Staying Independent this Fourth of July and Beyond

Many families are returning from the Fourth of July holiday after visiting with loved ones they may have not seen in some time. Holidays, such as the Fourth of July, are an important time for loved ones to get together and sometimes assess the best way to help aging family members stay independent. In the past, it was easier for families to take care of each other when they lived together or down the street from each other. In those times, families relied less on facilities to provide for their care as they aged. Now, the dynamics of growing older and the financial needs of the elderly have changed a great deal. Today, family members should strive to keep their loved ones independent for as long as possible through engaging in open dialogue, seeking the assistance of geriatric professionals and visiting an experienced Elder Law attorney to make sure that they have the right documents and planning in place.

Due to the fact that families generally don’t live close together anymore, it’s often over the holidays that they observe changes with their loved ones physical or cognitive capabilities since their last visit. At that time, younger family members notice changes and decide whether to get involved. Sometimes, children overreact to the changes that they notice and assert themselves aggressively by trying to take over their parents’ lives. Children who are overly aggressive typically tend to be pushed away by their parents. This is often the worst thing that can happen, as families need to stay together during difficult times. Many times parents aren’t comfortable discussing their limitations or how they can stay independent. However, it’s important for the family to discuss goals for how a senior can stay at home independently, but safely, for as long as possible. This includes setting up safeguards to thwart scammers and others who are quick to take financial advantage, as well as medical emergency safeguards.

One of the most important ways that seniors can achieve independence and control is to have well-drafted legal documents and a proper plan in place. Many of our clients ask about “legal-do-it yourself” options, and we recommend that it is worth it to pay for the advice that an experienced attorney can provide you for your unique situation. While everyone thinks that he or she has a “simple” situation, the reality is that most people need more complicated planning than they realize. Part of remaining independent is controlling those thing you are capable of controlling and appointing a trusted agent, normally a spouse or child, to take care of all the other matters. In order to plan for your loved ones’ in the future in the best way possible, it’s important to visit an experienced attorney who can give you good advice. An attorney will provide good planning, allowing you to protect your assets for you and your spouse, and then pass your property to your family free of creditors. Good planning can also help you avoid a long-term care crisis. Internet documents, or “documents in a box,” will not provide you these same opportunities or tailor a plan for your unique situation.

Once you have your plan in place, one of the most important parts of staying independent is having your estate plan reviewed regularly as you age. As we grow older, our estate planning needs may change. Every senior should have their estate plan reviewed every 3-5 years, or before or soon after a major life event, such as marriage, divorce, children leaving for college, retirement, or a death in the family.

Finally, there are many people who have a plan in place, but their plan ultimately fails because they do not understand how it works. You must title your property consistently in order for your overarching estate plan to operate the way that you intend. Many people think that your Last Will and Testament controls how all of your property passes at death, but in fact, the opposite is true. There are several other ways to pass assets at your death. Many husbands and wives own their real property jointly with right of survivorship in a tenancy by the entirety. At the first spouse’s death, the home will pass to the other spouse, regardless of what the Will says. Likewise, life insurance policies, annuities, and retirement accounts, such as 401ks, 403bs, etc. will be distributed through beneficiary designations. Those assets will pass to whomever you name as your beneficiary in your contract, regardless of what your will says. For this reason, your beneficiary designations need to be updated regularly, especially in situations where you have experienced major life changes (such as the death of a spouse or the birth of a new child). It’s also helpful to leave your IRAs to a trustee (in a properly drafted trust) rather than directly to your children, as otherwise they will lack creditor protection. We like to leave these assets in an IRA trust so that it gives the children lifetime minimum required distributions in an asset-protected environment.

If you or your loved one need help remaining independent, or if you have questions about government assistance programs such as Medicaid, Veteran’s Benefits, or other Special Needs programs, consider W.G. Alexander & Associates – we offer a unique blend of asset protection, Elder Law and estate planning. You can also attend our free seminars, learn more through our website at, or call us at (919) 256-7000. Also, every Tuesday morning at 9 am, you can listen to our radio show, “Asset Protection Today,” on Talk Radio 850 WPTK (AM) with Attorney Bill Alexander.