Some people think of estate planning as only dealing with the distribution of their property after death. Estate planning also encompasses planning in the event of disability. Revocable trusts are available to avoid a guardianship, in the event of disability, and to avoid probate at the client’s death. Sometimes all that is necessary are a durable power of attorney to handle incapacity and re-titling assets to avoid probate.
For younger clients, wills appointing guardians for minors and a trust for the minor children could be appropriate. Advance directives, such as a power of attorney for health care, are important for clients, regardless of age. A marital property agreement might be appropriate for a Wisconsin married couple when one spouse is in a second, or later, marriage and has children born of that previous marriage. For a client who has a child receiving governmental benefits such as medical assistance or SSI, a special needs trust might be appropriate.
Whatever the age of the client, the estate plan should take into account the proper wording of beneficiary designations and the impact of tax and property laws. A well-drafted estate plan will maximize the amount of the estate passing to heirs and minimize the expenses in terms of terms of taxes, administration and delay.
A client who wants to pass an inheritance to a beneficiary who receives SSI or medical assistance benefits might consider a special needs trust. Such a trust (sometimes also called a supplemental trust) provides for “extras” not covered by governmental benefits. The trust holds the inheritance as a fund for future special expenses, such as unreimbursed care, clothing, furniture, adaptive equipment, special trips, and other expenses that will improve the beneficiary’s quality of life. A beneficiary of a properly drafted and implemented special needs trust will continue to receive the governmental benefits.
Elder law considers many issues, all to keep a senior living independently, safely and comfortably in familiar surroundings for as long as possible. The legal solutions are tailored to each client’s needs. Issues may include the legal aspects of disability planning, health care decisions, long-term care insurance, making gifts to family members, and qualifying for medical assistance benefits. For those with children who have special needs, planning is essential to provide for their child’s continuing care.
Sometimes, adult children become frustrated by a parent’s reluctance to deal with issues in advance of a crisis. Although advance planning is better, as long as the elder remains legally competent, planning opportunities still exist.
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