Category Archives: Legal

Think Twice Before Co-Signing a Loan for your Child or Grandchild

Frequently in our office or on our call-in radio programs we get questions about co-signing for someone else’s loan. Typically the borrower is a grandchild or adult child, and the person asking the question is full of good intentions. After all, they’ll say, if I don’t co-sign, my loved one won’t get the loan.

That may be the best possible outcome, because co-signing a loan can be a form of financial quicksand, trapping too many well-intentioned parents and grandparents in unplanned and often burdensome debt. If you don’t believe us, we suggest you read this recent article we found on the website of the New York Times. It’s called, “Thinking about Co-Signing a Loan? Proceed with Caution.” We couldn’t agree more.

Co-signing a loan is basically guaranteeing that the loan will be paid. If the borrower fails to make the payments, you as the co-signer are contractually obligated to pay off the loan. Co-signing is a fairly common practice, according to a recent survey cited in the New York Times article, with about one adult in six having co-signed for someone else, typically a child, stepchild or grandchild. No doubt the borrowers always have the best of intentions. However, this same survey reports that nearly 40 percent of co-signers ended up having to pay all or part of the bill because the main borrower failed to make the payments.

The Times piece quotes Mr. Rod Griffin, an official with the credit bureau Experian, who explains that the co-signer is signing the loan because the lender thinks the borrower doesn’t qualify for some reason. If the lender is cautious, you should be, too.  “You’re vouching for the loan,” Griffin said, and “that’s a very high-risk thing to do.”

According to the survey, about half of co-signed loans were car loans, while about one-fifth were student loans. In the case of student loans, the Times explains, some private lenders require a co-signer since they’re making the loan based on a student’s projected future earnings. Sadly, some parents or grandparents, according to the article, may think all they’re doing by co-signing is providing some sort of “character reference,” when in reality their co-signature obligates them to pay if the student defaults. This can come as a particular shock as student loan amounts can add up rapidly, creating a burdensome debt.

The New York Times article goes on to explain that co-signing a loan can definitely affect your credit rating, even if the loan stays current, because it shows up as a debt obligation on your credit report. Sometimes owing more money can cause you to have to pay higher interest rates when you borrow. What’s more, once you co-sign, getting yourself removed from the debt can be extremely difficult if not impossible. The article lists a few circumstances in which you may be able to get out from under the co-signer’s obligation, plus a few pointers that could help safeguard your interests before you co-sign.

But our advice is to be very, very cautious, and avoid becoming a co-signer if at all possible. It may mean having a hard conversation with a loved one – but that’s better than facing your retirement years burdened by someone else’s indebtedness.

Being cautious about finances is important as you plan for retirement. But a good financial plan is only part of the comprehensive approach to retirement that we call a LifePlan. We also help you look ahead to ensure that your medical needs are met, your legal affairs are in order, your housing options have been considered and your family communications are healthy and open. With a LifePlan in place, you can look forward with confidence to a well-planned retirement that is both fruitful and secure.

Why not start the LifePlanning process by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars? Bring your questions and come prepared for an enjoyable, information-packed event. Click on the Upcoming Events tab and register for the seminar of your choice – but hurry, because space is limited. We’ll look forward to meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon.

(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)

If You Die in Debt, Will Your Heirs Have to Pay Up? Probably.

A recent article on the website US News answered a question we hear frequently in our client meetings, on our call-in radio programs and at our seminars: “If I die with debts, will my heirs have to pay them off?” Most of the time, if you have any assets at all, the answer is yes. The article explains several possible scenarios where those debts you incur in life will burden those who inherit your estate.

Debt is an especially tough problem for seniors, a group whose debt burden is definitely increasing. “With seniors’ debt burden rising, many are likely to die with debts still unpaid,” says US News. “While not all that debt will pass to their heirs,” the article goes on to say, “much of it will come out of any inheritance they expect to leave behind.”

How bad is the senior debt problem? The article states that in 1989 about 44 percent of senior households in the U.S. were carrying some debt. In 2013 that percentage had risen to just over 61 percent. But the figure that caught our attention was the amount of that debt: for households headed by adults age 60 or older, the average debt burden had skyrocketed from about $9,000 in 1989 to nearly $41,000 in 2013. For seniors already strapped for money after the recent recession, debt can be a crushing burden now and a headache in the future when your children have to deal with it.

