May 2, 2010

Live Long and Prosper... and Plan!

Many callers to my law firm start the conversation by saying, I just need a simple will. That statement, plus an article I recently saw about countries with longest lifespans (Iceland for men, Cyprus for women) got me to thinking...  As far as estate planning goes, most Americans are stuck in a kind of 1950s-era thinking. Sure, it remains true that we are all going to die. But society, medicine and the law have changed dramatically. The way we live, and how long we live -- even how we approach death - have all changed. And with those changes come compelling reasons for Americans to do things differently when they plan their estates.

Life used to be simple. People worked for the same company for decades. They had guaranteed pensions. Medical expenses were more manageable. Divorce was rare and remarriages rarer still, for parents and children alike. Most people were not invested in the stock market.  
But, there was a tradeoff. Life was simple, but it was also short. Retirement didn't last long, so people didn't worry as much about having sufficient savings to last a lifetime. Long periods of incapacity were unusual.

Today we're living longer than ever. No complaints there, but more years present more challenges... challenges our grandparents didn't have to face.  Elder law addresses not only leaving a legacy, but living your life. As an elder law attorney, I do traditional estate planning - but the priority is life, not death.

Your grandparents' estate plan doesn't fit today's realities.If you think all you need is a simple will, I suggest you think further. A Last Will and Testament is a death instrument only. Have you thought about your life planning? What about establishing a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney, so someone can make your business and medical decisions if you are incapacitated, without court interference and possible guardianship? And since there's no guarantee all our extra years will be healthy ones, have you taken steps to protect yourself against the crushing costs of long-term nursing care? Have you purchased long-term care insurance, or thought about planning in advance if you ever need to tap into Veterans benefits or Medicaid benefits? Have you taken the prudent legal and financial steps to protect your assets as much as possible? 

As they stay on Star Trek, Live long and prosper. I say we change that slogan to reflect our new, longer lives:  Live long and prosper... and plan!

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