6 Essential Estate Planning Steps for You and Your Parents
'A Legacy Undone' authors' tips from their ordeal with a financial predator
(This article is based on the new book, A Legacy Undone by Terrie and Jon Hull).
We'd been married for more than 30 years and were very close with Terrie's mother "Jean," spending every holiday and Sunday together (her name has been changed here for privacy reasons). But our happiness turned into a nightmare in the span of just a few weeks.
We think our story about protecting Jean from a financial predator is worth knowing for anyone with an elderly parent. And based on our harrowing ordeal, we recommend six steps (below) to keep yourself and your family safe and financially sound.
Here’s our story:
A Car Crash and Then a Financial Predator
First, Jean was in a car accident and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, which severely impacted her short-term memory, leaving her frustrated and vulnerable. We then became her primary caregivers and nursed her through a difficult recovery.
In the months that followed, "Billy," Jean's long-time boyfriend who had avoided meeting us, took advantage of Jean's disability and confusion to convince her that Terrie was stealing her money. He managed to also persuade a police officer (with no evidence) as well as a judge — who issued a restraining order without a shred of proof.
In addition, home care workers allegedly colluded with Billy, helping to make arrangements for a one-day visit to Las Vegas, so Billy and Jean could get married there.
As a result, our lives were turned into a roller coaster ride as we were thrust into a four-year legal battle to save Jean from a financial predator and a justice system gone wrong.
What Her Mom Did Right
Fortunately, Jean and her first husband had put their estate plans in place through a family trust, which made it possible for Terrie to successfully fight for a conservatorship for her mother. But not before Billy closed all of Jeans' bank accounts, opened new joint accounts, cashed some bonds and took Jean's name off one of the accounts.
Though still estranged from Jean, we have made certain that Billy can't drain Jean's financial assets through the trust — nor will he inherit them — assuring that Jean can live out her life being financially comfortable.
6 Estate Planning Steps for Families
Based on our experience, we think others should take these six steps to ensure their family knows their wishes and plans when they die or become mentally or physically incapacitated:
1. Organize your emergency information. This is more than a list of doctors and phone numbers. It should include specifics about your digital assets, bank accounts, storage rental, lawyers and financial advisers. Doing so will save your loved ones additional stress during an already stressful time and can be critical for quick decision-making.
2. Draw up a will and maybe trusts, too. Meet with an estate attorney who can give you guidance and create the proper documents. Make sure everything is as clear as possible and easily understood so there will be no questions about what you really meant.
3. Designate a durable power of attorney. This allows the person you designate to make legal decisions if you’re incapacitated. Provide as much detail as possible, including safe deposit boxes and passwords to online accounts. Without power of attorney, the courts or a third-party designated by the courts will wind up making legal decisions.
4. Prepare an advance medical directive. This document will save family members from having to make end-of-life decisions for you.
5. Open frank conversations with your parents about their financial affairs sooner rather than later. “Don’t wait until they have an injury, get sick or you notice that they shouldn’t be driving anymore,” says Terrie.
6. Tell your grown children your plans. They probably assume you have been smart with your money. Prove them right. Then teach them to put their affairs in order, too.
A Final Piece of Advice
Putting your affairs in order is not about death. It's about making sure things get done your way and the right way. It is one of the most important financial and lifestyle decisions of your life. It's about writing the last chapter of your amazing legacy.
From A Legacy Undone: An Extraordinary True Life Experience that will Make you Rethink Protecting your Family, by Terrie & Jon Hull. Visit Alegacyundone.com.