Five attorney tips for seniors to avoid legal landmines

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Expert Advice, News

The move to a senior living community is one of those moments in life that is a good opportunity to take stock of important documents. So says a Virginia attorney who specializes in elder law.

“Some things, like an ID or voter registration, are obvious,” says Bill Oast, who has seen a lot of client milestones in his more than 41 years as an attorney. “But people often tend to forget that there are little details in larger documents that may need attention, or just haven’t been updated in a long time.

Bill says the key pieces everyone should have in place and up to date include a will and/or trust, power of attorney and an advance directive. He offers a few tips to help avoid mistakes he has seen too many people make:

1. DON’T JUST TRUST YOUR TRUST.
If you have a trust but no will, you may have a problem. A trust is only as good as it is comprehensive and inevitably something will be left out. The answer is a “pour-over” will that can leave instructions for any assets not yet included in the trust.

2. A WILL IS NOT ALWAYS THE LAST WORD.
Many people believe that if they have a will, it covers everything. What they may not
realize is that for things like joint accounts, investment accounts or life insurance policies, a will does not override a named beneficiary. It’s a good idea to make sure everything is in line with your wishes.

3. IT’S NOT SO EASY TO SPLIT A HOME.
Real estate is complicated, and leaving a single home to more than one child can get even more complicated. Consider leaving instructions for an executor to sell a home at fair market value and the proceeds to be divided as you wish. If someone in the family wants to keep the property, they can be the buyer. This way it becomes a fair process and no one, whether accidentally or on purpose, will be shor t-changed.

4. HAVE A BACKUP.
When establishing an agent for power of attorney, it is important to have a backup in mind and identified. This can go a long way in avoiding problems if a life-changing event occurs for the person you have identified. There is a reason why many companies ask for an emergency contact who is not someone in your home.

5. KEEP YOUR PLANS CLOSE.
Generally an advanced directive, a living will and a healthcare power of attorney, will only come into play in an emergency. And let’s face it, these are the times we are often unsure about what is what and where documents are. Consider having a crisis card you carry in your wallet or purse that spells out the basics of your advance directive instructions and how to contact your agent. This is a small piece of mind that hopefully you will never need but may make a world of difference one day.

William H. “Bill” Oast III is with Oast & Taylor, has offices in Virginia and North Carolina. Bill’s practice areas include Elder Law, Estate and Trust Administration, Estate Planning, Guardianships and Conservatorships, and Litigation. For more information, visit www.oasttaylor.com.