Why Your Estate Planning May Fall Short

For a lot of people, an estate plan begins and ends with the signing of a last will and testament. The best thing about a basic will is it requires you to at least think about who would get what when you die. That said, it is a place to start, not a plan.

Estate planning is more than writing a will. It is the process of:
• Determining what you own
• Determining what you want to happen to that property in the event of your incapacity or at death
• Implementing that plan through legal documents and other asset transfer techniques

Estate planning is difficult. You will have to discuss uncomfortable scenarios in which you are no longer in control of your assets. Most people spend their lifetime growing and guarding their wealth. Understandably, we have a deep personal commitment to its preservation. We may not admit it, but our sense of security is tied, in many ways, to the access and control of our assets.

Estate planning can also be stressful because it is complex. Creating and implementing a good estate plan should include at least three professionals: your financial advisor, your accountant, and an attorney who focuses his or her practice in this area. You should consider bringing together the key players you expect to be involved in your plan. This will ensure everyone is on the same page and prepared for his or her role, as needed, in the future.

If you don’t plan for the time between retirement and death, the assets you have accumulated over your life may not be there for your heirs. Most people don’t know about long-term care services, supports, and the ways in which they will be paid. Planning for these potential needs can prevent unnecessary loss of wealth and alleviate future family stress. And by asking the right questions, experienced advisors can help clients make decisions and design the life they want to live as they age.

This is an excerpt from Laurie Menzies’s book, “Embracing Elderhood: Planning for the Next Stage of Life.”

Click here for more information on how Laurie can help you or someone you love prepare for aging issues.

Embracing Longer Life with Love and Planning

Advances in healthcare and personal wellness have prolonged the life expectancy of our generation beyond all those preceding us. The majority knows that we should plan for retirement and for what should happen when we die. Frighteningly few, however, are prepared for the “longevity bonus” we will experience. We get more years on earth, but we won’t live them the same way we do today.

The years we spend in our 80s and 90s can either be something we look forward to or something we will “endure.” Simply put, the life you experience will be the one you plan for. If you think it will be good, you can plan for it and make it a great time of life. In contrast, if you dread what the future holds and fail to plan, odds are you will not enjoy “elderhood.”

Having just walked my husband through a serious illness and recovery, I know what a gift it will be to live a long life. I pray that I don’t treat being old like anything other than the precious treasure it is. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to enjoy the experience of each stage of life, including the one with wrinkles.

Perhaps as we find a way to embrace this new part of our journey, we will make having a long life a great experience. Selfishly, I am working to improve the pathway before I get there. If everyone involved with the long-term care system puts enough love and effort into it, I know there can be a different outcome. My heart breaks every time I pass a lonely face lined up against the wall in a nursing facility. How did they arrive at this point? We do not have to accept this as our inevitable fate.

If the current system wasn’t so expensive, complicated, and impersonal, we might not have to plan. However, at this point, we are forced to make sure our own situation is well managed in order to succeed. Failing to plan now forces our children or [worse yet] the long-term care system to make decisions for us.

Through planning, we can eliminate many of the fears that surround our shared future. I can help change the way we embrace and experience our old age. Working together, we can create an elderhood that looks like something each of us will happily embrace in our own, unique way.

This is a paraphrased excerpt from Laurie Menzies’s book, “Embracing Elderhood: Planning for the Next Stage of Life.” Click here to read more about how Laurie can help you or someone you love prepare for aging issues.

Facing a Crisis or a Slow Decline in Elderhood: Either Way, Planning Can Make a Difference

As an elder law and estate-planning attorney, I typically see two types of families: those facing an immediate crisis and those observing the gradual decline of a loved one. In both situations, feelings of concern and making decisions regarding the appropriate level of care can be overwhelming, as can the financial and legal implications that accompany these issues. Crisis often accompanies an unexpected health event or illness that requires an immediate change in the level of care. I’ve seen families scramble to determine the financial situation of their loved ones, what legal documents are in place, and how they can arrange for care. It is during these stressful periods that families wish they could go back in time to make more careful plans. When families see a gradual decline in a loved one, they typically do not see an immediate need to address it. It’s easy to put off any significant planning, especially if people don’t quite know what to do.

As time goes by, it can become more difficult to plan for aging in a way that a loved one might prefer. That’s why my advice to all families is to take the time as early as possible during times of health to create a longevity plan.

As our life expectancy increases from that of previous generations, it raises important questions about how we want to spend our “bonus years.” Humans are living as many as 10, 20, and even 30 years longer than they used to, so planning beyond immediate retirement makes it possible to live the life you envision for yourselves and your loved ones up to the very end.

