Monday, January 15, 2018

Planning for the Here

While much of the focus of an estate plan is on the hereafter, it is important to remember that a Living Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, and Patient Advocate Designation make up parts of the “here” planning as well. When a client begins to reach a point where they cannot manage all of their own affairs, those documents become the workhorses, helping loved ones assist in their care.

Ursula was a strong independent woman who had lived nearly thirty years after the death of her husband without ever considering remarriage. She had two grown children, Vivian and Walter, and three grandchildren, lived alone in the house she and her late husband had built nearly fifty years earlier, and was generally healthy. However, as happens to everyone, time eventually began to catch up with Ursula and it became more difficult to handle her own affairs.
First, she stopped driving at night, then limited her driving distance, but eventually Ursula admitted that it was no longer safe for her to drive at all. With this admission began the discussion of whether living alone was still a good choice but Ursula was not interested in selling her home, so Vivian and Walter did not press the issue. Vivian lived relatively nearby and did not work fulltime, so she was able to assist her mother when needed. The grandchildren also served as drivers when necessary.
As these changes began happening on a daily activity level, we became involved to update Ursula’s planning. We discussed the various parts of the estate plan and reminded Ursula of why she had the documents in the first place and, following those discussions, we helped her make some changes to her plan.
First, Ursula decided that it made sense to make Vivian an immediate Co-Trustee with herself to ensure that, if necessary, Vivian could manage any of the Living Trust’s assets in the event that Ursula was unable to act or simply did not want to deal with investment decisions and banking transactions. We also updated Ursula’s Power of Attorney to make it immediately active and named Vivian to act under that document for the same reasons. While Vivian (and Walter as the successor designee under both documents) had no desire to run their mother’s life, all the parties involve recognized that a time could come when it was easier on Ursula for someone else to act in her stead, and at her direction. Everyone involved recognized that Ursula was still in control and that any action taken by Vivian must be in Ursula’s best interest. This is not to say that Vivian could not take an action that benefited herself if Ursula so directed, but we did stress the importance of Vivian’s fiduciary duty to Ursula.
As time went on, circumstances did eventually arise where Vivian needed to act on her mother’s behalf, initially simply because Ursula did not want to be bothered, but later in order to manage affairs as Ursula developed additional health issues that limited her mobility. The documents prepared allowed Vivian to organize and simplify all of Ursula’s finances, consolidating her multiple bank accounts into a single account. As Ursula consented to moving to a senior living community, Vivian was able to sign documents for Ursula’s new apartment and handling the closing on the sale of Ursula’s home (she was delighted that one of her grandchildren purchased it). All of these transactions took place at arm’s length to ensure that there was no question that Vivian was acting in her mother’s best interest, and had the family dynamic been different additional documentation could have been provided to assure Walter that his sister was acting in their mother’s best interest.
In the end, due to the years of serving as Co-Trustee with her mother, when the time came for Vivian to administer the Living Trust after her mother’s death the process was simple, requiring little more than the writing of a few checks and the closing of a bank account. Nevertheless, this simplicity was borne from good planning; planning that gave Ursula piece of mind and made her later years less stressful. This is the result of good, ongoing communication with experienced professionals. Had nothing been done with Ursula’s planning as her life began to change, her later years would have been more difficult for Vivian and Walter. Always be aware that your estate plan is more than just a set of documents to be used after your death. Your estate plan is part of a process that needs regular updating to ensure that it still meets your current needs.

Matt and Al

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