US News states that, if you have any assets at all, your creditors will likely get “first dibs” during the probate process. “That means,” the article reports, “that your children or other heirs effectively will pay your debts because they will be subtracted before any inheritance is transferred.” This will force your kids to pay off your debts with the cash you had hoped to pass on to them. It may even mean selling off assets such as a home to pay off your creditors after you’re gone. Depending on the state you live in, some spouses become liable for the debts incurred by their spouse (Washington is one of those states, referred to as a “community property” state). The debt you leave behind may place a severe burden on your surviving spouse. In other words, according to one financial advisor quoted in the US News article, “Debt is the last thing you want to have when you die.”

The article lists six things you need to do if someone you love dies with debt. (Again, click here to link to the US News piece and read all six.) Some of these steps are obvious, such as the immediate notification of creditors, especially credit card companies: you want to make sure no one can open a fraudulent account in your loved one’s name, and you also want to put an immediate halt to any additional fees and surcharges. A few other important things on the checklist involve filing tax returns and filing for those assets that do not go through probate, such as life insurance payouts and retirement accounts.

But the first thing on the US News “to do” list is to consult with an attorney. Here at AgingOptions, where retirement planning and elder law are our specialties, we would welcome the chance to sit down with you and go over the situation in which you find yourself following the death of your loved one. In fact, a call to our office should be one of the first ones you make, so that we can begin advising you of all the necessary steps you’ll need to take to satisfy creditors and protect your own family’s interests.

An even better idea for dealing intelligently with debt and finances is for retirees to start now to put a LifePlan in place – a comprehensive retirement plan that covers all aspects of your retirement and your estate. We can advise you on how to protect your assets and how to avoid burdening your loved ones both while you live and after you’re gone. All your legal and financial plans become part of your LifePlan, as do your housing preferences, family instructions and medical coverage needs. It truly is a “Life Plan.”

The very best way to start the LifePlanning process is by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. You’ll come away with valuable knowledge that will help you face your retirement years with a new sense of confidence, knowing you’re prepared. Don’t leave your heirs with a burden of debt – or even worse, with the burden of caring for you and making decisions against your wishes. Click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website and register today for a LifePlanning Seminar near you.

(originally reported at http://money.usnews.com)

Now May Be the Perfect Time to Put a Freeze on Your Credit File

It seems as if every week we read of some new financial scam preying on innocent victims. Tragically, many of those harmed the most turn out to be seniors. Thieves often target retirees because older people may be more trusting and less tech-savvy than younger adults, making it easier to gather the personal information that makes some kinds of fraud possible.

Recently, according to this recent article on the AARP Blog, those scam artists appear to have switched tactics. As a result, your best defense might be one that has been around for years: a credit freeze.

The AARP Blog article cites a recent study on fraud that says the fastest-growing type of fraud involves opening new credit accounts in a victim’s name. This type of new-account fraud doubled in frequency from 2014 to 2015, and the trend continues to rise. With more than 180 million personal records lost or stolen last year, thieves who get their hands on that personal data see a goldmine if they can open phony accounts in someone else’s name and then bleed those accounts dry.

For that reason, say the experts, a security freeze or credit freeze is your best defense against new-account fraud. The AARP Blog explains that these credit freezes were originally offered for those who had experienced identity fraud – someone pretending to be you. Now, however, consumer protection experts recommend that most if not all Americans should put a freeze on their credit, whether they’ve been victimized or not.

It works like this. When someone opens a new account at a credible business or lending agency, the business runs a routine credit check with one or more of the three national credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. If you put a freeze on your account with those three agencies, scam artists applying for credit in your name won’t get it. A freeze doesn’t prevent your current creditors (or the government) from checking your credit, which many routinely do. Also you can remove the freeze at any time, such as when you apply for a mortgage or loan.

The AARP Blog piece gives the phone numbers for the three credit bureaus and explains the procedure for placing a freeze on your account. Note that there may be a fee, both for freezing your account and for “unfreezing” it when you need to. Typically, however, if you’re 65 or older those fees are waived.

By the way, the article also explains the difference between a freeze and a fraud alert. Fraud alerts are free, but they last for only 90 days at a time, and they stipulate that credit bureaus should notify you before granting credit. Experts say a credit freeze allows stronger protection. But you still need to be on guard! A credit freeze does little or nothing to prevent someone using your existing accounts to defraud you, and if thieves get your Social Security number they can still find ways to wreak havoc with your identity. Still, a credit freeze seems like a relatively simple way to gain some peace of mind.

