited gifts to qualified charities without any gift tax consequences. The same is true for gifts to spouses, as long as both spouses are U.S. citizens. Payments of tuition or medical expenses for someone else are also gift tax-free if they’re made directly to the school or the medical care provider.

As far as whether and how to gift your home, there are income tax considerations to consider. If you sell your home and have a capital gain, you may qualify to exclude up to $250,000 of that gain from your income. The exclusion is up to $500,000 if you’re married and file a joint return with your spouse. To qualify for the capital gains exclusion on the sale of your home, you are required to have owned the home and also used it as your principal residence for at least two of the previous five years.

For example, say that you purchased a home for $200,000 and made capital improvements in the amount of $50,000. Your basis in the home is now $250,000. If you sell that home for $500,000, then you will have a capital gain of $250,000 ($500,000 sale price minus $250,000 basis). However, as long as you qualify under IRS principal residence rules, you could exclude the entire $250,000 gain when you sell the residence and therefore have no tax bill to pay.

If you gift the house to a child or anyone else, in most instances, your $250,000 basis would carry over to the recipient. Your child and their spouse would then have a $250,000 basis in the house. If they live in it for two years, then they could have a capital gains exclusion of up to $500,000, as long as they file a joint return, if they then sell it.

If you want to stay in your home, one option is to leave it to your child or grandchild in your will, rather than gifting it now. If your child inherits the house, then their basis in the inherited house would then be its fair market value on the date of your death instead of your original $250,000. This increased basis in the home would decrease the amount of any future capital gains if the daughter subsequently sold the home.

Another option would be to sell the house now to a third party, leverage the capital gains tax exclusion and then gift the money, instead of the home itself, to your child.

The best financial outcome would depend on the individual financial circumstances, future plans, and income tax brackets of the parent and child. There are additional factors to consider, such as the age of the house, its location and condition, whether your child would use it as their primary residence or as a rental and whether you anticipate that the house will increase in value over time.

One final note: if you gift the house to a grandchild, the generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT) would apply in addition to the gift tax. This is a separate tax system that applies when gifts or bequests are made to a person who is two or more generations below the person making the gift or bequest, like a grandchild or great-grandchild. However, many of the same exclusions that apply for gift tax purposes, also apply for GSTT purposes. So, the odds are you won’t have to pay any GSTT for this specific transfer.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to help you find the best strategy for you and your family.

Reference: nj.com (October 28, 2019) “What should I know about taxes before I gift my home?”

What Estate Planning Do I Need with a New Baby?

Congratulations parent! You have a new baby. There’s a lot to think about, but there is a vital task that should be a priority. That is making an estate plan. People usually don’t worry about estate planning when they’re young, healthy and starting a new family. However, your new baby is depending on you to make decisions that will set them up for a secure future.

Motley Fool’s recent article, “If You’re a New Parent, Take These 4 Estate Planning Steps” says there are a few key estate planning steps that every parent should take to make certain they’ve protected their child, no matter what the future holds.

  1. Purchase Life Insurance. If a parent dies, life insurance will make sure there are funds available for the other spouse to keep providing for the children. If both parents die, life insurance can be used for a guardian to raise the child or to fund the cost of college. For most parents, term life insurance is used because the premiums are affordable, and the coverage will be in effect long enough for your child to grow to an adult.
  2. Draft a Will and Name a Guardian for your Children. For parents, the most important reason to make a will is to name a guardian for your children. If you designate a guardian, you can select the person that you think shares your values and who will do a good job raising your children. This way, it’s not left to a judge to make that selection. Do this as soon as your children are born.
  3. Update Beneficiaries. Your will should say what happens to most of your assets, but you probably have some accounts with a designated beneficiary, like a 401(k), IRA, or life insurance. When you have children, you’ll need to update the beneficiaries on these accounts for your children to inherit these assets as secondary beneficiaries, so they will inherit them in the event of your and your spouse’s death. Be careful, however, to designate a custodian to take care of those funds while your children are still minors.
  4. Look at a Trust. If you die prior to your children turning 18, they can’t directly take control of any inheritance you leave for them. This means that a judge may need to appoint someone to manage assets that you leave to your child. Your child could also wind up inheriting a lot of money and property free and clear at age 18. To have more control, like who will manage assets, how your money and property should be used for your children and when your children should directly receive a transfer of wealth, ask your estate planning attorney about creating a trust. With a trust, you can designate an individual who will manage money on behalf of your children and provide instructions for how the trustee can use the money to help care for your children, as they age. You can also create conditions on your children receiving a direct transfer of assets, such as requiring your children to reach age 21 or requiring them to use the money to cover college costs. Trusts are for anyone who wants more control over how their property will help their children after they’ve passed away.

