By: Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho
Betty came to see her estate planning lawyer after recovering from a fall where she broke her arm. It frightened her and she wanted to plan how her affairs would be handled if she were no longer able to take care of herself, or when she dies. She wanted her daughter, Shelia, to sit in on the meeting.
Betty told the lawyer about her current situation including living arrangements, health, income and assets, and what is happening in her children’s lives. She has three children. John, the oldest, is out of work and going through a bankruptcy. Shelia is married to a cook, has never worked outside the home and is in the middle of a divorce. Her youngest, Sam, has a landscape business. None of her children have set aside money for their retirement or to help pay for their own children’s education.
Betty told the lawyer that when she dies she wants everything to be divided equally among her three kids with Sam being in charge. Shelia spoke up and told her mother that she would be better than Sam, as she sees her mother a few times a week and Sam lives out of town. Shelia also encouraged her mother to gift to the three children now rather than wait until Betty dies, as the children could use the money. Betty was uncomfortable with Shelia’s suggestions.
The meeting ended with Betty doing nothing. Why? It is likely she did not want to offend Shelia, and at the same time, Betty did not want to have Shelia in a position to handle Betty’s finances, as she had no experience (along with being hungry for money). Betty definitely does not want to give her money away now, as she is worried about how to pay for her own old age.
How can Betty solve this problem? Set up a second appointment with the lawyer and leave Shelia at home, even if she needs to take a taxi. Betty can then speak freely about her wishes and create a plan that fits her needs. Shelia does not need to know about the plan until Betty dies. Once the plan is signed, Betty will have peace of mind knowing she will remain independent as long as possible. Sam, the person she wants responsible, will take care of things if she is not able to do so.