On March 14th, I was supposed to join a panel discussion at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church (BMPC) to discuss “Living, Planning, Dying – Well: Getting Your Affairs in Order”. Unfortunately, it had to be rescheduled to September due to the current situation with COVID 19. Since the panel discussion and presentation could not go forward as originally planned, I thought in the meantime, I could give a preview of what is to come in September.
First, I would like to thank the organizers at BMPC for putting this together. It was thoughtful and well planned out. The speakers included myself, an elder law and estate planning attorney, the owner of a local funeral home, the executive director of Narberth Ambulance, Aimee Gusitis, a caregiver consultant, and the pastor of BMPC. As part of the materials, each person will receive a planning guide explaining key terms and who to reach out to in the financial, legal and health care community for help making decisions.
Part of my presentation was to focus on the importance of not just documents as part of your estate plan, but actually having a plan. The documents are important – they lay out your wishes in writing. They are witnessed and notarized, legal documents. But having a plan that you discuss with your family is just as important. If your family does not know of understand your wishes, the documents do not do anything but provide literally the guidance that is written on the pages. For example, a living will is a fairly simple document. It can be two to three pages, sometimes more, sometimes less. But it conveys a great deal of importance. If your family understands your wishes, how you want to be treated in advance because you have had those conversations over time, then when the time comes things will be easier for everyone. They will not have to guess at the meaning, they will not have to feel guilty if they would have chose differently than you because you had expressed your desires and wishes in advance. Also, keep in mind, that the living will does not have to be followed by the patient. He or she can change their mind at anytime. It is a guide, to speak for them when they cannot do so for themselves.
A will is also important for the obvious reason that it will dispose of your assets, but more importantly, if you have minor children, name guardians. This in my opinion, is the most important function of a will. However, as you get older, your will needs to be updated. The needs and priorities change from naming a guardian, to ensuring that if something happens to you or your spouse, or a child, and one of them is receiving government benefits, how do we prevent them from having those benefits disrupted if receiving an inheritance. Special needs planning is more prevalent than you think. This applies too when a spouse is on Medicaid in a nursing home. If the healthy spouse passes first, and the other spouse inherits (especially if we did some prior medicaid asset protection planning), this is an issued that can be avoided by updating the wills with the appropriate language.
As has been mentioned in the previous blog post, this is a challenging time for everyone. However, planning is more crucial than ever. The current process and status of will signings is evolving. I am working with clients now to prepare their estate plans, with the hope that we can execute the documents soon. It needs to be done in a safe environment for all. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a conference call or video chat to discuss creating or updating an estate plan, or any questions you may have. Also, once the new date for the BMPC event is set, I will send out the event information.