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"How to get Medi-Cal coverage for your nursing home care... without selling your home or leaving your family without a dime... Surprising ways to pay for your assisted living and long term care costs."

Elder Law Today Newsletter | November, 2011

 

Why a Pre-Crisis Family Meeting With Children and Their Older Parents is Critical

When my parents became older and started to have health issues some years ago, my mother insisted that we have a family meeting. My parents lived in Oakmont, which is a retirement village close to Santa Rosa. My siblings and I dreaded this meeting, but we drove up from Walnut Creek and had a meeting with my parents in their den.

My father said that they had very important issues to discuss with us. My mother explained that neither she nor my father was getting any younger. My mother went on to say that she and my father both wanted to be taken care of in the home if possible, and wanted us children to help them if we could. She told me, as the family attorney, that she and my father wanted me to design a plan for them that was designed more for what happens if they don’t die, as opposed to what happens if they do die! My mother explained that her greatest fear in life was losing her mental capacity. She wanted us children to be able to legally step into our parents’ shoes to help take care of them, to have the best care we could get for them, and to make their assets last as long as possible. My father also said that he wanted to have something to leave to us kids after he and my mother were gone.

My parents showed us where their original WWII military discharge papers were in case VA benefits would be available for either of them. They showed us where their savings and checking account statements were, and listed them separately on a handmade spread sheet with each account marked as either “retirement” or “non-retirement.” They showed us their health insurance policies, and my father showed us their life insurance policies and the cash values in them. They also showed us their checking account statements and their Social Security and pension incomes.

I updated my parents’ revocable living trust and financial durable powers of attorney, which had been made some years earlier. I included asset protection and government benefits planning language in the documents. I also included special asset protection language for their home, to ensure that the home would pass to their children. All of this specialized language would allow for asset protection which would be needed in the event either of my parents lost mental capacity. We children could then also apply for government benefits for them. My sister was named as successor trustee on the trust, and I was named as first attorney-in-fact on the financial durable power of attorney in the event my parents could not act for each other. With all of the information our parents gave us, and with the updated estate planning documents with the asset protection language in place, we were equipped to help our parents through their elder care journey.

On many occasions, the first meeting I have with families is with the children of their older parents. The children will often call me because one or both of their parents has just suffered through a medical crisis and has been recently discharged from a hospital or a nursing home. The parent may have suffered a stroke or a heart attack. Perhaps there is an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, or a diagnosis of cancer. The children are concerned about how their parents’ long-term care will be paid for, how long their parents’ assets will last, and whether anything would be left. The children want to know if their parents can set up a long-term care plan to protect assets, which would qualify them for Medi-Cal or VA. They also want to know if their parents’ home can be protected. Estate planning documents can be prepared to handle these issues.

At the first meeting, I routinely ask the children if their parents have estate planning documents, and whether any documents have been updated to include government benefits and asset protection language. I also ask about insurance policies, savings and checking accounts, income sources and all of the things my parents showed us. More often than not, the children do not know the answers to many of these questions, which makes planning more cumbersome and difficult. It may even be too late to update existing estate planning documents without a court order if either parent has lost mental capacity. The need for communication between parents and children is very important. Parents who have children who are willing to help them are very fortunate indeed! Pre-planning, communication and a family meeting between parents and children, are very important and should be done sooner than later.


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