If you’re searching for peace of mind as you plan for your retirement, we can help you, just as we have helped thousands. Here at AgingOptions we take a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to retirement planning by including all the factors you’ll need to consider: your financial preparation, your legal protection, your family communication, your housing options and your medical coverage. These elements combine to become a personalized LifePlan, your blueprint for a secure and fruitful retirement.

Sound interesting? Then why not join us at one of our free LifePlanning Seminars? We offer these fast-paced seminars every month, at locations throughout the region. Click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website, select the seminar of your choice, and register online. We’ll look forward to meeting you at a LifePlanning Seminar soon!

(originally reported at http://blog.aarp.org)

Reuters Report: Death of Prince Prompts Renewed Interest in Wills

Whenever a celebrity dies, there’s always a ripple effect. The death of Casey Kasem prompted increased interest in issues of health care directives, guardianship and end of life planning. The death of Michael Jackson shed new light on the abuse of prescription drugs. Now, barely six weeks after the death of the rock star Prince, who died without a will, people are showing a surge of interest in wills and estate planning.

This is according to a recent article on the Reuters news service website. Click here to connect to this fascinating piece.

Prince died on April 21, leaving behind an estate valued at more than $300 million. Apparently the international celebrity never got around to drafting a will or establishing an estate plan. Prince was not a particularly young man (he was 57 at time of death) but like many adults he may have had a distorted sense of his own immortality. He was hardly alone: research reported in the Reuters article states that up to one in three U.S. adults 55 and older do not have any sort of will – and for adults younger than 55 the figure is barely one in five.

Reuters reports that, since the death of Prince, “many Americans have moved ‘draft a will’ – arguably one of life’s most unpleasant tasks – to the top of their to-do lists.” In some ways, that’s good news. However, as professional retirement planners, we here at Aging Options fear that some of these newly-inspired people may be going about the process the wrong way, relying on free or low-cost will-writing software and websites that provide only bare-bones services, hardly adequate for most estate plans.

For example, after Prince died and his lack of a will became known, the legal information site Nolo.com saw more than a 40 percent spike in requests for its online will-drafting product, Nolo Online Will. The website LegalZoom experienced a similar bump in inquiries including a 20 percent increase in requests for attorney consultations. A third website called RocketLawyer reported a 57 percent increase in estate planning activity.

Adds Reuters with a touch of irony, “Prince’s relatives, meanwhile, face the expensive and time-consuming process of a state-ordered probate” – something that could clearly and relatively easily have been avoided.

We’re all in favor of intelligent legal planning and we bemoan the fact that so many otherwise intelligent adults avoid this important process. But the aspect of the Reuters article that concerns us as professional estate planners and experts in retirement is that many people seeking out the least expensive “quickie wills” available online may be doing themselves a disservice. Just as those free retirement calculators available online may give you bad advice (click here to link to a recent article on our Blog about this problem), cookie-cutter “will kits” may leave you with a false sense of security. And picking an attorney at random from a website seems a bad method for making a decision that’s so important!

We also strongly suggest that merely writing a will is not enough. The process of putting your legal affairs in order is only one aspect of a fully-developed retirement plan, which we call a LifePlan. A LifePlan takes many facets of your future planning into account: legal affairs, financial security, medical care, housing choices and family communication. This is the kind of comprehensive plan that brings true security as you age. It’s also the kind of well-developed plan that you can never get from an online will kit!

Want to find out more? Here’s the best way: attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, held throughout the area. There’s absolutely no obligation – and we’re fully confident that you’ll come away armed with a fresh new approach to retirement. These free information-packed sessions fill up quickly, so visit the Upcoming Events tab on this website, select the seminar of your choice, and register online.

Making a will is important. But having a LifePlan in place will be of far greater benefit. If only Prince had known that, his family could have been spared even more grief and dissension.

(originally reported at www.reuters.com)

Caring for Elders While Holding a Job: the Prescription for Stress

A recent report on the blog of the AARP reports on a problem that will sound familiar to a growing number of Americans. Nearly 24 million workers are holding down paying jobs while at the same serving as family caregivers – and that combination is a sure prescription for stress, fatigue and uncertainty.

