Planning a Family Meeting to Discuss Caregiving

 

Planning a Family Meeting to Discuss Caregiving

 

 

 

When taking care of an elderly parent or another relative, family members need to work cooperatively. The more people participating in care, the less alone a caregiver feels in his/her role. Books and articles about caregiving often mention the family meeting as a way to facilitate this process.

 

But how does one go about having such a meeting?

 

 

Each family is different. In some families, only a husband/wife and their children are considered “family.” In other families, aunts, uncles, cousins, current and ex-in laws and close friends may be included in the definition of family. When planning a family meeting, it is important to include everyone who is or will be part of the caregiving team, and this may include a family friend, neighbor or paid caregiver.

 

 

 

It is also sometimes helpful to engage the help of an outside facilitator, such as a social worker or minister to help the family communicate about difficult subjects during the meeting. (This is discussed in more detail below.)

 

A decision must also be made about whether or not to include the ill family member in the meeting. Family members usually do not want to be excluded from family events and their preferences for care must be considered. However, if someone has dementia or another condition where he/she might misunderstand the purpose of the meeting, it might be appropriate to hold at least the first meeting without him/her present. Also, other family members may need to share with each other thoughts or feelings that would be painful for the ill person to hear. Consider holding one meeting to focus on those matters, and holding a second meeting with the ill person present.

 

Communication is the key to working successfully with a group of people. If it’s difficult for some family members to travel to the location of the meeting, technology can help: a conference call or the use of a speaker phone can make it easier for them to participate. A videotape or an audiotape of the meeting can also be sent out to all family members who are unable to attend. With the use of email, even those who are not nearby can also be kept up to date on how things are going.

 

Prior to a meeting, you’ll find it helpful to prepare an agenda. Someone in the family will generally introduce the idea of a meeting and arrange the date and location. That person can also create an agenda for the meeting and send it out to all the family members ahead of time. Family members can then share their ideas and suggest other items to include.

 

 

 

An agenda might include topics such as:

 

 

  • The latest report from the physician
  • Sharing of feelings about the illness/caregiving

 

Fears: 

  • About death and dying 
  • About being overwhelmed 
  • About what will happen to family members after the death 

 

 

  • Sadness, confusion, anger, guilt, shame 
  • What does the person who is ill want and need? 

 

 

Daily caregiving needs:

 

  • Should the sick person move in with us? 
  • Does she/he need to be in an assisted living facility or nursing home? 
  • How much time does each family member have to visit? 
  • Other ways each person can help? What other help might be available? 

 

 

 

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Financial concerns:

 

  • How much will it cost? 
  • How much work can family members afford to miss? 
  • What financial help might be available from outside? 
  • Who will make decisions (e.g., financial, medical, hiring a caregiver, etc.) and how will they be made? 

 

 

  • What support role does each person want to play? 
  • What sort of support does the primary caregiver need? 
  • Need for respite (a break from caregiving)
  • Help with meals, shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc. 
  • Emotional support by telephone or email 
  • Help with chores—i.e., taking the care recipient to doctor’s appointments 
  • How will the caregiving and support needs change as the illness progresses? 
  • Problem Solving 
  • List of tasks that need doing 
  • Summary of meeting and schedule for next meeting 
  • Written summary of what each person has agreed to 
  • Email or telephone tree for regular updates

 

It will probably be difficult to cover all these issues in one meeting, so additional meetings will be helpful. Each ensuing meeting should have a clear time table and a definite beginning and ending time. Be sure to stick to the time table; if meetings get to be too long, fatigue sets in, minds will wander, and people may resist coming to future meetings.

 

As with all high-level negotiations, deciding where to hold the meeting is as potentially controversial as the meeting itself. Whether you hold it in an office, a restaurant or someone’s home, keep in mind that you want a setting that the majority of the participants will find comfortable and convenient and that presents as few distractions as possible (e.g. noise, small children who need attention, etc.).

 

 

A successful family meeting gives everyone a chance to be heard. All feelings are appropriate and need to be expressed and acknowledged. People will be more willing to talk about their feelings regarding the situation if they feel safe. For example, the brother who is never present may reveal that he is unable to stand seeing someone sick, and the sister who is doing all the work may not realize how she pushes others away when they offer to help. Another sibling may be having marital problems which he or she has not yet shared with the family, and yet another sibling might be worried about losing a job. Each person needs to balance his/her own fears, concern, love and desire to help with available time, strengths, weaknesses and hopes.