When you have a new baby, working on your estate planning probably isn’t a big priority. However, it’s worth taking the time to talk to an attorney for the security of knowing your bundle of joy can still be provided for, in the event that the worst happens to you.

Reference: Motley Fool (September 28, 2019) “If You’re a New Parent, Take These 4 Estate Planning Steps”

Beginning-of-Year Financial Tasks

There are some tasks that, if left undone, can have an enormous impact on those you love. The beginning of the year is a good time to set some deadlines for yourself, while you still have New Years resolution momentum. Give yourself a February 15 deadline, and you’ll stay focused says The Daily Journal’s article “5 financial tasks you should tackle by year-end.”

Here’s the list to get you started:

Check Your Beneficiaries on All Accounts. A sad story comes from Washington state, where a man died two months after his divorce was finalized. He had not changed his beneficiaries, so all of his life insurance proceeds and his pension plan went to his ex-wife, and not to his children from a prior marriage. The case went through the court system all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2001 that the beneficiary designations had to be honored.

Start by making a list of your accounts, then check to see who your beneficiaries are. You may need to contact the financial custodian of the accounts, or you might be able to do it online. Ask for confirmation in all cases, so you and your heirs will have it in writing. Keep this in an organized binder so it will be easy to find if something were to happen to you.

Look at Any Pay-On-Death Designations. In some accounts, there is a pay-on-death designation, in place of a beneficiary designation. This also may have been an option that you chose when you first opened the account. Without a designation or Pay-On-Death name, the account must go through probate, the legal procedure to distribute property in your estate.

Depending on the state, you might have had this option on the property or even vehicles. A local estate planning attorney will know if this is an option in your state. To add or change a beneficiary on a vehicle, you’ll need to apply for a certificate of car ownership with the beneficiary form. If you want to change your deed to a Transfer-on-Death deed, you will need to submit a new deed to the appropriate county recorder. Again, an estate planning attorney will be able to help. The lawyer will also help evaluate whether this is a good way to transfer property in your situation.

Update Insurance Policies. The insurance company is not going to send a beneficiary a check without someone filing a claim. The family often does not know what insurance policies exist. A 2013 investigation from Consumer Reports found nearly $1 billion in unclaimed life insurance proceeds. You want to update your contact information with the insurer every now and then, making sure that your beneficiaries are correct and that bills are being sent to the right address. In some cases, the insurance company allows people to notify another person if payment is overdue and they are not able to reach you. You should also keep that contact information updated, in case your back-up person moves. Keep a list of your insurance policies in a place easy to find.

What’s In Your Safe Deposit Box? If it’s been a while since you’ve visited your safe deposit box, schedule a time to go and have a look. If you neglect to pay your annual fee, after a number of years the bank is legally permitted to open the box and turn its contents over to the state. Visit once a year to make sure payments and contact details are current. Leave clear instructions with your executor and heirs about where to find the box and its keys. Consider giving another family member official access to the box.

