WLG On Our Mind

Monday, June 15, 2015

San Diego Elder Law Attorneys Ask: Are you ready to be your Parent’s Helper?

Are you ready to be your Parent’s Helper?

First Steps to Being Ready to Manage Your Elderly Parent’s Finances

Elder law attorneys in San Diego very often find themselves advising adult children of the elderly on the intricacies of managing their parents’ finances. Why get help from an Elder law attorney and not from an accountant? With rare exception, most of us know how to pay our bills. We don’t need an accountant to tell us when SDG&E or the water bill needs to be paid. Helping or handling a parent’s finances may seem straightforward at first, but without pre-planning senseless hurdles can make it stressful and unnecessarily difficult.

Too many children and grandchildren only realize that a senior’s finances have gone sideways when they see late notices in a mail pile or notice stacks of unopened mail. Parents often feel that their privacy has been violated when their lack of attention to paying their bills has been discovered. They often become evasive and defensive, when all you want to do is help.

Sometimes families are forced to deal with a senior’s financial situation without warning. These emergencies come to the surface after a bad fall or stroke which prevents a senior from handling their own affairs.

Adult children often come to an Elder law attorney to help them after their parent has suffered a debilitating health crisis. They are often in the dark. Culturally, to our own detriment, we are all trained to keep our finances private. Few seniors realize that failing to share makes it harder for them to stay captains of their own financial ships. Many seniors find it easier to be forthcoming about their finances with an elder law lawyer to provide against an uncertain future. Sometimes this is a first step that lets them begin to open up to their children. This can take time, for many senior seniors it feels wrong to speak about their finances with family members.

San Diego Elder law attorneys are accustomed to helping families deal with these issues. Seeking out an experienced elder law or estate lawyer before problems arise can help you and your parent avoid awkwardness, embarrassment and heated emotions.

The biggest triggers, making families dive-in to rearrange senior’s affairs and empower adult children to manage their aging parent’s finances, are probably health events requiring long term care and sudden realizations that their parents have significant memory issues. Financial management problems make these types of events even more painful. At times like these, getting an answer to important questions may be difficult or even impossible. Sidelined seniors seldom can tell you who they owe, how much they receive each month or where they have bank and investment accounts.

Acting ahead of time, or at least before ordinary bill paying has become a problem, empowers older parents and adult children to act as a team and avoid being forced into a role reversal. Working with an Elder law attorney, a senior maintains control by putting into place the marching orders for how things should be handled. They get to choose how their financial safety can be monitored.

Using an Elder law attorney changes the paradigm. No disruptive and harsh role reversal is needed. A good Elder law attorney can coach a family and help seniors put in place tools protect themselves while staying actively involved in their own finances. Some home bill pay pre-planning mechanisms are legal documents, many are not. The goal is for our parents to put in place mechanisms to shield them from everything falling to pieces, if and when, illness or disability prevents them from doing what must be done. Proper planning allows a senior senior to choose who they want to have act for them and put in place alerts so that their chosen person, whether family member or friend, can step in and make certain the bills are paid and the lights stay on.

Watch out for assurances that having a basic revocable living trust and a standard springing power of attorney is enough to avoid this pitfall. Although they are a good starting point as a method to transfer the power to act, they fall short in making available accurate information to act upon. If planning in advance, putting in place an immediate limited power of attorney which allows others, including banks, pension plans, brokerages, and utilities to share information between family members is a good start. Your Elder law attorney can coach you and identifying tools to either prepare for or use to handle any crisis that arises.

Most Estate planners start the idea that their work is to help you be prepared if you die, planning for disability is secondary. Most of us will experience a period of time during which we are incapacitated before we die. For attorneys cross trained in Elder law the challenge is instead to help clients be prepared to live, protect their assets and have their wishes competently followed if they are incapacitated.

Advance planning helps prevent painful family conflict. If you can act to plan in advance, you will avoid a bad situation which can cost you the closeness you have with your parent. The earlier you and your parent start meeting with a San Diego elder law attorney that you trust, the more likely you are to get the information you need. As an added bonus, your parent will have the ability to make his or her wishes known in order to offer guidance on how to handle their affairs if and when all of the responsibility is passed on to you.

No matter what stage the parent is at, the subject needs to be discussed. Again, earlier is better, too many families miss the window of opportunity during which solutions can be put in place without a tug of war. It is hard to know what or when an event will occur which robs you of your opportunity to plan in advance. You may choose to start the conversation by relating it to your own estate planning or by bringing up a situation you heard about recently, such as the death of a celebrity. San Diego is blessed with a number of good attorneys who can offer suggestions on how to bring up the subject, as well as how to help steer the conversation in the right direction.

Attorney Joel Weissler has been helping families plan for life cycle events for over 25 years. He is available for consultation and for group speaking engagements through the Weissler Law Group at (619) 281-1888.

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