A longevity plan is not a retirement plan. It goes well beyond ensuring that you have a last will and testament. While longevity planning considers finances and legal documents, it also addresses the importance of understanding available options and costs of long-term care, protecting your assets and family dynamics.

Learn more about longevity planning and how it can help you prepare for a secure future.

Holiday Check-in

Holiday family gatherings are not just good for catching up; they are an ideal time to check up on your older loved ones’ status and needs. Certain clues can reveal a decline in abilities and a potential need for more help. Below are some red flags to look out for:

Physical Appearance and Household Cleanliness: Changes in physical appearance can be a red flag as to the health of a loved one. Weight loss, unopened medicine, and poor hygiene are just a few of the things to watch out for. The cleanliness of the home environment is also important to note. For example, excessive clutter, expired food, and piles of unopened mail can be signals that your loved one needs assistance.

Mobility: Changes in mobility are common with aging adults, but some signs of lessened movement are more concerning than others. Are there signs of physical pain or evidence your loved one is unsteady on their feet? Do they hold on to furniture or other household objects while walking? Can they navigate stairs safely? Updates to your loved one’s living environment may need to be made in order to keep them safe at home.

Mental Health: While it may be hard to gauge a person’s emotional well-being over the phone, you can do so with face-to-face communication. Note if your loved one seems withdrawn, has lost interest in activities he or she usually enjoys or if there are any significant changes in sleep patterns. Sudden outbursts, uncharacteristic anger or lashing out is also a cause for concern. These behaviors could be indicators of depression, contraindicated medications, declining mental function, or physical ailments requiring a physician’s attention.

Dangers: When visiting with older loved ones, take note of environmental dangers. For example, are there tripping hazards, such as throw rugs, electrical cords, uneven pavement on sidewalks or driveways that could cause a fall? If the individual is still driving, inspect the car for evidence of any minor accidents or incidents.

What do I do now? Any of these changes mean that it is time to start the conversation about long-term care wishes and plans. Make sure your loved one has a Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy and Living Will so that you have the legal authority to help as well as the ability to get information about finances and health care.

Download our guide: Signs a Senior Needs Help at Home here.

The Five Essential Elements of a Longevity Plan

Devising a longevity plan is critical if you want to enjoy the last part of your life.

Give yourself the gift of finally enjoying the fruits of a life well-lived. With planning, you can create a future you will look forward to. A longevity plan removes the fear of leaving your loved ones with the burden of selecting and paying for your long-term care.

I can help you, wherever you are along the way. Here is some basic information to get started. Having a sound longevity plan means you and your advisor have considered the following five elements:

  1. The state of your finances and whether some of your assets can be protected
  2. Available programs and government benefits, as well as how to set up your assets to maximize those benefits
  3. Having legal documents in place, including a will, health care proxy, and power of attorney to ensure that someone you trust can make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.
  4. How and where you want to live if you can no longer drive or need constant care
  5. Identifying family or friends who will be able to help you navigate these life changes

While none of us look forward to facing these difficult issues for ourselves or our loved ones, planning early and comprehensively can give you and your family peace of mind. Learn more.

Five Reasons You Need a Longevity Plan

Most of us know the importance of saving for retirement. Furthermore, good estate planning can ensure that assets are transferred correctly at death. However, many fail to plan for the “bonus years” — typically between the ages of 80 and 95 — when our bodies begin to slow down and questions begin to arise such as: “Who will care for me?” “Where will I live?” and “How will it be paid for?”

After working with hundreds of families as they navigate a fragmented, confusing, long-term care system, I can offer five good reasons to create a longevity plan:

1. If you live long enough, you will probably need some help. Increased life expectancy means that many of us will experience being “very old” (older than 85). This population has the highest risk of needing care. The need for eldercare can completely change your lifestyle and finances and throw your family into a crisis. While we plan for our healthy retirement years, we don’t always consider the need to plan for the time when health issues may arise, and we are less able to care for ourselves. Decisions may have to be made regarding your finances and living situation. Without advance planning, someone else may decide where you will live and how much of your money will be spent.

By creating a longevity plan, you can advise your family of your preferences regarding your care, where you will live, and how it should be paid for.

