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Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Planning From Seniors

The percentage of senior citizens with wills has fallen drastically in recent years. A study conducted by Caring.com found that the number of people with a will aged 55 and older has fallen from 60% to 44% since 2019. Considering what an important part a will plays in your overall estate plan, this is a concerning statistic.

Why is it that so many people don’t have estate plans? Well, part of the reason is due to misunderstandings about the process along with a lack of resources.

Creating an estate plan may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. We hope the following will address your concerns and provide clarity about how to move forward.

I have a disability, and am worried about not being able to manage my own financial and/or medical affairs in the future. Who can help me?

Firstly, you’re not alone. The US Census Bureau found that approximately 69% of survey respondents aged 85 years or older had at least one type of disability. As we age, it’s more likely we’ll need help managing our affairs.

You’ll want to work with an estate planning attorney to draft a financial power of attorney. This is a document that allows you to choose a trusted person to handle your financial affairs. They can sign checks, pay bills, file taxes, and more. If you don’t have a financial power of attorney in place, a court will choose someone for you if you become incapacitated. This can be time-consuming and costly, both of which may not be optimal in the midst of a crisis.

A medical power of attorney works similarly in that it allows you to choose a trusted person to communicate or make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. If you don’t have a medical power of attorney and you become incapacitated, the court may be required to name someone for you. This can feel like a major infringement on your privacy, and may cost your loved ones time and money.

Can someone help me with my financial affairs if I’m out of town?

With the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine, you may be traveling now more than you did before.

However, there may still be financial matters that need to be taken care of while you’re away. A financial power of attorney (discussed above), can allow your agent to handle financial matters on your behalf while you’re out of town. It may seem scary to let someone else take over, but rest assured that you can still act on your own behalf if/when you’re able. You’re also free to remove your agent from their position if they make a decision you don’t like.

What are some ways I can protect or take care of my loved ones after I’m gone?

Preparing well for when we pass away is one of the most responsible and loving things we can do for the people we care about.

A trust is an excellent tool to hold money and property you’d like to pass down to your loved ones. Whether your trust is a revocable living trust or part of your last will and testament, it allows you to set aside a portion of your accounts and property for the benefit of a loved one. You can choose someone to oversee the money and property and instruct that person on when and how the money and property must be used.

When creating a trust, you have a few different options for how your loved one can receive the money and property:

  • Outright distribution. The terms of the trust can instruct the trustee to distribute all of the money and property to your loved one or give your loved one the right to withdraw all of the money and property in their share of the trust at any time, without any strings attached.

  • At certain ages. You can dictate in the terms of your trust that a certain percentage be distributed to your loved one at different ages, such as one-third at age forty, one-half at age forty-five, and the remainder at age fifty.

  • After reaching certain milestones. If there are certain things you want your loved one to attain before receiving access to the money and property, you can instruct the trustee to distribute a certain percentage or amount once that milestone has been reached. Some milestones could include attaining a college degree or service in the military.

  • Leave it up to the trustee. If you are concerned about what your loved one may do with the money or if your loved one has a high-risk job, creditor issues, an unhealthy marriage, or an addiction, allowing distributions to be made only at the trustee’s discretion is a good way to try to protect the money and property that you have set aside for your loved one. Provisions can be put in place so your loved one can receive enjoyment from the money and property, while protecting it from creditors and predators.

If you’re interested in learning more about how an estate plan can benefit you and your loved ones, call Santaella Legal Group, serving San Ramon, Danville, Dublin, Pleasanton & the Tri-Valley area, at (925) 831-4840.

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