You can read the article by clicking here.

At a time when serving as a caregiver to an adult relative (especially an aging parent) is growing more and more complex, research suggests that employed caregivers also feel increasing stress at work, with less and less job security. These studies also show that parents caring for children at home have far more workplace flexibility than workers caring for older family members. Some caregivers even suggest they have experienced workplace discrimination, which according to an AARP research report from 2012, is not prohibited by most federal and state employment laws.

The AARP blog article cites a study entitled Caregiving in the United States 2015 which states that 60% of family caregivers are also employed, and that most of these “working caregivers” (nearly two-thirds) are caring for a relative 65 years old or older. What’s more telling is that half of these employed caregivers are themselves 50 years old or older – which means they are already experiencing the challenges of being an older worker in today’s high-stress, increasingly insecure workplace.

There are two chief take-aways from these articles. The first, in the words of the AARP blog: “As the U.S. population rapidly ages, the need to support workers with family caregiving responsibilities will grow.” In other words, legislation to give caregivers increased measures of employment security and, when necessary, paid time off are deserving of support.

The second point is more concerning: as the population ages, “we’re facing a caregiving cliff,” said Dr. Susan Reinhard, AARP Public Policy expert. “By mid-century, there will only be three caregivers available for each person requiring care.” As today’s baby boomers age, there may not be enough people able to care for them. “That means,” says AARP’s Reinhard, “we need to provide support for existing caregivers who are underserved” by current services. In other words, we had better be planning now for the caregiving needs of the not-too-distant future.

Planning for the future is the centerpiece of our activities here at AgingOptions, and that includes planning for your future care needs. By making all the necessary preparations, you can successfully avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones as you age, and also avoid being forced into unplanned institutional care. We’ll help you explore all your caregiving options and your living choices. We’ll also advise you on the best ways to communicate with your own family members to help them better understand your wishes as you age. What’s more, together we’ll explore ways to prudently set aside assets today that can help pay your caregiving expenses tomorrow.

It’s all part of a LifePlan – our name for a fully-developed, individualized retirement plan that takes all your needs into account. If you’re ready to start creating your own LifePlan, we can help. The best way to start is to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars – popular, information-packed sessions held in various locations throughout the area. Click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website for dates, and free online registration. It will be a pleasure working with you as together we plan your ideal future.

(originally reported at http://blog.aarp.org)

Many Families are Resolving Conflict through Elder Mediation

We’ve said it many times, in our printed materials and on the radio: few conflicts can become more contentious than family conflicts. Tragically, this is especially true when it comes to issues relating to elder care. We think that’s because, in conflicts over how to care for Mom or Dad (and how to divide the estate), the stakes are high, emotionally and financially. Long-smoldering rivalries and animosities can flare into full-fledged conflagrations, damaging family relationships for years – sometimes forever.

That’s why we were interested in this article on the website LongTermCareLink.net regarding Elder Mediation services. (Read the entire article here.) It describes several scenarios in which the services of a mediator can prove invaluable, either to avoid family conflict or to resolve it. Circumstances involving sale of the family home, distribution of assets, sharing of responsibilities for care and visitation, and decisions about medical treatment for an aging loved one are just a few of the “trigger points” for serious division between family members.

As the article puts it, “Issues like residence decisions, distribution of caregiving responsibilities, safety and health concerns, wills and estates, the sale of the family home, and more can divide a family for years to come.” It goes on to state that, at times when communication is particularly difficult, making decisions becomes impossible. “Families may need the help of a skilled mediator to get them ‘unstuck’ so they can move forward,” the article concludes.

When is it wise to seek the services of a mediator? We can answer in one word: early. The sooner a family sits down together to come up with carefully-planned and creative solutions to fit their unique needs and circumstances, the more likely they are to avoid litigation, which is not only financially costly but often devastating to family relationships. “The process of mediation allows families to develop creative solutions to challenges in a way that the courts cannot,” according to the article. That’s because courts lack the time or resources “to explore options that would reflect the best interests of the senior while avoiding protracted family conflict.”

We repeat what we have said many times – aging is a family affair. In our interaction with thousands of clients and radio listeners, we’ve emphasized the importance of involving your family in every aspect of your retirement planning. Of course, that’s just one element of what we call a LifePlan. Your plan should also include getting your legal and financial affairs in order, planning for your health care costs, and deciding what housing choices are best for you.

