Commonly Overlooked Tools for Incapacity Planning

Every individual should have a plan for when they can no longer make decisions for themselves effectively but most delay planning because it entails the confronting their fears about disability, death, and dying. As the U.S. population ages in greater numbers due to aging baby boomers and increased longevity, the marketplace has responded to the needs of such planning. Accordingly, here are a few tools that are currently available, but often overlooked, to assist in planning for disability, incapacity, or death.

Elder law attorneys are probably the most overlooked tool for incapacity planning. Beyond providing the legal documents and tools for effectively coordinating decision making and financial management, elder law attorneys provide an experienced concierge in areas most people have not confronted, such as coordination of benefits, hiring of supplemental providers, and coordinating financial planning. Furthermore, elder law attorneys focus on the effective implementation of their documents. Put simply, a power of attorney or other document is false comfort if the document cannot be used effectively when needed.

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Aside from attorneys, financial advisors are underutilized as a tool to address incapacity and death. Building a solid relationship with a financial advisor can be an extremely effective way of coordinating assets at death, preventing or mitigating financial exploitation, and budgeting for medical expenses. If you have a financial advisor that you have been working with it is important that your advisor and your attorney are “on the same page” so that your legal and financial plans are coordinated effectively.

Age, dementia, and other issues can cause individuals to be more susceptible to scams or even result in a change in personality. While financial advisors used to limit their focus almost solely to investment return, most are realizing that placing alerts for unusual expenditures and regularly discussing budgeting and other matters with clients. The increased focus on these concerns provides an important service and some protection in the event of incapacity. Frequently, we meet with individuals who have only realized the extent of their cognitive decline due to issues brought up by their financial advisors such as unusual withdrawals, large expenditures, increased purchases, and other general changes in financial behavior.

A third overlooked tool is a trusted CPA. Many individuals think that their income picture in retirement is so simple, that they do not need a CPA to assist in preparing their tax return. However, having returns regularly filed with a CPA provides a quick and easy place for a substitute decision maker or executor to go in the event of incapacity or death, respectively. Furthermore, we frequently see individuals who self-file tax returns miss out on important tax benefits available to older clients, such as deductions for long term care premiums, deductions for healthcare expenses, and “catch-up” contributions to retirement savings. Sometimes we see families who fail to properly plan payments for the benefit of a medically needy family member in order to claim them as a dependent. These benefits quickly justify the cost of using a CPA experienced in income tax planning and filing.

A fourth overlooked set of tools are the multitude of services and applications that have proliferated to address coordination of banking, account, health, and other information. Most banks have created smartphone applications to manage accounts, which is a great help to any family caregiver. Mobile payment platforms for in-home care services prevents the need to trust new caregivers near cash or checkbooks, while delivering instant and direct payment for their services and keeping a clear record for tax and other reporting needs. Password applications provide a digital vault to keep your passwords so that they can be accessed by your substitute decision maker in the event of your incapacity or death (or by you, if you’ve forgotten a password). Other applications can help you (or a trusted loved one) keep track of your finances, health data, and other important information in an easily accessible location. While these services do come at an expense many of them quickly justify their costs in the security, comfort, and protection they provide.

As new products and services develop, we at Hook Law Center are constantly working to stay abreast of changes and trends. By specializing in elder law, our attorneys and staff can assist in more than coordinating your legal plan, we can help find ways for you and your family to smooth the inevitable transition that occurs during illness, incapacity, or death. If you are curious how some of these tools can be used to better serve you or your family members, please call our office to schedule an appointment to discuss your needs.

Kit Kat

Ask Kit Kat – Bao Bao Returning Home

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about that adorable panda 3-year old who is currently at the Washington, DC National Zoo?

Kit Kat:  Well, sadly, Bao Bao, a female giant panda, will soon be leaving Washington, DC and returning to her home country, China. The zoo has not yet set an exact date for the trip, but they are scheduling some goodbye events before she goes. Though born in the United States on Aug. 23, 2013, she will be sent to her home country by the time she turns age 4. Bao Bao’s mother, Mei Xiang, is from China, and by agreement with the China Wildlife Conservation Association, any cub born at zoos in the United States must return to China around the time that they turn 4 years of age. Bao Bao was the first baby panda since 2005 to survive birth at the zoo and thrive. 4 years of age is when a panda is capable of breeding.

Bao Bao has been living an independent life at the zoo since March 2015. She is kept separate from her mother, Mei Xiang. This is to prepare her to lead a solitary life like she would be living, if she were in the wild. Separation usually occurs around the age of 18 months to 2 years.

Preceding Bao Bao was Tai Shan, another panda born on July 9, 2005 at the National Zoo. Tai Shan was returned to China in February 2010. Alas, for a little while, we can enjoy the company of Bei Bei, a male giant panda, born on Aug. 22, 2015. He’s only 1.5 years old now, so we still have time to watch him mature and grow to adulthood. ( Michael E. Ruane, “Bye Bye, Bao Bao,” The Washington Post, Local section, January 18, 2017)

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