 

Until the depth and breadth of the issues concerning the ill family member are explored, it is important to not try to solve the problems. Recording the problems in a list as they are shared, however, will be useful during the problem-solving portion of the meeting.

 

 

It is important for each family member to learn to use “I” messages, as well to say “I need…” rather than “You should…” Even when disagreeing, try to find the part of what is said that you can agree with. The goal of the meeting is to work as a team in caring for the person who is ill, even if there is conflict among family members in other areas.

 

At the conclusion of the meeting, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the issues and considerations discussed. When the solutions to issues have been established, make sure that each person understands what he/she has agreed to do.

 

The most important thing for family members to remember is that the meeting is not a one-time event. Family meetings need to take place regularly. It is helpful to schedule them at a given time, perhaps at the same time each month. However, if this is not possible, they at least need to take place when the caregiving situation or other situations in family members lives change. Holding regular meetings puts less pressure on family members to get everything resolved in just one meeting, and allows more time for processing of information and decision-making. When a family member is unable to attend a meeting, keep in touch with them by phone, mail or email.

 

Families come with history: a history of how each person relates to the others, a history of what role each person has played and currently plays within the family, a history of how each person feels toward the person who is sick, and a history of how each person deals with illness and adversity. And in each family there are rules about what can and cannot be said, what emotions are okay and not okay to express. These factors can make family meetings difficult. This is why a third party facilitator can be helpful.

 

Family members play roles based on position in the family, relationship to the person who is ill, special talents, etc. The person who is the caregiver may be different from the one who handles the money, who may be different from the person who is the information gatherer, who is different from the one who is the decision maker or the one who has some medical background. One person might play several roles. Also, often someone is the “blamer,” and someone else the “blamed.” One person may try to make peace, and another may try to sabotage the process. There will be secrets, old family rivalries, guilt, unequal burdens, differing investments, values and interests. Some will worry about past promises and about someone else not pulling his/her own weight. Everyone will need attention, power, love, control, and appreciation. It can help to acknowledge that there is probably no fair distribution of work and trying to make it even will fail.

 

A narrow focus for each meeting can help alleviate some of the pitfalls. Still, you will have to deal with some of the difficult issues when they get in the way of cooperation. Remember that you can’t resolve long-standing family issues with one such meeting. The task is not to “fix” the family, but rather to have everyone on the same team, as much as possible, in caring for someone who is ill.

 

If alcohol will detract from the main focus of the meeting or will lead to conflict, it is better not to offer it. However, each family has different ways of communicating, and in some families a drink may make everyone more comfortable and more able to talk. In any case, over-consumption should be avoided.

 

 

Consensus

 

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Not all the issues inherent in caregiving and decision-making can be solved; sometimes it is important to accept approximations of a good solution. Try to work toward consensus building. Change happens slowly, but when families meet regularly, the seeds that are planted can grow into more productive solutions. Often things do not change until there is a crisis, but the work that has been done during the family meeting will make decision-making easier when the crisis does come. Agreements can be made on a time-limited basis to see if the agreed-upon action will work. Future meetings can be used to evaluate these trials and revise them as necessary.

 

Respecting each person’s individuality and situation helps to create an atmosphere of acceptance and allows for creative solutions to problems. For example, Carol finds it difficult to be around sick people, so when her brother got lung cancer, she knew she couldn’t take care of him. However, she was more than willing to make the pastas of their native Italy and take them to him to comfort him during his illness. Jesse lives a thousand miles away, but can get time off from work to be with her mother while her brother and his family take a vacation. When Ed’s mother had surgery, Ed arranged to take care of his father with Alzheimer’s, while his sister worked full time and helped with the expenses. Gina takes her parents to medical appointments while her sister makes sure they get their medicines properly every night.

