Monday, March 9, 2015

Preparing for the inevitable, no matter how difficult

For the second time in nine months, I buried an aging parent. This time it was my mother-in-law. On one hand, my wife and I were very fortunate to have them for as long as we did. But, as so many others have, we learned that assisting aging parents requires a lot of love, patience and time.

Unfortunately, aging parents often spend a lot of time at medical facilities. That being said, my hat’s off to the professionals in the health care industry. It was quite gratifying to see a doctor stop by the funeral home and comforting for my wife to receive condolences from other doctors.

It was my first real experience with hospice workers and I was truly impressed with the professionalism and the heartfelt concern they displayed.

As children, our parents make our decisions. As they age, we become their decision makers. That’s why it’s so important to know what they really want when they’re no longer capable of deciding for themselves.

As a financial adviser, I can’t stress enough the importance of planning for inevitable events. No matter how difficult discussions may be they can lead to appropriate actions and help minimize potential family conflict.

To my dismay, many go entire lifetimes without drafting a will or trust. Even approaching the back nine of life, they fail to complete the Durable Power of Attorney forms for health care decisions.

Ignoring discussions doesn’t eliminate problems; it often makes them worse because there is no resolution. It’s unfair to put too much on one sibling’s shoulders without adequate instructions or documentation.

Even when planning for life goals such as retirement, it’s important to prepare for the unexpected. You never know what lies ahead. I’ve worked with numerous clients that never quite close the planning loop.

For example, many have accumulated a substantial nest egg. When asked if all their children are capable of handling a large lump sum distribution, most couples smile and point out that one of their children will quickly and inevitably blow their inheritance.

With proper planning, you can put restrictions for specified beneficiaries on IRA distributions. With trusts, you can also dictate periodic distributions as opposed to lump sum.

A frequent mistake I encounter is aging parents putting their financial assets into joint ownership with adult children. Even if they all get along, how do the assets get distributed fairly to others without gift tax or adverse income tax issues? In most instances, they cannot.

Without proper life planning, families can be torn apart over money issues while mom or dad is hospitalized. The time to do end-of-life planning is when you’re in good health and have your wits. All parents should dictate what measures they want taken by medical professionals.

My father’s wishes were clear and there was no need for the emergency medical teams to attempt revival. My mother-in-law’s wishes and instructions made it easier for my wife and her siblings to say enough is enough and bring her home one last time.

Proper financial planning isn’t just accumulating wealth for such life goals as a college education. It also includes end-of-life instructions and post-life distributions to loved ones and charities, thereby enabling happy memories to live on. Poor planning can often lead to family turmoil and conflict.

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