Articles Posted in Planning for Incapacity

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What is estate planning, really? I know that most lawyers focus on reducing taxes, or the creation of documents, but when you get down to it, what you’re really doing when you make an estate plan is giving everything away, right?

So, to me, understanding the practice of generosity and what gets in the way of being generous are central to effective estate planning, and who better to explore that territory than my guest for episode 3 of Life/Death/Law: Myoshin Kelley, an eloquent teacher on the key Buddhist teachings on the wisdom of opening the heart. Myoshin is a Senior Instructor with the Tergar Community, which supports the worldwide vision of Tibetan master meditation teacher and author Mingyur Rinpoche, www.tergar.org, and it is an honor to have her on the podcast.

If you’ve ever been curious about the practice of generosity or the value of it, or found yourself wanting to be generous but somehow holding yourself back, and wondered what was getting in your way, please listen.

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I’m thrilled to share Episode 2 of my podcast: Life/Death/Law, Dealing with Dementia.

It’s almost Christmas, so, in the holiday spirit, I’m taking a look at a difficult, Home-For-The-Holidays moment — you get home and realize that your parents just seem…. a little bit different, just not the same as they used to be–more forgetful, more agitated, or suddenly involved with people that you don’t know or trust.

Join me for a candid discussion with Dr. Elizabeth Landsverk, a board-certified physician in Internal medicine, Geriatric medicine, and Palliative care medicine. She’s also the founder of ElderConsult Geriatric Medicine, a practice that offers house-call based medicine to seniors and their families.

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Welcome to my new podcast, Life Death Law, where I explore the intersection of life, death, law (and love)–otherwise known as estate planning.

In this first episode Emily Bouchard, a family dynamics and money coach and the managing partner at Wealth Legacy Group, talks to me about money and the difficulties that families often have in engaging in honest conversations about it. Emily offers  fascinating insights into why money can be such a hard thing to talk about, and tips for helping to get these conversations started. I asked her to be on my show because, so often, a long, uncomfortable silence falls across the room when my clients begin to sort out who owns what in a marriage, or how parents want their children to treat an inheritance.  As Emily points out, avoiding open and honest communications about money (like avoiding the same kinds of conversations about death and illness) means a missed opportunity for learning about ourselves, our families, and our most closely held values and hopes. I hope you enjoy it.

To read more: Emily is the co-author, with Emily Chase Smith, of Beginner’s Guide to Purposeful Prenups and the author of Estate Planning for the Blended Family.

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loneliness-2308923_640-300x200A few months ago, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Single? No Children? No Will? Big Mistake.” I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since. The author writes, “Certain people never reach one of those obvious points in their lives to write one. If you are unmarried in middle age, do not have children and have never had a devastating disease or brush with death, making plans for what happens to your stuff if you’re not around may not feel pressing.”

The author is so right. I have met many people who somehow feel that, because they don’t have children, they don’t need an estate plan. But here’s the thing — people without children may have even MORE need to make a plan that those with kids.

For one thing, all of us, at some point, are going to get sick or otherwise incapacitated, and need someone to act on our behalf — to pay bills, maintain our homes, or make medical decisions. Estate planning is not just about transferring assets when you die, it is also about planning for incapacity. And everyone needs to do that.

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shutterstock_265887227In October, California became one of five states to permit medical aid in dying with the passage of the End of Life Option Act. The bill is modeled after one passed in Oregon in 1997.

Governor Brown signed the bill, with a signing statement that said, in part, “I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

The bill allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients who are expected to live six months or less. A patient must make two oral requests, at least 15 days apart, and one written request, signed in front of two witnesses. The signer must have the capacity to understand what they are requesting, the request must be voluntary, and a physician has to discuss feasible alternatives that would also be available to the patient.

In addition, a patient must self-administer the drug (in other words, no one else can administer the drug) and no one can request such drugs on another’s behalf (in other words, no one can act for a patient to make such a request through a power of attorney, an advance health care directive, or as a conservator, health care agent, surrogate, or any other legally recognized health care decisionmaker.) A patient can rescind such a request at any time.