 

 

Compromise

 

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In order for these solutions to work, people have to learn to compromise. By being open to alternatives, you might get part—although maybe not all—of what you want or need. We often hold out for only one solution to a problem, we don’t consider other possibilities that could assist us. Asking for help is one of the hardest things to do. Learning to graciously receive help offered can also be a struggle, not only for the person who is sick, but also for the person who is the primary caregiver. Being appreciative is the best reward you can give someone who is trying to help you, even if the type of help he/she is offering isn’t exactly what you wanted. When you make someone feel good about helping, he/she will want to help again. “Thank you” will take you a long way in working together. In creating the caregiving team, think about how each person should be acknowledged.

 

 

Put it in writing:

 

 

A written agreement capturing the decisions and agreements made at the end of the meeting can be a helpful reminder for family members. Distributing a calendar with different days marked with responsibilities and commitments can also help each person honor the agreements made.

 

Although family meetings can be powerful and effective ways to connect and work with family members, they cannot magically solve all the problems of caring for an ill family member. When families have trouble working together or coming to agreements or when the family is divided on a big issue, it often helps to invite a neutral outside facilitator to attend. Sometimes a crisis precipitates the need for a meeting—perhaps someone is in the hospital and major life and death decisions need to be made. Time can be of the essence. Whatever work you have done together earlier will help you at these times of extreme stress.

 

Social workers from local caregiver organizations (such as Caregiver Resource Centers in California), as well as ministers, private case managers, social workers in home health or hospice, physicians, discharge planners in hospitals and nursing homes can help facilitate a family meeting or refer you to someone who can. Psychotherapists in private practice are trained in family counseling. If you find yourself in a difficult position, you might also want to see a psychotherapist privately. Don’t forget the support you can find with friends, colleagues and support groups. Sharing experiences with other caregivers can help ease the feelings and frustrations often involved in being a caregiver.

 

Sources:

Share the Care, Cappy Capossela, Sheila Warnock, Simon and Schuster, 1995.

I’ll Take Care of You, Joseph Ilardo, Carole Rothman, New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 1999.

Taking Care of Aging Family Members, Wendy Lustbader, Nancy Hooyman, The Free Press, 1994.

The Caregiver Helpbook, Vicki Schmall, Marilyn Cleland, Marilynn Sturdevant, Legacy Health System, 2000.

How to Care for Aging Parents, Virginia Morris, Workman Publishing, 1996.

 

 

Recommended:

How to Care for Aging Parents – A One-Stop Resource for All Your Medical, Financial, Housing and Emotional Issues

 

How to Care for Aging Parents, 3rd Edition: A One-Stop Resource for All Your Medical, Financial, Housing, and Emotional Issues by [Morris, Virginia]

 

 

 

Also Very Helpful:

The Caregiver’s Toolbox – Checklists, Forms, Resources, Mobile Apps and Straight Talk to Help You Provide Compassionate Care

 

The Caregiver's Toolbox: Checklists, Forms, Resources, Mobile Apps, and Straight Talk to Help You Provide Compassionate Care by [Hartley, Carolyn P., Wong, Peter]

 

 

 

 

 

 

You may also be interested in:

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Overcommitted and Burned Out

About Me

Create Your Own Blog

 

 

 

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Burial or Funeral Insurance

 

An Introduction to Burial Insurance

 

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Funeral insurance, burial insurance, final expense insurance, preneed funeral insurance—these terms are often used interchangeably to talk about the same thing. With any of these types of insurance, money is paid out to a beneficiary to cover part or all of your funeral costs, including everything from traditional burial to cremation.

http://www.lawdepot.ca/contracts/last-will-and-testament-usa/?pid=pg-R4A3Y9OYQP-last-will-and-testament-usatextlink&loc=US

Unlike other types of insurance, which are designed around a “what-if” scenario (what if I crash my car, what if I need to go to the doctor, what if my home catches on fire), burial insurance is a guaranteed pay out. As long as you keep current on your premiums or pay the amount required up front, this money will be available upon your eventual death.

What Burial Insurance Covers

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As the name suggests, burial insurance is most often used to pay for a burial. Because funerals can cost anywhere from $2,000 to up to $20,000, it’s rare for a family to have all of the money on hand at the time of a loved one’s death. Burial insurance takes the stress out of funeral planning by ensuring that the money is earmarked in advance.

