COMMON CLIENT QUESTIONS
Successful Aging Program
The way we age is changing, and the way law firms assist you in navigating those changes should likewise be shifting. Our firm believes the aging process can be better, and our goal is to make it better. After assisting thousands of families in planning for the changes that aging requires, we have developed a straight-forward series of steps for families to take in assuring that the transition from independence into semi-independence is orderly, organized, smart, and safe. Please review the procedures outline below in addressing your family's changing needs. They will pave the way for success in the future.
Understanding the Role of Independence, Dignity, and Self-Governance in Successful Aging
To be truly happy, we need to be able to live independently, be treated with dignity, and maintain control over our own affairs. Successful aging requires that though our abilities of self-governance may decline, we are able to maintain some semblance of independent living. And even as our independence may wain in lieu of our physical decline, our dignity remains. Finally, as free people, we seek at all times the ability to decide our own destiny. To do all of these things throughout our lives, even to limited extents, means we have aged successfully.
What changes in life affect independence, dignity, and self-governance? Generally, identity traits such as these are affected by changes in our health (physical ability and cognitive capacity). As our health needs change, our changing needs present us with various planning options to address those changes. Since those options each have benefits and complex consequences, we must evaluate the individual options in light of our personal goals, priorities, and preferences.
Understanding the Role of our Goals, Objectives, and Preferences in Successful Planning
No two clients are the same, and it is important for all clients to consider their personal goals prior to engaging in successful planning. These goals include addressing current needs, short-term goals, and long-term goals. Please consult our client goal checklist to help develop an idea of what your goals may be.
Examples of goals for persons about to retire may include Asset Maximization (ensuring your income levels address present and short-term needs). Long-term goals may include successful Asset Protection for valuable family real estate. It all depends on the client.
For persons looking towards potential long-term care, goals may include remaining in the home as long as possible, and seeking payment sources likely to allow caregiver to assist in home-based care.
For persons recently receiving a diagnosis of a degenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's Disease or other dementia-related condition, such goals may include Asset Protection for a healthier spouse or for children. It may include careful dispositive planning, such as ensuring that a Last Will and Testament provides proper disposition of particular assets. It all depends on the client, and one size certainly does not fit all.
Understanding the Role of Advisers in Successful Planning and Achieving Goals
Planning for most persons has become so complex that no single adviser can provide all of the needed advice. By utilizing personal goals, the next step is to develop a trusted circle of advisers that can assist towards achieving those goals. Such advisers may include:
Financial Advising. Good financial advisers can assist clients in maximizing assets and selecting appropriate investments based on the client's age and goals. In many ways, these advisers are of utmost importance, in that they provide guidance in growing assets, maintaining assets, and properly spending assets as a client's expenses begin to outmatch a person's income.
Tax Planning. Many planning decisions have tax consequences that should be identified prior to engaging in those decisions. Even many annual decisions require tax advice, such as how to take IRA distributions or receive pensions, whether to convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs, when to liquidate investments, and how to give charitably. A CPA is necessary to ensure families are aware of the tax consequences of all such decisions.
Primary Care Physician. Health considerations are the driving factor of most financial decisions for seniors. This surprises many people who believe that the financial side of a person's life should drive planning. However, most people save their money to ensure that they can live healthy and happy lives in whatever setting their health requires. As such, the family doctor (or appropriate specialists) becomes increasingly important to determining what, exactly, a person's health requires. Financial planning is secondary to health, and regular communication with the physician is necessary to determine what future planning may be necessary.
Legal Counsel. While a client's general practice attorney may have sufficed for years of advising a client regarding business matters, real estate acquisitions, and family law advice, planning requires knowledgeable estate planning and elder law counsel. "Estate Planning" is no longer limited to updating Wills and Powers of Attorney once each decade. From the day a person retires, he or she should schedule regular visits to an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney to ensure that planning needs are met. The increasingly specialized nature of the laws affecting aging require regular attention to changing client needs and goals.
Remember: health, wealth, tax, and legal--these are the advisers that a client needs to make part of his or her trusted circle of advisers to help identify objectives, and develop plans to accomplish goals. One cannot successfully age without involving these advisers on a regular basis.
Developing and Executing a Plan to Meet Short-Term Goals
Once a client has identified short-term goals, he or she should meet with the advisers necessary to ensure the appropriateness and feasability of those goals. Finally, the client and advisers should agree on a method to execute those goals. Whether it is straightforward dispositive planning (such as a Will), or business transition planning (such as up-to-date By-Laws, Operating Agreements, or Buy-Sell Agreements), or Medicaid planning (such as gifting or annuity use), the plan should be fully formed by the attendant parties and then executed.
Developing and Executing a Plan to Meet Long-Term Goals
This planning can be more difficult, since it may require no immediate action, and may include more variables than can easily be assessed by the client and advisers. However, long-term goal development and execution are what separates those who age successfully and those who do not. Often, the process includes discussing objectives with the advisers and bringing a client's children in to discuss the parent's goals and expectations for implementation. It is the last and most important step in the successful aging process.
Importantly, clients should treat this step as a process, one that does not end. Proper estate planning and advice is an ongoing relationship between a client and his or her advisers, and one which clients should seek to facilitate as a regular and important process. Treating it in this fashion, and navigating the client's changing needs (based on changing health care needs), is what creates success in family situations.