Guest Blogger: Ann K.T. Warner, Warner Law Firm, LLC
Deciding to move to a senior care facility is a big decision. Whether you’re considering independent living, assisted living, or memory care, there are innumerable factors to consider when weighing your decision. When considering transitioning to senior care, it is critical to ensure your affairs are in order. This includes collecting or completing important paperwork, making important decisions about your finances and healthcare, and ensuring those decisions are documented legally and communicated to your family and caregivers.
There are three crucial documents to have in place as you decide to transition to senior care. These are power of attorney, an estate plan, and a living will.
Families should begin by having conversations about their plans. Although this may be an uncomfortable topic for both parents and children to bring up, it often ends up being avoided until it is too late. Starting these conversations early can prevent confusion and strife later.
Your family discussions should not only include information about finances and assets but also cover health care and end-of-life preferences. It is important for seniors to clearly communicate and document their wishes and preferences to ensure these desires are carried out.
A power of attorney is a legal authorization granted from one person, called the Principal, to a designated person or persons, called the Agent or Agents, that empowers the Agent to act on behalf of the Principal legally. This is a living document – meaning that it is ONLY in force during the person’s life, and it terminates at his or her death.
The Agent is granted authority to make decisions for the other regarding things such as property, finances, investments, or medical care. I advise clients that the threshold document that everyone needs is a power of attorney. Without that, no one can act on behalf of a person, including their spouse.
There are two primary types of power of attorney (“POA”): financial and health care.
A typical financial POA, also called a durable power of attorney, goes into effect immediately upon signing. Whereas, a healthcare power of attorney generally only goes into effect if an individual is unable to make critical healthcare decisions for themselves. Both of these POAs are vital to have in place, and more importantly, communication around these sensitive issues can prevent confusion, anger, and guilt in the future.
Establishing a power of attorney when an individual can make sound decisions helps establish important legal guidelines from which the Agent can make decisions in accordance with the Principal’s wishes.
An estate plan is a legal plan that provides clear direction concerning the division and disbursement of a person’s assets. After a power of attorney, estate plan documents are the most important planning tools to ensure your wishes concerning your assets are carried out in the manner you intend. An estate plan can be a Last Will and Testament or a Trust. Which one you choose largely depends on your individual situation, including the size of your family, types of assets, and legacy goals. Various planning tools may help avoid the probate of assets after your death.
A living will is an advanced legal directive outlining an individual’s preferences for end-of-life medical care. It provides directives to help guide doctors, caregivers, and family in the case of illness or end-of-life decisions. Having a living will in place provides peace of mind for seniors, knowing that their healthcare wishes are clearly communicated and will be legally protected.
These are the three main documents seniors should have in place as they begin to make decisions about transitioning to senior care to ensure their financial and healthcare decisions are honored.
Other documents to collect include:
Discussions about finances, asset distribution, moving into senior care, healthcare, and end-of-life decisions can be uncomfortable. However, it is important to have these discussions early and often. Being prepared can make a huge difference, both while you are living and after you have passed on. Having the proper legal documents, such as power of attorney, an estate plan, and a living will, can help you avoid drawn-out probate proceedings and familial strife.
Ann Warner has been practicing law for nearly 20 years and is licensed in Ohio and Kentucky. She specializes in elder law, estate planning, and special needs planning.