However, one unique feature of burial insurance is that the funds don’t have to go 100 percent to funeral costs. In most cases, it pays out the same way a life insurance policy would, in that a lump sum is provided upon death. The idea is that the person named beneficiary will then use that money to pay for the funeral (as well as other final expenses like medical bills, hospice charges, estate fees, or to settle accounts in the name of the deceased).

Should you wish it, you can ensure that burial insurance goes directly toward your funeral by naming a funeral home as the beneficiary and signing a contract for future services. Like any other kind of pre-need arrangement, this provides a way for you to cover all costs in advance and to make sure your wishes are carried out.

 

Why Get Burial Insurance?

Most people who purchase funeral or burial insurance do so as part of their regular retirement or financial planning. When you’re already preparing yourself for the future, it makes sense to include a stipulation for your death as well as your end of life.

 

Benefits to burial insurance include:

 

  • Ensuring your family will not have to pay out of pocket for your funeral
  • Saving money by locking in rates or making pre-arrangements
  • Providing a quicker payout than you get from traditional life insurance or an estate in probate
  • Allowing your family freedom of choice to plan your funeral (without the burden of cost)

Just as no two home or car insurance policies are the same, so too do you have choices when it comes to burial insurance. Always be aware of the fine print and total financial investment before you sign any contracts.

 A burial insurance policy can be an ideal way to manage your final burial and funeral expenses, especially if you do not have an existing life insurance policy. Setting up a funeral, cremation or burial policy allows you to make small affordable payments over time. If you prefer to have a separate policy to specifically address your final expenses, burial insurance may be ideal for you.

http://www.lawdepot.ca/contracts/last-will-and-testament-usa/?pid=pg-R4A3Y9OYQP-last-will-and-testament-usatextlink&loc=US 

Burial insurance might not take away the pain of a death, but it can make funeral planning management and it can help with funeral costs after a sudden loss.  Just like health insurance, burial expense insurance helps to defray the costs of your funeral and your burial. Even with inflation, you can plan for the costs of your death to be minimal, if present at all. No one wants to go to a funeral, cry, and then be handed a bill, though in a discreet and compassionate way. Funeral directors do need to be paid, after all. With a burial insurance plan, you can ensure no one but you is paying for your death.

Have you purchased or thought about purchasing burial insurance?  Please share your thoughts below.

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Funeral and Sympathy Flowers

It is hard to put sympathetic feelings into words and sympathy flowers can say it for you.

No words need be spoken. When you send a floral tribute to a memorial service the meaning is always understood and appreciated by the bereaved. Sympathy flowers are a way to share the burden of grief and loss and are also a symbol for community support for a life well lived.

 

 

A Brief  History Behind Memorial Flowers

 

Placing flowers around those who have died is almost certainly mankind’s oldest tribute to the dead. One of the earliest discoveries of funeral flowers was documented by Dr. Ralph Solecki who excavated the Shanidar Cave in Northern Iraq in 1951 and discovered several burial sites. Soil samples determined that funeral flowers were indeed placed on this now famous burial site.

 

Local people had roamed the hillsides collecting wild flowers and placed them on graves 62,000 years ago. These appear to have been the first flowers for a funeral and this discovery was eventually noted in the Guinness Book of World records as the worlds oldest form of human ritual.

To say giving flowers for a funeral is traditional would indeed be an understatement! Some scientists believe that the first flowers for funerals served a dual purpose. Firstly, flowers were thought to be the symbol of the life cycle from birth to death, the fragility of life and its temporary beauty. Secondly as a more practical application they were used to mask the smell of decomposition at a time before embalming.

 

1-800-Flowers - Deepest Sympathy Standing Spray-Peach/Orange/White - Small
 
 
For example, this Sympathy Standing Spray from 1-800 Flowers, in shades of peach, orange and white, is a beautiful symbol of your sympathy and support. Peach roses, orange Asiatic lilies, white carnations and more
 
An appropriate gift for family, friends and business associates to send directly to the funeral home.

 

 
 

 

 
 

 

 
Common Sympathy Flower Etiquette Questions

 

 

Is it okay to send flowers to the family’s home?

