Archive for December 2010
Why not just stay in a hotel?!
Someone sent me a cute email this morning, in which the writer suggested that, for the daily cost of a nursing home, she might just as well stay in a hotel. The daily cost would be about 1/3 of what the nursing home would charge, leaving plenty left over for meals (even room service) and tips for the helpful staff. The hotel probably has a free fitness center, pool and business center, and you can either use the washer/dryer on your floor or, for an extra charge, leave your laundry in the plastic bag on your doorknob for the hotel to take care of for you. You could use the city bus for your errands, and for a change of scene, you could take the hotel shuttle to the airport, and shop and eat there. You can call down to the front desk for security by just pressing 1 key on your phone, and the maid who comes in every day to clean would check and see if you were ok.
This definitely sounds appealing, and even cost-effective. Frankly, it would also be a lot easier than sorting through the confusion about what level of senior living facility might be right for you. 25 years ago, pretty much every residential facility for seniors was called a nursing home. Now, that term refers only to a “skilled nursing facility” (sometimes referred to by the acronym “SNF”), which provides hands-on care to people being rehabilitated from an injury or illness, or are unable to perform at least 2 of their “activities of daily living” (ADLs) – feeding themselves, bathing, dressing, using the toilet, transferring themselves from bed to chair and getting around without help. Unfortunately, a person who needed to be in a nursing home would probably not be able to get in and out of the hotel’s tub, dress herself or use the bus.
For seniors who are still healthy and active, there are a lot of residential choices that are a lot like hotels! These might be age-restricted communities like Sun City, or independent living facilities that provide private apartments, restaurant-style meals and lots of activities. And in between, there are assisted living facilities that provide hands on assistance that is not necessarily medical. The possibilities are almost endless, and very confusing (which is another reason why staying in a hotel is so appealing!) An excellent resource to help navigate the various options is the Area Agency on Aging. The Area Agency in the Phoenix, AZ area can be found at http://www.aaaphx.org, and their national organization, which can point you to the Area Agency in your area, is at http://www.n4a.org
A client recently asked me what she can do to make sure that no one fights over her will after she is gone. While this woman’s estate is not large, she had worked hard all her life to build a nest egg to see her through her old age and leave a small legacy for her family. Whatever the amount, she does not want it to be squandered to pay legal bills or to create bad feelings.
In this day and age, it’s impossible to predict what people might argue – or sue – about. However, the clearer you are about your intentions, the less likely it is that they will be disputed.
The woman who asked this question had written her will to have her estate divided equally among her children, some of whom were born after the will was written. In order to prevent any dispute about whether she might have meant only the children who had been born when the will was written, she decided to sign a Codicil (an amendment to a will) stating that she wants her estate divided among all of her children who are living at the time of her death.
Questions about the intent of the testator (the person who wrote the will) can also arise if a beneficiary named in a will has died before the testator. It is a good idea to identify at least one contingency beneficiary if that should happen. My client wants her estate divided among her children living at the time of her death, so if any of her children die before she does, their portion would be divided among their living siblings. Other individuals might want to leave a deceased child’s estate to the children or other heirs of that deceased child. There is no right or wrong choice, but it is important that your will clearly expresses the choice you have made.
You should also clearly document your intention to exclude someone from your will who might expect a gift, or is in the same class (such as siblings or children) as others who are receiving gifts. For example, you might state that you have 3 sisters: Anna, Betty and Cathy. You are leaving $1,000 to Anna and Betty, but nothing to Cathy. This would make it impossible for Cathy to claim that her omission was simply an oversight.
Some of the synonyms for the word ‘will’ are ‘choice’ and ‘preference.’ Using your Will to make your choices clear can give your family the added gift of a clear understanding of your preferences.
Many people think of Powers of Attorney the same way they think about their Will – something they will get done “eventually” because it will not be needed until “later.” However, the need for Powers of Attorney can arise at any time. And like many planning tools, if we wait until we need them, it may be too late.
A Power of Attorney lets you pick the person (your “attorney-in-fact”) who will make decisions on your behalf if you cannot make or communicate them for yourself. While we often think this will happen toward the end of life, anyone, at any age, can have an accident or contract an illness that prevents him or her from making or communicating their decisions for a period of time. Without Powers of Attorney, a Court may choose someone – a Guardian for personal matters, or a Conservator for financial matters – to make those decisions for you. Not only might that be someone you would not have chosen, but your affairs might be in quite a bit of disarray before this legal process is completed.
A Healthcare Power of Attorney covers healthcare decisions, and a General Power of Attorney covers decisions related to financial matters. A Durable Power of Attorney contains specific language that makes it clear that your attorney-in-fact can act when you are disabled. In Arizona, it is quite simple to prepare Healthcare Powers of Attorney. The Office of the Attorney General has forms on its website, at www.azag.gov/life_care. The completed forms should be signed, witnessed and notarized, with copies given to your attorney-in-fact and your doctor.
A General Power of Attorney is not included in the Attorney General’s packet. There are so many variables about what you may want to authorize someone to do on your behalf, as well as things you want to specify that they may not do, that a generic form won’t do the trick. For example, can your attorney-in-fact name himself as a co-owner on your bank account, or just sign checks? Can she hire people to take care of your home while you are incapacitated? Can she hire – and pay – herself to do that? Can she sell your house to free up funds for your care, or do you specifically not want your house to be sold? These are just a few of the types of decisions you can make in your Power of Attorney so it is clear to both your attorney-in-fact and the people he or she deals with that he or she is acting on your behalf.