SALT LAKE CITY — Many seniors may be more focused on their bucket lists than worrying about having their financial affairs in order. However, according to attorney John Green, they should be having some heart-to-heart discussions with a spouse or loved ones about their wishes concerning their assets, estate and last days.
“After the death of a loved one, a lot of times you are dealing with the expenses of the last illness and other financial matters,” Green said. “To be left with these types of questions if you don’t know at least something about it will be heartbreaking because you’re supposed to be grieving.”
Wills and Trusts
Many people put off making a will, which can mean their estate may not be distributed as they would wish, Green said, so if they have reached retirement age, making a will is one of the first things they should do if they haven’t already done so.
“There’s just no good reason to do that,” he said.
Without a will, an individual’s assets will go to probate, a long and costly process in which the state will determine who receives them.
Green recommends that every individual have a will and that anyone with assets, including a home, have what a “pour-over will,” which places property that person owns at the time of death into an already prepared trust. In this way, an heir can succeed the property owner as trustee and can divide the estate according to the person’s wishes.
However, putting 401k and IRA savings accounts into a trust is not advisable, Green said, because the IRS considers that action a 100 percent withdrawal of the account and will charge taxes on them for the year the change is made.
A will should record who is to receive family heirlooms or other valuables, Green said; Utah law allows individuals to simply include a list in their will.
Power of Attorney
Granting durable power of attorney and medical power of attorney is critical so that an individual’s financial affairs can be handled should he or she become incapacitated, Green said. Also, individuals who do not wish heroic measures to be taken in the event of a medical emergency must have a do not resuscitate order. Without a DNR and medical power of attorney, doctors may be required by law to exert extreme measures to keep a person alive.
Social Security/ Insurance
Seniors should know what social security benefits they qualify for, and also learn how to collect them. An account may be set up at www.ssa.gov to access specific information about an individual’s benefits.
Most seniors qualify for Medicare, but there are several different plans and supplemental plans may be needed to cover all of a person’s costs and medications. To determine which plan is best for an individual, most senior citizen centers offer classes put on by reputable insurance agents and may have advocates who can help walk through the process. In addition, county aging services can provide information.
Seniors should also be looking at the status of their life insurance, Green said, because some policies may change once an individual hits retirement age. For example, some have clauses that allow for increased premiums after a certain period, while others may expire by a certain age.
Green said seniors need to be careful when choosing someone to help them put this documentation together, because there are those who will overcharge for doing an estate plan. Most reputable attorneys can put together a complete portfolio of these documents for $700 to $1,000, he said. If an individual’s means are limited, the Utah State Bar may be able to refer them to attorneys who can provide these services pro bono, or a local senior citizen center may offer resources to access.