 

Most certainly. This is a wonderful way to express your sympathy and is a very common trend. Some people choose to send flowers or a plant to the home immediately, while others prefer to wait a week or more.

There are no steadfast rules. Flowers can be a very comforting reminder during the grieving process that friends are thinking of an individual during their time of loss.

 

 

When you want to express your sympathy during a time of loss, this classic dish garden is a touching choice. Fresh, beautiful blooms and a lush variety of green foliage plants are specially designed by 1-800-Flowers florists.  Appropriate for family, friends or business associates to send to the service or to an immediate family member’s home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See How to Write a Sympathy Card Message

Is it appropriate to send flowers even if the death notice mentions a charitable donation or “In Lieu Of”?

 

Yes. Flowers help say what is often difficult to express, they are always appropriate and in good taste.

Flowers also play a functional role, adding warmth to the service and providing the visible emotional support that the family needs during this time. In fact research has shown that receiving flowers contributes to a persons emotional well being.

 

 

 

If several of us want to go in together for a floral tribute, how do we sign our names so the family knows who the senders were?

 

When a group of individuals go in together on flowers, the arrangement can be very special and make a larger showing.

 

 

There should be room on the floral enclosure card for several names, but if there’s not enough space it is best to sign as a group, such as “The Staff in Accounting” or “The Munro Family.” Include a contact name and address on the card so the family knows who to thank.

 

 

What can I do to make my floral arrangement unique or special from the rest?

 

To make your floral tribute particularly special and unique, ask your florist to create an arrangement that fits the deceased’s personality, for example, a rustic basket of wildflowers to honor someone who loved the outdoors.

 

 

You could also include his or her favorite flowers or colors, or a flower that had special significance in your relationship with that person. Whatever you do, the family is certain to appreciate the extra thought and effort you put into it.

 

 

I found out about the death after the funeral was over. What can I do?

 

A floral arrangement received at the home after the activity surrounding the funeral can be a comforting, welcome reminder that friends haven’t forgotten. In fact, research shows that bereaved family and friends appreciate being thought of in the weeks or months after the funeral.

A personal note or ‘we are thinking of you’ message with the flowers would be especially nice. Any support you can offer will let the family know you care.

 

See How to Write a Sympathy Card Message

 

 

Is it appropriate to send flowers for a cremation?

 

A tastefully designed floral tribute adds beauty to any type of memorial service. It is common for the family to have a floral arrangement designed for display with the urn.

 

 

Is it appropriate to send a plant to the funeral home and will it be sent to the family after the service?

 

Yes, it is appropriate to send a green or flowering plant. Some funeral homes will deliver plants or floral arrangements to the home if specified. Otherwise, the funeral director will simply notify the family members that they may take the plants with them after the service.

 

 

Is it acceptable to send flowers in a glass vase to the funeral home?
From an etiquette standpoint this is perfectly acceptable, however I generally recommend against doing so as many funeral homes have rules about certain types of floral arrangements. This is particularly the case with vases that may be prone to tip and spill when being moved.

 

 

Here is a suggested list of items and the times they are the most appropriate:

 

 

 

Funeral Baskets

 

are appropriate for delivery to the funeral home, mortuary or church. These beautiful floral arrangements are displayed in decorative baskets or containers and make a lovely presentation. These arrangements can also be sent to the residence, but typically are sent to the funeral home, mortuary or church.

 

Green and Blooming Plants
Theses are appropriate for delivery to the funeral home, mortuary, church, residence or place of business. These beautiful plants are displayed in a pretty pot or in a decorative basket and are appropriate to send to any location.

 

 

Sympathy Sprays

 

Sympathy Sprays are appropriate for delivery to the funeral home, mortuary or church. These beautiful arrangements are displayed on a standing easel and make a spectacular presentation.

 

 

 

Vase Arrangements

 

Vase Arrangements are appropriate for delivery to the residence, or a place of business of a friend or family member who has lost a loved one. Arranged in a beautiful vase, these arrangements are a tasteful way to offer your condolences.

 

 

Wreaths and Specialty Arrangements

 

Wreaths and Specialty Arrangements such as crosses, bibles etc., are appropriate for delivery to the funeral home, mortuary or church. Wreaths and specialty arrangements are displayed on a standing easel and give maximum presentation.