2. Your Will probably gives you a false sense of security. Think about it. Your Will is only effective after you die. For many people, a last will and testament is the only “plan” they have made. A will does not address long-term care, finances, or legal matters while you are still alive. You may have other legal and financial documents that have not been coordinated with your Will. If a Will is the only legal document you have completed, you have left the years before your death to fate, fortune, or someone else’s decisions. Furthermore, a Will does not save your family from probate after you die—it guarantees it! With proper planning to distribute your assets through beneficiary designations, trusts, or other tools, your family can avoid a lengthy and expensive process after you are gone.

longevity plan helps you protect, use, or transfer your assets according to your wishes.

3. You have worked hard for your money. If you need long-term care, most expenses will NOT be covered by Medicare or your private insurance, and you may have to deplete your savings. Most often, the only alternative to private pay or long-term care insurance is the Medicaid system. Medicaid requires that you spend your assets down to what the government determines you should be “allowed” to keep.

By getting your financial and legal affairs in order before you need care, you can ensure that a significant amount of your hard-earned savings will still be there for your children after you are gone. Why spend all your life savings if there is a better way? There are government home care programs that you can qualify for without having to spend all of your money first. Because there is currently no five-year “look-back” to qualify for home care, many clients can qualify by moving money into a trust, even if care may be needed immediately or within a short period of time.

A longevity planner will know about programs and services that may be available to you and your family and offer alternatives and techniques to preserve your money.

4. Because your family may not be perfect. Maybe your children don’t live near you. Maybe they don’t get along. Maybe you don’t want to ask them for help. Do you have anything in place should you need assistance with transportation, meals, or household chores? Even if your children live nearby, they may not have the time or knowledge to help you. Or worse, each of your children thinks they know exactly what you should do, and they argue over what should “happen” to mom or dad and how your money should be spent.

A longevity plan developed by a neutral third-party can help your family navigate some of the more difficult and emotional issues with practical advice and a new perspective — relieving stress, reducing conflict, and saving you time and money.

5. Don’t end a good life by default. Do you really want someone else to determine the end of your life story? As much as our loved ones care for us and want to do the right thing, they cannot possibly know what we want if they are not told. Unfortunately, most of us spend more time planning for a vacation than we do about how our life will unfold should we need assistance.

Wouldn’t you like to know if you will be able to afford these potential expenses and still leave something for your spouse and children? Don’t you want to know if you are eligible for government programs that help defray some or all of the cost? We should enjoy our long life with gratitude. Why not look forward to these extra years by having a plan in place instead of leaving it up to chance?

You are the only one who can write the ending you want for your story and you deserve to give yourself and your family that lasting gift. You are worth it.

Learn more about longevity planning and how it can help you to live out your life in peace and security. You can also call me to schedule a consultation at 716.204.1055.

Longevity Planning: A Way to Love Being Older

What is Longevity Planning and why is it important now? Compared to our relatives who died only a generation ago, we can expect to experience a “longevity bonus” of 20 to 30 years. That is, we will live a lot longer than most of us plan for.

At 54, I am just starting to feel a bit wiser and more liberated. I don’t want to dread getting older.

Now is the time for us to take the stage and create a new experience by redefining what aging will be like for our generation.  It is my passionate belief that, by planning sooner, we can look forward to these extra years and improve our chances of enjoying them.

With more time to experience after we retire, longevity planning can help us focus on making those years great! Too often, both individuals and families leave what happens to chance. There is no other way to state it: Planning by default is a terrible idea.

I have been a practicing Elder Law attorney for twenty years. Sadly, I have to report that our current systems for health care, legal services, financial planning, and social support all operate in separate silos. Even if we have put the parts of our plan in place, no one knows our entire story.

There is a better way: Longevity Planning.

For example, you probably have a Will and, hopefully, a Power of Attorney. But did your lawyer review your finances with your current financial advisor or the person you named to handle these important matters?

Does anyone know how you would like to spend your assets if you require long-term care? If you are fortunate enough to have children living in the area, who will have the time or ability to help you stay in your home? Many people end up in nursing homes simply because their families don’t know what else is available.

Longevity planning helps you to envision a comprehensive picture of how you want your life to unfold. Take charge before a crisis and create your own “longevity plan” with a trusted advisor!

As boomers, we have always lived differently. We redefined an entire generation. Let’s do it again by creating better plans for our final act!

Going Out Like We Come In

I have been thinking that for people who live into their 80s and 90s, there are many similarities between the first few years of life and the last few they will experience on Earth.

These two periods seem to be our “transitional times.” The first is when we come into our physical form. The second is the preparation for leaving that earthly form. When we arrive, we are unaware of our need to be cared for. We have not yet learned to fear that the care will not be there. In other words, ignorance is bliss. We cry and expect that someone will respond and meet our needs. As a society, we take it for granted that babies need to be cared for and swiftly punish adults who do not give children proper attention.