Revise Powers of Attorney. Now is a good time to review your powers of attorney to see if it’s time for an update. If you can’t locate your original POA documents, or if the people you chose many years ago have died or moved away, it’s time for a new set. And if you don’t have power of attorney documents in place, make an appointment with your estate planning lawyer to have them created. Spare your family the stress, lost time, and unnecessary expenses that trying to get access to your accounts might cause by having these updated and name a backup agent (or two).

Yes, technically this article was for the end of the year, but we are a long way from the end of 2020 and I have a feeling that these tasks weren’t on any of your holiday ‘to-dos’ or end of year lists.  Heck, even if you did set yourself a deadline to complete these tasks before the end of the year that would be fantastic.

Reference: The Daily Journal (Nov. 18, 2019) “5 financial tasks you should tackle by year-end”

What Mistake Did Hollywood Director John Singleton Make with his Estate?

Hollywood director John Singleton didn’t do his family any favors by committing the most common mistake when it came to estate planning: procrastination.

Forbes’ recent article, “The John Singleton Estate Teaches Why No One Should Procrastinate Updating Their Will” explains that after Singleton died in April at age 51 from a stroke, he only had an outdated will from 1993. Although he was unmarried when he died, he left behind at least five children and two other minor daughters, who may be his offspring. The family has already publicly disagreed about important issues like who should serve as his conservator if he was to recover from the stroke. They even fought over the cause of his death, after he was brought to the hospital under mysterious circumstances.

Couple this acrimony with an outdated will, and Singleton’s family can expect many years of headaches, stress and legal battles about his estate. There will also be some hefty legal fees. Singleton died with only a will in place, so his estate will go through the lengthy and expensive probate court process. This has already led to more fighting and will likely mean more legal disputes.

Singleton’s mother, Sheila Ward, filed to open the probate proceeding and asked the court to admit his 1993 will. At the time he signed it, Singleton was a relatively new director and had only one child, daughter Justice. Ward reported that Singleton had assets worth $3.8 million. She listed his heirs, which include five acknowledged children, plus two minor daughters, each of whom she designated as an “Alleged Daughter.”

However, some websites have reported that Singleton’s net worth was around $35M when he died. It is believed that the filing only listed a small fraction of his wealth, because he may have had a trust that contained the remainder of his assets. It’s possible but unlikely, in light of the fact that it would be very unusual for someone to set up a trust and not at the same time create or update his will to a “pour-over” will.

Pourover wills work in concert with trusts so that any assets not transferred into a trust during someone’s lifetime are then passed into the trust through the probate court process after they die. As the name implies, the will “pours” the assets from the probate estate into the trust. Singleton’s 1993 will was already admitted into probate, so the court determined it was his last unrevoked will created during his life, and it wasn’t a pour-over will.

His mother, who was appointed the personal representative of his estate, recently filed a new document asking for the court to approve a settlement worth $515,472 based on Singleton’s claim for a greater share of royalties from Sony Pictures arising from his 2001 movie, Baby Boy. The filing says that Singleton reached a settlement in this amount before he died, but the settlement was never signed or finalized due to his untimely stroke. This money would be added to his estate.

Under his 1993 will, only his daughter Justice will inherit the millions of dollars of her dad’s estate.  However, the other kids aren’t out of luck. Singleton’s will doesn’t control their inheritance, because they were born after he signed his will. California’s probate law permits any after-born children to inherit equally with children living when the will was signed, with exceptions (like if a child was taken care of in other ways, such as a life insurance policy).

There’s still the question of how many of the children are really his. The paternity of the two minor daughters wasn’t established. That may be another probate fight.

The lesson of all of this is to work with a qualified estate planning attorney to be certain that you have an up-to-date will, as well as other important estate planning documents.

Few people expect to pass away at such a young age, like Singleton, but no one is promised tomorrow. Don’t procrastinate creating an estate plan, believing that you can take care of it “someday.”