So to learn some constructive ways to involve your family in all your aging-related decisions, and to begin preparing your comprehensive retirement plan, we invite you to attend a free, information-packed LifePlanning Seminar. Click on the Upcoming Events tab to find out dates, times and locations of a seminar near you. Space for these popular events is limited, so we encourage you to register online at your earliest opportunity.

One final note: if you are in a situation where some form of elder mediation is appropriate, please contact our office. We would be pleased to meet with you and your family members to help you plan for the years ahead in a way that ensures that your needs are well met, and that the chances of family conflict are greatly reduced, and often eliminated entirely. It would be our privilege to serve you and your family in these important decisions.

(originally reported at www.longtermcarelink.net)

Casey Kasem Family Controversy Prompts Preventive Legislation

His case dominated the entertainment headlines in mid-2014. The legendary Casey Kasem, whose rock and roll radio career spanned nearly six decades, was dying – but a feud between his children and their step-mother over Kasem’s condition and whereabouts, and a complete ban on the children’s access to their dad, would spill over into the news for months.

The sad tale of family bickering dragged on week after week, growing uglier with each new revelation. It took repeated intervention by a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge to force Kasem’s wife to relent in the vicious feud. In spite of the star’s death in June 2014, the bitter legal wrangling continues to this day.

Now two years after the fact, two bills before the Washington State Legislature would if passed help protect the rights of ailing seniors and hopefully prevent the nasty acrimony triggered by the sad case of Casey Kasem. The two pieces of legislation, House Bills 2401 and 2402, are simple in their intent but far reaching in their scope. Both bills are co-sponsored by Washington State Representative Linda Kochmar (R-Federal Way). One helps ensure access to an incapacitated person by loved ones while the second requires full disclosure of all aspects of the person’s care and condition.

One of the controversies surrounding the last several months of Casey Kasem involved the absolute control over access to Kasem imposed by his second wife, Jean. As Kasem’s health worsened in late 2013, Jean Kasem prevented any contact with her husband, particularly by the three adult children from his first marriage. This refusal on Jean Kasem’s part sparked demonstrations, headlines and an eventual court ruling.

In response, the first proposed law here in Washington, HB 2401, would establish a procedure to safeguard the rights of adults, ensuring that they are able to enjoy visitation from relatives and others. This would apply particularly in instances such as Kasem’s where such visits are both desirable and beneficial but are being prevented. Under HB 2401, a spouse like Jean Kasem would not have been able to keep her step-children away from their father.

The second dramatic issue that surfaced in the Casey Kasem situation involved the ailing celebrity’s condition and whereabouts. In May 2014 Jean Kasem removed her husband from a nursing home in Santa Monica, California, and told the family Kasem had been taken outside the U.S. He was later found in a nursing facility right here in Western Washington, in Gig Harbor.

Partly in response to this bizarre situation, with Kasem’s wife refusing to divulge the status of her husband, the second proposed law co-sponsored by Rep. Kochmar, HB 2402, requires transparency. Along with a long list of mandates to ensure that an incapacitated person is being adequately cared for, his or her a guardian is required to inform other relatives “as soon as reasonably possible” if the loved one is hospitalized for three days or more in an acute care facility, or if he or she dies. In case of death, the guardian must inform relatives of all funeral arrangements, something Kasem’s wife also refused to do. Instead, she had the body flown out of the country for eventual internment in Norway.

Here at Aging Options we always emphasize the importance to our clients of open, honest, constructive communication between retirees and their families. In order to minimize the likelihood of conflict and misunderstanding, it’s highly desirable that you let your adult children know your plans, dreams and wishes as you age. Sadly, however, such openness cannot guarantee that your family will escape deep disagreement. For that reason we strongly support the passage of HB 2401 and HB 2402, and we commend Rep. Kochmar and her fellow co-sponsors for their efforts to safeguard the well-being of vulnerable seniors.

There is much more to effective retirement planning than good open communication. You’ll want to get your financial plan settled and your legal affairs in order. Your plan should also include a detailed exploration of your housing options and an examination of your health care needs. It’s all part of what we call a LifePlan – and you can begin laying the groundwork for yours by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, coming to your neighborhood soon. For dates, times and registration, click on our Upcoming Events tab. We’ll look forward to meeting you.

