Hoping for a Good Death with a Gilroy Estate Planning Attorney

What are your final wishes? Have you had this discussion with your family? Do they know what you want? Is it in writing?

Everyone has different ideas of a “good death” or “the perfect death” as it appears to them in their own mind. Maybe you shouldn’t keep your wishes secret. Maybe you should sign the right documents and inform the right friends and family members so that others know what you want.

My first experience with a client who discussed “the perfect death” was several years ago. My client’s name was Jim, and he was 93 years old. He came to see me three times, and he always wore the same snazzy, lime green leisure suit with the pale yellow shirt underneath the jacket. He was always well groomed and smiling.

He told me about one of his good friends, Bob, who had recently died the perfect death. I was curious, so he explained it to me. They lived in an assisted living facility where they had been for several years, and everyone there was very friendly. After dinner, Bob had been hanging around with Jim and other friends in one of the public rooms just talking and laughing. In the morning, Bob got up and shaved himself and dressed himself and got ready to go downstairs for coffee and breakfast. He got into the elevator and rode down to the ground floor where he took three steps out of the elevator and then dropped dead right there.

Jim delighted in the story because Bob was in his 90s, he had experienced a wonderful life, he lived where he was surrounded by friends, and then he dropped dead without ever suffering and without ever experiencing a single day when he was not able to care for himself. To Jim, the whole thing was absolutely magical. He loved telling me the story, and he hoped for a similar ending to his own life. Jim was hopeful that he could die the same way.

The burning question is what will happen to you or a loved one . . . whether it’s a child, parent, or spouse? If they don’t end up with “the perfect death,” are the proper documents in place to allow their trusted individuals to make the right decisions?

One Morgan Hill client had a hard time because her husband was only in his mid to late 50s when he developed severe Alzheimer’s. With the advancing illness, he no longer trusted his one and only wife of many decades, and he was unwilling to sign any legal documents. What could she do to protect him and herself and the children? How could they protect their home?

We never know what our future brings for us.

I had a 99 year old client who was mentally and physically strong and driving his car daily when he finally decided it was time to prepare his trust. Good for him. He made it that far without a problem. And another Morgan Hill woman at the age of 104 years still had an iron grip when she shook my hand, but she knew that her legal documents were outdated and she needed to make several changes to protect her family in the event she finally died or perhaps needed nursing home care before her death.

The people who plan before there is a need are the ones who are able to direct others to follow their own wishes, and they’re also the ones who can better protect their homes and other assets for their family members. But we never know our future. That’s why we need an established plan that will protect us and our loved ones.

Think about what you want for yourself. Make sure that you have the right documents signed and in place so that others can follow your wishes.

Why Don’t People Plan Ahead with an Estate Plan? with a Gilroy Estate Planning Attorney

It’s a basic combination of procrastination and lack of knowledge. Most people know that they should have some type of an estate plan in place, but they just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Or, perhaps they made a plan 10 or 20 years ago, and it’s now outdated due to family changes or tax law changes. Procrastination is the enemy of good planning. Don’t let yourself wait too long so that dementia, sudden illness, or death will prevent you from doing proper planning. In the last week alone I had to make three visits to clients in the hospital, two visits to clients in a nursing home, and two visits to clients at home on oxygen. Don’t put yourself or your family in that crisis mode. Plan ahead.

Good estate planning encompasses how decisions will be made if a person dies or becomes incapacitated, and elder law planning takes things a step further to look at how your assets can be protected in the event that you need to move to a long-term care facility. Everyone should consider both.

If you succeed in reaching the ripe old age of 65, the odds are slightly greater than 50% that you’ll spend some time in a long-term care facility. The average length of stay in a long-term care facility is about two and a half years, and the cost of care in our area is about $11,500 per month. That’s a little over $135,000 per year, and over $335,000 if your length of stay at the nursing facility matches the national average. Some people, however, will end up in the nursing home for 5 years, 10 years, or even longer. If you’re telling yourself, “I’ll never go to a nursing home,” your thoughts are similar to about 99% of the population. Nobody wants to end up in a nursing home, but the unfortunate statistics show that only 27% of people succeed in dying at home. Don’t take that gamble.

A great myth about Medi-Cal is that you can’t qualify unless you have no money at all, or that the state will take everything from your family when you die. Proper planning can change all of that. Learn what can be done.

If you don’t yet have an estate plan, you should consult a knowledgeable attorney. If you have a plan, but haven’t looked at it for 5, 10, or 20 years, I suggest that you pull it out, take a good look at it, and see whether it still accurately reflects your wishes. We also had a significant tax law change in 2012, and many of the older trusts should be changed to better fit your family under the new tax laws. If your plan was prepared without looking towards the potential need to have Medi-Cal pay for your long-term care, then your existing durable power of attorney may actually hamper the Medi-Cal planning efforts that someone might want to do on your behalf. Be proactive. As Gen. George S. Patton said, “Be prepared for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” Don’t let yourself delay to that point where the lack of a plan hurts you and your family.