Reference: Forbes (November 4, 2019) “The John Singleton Estate Teaches Why No One Should Procrastinate Updating Their Will”

How to Plan for Long-Term Care Costs

The odds are that most of us will need long-term care. At least 52% of those over age 65 will need some type of long-term care at some point in our lives, according to a study conducted by AARP. As most of us are living longer, we’ll probably need that care for a longer period of time, as reported in the article “It’s best to plan for long-term care” from the Times Herald-Record.

Many people 55 and older tend to believe that they might be in the group that won’t need any sort of long-term care. Here’s the problem: ignore this issue, and it won’t go away. It is true that turning a blind eye can be tempting because the size of the problem makes it a bit overwhelming, and the cost to tackle it seems unsolvable. However, not addressing it becomes even more expensive. How can we possibly pay for long-term care insurance?

Here’s a simple example: a 64-year-old woman fell and broke her ankle in three places. She was otherwise healthy and mobile prior to the fall. However, a badly broken ankle required extensive rehabilitation and she was not able to stay in her home. She has been living at a rehabilitation center and the costs are mounting. What could she have done?

There are two basic ways (with a number of variations) to pay for long-term care.

The first and most obvious: purchase a long-term care insurance policy. Only 2.7 million Americans own these policies. They are wise to protect themselves and their families.

Most families put off buying this kind of insurance because it’s expensive at any age and stage. The average cost is about $2,170, according to the Kiplinger Retirement Report, for about $328,000 worth of insurance. That rate varies, and it should be noted that if you have a chronic condition, you may not be able to purchase a policy at all.

If local nursing homes costs $216,000 per year and you have $328,000 of coverage, the numbers make it obvious that you will likely run out of coverage before your needs are fully met. The average nursing home stay is about two years. As boomers age, the cost of long-term care insurance is rising, while benefits are becoming skimpier, says Kiplinger.

There are some alternatives: a hybrid life insurance plan that includes long-term care coverage.  However, those can be more expensive than regular long-term care insurance, with the cost sometimes being about $8,000 a year for a 55-year-old and about $13,000 for a 65-year-old.

Another choice: a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust. For best results, you’ll need to work with an estate planning attorney to create and fund this trust long before you actually need it. Your assets must be placed in the trust at least five years before an application to Medicaid, which will then pay for your care. You don’t have to live in complete poverty to do this. If the care is for one person, the applicant is permitted to keep a certain amount of assets, which vary depending on your specific state laws (in California, that amount is $2,000). The Medicaid rules also provide a number of noncountable resources, which means that those items won’t be counted against your asset limits. This includes a home, the value of retirement accounts, and term life insurance.  The spouse may also keep assets of their own up to about $120,000, although this number also varies by state.

However, what if you have money to pay or need long-term care before you put assets in trust? If you live in New York, Florida and Connecticut, you have what is called “spousal refusal.” The spouse of the person in long-term care can choose not to pay for their cost of care. This can get complicated, and Medicaid will try to get funds for the care. However, an estate planning elder law attorney can negotiate the amount of payment, which may leave the bulk of your estate intact.

These are complicated matters that become very costly, often at a time when you and your family are least able to deal with yet another issue. Speak with an estate planning attorney before you need the care and learn how they can help you protect your spouse and your assets.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (July 22, 2019) “It’s best to plan for long-term care”

You Can Protect Pets after You’re Gone

Many of us consider our pets members of the family, but the law does not. In most states, if not all, pets are considered property, reports the East Valley Tribune in the article “Trusts can help provide for a pet’s future.” That means you can’t leave them your house or open a bank account in their name. However, you can take measures to protect your pets from what could happen to them after you pass away.

The simple thing to do is to make arrangements with a trusted family member or friend to take care of your pet and leave some money for their care. The problem is, there’s no way to enforce this, and it’s all based on trust. What happens if something unexpected happens to your trusted family member or friend, and they can’t care for your pet? You’ve also given them funds that they are not legally required to spend on your pet.