(To find out more about the proposed laws described above, click here for HB 2401 and here for HB 2402.)

Avoid Casey Kasem’s Tragic Fate With Proper Planning, Open Discussion

The death of “America’s DJ” Casey Kasem in 2014 may seem like old news. But the issues raised by the tawdry controversy surrounding Kasem’s passing from side effects of debilitating dementia still reverberate. As we tell our clients frequently, and explain to our radio listeners, the death of Casey Kasem carries lessons for all of us.

Kasem’s 2014 death in Gig Harbor, Washington, came after months of legal wrangling over who had the right to make health care decisions for the famous radio star. While his sad tale was played out publicly in the newspapers and tabloids, the lessons from this family saga apply to everyone. According to an article written at the time on the blog of AARP, there are at least four take-aways from Kasem’s death for each of us. (Click here to read the AARP article.) Taking action now in these important areas can significantly reduce the likelihood of your loved ones arguing over your care – a burden you don’t want them to bear.

First, have an attorney prepare a health care directive. In Casey Kasem’s situation, his precise wishes were unclear, and so were his intentions about who had the power to make medical decisions for him. The result was an unseemly public dispute with Kasem in the middle.

Second, discuss your wishes in advance with all your loved ones. Every member of your family, as well as your doctor, lawyer and health care agent, needs to know your desires, so there can be no disagreement.

Third, fully answer all your attorney’s questions. When executing important end-of-life documents, your attorney will need to establish your mental competence beyond dispute – an important consideration should your loved ones ever challenge your wishes, as occurred with Casey Kasem.

Finally, decide in advance who you want among your friends and family to have visitation rights should you become ill and incapacitated. In Kasem’s case his wife refused to allow his own children to visit when Kasem’s health was failing. No one wants this kind of argument and dispute among family members!

Of course, there is much more to end of life planning than these four points. We urge you to make a Life Plan now to ensure that you have prepared for every reasonable eventuality. As a starting place, we invite you to come to one of our free Life Planning Seminars to get an overview of elements your plan should include. Click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website for dates, times and locations.

We also welcome the opportunity to meet with you in person. Simply contact our office for an appointment.

(Originally reported at www.blog.aarp.org)

When Assigning POA, Choose Carefully and Communicate Openly!

Sometimes we run across helpful articles that do a good job of stating a problem, without providing much of a solution. Such is the case with this recent article we found on the website www.AgingCare.com. It’s entitled “Family Feuds over Power of Attorney,” and it warns seniors of a problem we have repeatedly emphasized with our clients: the decision of who has the power to take legal action on your behalf, if not handled appropriately, can negatively impact your family for years, even decades to come.

Fortunately here at Aging Options we do have a solution to the problem posed by this timely article. But first let’s briefly explore the question, “Why can choosing someone as your Power of Attorney (POA) cause such conflict?”

The Aging Care article is written by elder care writer Lori Johnston. She states that sometimes the decision to appoint one of your adult children as your POA seems obvious to you. One son or daughter may be the oldest, the most responsible, or the one who lives closest to you. But even this choice that appears simple and straightforward to you can cause backlash. As Johnston writes, “[Even] if the appointment of POA is smooth and didn’t involve much gnashing of teeth, that doesn’t mean bickering won’t begin once the person granted POA assumes duties related to parents’ financial and medical decisions. Many times, the challenge to the POA happens after the parent passes away.”

We know of one particular case where the child granted Power of Attorney privileges for an aging woman was not her oldest but her youngest, because he and his wife lived closer and were already involved in her affairs. For this family the POA appointment did not cause strife – but for many it can. Why is this issue so contentious? The Aging Care article lists three emotional minefields that can trigger sibling strife when it comes to making decisions for Mom or Dad.

The first is sibling rivalry. Here the tensions and disagreements that have always existed between family members erupt into outright conflict based on mutual mistrust. Johnston writes that “Ongoing sibling rivalry can chip away at the ‘power’ that someone granted Power of Attorney holds” and lead to arguments over every decision, even simple ones.

A second source of friction, especially in the area of end of life decisions, is the inability of the POA designee to let go. The article cites a case in which a mother had a living will explicitly directing her children to follow her end-of-life wishes. The sibling with Power of Attorney refused to comply. A bedside hearing resulted in which the decision of the sibling with POA authority was overruled and the mother was allowed to pass away peacefully, just as she had desired.

