Why you shouldn't delay estate planning

For those of us who are leading busy lives, juggling work and family, financial and estate planning for the retirement years is often treated as a “back burner” issue. However, a sudden illness or disability can throw lives into chaos, so it is very important to have a financial and estate plan in order, for the “rainy day” when they are most needed.

An elder law attorney and a financial planner are two very key professionals who can help people navigate through the myriad of options for investments, insurance and estate planning documents that are needed. You can find elder law attorneys in your area by calling the local Bar Association.

When looking for a financial planner, look for one with the CFP designation, which stands for “Certified Financial Planner." A good financial plan will analyze your income needs and project your living expenses into the future. This calculation allows you to maximize your income today while saving enough for the future. Financial plans can also help with budgeting, so that your income is used as efficiently as possible.

A financial plan will also analyze your investments and make sure that they are appropriate for your age and risk tolerance. With the right balance, your investments will provide income today and adequate growth for the future.

In addition, a good financial plan will evaluate your insurance coverage and make sure that you have appropriate protection. This includes Medigap, long term care and life insurance. An important goal of the planning process is to make sure that individuals have adequate resources for the remainder of their lives. Therefore, a financial planner should also know about any chronic disease or special needs you might have.

Some older people allow insurance policies to lapse as it becomes harder to pay the premiums. Letting policies lapse can be very costly when illness or disability occurs. Older people can also be over-insured, wasting premium payments on unnecessary coverage. A financial planner can advise you on what policies you need.

Half of all people over 85 will exhibit some symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. Due to this high risk of mental incapacity, individuals should name a trusted family member to make decisions on their behalf. Legal documents called advance directives are created, usually by an elder law attorney, to ensure that the individual’s wishes are followed in the event of mental incapacity. These documents include a living will, health care surrogate designation, durable power of attorney and, in some cases, a living trust.

It is also important to inform your family members of your decisions. An elder law attorney can also make sure that you have the right provisions in place to direct your assets to where you want them to go when you die. This includes having an updated last will and testament, as well as
making sure the beneficiary designations on all your retirement accounts, life insurance policies and annuities reflects your current intentions. The elder law attorney will also look at the way you have your home and property titled, so that they are passed on to the right party.

Although most people would prefer to rely on their own financial resources when it comes to paying for long-term care, there may come a time when financial savings have been exhausted and you need to apply for Medicaid. If this happens, you will need professional guidance about the complex rules.

Attorneys have the most updated information regarding the eligibility rules for Medicaid, so it is best to consult legal advice when you consider transferring assets and converting assets into income or establishing special trusts. Financial planners should also be involved in these actions, in partnership with you and the attorney.

It is very important to keep your legal and financial documents properly organized and readily available. Keep your investment, insurance and banking statements in a three-ring binder. Keep your legal documents and insurance policies in a safe deposit box, and make sure that a trusted family member or friend has access. Provide copies of your advance directive documents to your doctor and to the executor of your estate.

It is crucial that you share knowledge with your family as to where all of your legal documents are kept. If they are called upon in the future to handle your affairs, they will be very thankful for the information.