In contrast, as circumstances arise that begin to reveal our need to depart this earthly life, we may be afraid. The blissful ignorance is long gone. We fear that we will need to rely on the help of others as our body declines. And by now, we have experienced the pain of loneliness and unmet needs at the hands of our fellow man. We can no longer assume that our cries will be heard. Therefore, we live in fear of the time that we will need help and it will not come.

After spending a lifetime making sure our own needs are met, who wants to leave it up to someone else to make sure we are fed and cared for?

It is imperative that we treat our responsibility to care for the elderly as a sacred trust we owe to each other. Our individual futures depend on it.

Find Your Golden Buddha

What is more important: having money left over when you die, or knowing that your life meant something?

I meet with people every day to discuss their money and how to best preserve their assets. Many of us spend our careers focusing on people’s money. Most people do not have a plan to use all of their money during their lives. Many die with a lot left over.

My question is whether or not the time and effort spent on the pursuit and preservation of money will have been worth it at the end of our lives. Society tells us to value money, so we think it will have meaning at the end.

The question can be asked: How much time do we spend on activities that will not satisfy us in the end? Perhaps we are going to the apple orchard to satisfy our hunger for an orange.

What do my clients say they regret most at the end of their lives?

They regret not having lived for themselves.

They regret not doing the things that were in their heart.

The regret not singing their own song. That may be where their true wealth exists. But it won’t show up on their monthly statement.

Do you know about the “Golden Buddha”?

The Golden Buddha was covered with layers of “stuff,” so no one could see that he was made of gold. I don’t know if he even remembered that he was gold underneath, because no one recognized him.

We are all Golden Buddhas.

Our gold is inside, but we spend our lives pretending that we are all of the things we have covered ourselves with: our money, our career, our youthful bodies.

At the end of our lives, perhaps for the first time, the “stuff” we have covered ourselves with may be taken away. First, we are no longer defined by our occupation. Then, we may no longer be a husband or a wife. Our body may be failing.

Why wait until the end of our lives to realize that our real wealth is inside?

When I think about looking back at my life,

When I can no longer change the way it turned out,

I don’t want to ask for a do-over, because I was searching for a fool’s gold all along.

Why I Don’t Hope to Die at 75

Let’s have the debate.

Recently, I saw this image and found that it rang true in my heart.

Then I read an article by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in The Atlantic, “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” It left me speechless. While I don’t want to give the content additional acknowledgement, I also don’t want to give an unfair and oversimplified summation of the article, so you can read it for yourself by clicking here.

According to the author, living too long is a loss. “It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, (and) the world.” He writes, “We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” His antiseptic analysis concludes that a deadline of 75 would force each of us to ask “whether our consumption is worth our contribution.”

His contentions wouldn’t bother me so much if he weren’t the director of bioethics at the National Institutes of Health. His ethics contribute to our national debate.

Who gets to decide what constitutes the contribution of a life? And what kind of heart remembers those who die later in life as ineffectual or pathetic?

My parents will never know how much they contributed to my capacity for love by allowing me to care for them in their last years. In my opinion, we deny ourselves our greatest lessons by trying to avoid the parts of life that are difficult. This is when we learn to love each other best. And I believe that is a contribution our society sorely needs.

Who will speak up for the sweetest parts of what it means to be human? I will. I fear for a world led by people who think without feeling. That is the only excuse I can offer for the views of elderhood offered by Dr. Emanuel. He thinks a lot.

In my practice as an elder law attorney, I meet with families every day who are struggling to manage the myriad details related to the aging of their loved ones. I have yet to meet a family who would rather not have their loved one to care for.

Ironically, or maybe it’s perfect timing, I have just published my new book “Embracing Elderhood: Planning for the Next Stage of Life.” It is a practical guidebook written by this grateful daughter who has just walked her parents through the end of their lives. It includes a lot of things families don’t even know they need to know about planning for aging relatives.

The book began as a guide to help families (like mine) who need to know how to arrange the practical aspects of aging like finance and legal documents, and the potential need to access care services. However, as I wrote the book, I found that the most important parts about my walk with my own parents had nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of their living into old age. I had to write about the emotional and spiritual growth that I experienced as I helped them. That is only one of many contributions my parents made by staying with me into their nineties and letting me love them, no matter how pathetic others may find that gift.

I think I’ll invite Dr. Emanuel to the book launch party!