A final scenario in which the potential for conflict is ripe involves family feuds over finances. Often the sibling with POA authority may decide to pay himself or herself back out of the inheritance for extra expenses they may have incurred in caring for Mom or Dad – buying food, paying for medicines, taking their parent to doctor’s appointments, even time spent going over a parent’s affairs. Where siblings mistrust one another, a sense of entitlement can lead to accusations of unfairness; sometimes lawsuits erupt, severing family ties forever.

So what’s our answer to this potential minefield of conflict? When we work with our clients we always emphasize clear, open, honest communication among family members. We have conducted hundreds of meetings in our office in which parents and their adult offspring gather to review Mom and Dad’s retirement plan, which we call a LifePlan. This includes legal issues such as Powers of Attorney. It also encompasses health care wishes, financial plans, and housing preferences. In our experience, the earlier and more openly you involve your adult children in every aspect of your LifePlan, explaining your decisions clearly, the less likely that conflict, misunderstanding and accusations of unfairness will result.

We cover family dynamics and many other aspects of creating a LifePlan at our free LifePlanning Seminars. Why not plan to attend one soon? Click on the Upcoming Events tab on this website for all the details. We hope to meet you in the near future at one of these highly enjoyable, information-packed events.

(originally reported at www.agingcare.com)

 

Five Ways to Keep Your Kids from Fighting Over Your Will

You’ve heard about it and read about it. Maybe you’ve experienced it firsthand. It’s the terrible pain and the damaged relationships that can occur when adult siblings go to war over Mom or Dad’s estate.

Like you, we’ve heard of cases where siblings who got along fine when the parents were living gradually become litigious adversaries after the folks are gone. Often these cases end up in court, with brother suing sister. It’s not unusual to see once-solid relationships damaged beyond repair, to the point where siblings or their spouses end up never speaking to one another again.

Such an adversarial outcome is probably your worst nightmare. But according to a recent article we found on the website NextAvenue, this awful scenario is preventable. The article (click here to read it) lists five simple ways to prevent World War III in your family after you are gone. These suggestions are the very things we have advocated to thousands of our clients, and it’s satisfying to see our recommendations confirmed by other experts in the field of retirement planning.

As the article’s author, legal expert Patrick O’Brien puts it, “Squabbling among grown kids surrounding the death of parent is all too common because their mothers and fathers fail to take basic steps to minimize the upheaval.” And when you factor in the sense of entitlement that comes when one of the siblings or spouses has acted as Mom or Dad’s primary caregiver, the potential for family feuds is multiplied exponentially. Here is a quick summary of O’Brien’s five suggestions.

The first is one to which we give a hearty “Amen”: Communicate early and often. By talking openly with your kids about your wishes and getting their hopes and expectations out in the open, you can avoid a great deal of contention later. This doesn’t take the place of a well-executed will, of course, but it’s an important start.

Second, get input from your children. They may place a great deal of value on something you think is unimportant, or vice versa – a vase that belonged to Grandma or another keepsake they treasured as a child. You don’t have to base your final decision on their wishes, but it’s good to take them into account.

Third, be fair. This may involve something as unsentimental as getting important valuables appraised. And fairness is often in the eye of the beholder. But by discussing things openly and explaining your rationale clearly, your desire to treat your kids fairly will go a long way toward minimizing fights and squabbles later.

The fourth suggestion is to be detailed about your plans. As the article’s author contends, it’s not a good idea to assume that “your kids will figure it out after you’re gone.” Also, your clarity will mean your children won’t blame each other if they don’t get everything they wanted from your estate.

The final suggestion is also a good one: write a letter to your children explaining in personal and loving terms that you tried to be fair and equitable. This isn’t the document where you detail who gets what – that belongs in your will – but it may help defuse any lingering disappointment and help your kids move past their emotions.

Involving your family in your retirement planning is one of our pillars here at Aging Options. To find out how to do this, and also how to care for all the aspects of your retirement planning – housing, health, finances and legal affairs – come to one of our LifePlanning Seminars. These valuable sessions are free and are held in locations throughout the area. Click on the Upcoming Events tab for dates, times and online registration, or contact our office for further information. We’ll look forward to meeting you and helping you chart a course for a secure and well-planned retirement.

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)

Category Archives: Legal

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