The bill provides a form for the request for lethal drugs that reads in part:

REQUEST FOR AN AID-IN-DYING DRUG TO END MY LIFE IN A HUMANE AND DIGNIFIED MANNER I, ………………………………………………, am an adult of sound mind and a resident of the State of California.
I am suffering from ……………., which my attending physician has determined is in its terminal phase and which has been medically confirmed.
I have been fully informed of my diagnosis and prognosis, the nature of the aid-in-dying drug to be prescribed and potential associated risks, the expected result, and the feasible alternatives or additional treatment options, including comfort care, hospice care, palliative care, and pain control.
I request that my attending physician prescribe an aid-in-dying drug that will end my life in a humane and dignified manner if I choose to take it, and I authorize my attending physician to contact any pharmacist about my request.

The Bill takes effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns its special session on health care, which will be sometime in 2016. To read more about the End of Life Option Act, here’s a good summary from the LA Times.

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old-peoples-home-63614_150I recently read a Huffington post article about the need for women to plan their estates as if they were single. And that got me thinking about how, despite our best efforts to plan, life just has a way of constantly changing.  Children grow up, we get old, and even families slip away, or change over time.

I work with families to craft estate plans all of the time, and it’s hard enough to get them to focus on the inevitability of death. Let alone the possibility that one of them is likely to survive the other, and live alone in old age. But from now on, I will try and do a better job to get that idea on the table, too.

Statistics tell us that it’s likely to be the woman who survives.  According to a U.S. Census report, 80% of women will survive their husbands.  And it’s pretty common knowledge that close to half of marriages ultimately fail.

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QuestionmanIf the answer to that question is, “N0!” you are in good company. A recent survey by Caring.com of 1,000 adults found that less than half of the adults surveyed (45.8%) knew where their parents’ documents were.

When asked if they even knew whether or not their parents had an estate plan in place, only about half (55.4%) said that they did.

When asked if they knew the contents of their parents’ estate plans, only 42% said that they knew what was in those plans.

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shutterstock_156185702Who knew?! I honestly had no idea that there was such a thing as National Estate Planning Awareness Week, but, in fact there is, and it’s the third week in October, established by House Resolution 1499 in 2008.

When I worked in the US Senate, I was particularly thrilled by National Ice Cream Day (the third Sunday in July) and when I worked in the California State Legislature there was one day when bikers from all over California rode around the capital to protest helmet laws (I’m not sure if that was an official day or not). But this, while not nearly as thrilling as either of those days, is still a good excuse to remind folks about the importance of having a plan in place and keeping it current.

The American Bar Association cites statistics that estimate 55% of Americans don’t have an estate plan. I’ve seen other estimates that over 120 million Americans don’t have an estate plan in place. Either way, that’s a lot of people.

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headlamp-2940_150This week, an elderly driver lost control of his car and crashed into a cafe on University Avenue in Palo Alto, injuring six, including himself. News reports say that the driver was trying to park, and accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal.

As we, or our parents, age, the question of when someone should stop driving is almost certain to come up.  While it is true that impaired driving isn’t always a factor of age, it is also true that as we age our reactions slow, our vision declines, our hearing decreases, our flexibility and strength decline, cognitive and decision making ability changes, and our judgment about our ability to drive isn’t always objective.

Sometimes people can recognize their decline and voluntarily decide to stop driving. Sometimes family and friends have to step in and question whether or not it’s safe for someone to continue to drive. It is difficult for both the older driver and the family to discuss this issue, but the literature repeatedly warns families NOT to postpone the conversation because it is difficult or unpleasant. Instead, they should focus on safety and preventing accidents.

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plane-50893_150Inevitably, in the summer months, I get phone calls from people who are about to take a trip somewhere, often within just a few days. Sometimes they have a Will or a trust that’s out of date; sometimes they have no estate planning documents at all; sometimes they have just finished getting divorced and are in a panic because they haven’t gotten around to updating their Will or trust.

Much as I try to help everyone who calls, sometimes (often) there’s just not enough time to update their documents before that plane takes off or the road trip starts. What to do?

Although none of the documents I’m about to suggest take the place of a well-drafted Will or trust, they can serve to get something in place before a trip, quickly and with minimal or no expense. Upon your return, you can come in and get the job done right — but at least you can take to the skies with some peace of mind.