As the New Year begins, many people resolve to do some things they know they should do, but have put off. In various years past I have vowed to lose weight, get organized, save more, spend more time with my family, eat healthier foods, and get more exercise. In truth, these are pretty much continuing resolutions that I have to revisit every year.
A recent study from the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that 45% of people make New Year’s resolutions. The most frequent resolution is to lose weight. (See the list of top ten resolutions below.) Unfortunately, only 8% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions. Still, it seems worthwhile to make them. If you have made any resolutions for 2016, I wish you success.
This year, if you are over 60 like me, I suggest you make a resolution to protect yourself and your family by creating a plan for getting older.
According to data compiled by the Social Security Administration:
A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.
A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.6.
And those are just averages. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95.
You need to put a legal plan together for the problems that can arise from an extended life span. You need to plan to be old and for the reality that your aging is likely to eventually include some level of disability. A majority of people who are over age 85 have some form of disability.
At age 65 the chances we will need some care support during our remaining lives is 70%. 40% of us will need support for over 2 years, and 20% will need care assistance for 5 years or more. The financial costs and personal burdens placed on care-giving families can be substantial. But, you can create a strategy now to protect yourself and your family from these potential costs and burdens.
Part of your strategy should be to have the proper legal documents in place now, before a crisis arises and they are needed. Your power of attorney, health directives, trust and other documents need to be specifically designed to implement a good plan for your aging. These planning tools should not be standard “off the shelf” documents. They need to be tailored to your unique personal goals and family situation. One size does not fit all.
Yes, it's complicated. To put together a good strategic plan for getting older you are going to need the help of experts in financial and estate planning and elder law. The good news is, the help you need is available - and this New Year's resolution should be much easier to keep than one that involves losing weight.
Key Documents in Planning for Aging
Here are some of the documents that may be essential components of your planning strategy.
Financial Power of Attorney - This critical document allows a trusted agent of your choosing to step in to pay your bills and manage your financial affairs in the event you can no longer do so. You need to make sure you choose the right person. Don't neglect to name a backup in case your first choice can't serve.
You may want to notify your financial advisors and institutions of your choice in advance. If a financial institution has its own “in-house” power of attorney form, you may want to complete it as a supplement to your primary document. And make sure your chosen agent knows how to get access to the financial information he or she will need when they have to step in.
A financial power of attorney is a very sophisticated and complicated document. This is not something to take lightly or buy online. You need to make certain that your agent has the powers required to protect you and your family and that those powers are consistent with your personal situation and goals.
Seek expert guidance to create a document that has the provisions you need.
Health Care Directives - These documents allow you to give directions regarding the kinds of care you want to receive in the event you become incapacitated. And you can designate the persons you want to be making health and personal care decisions for you. The key planning document in this regard is the Health Care Power of Attorney.
Will - this is a document that says who gets what when you die. It also names someone to be in charge of finalizing your affairs. But, many people don’t realize that they have created other documents that can trump the provisions of their Will. These include trusts, beneficiary designations, and joint ownership. If you become incapacitated you may not be able to change the terms of your Will. So, you may want to have your Will and beneficiary designations reviewed and updated as needed as you have your aging plan prepared.
Trust – this is a document that can be used to provide for management of some of the investments and other things that you own. Trusts can be very useful tools in planning for aging. Special forms of trust can allow you to set aside a home or savings to be protected in the event you or your spouse encounter serious health and long term care costs later in your life.
Quality Advice: As Important as Your Documents
The above documents are important components of your aging plan. But a good plan requires more than having the right documents. You also need to put a well thought out strategy in place.
People often don't appreciate the complexity of planning for aging and long term care. It is imperative that you get the highest quality advice in putting together your plan. Be sure to talk with a lawyer who is a recognized expert in elder law and estate planning. If you live in Pennsylvania, you can call my law firm, Marshall, Parker and Weber and set up an initial meeting.
The bottom line is that the likelihood that your goals will be achieved both during your life and after your death depends largely on how good your plan is, and whether you keep it up to date. The quality of the advice you get in putting together your plan and creating and updating your documents is critical to protecting you and your family. Don’t be penny wise and dollar foolish when your security and your family’s future are at stake.
Here are the top ten New Year’s Resolutions people made in 2015:
1. Lose Weight
2. Get Organized
3. Spend Less, Save More
4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest
5. Stay Fit and Healthy
6. Learn Something Exciting
7. Quit Smoking
8. Help Others Achieve their Dreams
9. Fall in Love
10. Spend More Time with Family
New Years Resolution Statistics, (Source: University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology.)