While more Americans are living longer, they will inevitably cope with one or more chronic conditions and disability. Recent statistics reveal that more than 70 percent of individuals in their 80s have some degree of dementia or diminished capacity. In order to ensure that your wishes are followed, that you are properly cared for, and that you and your family do not experience undue stress or conflict-planning is no longer just a good idea, it is imperative. And, there's no time like the present, as the Chinese proverb so poetically suggests. Many families wait until it is too late to engage in proper planning. This leaves them and their families in a crisis, often with family members (brothers/sisters) fighting with each other, causing unnecessary stress and leaving the family member (father/mother) without proper care.
Research is also revealing that traditional planning - estate plan, durable general power of attorney, advance health care directive and a trust - is sometimes not as effective as one had planned.
There are many reasons for this, including:
• after signing estate plans, people do not fully understand what they completed or the decisions that will have to be made in the future
• the documents that make up an estate plan do not usually provide much guidance in and of themselves
• our goals and preferences may change, and few people review their plans from time to time to accommodate these changes
• the appointed agents, representatives and trustees seldom understand the maker's wishes
• the maker's wishes are not entirely known, and thus not fully honored
"Only 29% percent of people create a living will or power of attorney for health care."
~ 2007 AARP poll
I suggest that we change our view so that signing one's estate planning documents does not signify the completion of planning - rather, it represents the beginning of the planning process.
Estate planning should be less of an "transactional model" (the making and signing of our documents) and more of a "communications model" (the start of a conversation with our family, agents, trustees and care providers, who are the central role in this estate planning process).
The Communications Model to estate planning involves a 5-Step approach:
- Reflect on your personal experiences, values, desires and preferences
- Talk to the person you are considering appointing to make medical or financial decisions for you should you become incapacitated
- Appoint the person to speak for you when you are no longer able to speak. Work with a qualified estate planning attorney to create, review and tailor your advance health care directive, durable general power of attorney and trust
- Share your ideas, wishes and decisions regarding your financial and health care preferences with family, friends, agents, trustees, health care providers
- Review your estate plan from time to time to accommodate change (adding properties, changing beneficiaries, etc.).