Few people are comfortable discussing illness, disability or death. However, failure to plan ahead can often compound the problem, leaving loved ones with an unnecessary uphill legal battle, which can be avoided with proper planning, according to two Elder Law experts, who spoke at the Second Annual ElderAge Houston Lecture Series.
Planning ahead is not fun to talk about, but it is essential. ΓÇ£People think ‘if I have a will then that means I am going to die’,ΓÇ¥ Christina Lesher, Elder Law attorney and AlzheimerΓÇÖs Association, Houston & Southeast Texas Association board member said. ΓÇ£Well, I hate to tell you, even if you donΓÇÖt have a will, guess what, you are going to die.
ΓÇ£Think about a will as a sort of insurance policy,ΓÇ¥ she said.
Despite the topicΓÇÖs less than appealing content, constructing a will — through the help of legal counsel ΓÇô along with coordinating non-probate assets, should be top priority for anyone concerned about the transfer of those assets upon their death. It is important to ensure a person does not die intestate (without a will), according to Elder law attorney and lecture series co-speaker, Wesley E. Wright.
ΓÇ£If you die intestate, then your estate will end up having to go through intestate-successive proceedings and your family will have to prove the rightful heirs,ΓÇ¥ he told a crowd of more than 300 guests. ΓÇ£It is a much more costly proceeding than had you made your wishes clearly known through a last will and testament.ΓÇ¥
On top of creating a will, Lesher and Wright both advise their clients to have the proper ancillary documents in order. These five essential documents — a durable power of attorney; a medical power of attorney; a directive to physicians; a declaration of guardians and a HIPPA authority ΓÇô can guide loved ones through what can often be a complicated decision process.
With the average cost of assisted living in Harris County topping $5,000 and funeral expenses soaring, long-term care insurance and early funeral plans should also be at the forefront of a personΓÇÖs mind when in the throes of estate planning, the experts said.
ΓÇ£Long term care insurance is a great way to give your family the tools to pay for care at home or pay for a nursing home,ΓÇ¥ Lesher said. ΓÇ£Another tool you will want to consider is the purchase of a pre-need funeral contract. Think about it as a gift to the people that you love because it prepays for your funeral. It removes the burden of the decisions that family members have to make during their time of grief.ΓÇ¥
Regardless of the arrangements made, open communication is critical to the estate planning process. ΓÇ£Having a conversation and communication early is essential,ΓÇ¥ Lesher said. ΓÇ£It can help avoid the uncomfortable discussions family members may have during their time of grief.ΓÇ¥