How can I get my mother, who's getting along in years, squared away?[ Edited ]
My mother is turning 84 and I want to make sure I am planning for the inevitable time that God decides to take her away. What kind of things do I need to start putting into play + special considerations with those things? (life insurance, will, etc)
I'm sure that's a difficult question for you to even consider, but it's good that you are. A little effort now can save a lot of financial and administrative headaches later and it will allow you to build a framework upon which to move forward.
The first step is to have an in depth conversation or conversations with your mother about a variety of important issues. Every situation is different, but here are some key areas that you might review:
Care preferences/goals. Do you understand how she feels on this front? Does she have strong feeling about staying at home or might she enjoy the social interaction that comes with some sort of community setting? Understand what her desires are and you'll have a basis for your planning.
Financial assessment. You should have a good understanding of where she stands financially. That means understanding how she's doing in terms of managing her day to day affairs as well as where she stands in terms of resources...a financial snapshot, if you will (assets, liabilities, income, expenses, various types of insurance, etc.). The USAA Educational Foundation has a nice booklet that will provide you a fill in the blank format as you put together this financial snapshot. This exercise will also help you better understand the spectrum of choice she will have when it comes to health, long term care or supplemental services. Does she have long term care insurance? A Medicare supplement? What type of financial resources can she draw from to fund what can be very expensive care. Is she eligible for VA or other government benefits that could ease the financial burden?
Decision-making continuity. Has she put in place a decision-making framework in the event she is unable to make decisions. Typically, this would be done with the help of an attorney and include a financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney and living will. The powers of attorney would name an agent(s) to make decisions for her if she was unable and the living will would spell out her wishes with respect to life sustaining treatment in the event she becomes terminally ill.
Estate planning documents. In addition to the above noted documents, an attorney can help prepare a will for your mother. The attorney will also review how assets are titled (jointly/transfer on death registration,etc.). The key thing is to make sure all her plans with respect to distribution of her assets are synchronized. Too often I've seen folks with a will that distributes things one way, but beneficiary arrangements and ownership that does something totally different. Remember, generally speaking beneficiary arrangements will supersede what's in a will. Over the years one area that I've seen cause a disproportionate amount of conflict is the disposition of personal property. Lots of family fights begin while trying to interpret what a loved one would have wanted with respect to his or her treasured possessions...don't leave it up to chance, have her lay out her wishes!
Leverage community resources. Adult day care, housekeeping services, senior centers and transportation services are probably all available and may make her life better and safer. Help her tap into these types of programs and services.
Remember, it's a conversation and it's all centered around your mother's wishes and desires. The good news is that if you have the conversation now you can plan for the future instead of trying to fix the present in the midst of a crisis. I would recommend you consider setting up a meeting with an elder law attorney. This type of attorney typically focuses on helping clients with the type of issues I've discussed here. Good luck!