For many of us, a time comes when the “writing is on the wall” regarding the need for long-term care. A spouse or parent begins to experience declining health or cognitive impairment. They are able to stay at home, at least for the time being, only because the other spouse or child is able to provide care and supervision. But “what if” the well spouse or child can no longer meet those needs due to his or her own declining health, or even death? “ These folks often do not think that their situation likely requires modification of their estate plan, but that is far from true,” according to attorney Jeff Rheinhardt of the Ilion elder law firm, Rheinhardt & Bray, PC.
Consider the case where a husband begins to show signs of diminished capacity. He is able to stay at home, but only as long as his wife is there to provide supervision and care. If she experiences a decline in her own health, or if she dies, the husband almost certainly will have to seek care outside the home, ultimately in a nursing home. This couple may think that it is either too early or too late to plan. On the contrary, Rheinhardt says this is a critical time to review their current estate plan and take steps to protect their resources and property for their continued use and benefit, and, if the wish, for their children.
There are a number of basic and important steps nearly all people in this situation should take, Rheinhardt points out. First, they should make sure that all of their decision making documents, power of attorney, health care proxy, and living will, are in order and up to date. Next, they should take steps to transfer assets from the spouse in declining health to the well spouse, and make appropriate changes to beneficiary designations. Finally, the estate plan of the well spouse should be revised to protect their assets for the benefit of the ill spouse, and to preserve as much as possible for their children.
Rheinhardt says he is often contacted by someone who begins the conversation with, “my husband has dementia, so I know it’s too late to do anything…” But Rheinhardt says that is just wrong. “This is not only a time when people can act, it is a time when they really need to do some important things,” he emphasizes. “It is a critical time to plan.”