Another choice is to leave your pet to a no-kill animal shelter. However, shelters, even no-kill shelters, can be stressful for animals who are used to a family home. There’s also no way to know when your pet will be adopted since most people come to shelters to adopt puppies and kittens. There is also the issue of the shelter itself. Will it continue to operate after you are gone and protect your pet?

The best way that many people care for their pets, is by having a pet trust created. An estate planning attorney in your state will know if your state is among the many that allow a pet trust to be created to benefit and protect your pet.

Start by naming a guardian or caretaker for your pets, including instructions on whether your pets should be kept together. If you are not sure about a guardian, name additional guardians, in case one does not wish to serve. Then, determine how much money you need to leave for the pet’s care for its life. This will depend upon the animal’s age, health, and life expectancy. There will need to be adequate funding for any medical issues. The trust can specify whether you want your pet to undergo expensive surgeries or whether they should be kept comfortable at any cost.

You’ll want to make sure to name a guardian who you are confident will care for your pet or pets in the same manner as you would.

A pet trust will also require you to name a trustee, who will be in charge of disbursing the funds as they are needed. The trustee can also check on the pet to be sure your pet is being well-cared for and your instructions are being followed. The money in the trust must only be used by the person for the care of the pets.

A pet trust will give you the peace of mind of knowing that your beloved companion animals are being cared for, even when you are not here to care for them. Speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how to make a pet trust part of your overall estate plan.

Reference: East Valley Tribune (Oct. 14, 2019) “Trusts can help provide for a pet’s future”

Managing an Aging Parent’s Financial and Legal Life

Managing an Aging Parent’s Financial and Legal Life
Beautiful young girl-volunteer and handsome old man are playing chess and smiling

As parents age, it becomes more important for their children or another trusted adult to start helping them with their finances and their legal documents, especially an estate plan. In “Six tips for managing an elderly parent’s finances,” ABC7 On Your Side presents the important tasks that need to be done.

Make sure the family knows where important personal and financial documents are in an emergency. Start with a list that includes:

  • Bank, brokerage and credit card statements
  • Original wills, powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and estate planning documents
  • Insurance policies
  • Social Security information
  • Pension records
  • Medicare information

They’ll need a list of all accounts, safe deposit boxes, financial institutions and contact information for their estate planning attorney, CPA and financial advisors. Even if they don’t want to share this information until an emergency occurs, make sure it is organized and compiled somewhere a family member can find it easily.

Set up direct deposit for any incoming funds. Automating the deposit of pension and benefit checks is far more secure and convenient for everyone. This prevents a delay in funds being deposited and checks can’t be stolen in the mail or lost at home.

Set up automatic bill payment or at least online bill payment. Making these payments automatic will save a lot of time and energy for all concerned. If your parents are not comfortable with an automatic payment, and many are not, try setting up the accounts so they can be paid online. Work with your parents, so they are comfortable with doing this. They will appreciate how much easier it is and saving themselves a trip to the post office.

Have a “Durable Power of Attorney” prepared. This is a legal document prepared by an estate planning attorney that gives one or more people the legal authority to handle finances or other legal matters if they become mentally or physically incapacitated.

Have a “Living Will” and a “Healthcare Power of Attorney” prepared. The Healthcare Power of Attorney allows a person to make health care decisions for another person if they are mentally or physically incapacitated. The Living Will allows a person to express their wishes about end-of-life care if they are terminally ill and unable to express their wishes.

Take precautions to guard against fraud. Seniors are the chief targets of many scams for two reasons: First, if they have any kind of cognitive decline, no matter how slight, they are more likely to comply with a person posing as an authority figure. Second, they have a lifetime of assets and are a “rich” target.

An estate planning attorney can work with your parents to assist in preparing an estate plan and advising the family on how to help their parents as they age. Most estate planning attorneys have access to a large network of related service providers.

Reference: ABC7 On Your Side (Sep. 5, 2019) “Six tips for managing an elderly parent’s finances,”