February 26, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
It’s the final diagnosis: “There is nothing more which can be done. Get your affairs in order. Is there someone who you can call, who you can count on, who you trust?”
To Ron Dicken and Chris Kennedy of Visalia, these questions should be answered at a much earlier time. The two California-licensed private professional fiduciaries urge that we all, quite literally, stand before a mirror and ask:
“Due to age, accident or illness, if I reach a point of not being able to care for myself and my affairs, have I planned? Have I answered the question, ‘Who will help care for me when I can no longer care for myself? Have I put the required forethought into the answer?'”
Working with families who are facing these very real issues, both Dicken and Kennedy have seen firsthand what happens when the answer to that question is no.
‘My family will be there for me’
“It is normal to think that our family will be there and immediately become that support system. This can be not just a costly assumption to make, but potentially a dangerous one as well,” they point out, suggesting that we ask these questions:
1) Are they in a position of helping to care for me?
2) What is going on in their lives now?
3) Is there something in their personal and financial situation which would impact their ability to do the right thing at the right time?
“One of the most common mistakes we see being made when illness, old age or end-of-life issues are concerned is the failure to think caregiver decisions through. This is far too common with people who have acquired significant amounts of money or property. They often find it almost impossible to admit that some of their children won’t be there for them – and they just might be better off without those kids present.
“When your son is married with three kids and lives two thousand miles away, does it make much sense to assume he will drop everything for you? This is why it is so important to have an experienced estate planning attorney help you look at these issues in an objective way. It is even more critical if some of your children have mental or substance abuse issues they are dealing with,” notes Dicken.
Where is everything?
One of the worst nightmares for anyone to go through after the loss of a loved one is locating all of the important financial documents. Lawyers have to bite their tongues when Mrs. Pitti Me comes into the office, carrying a shoe box filled with all kinds of documents and says with a bewildered look on her face, “John took care of everything. I don’t know what we have.”
“There is no excuse for this kind of financial ignorance,” Kennedy maintains. “Unless you are dealing with valid mental or behavioral issues – such as a spouse who can’t control spending – then basic honesty and financial survival require being aware of what you both own and where it is. For example, husbands do not protect their wives by shielding them from financial reality,” Dicken said.
“Just think of the frightening situation where the husband has an auto accident, a stroke or falls at home, winding up with a fractured hip, and is hospitalized. The wife had better know where medical insurance information is located, where monthly bills and the checkbook are, and so on. She may very well have no choice but to now handle family finances. It just isn’t fair to her being kept in the dark, and the older the couple, the more unfair and cruel this becomes,” Kennedy added.
“How much should parents tell their children about what they own and where important documents are located?” I asked.
“There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, and I want to stress that it is an extremely important subject which parents need to consider. This is one situation where the term ‘Knowledge is Power’ certainly applies. The more anyone knows about your finances gives them a certain degree of power – over you. So, it boils down to a question of trust. Do you trust your son or daughter? Are they financially responsible? Have they ever stolen from you? Do they have a drug or substance abuse problem? Do they have friends who concern you?
“Obviously, it is fairly simple to make a list of all bank accounts, insurance policies, of the real estate you own, add a son or daughter’s name as a signer on your checking account or safe deposit box. But should you?” Kennedy asks.
In reality, our “affairs” need to be in order well before the doctor’s final diagnosis.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.