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5 Estate Planning Steps To Benefit Your Elders

Estate planning normally involves strategies to preserve wealth for a family's younger generation. But it may also involve elderly relatives—your parents and in-laws or maybe an aunt or an uncle—who could use your assistance. Indeed, this older generation might need your help even more than your offspring who are already making their way in the world.

Consider these five steps to help your older relatives.

1. Have "the talk." As difficult as it can be to sit down with a parent to talk about money and end-of-life decision-making, there's really no alternative to having a candid discussion of these sensitive matters. Your mom and dad may not like what you have to say, but if you start by really listening, giving them the opportunity to provide their point of view, it could launch a productive discussion. Try to address tough issues such as the possibility of relocating to an assisted-living facility or a nursing home, and don't be surprised if things get heated and emotional. Including other family members, such as your siblings, in this discussion will also be helpful, and whenever possible, have the family meetings in person rather than over the phone.

2. Create a contact list. You've probably already done this for yourself, but compiling all of the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of crucial contacts for your older relatives can be particularly crucial. These could include financial advisors, attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, physicians, and dentists. These days, creating a digital version of the list and storing it on multiple computers makes the most sense.

3. Gather financial information. Along with a contact list, information about the relative's financial affairs and investment holdings is also essential. You'll want to know about bank and investment accounts, 401(k) or other retirement plan accounts and IRAs, life insurance policies, etc. Note current balances, account numbers, passwords, and information on Social Security benefits. You may find out that your relative has more assets than you'd thought. Use this information to formulate a plan for the future.

4. Create the necessary documents. Once everyone agrees on how to move forward, you may need to complement a will or other existing legal documents with new ones. And those your relative has may need to be revised or updated. Such documents may include:

  • A will: The centerpiece of an estate plan controls how most worldly possessions—a house, cars, jewelry—will be distributed. A will also specifies an executor of the estate. This might be you, another relative, or a professional you trust.
  • Power of attorney: This document authorizes someone to act on behalf of the elderly person. The most common version is a durable power of attorney that will remain in effect if the person is incapacitated. This is a vital component of most estate plans.
  • Living trust: A living trust can serve as a supplement to a will. The assets transferred to a living trust don't have to go through the probate process that may be required for possessions transferred through a will and that can be drawn out and expensive. In addition, assets in a living trust are shielded from public inspection.
  • Living will/health care directives: These documents provide guidance for end-of-life decisions. You'll want to make sure your relative's doctors and others also have copies so they can act according to your loved one's wishes.

Finally, don't forget about beneficiary designations for retirement plans, IRAs, and life insurance policies—they supersede provisions in a will and are important to keep up to date.

5. Look for ways to minimize estate and gift taxes. Assets transferred to relatives or friends are shielded from federal estate and gift taxes both by unlimited marital deduction for gifts to spouses and a unified estate and gift tax exemption of $11.2 million in 2018 covering transfers to anyone who's not a spouse. Your older relative can also make yearly gifts of as much as $15,000 to multiple recipients.

Estate planning for an elderly relative will inevitably be intertwined with your own plan, so don't do things in a vacuum. Your professional financial advisor can steer you in the right direction.

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This article was written by a professional financial journalist for Rosenfelt, Siegel & Goldberg, The Investment Center and is not intended as legal or investment advice.

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