 

 

Is it appropriate to send flowers within all religious beliefs?
The significance and use of flowers in funerals is often dependent on the religious beliefs of the deceased and the bereaved. There are some rules of etiquette to follow when sending funeral flowers, particularly in incidences where religion is a factor.

 

Here are some very general guidelines, however if you are uncertain it is always advised to speak to a family member:

 

See How to Write a Sympathy Card Message

 

Buddhist funerals will almost always take place in a funeral home and never in a temple. Sending flowers is considered appropriate for a Buddhist funeral.

 

Eastern Orthodox practitioners are strict about three days between death and burial. During this time, flowers may be sent to the funeral home. White funeral flowers are seen as especially meaningful.

 

Hindus hold a funeral service on the day of death,before the sun goes down if possible. Sending flowers isn’t part of the Hindu tradition, but it may still be seen as a thoughtful gesture. You can safely send a nice funeral spray to commemorate the deceased.

 

Jewish tradition doesn’t include the sending of flowers at death. It’s more appropriate to send gift baskets or fruit during the period of mourning.

Broadway Basketeers Kosher Shiva Gift Basket

 

Mormons (or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) appreciate flowers and funeral sprays at the time of mourning. Don’t send them in the shape of a cross as this may offend, and note that Mormon funerals are not held in the temple.

 

Muslim or Islamic cultures may have differing opinions concerning funeral flowers, depending on their ethnic origin and perhaps even on what particular branch of Islam they are from. Ask the opinion of someone close to the family, if you can.

 

Protestants and Other Christian faiths accept all forms of funeral flowers. However certain branches or denominations further out of the mainstream (especially in some Reformed traditions) may have particular ideas concerning simplicity and adornment.

 

Roman Catholics welcome flowers and funeral flower arrangements. There may be some particulars concerning delivery of funeral flowers to a church or cathedral.

 

 

Some final thoughts on funeral and sympathy flowers

 

Flowers are a thoughtful and appropriate way to express emotions without adding to the burdens of losing a loved one. Sending a bouquet to the funeral home means that everyone will get to enjoy the sight of the flowers you provided – oftentimes in colors and styles that the deceased may have loved throughout his or her life.  And because fresh-cut bouquets require little upkeep, they also don’t add to the cares and concerns the family is already dealing with.

Bouquets sent directly to the home are also an appropriate way to send your condolences. Oftentimes, the spaces the deceased once inhabited become fraught with memories and sadness. Fresh flowers can add incredible appeal to a space and emulate a garden setting, in which eternal life and beauty is stressed.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

Related:

How to Plan a Funeral

How to Write Sympathy Card Messages

Coping With Grief (And What I Did)

About Me

Create Your Own Blog

 

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Writing a Will Properly

Last Will and Testament

What You Need to Know About Writing a Will

 

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Writing a will isn’t the most pleasant of tasks. After all, by doing so you’re not only acknowledging your own inevitable demise but actively planning for it. That might explain why so many adults avoid this cornerstone of estate planning.  According to an AARP survey, 2 out of 5 Americans over the age of 45 don’t have a will.

See also:  a cost-effective way to get your will done. 

But creating a will is one of the most critical things you can do for your loved ones. Putting your wishes on paper helps your heirs avoid unnecessary hassles, and you gain the peace of mind knowing that a life’s worth of possessions will end up in the right hands.

“A will is an important way you can stay in control over who gets what of your property,” says Sally Hurme, an attorney with AARP, “and by planning in advance you can also save your family time and money.”

The laws governing wills vary from state to state. If you aren’t familiar with them, consider consulting a knowledgeable lawyer or estate planner in your area. Before you do, brush up on these 10 things you should know about writing a will.

 

What is a will?

A will is simply a legal document in which you, the testator, declare who will manage your estate after you die. Your estate can consist of big, expensive things such as a vacation home but also small items that might hold sentimental value such as photographs. The person named in the will to manage your estate is called the executor because he or she executes your stated wishes.

A will can also serve to declare who you wish to become the guardian for any minor children or dependents, and who you want to receive specific items that you own — Aunt Sally gets the silver, Cousin Billy the bone china, and so on. Someone designated to receive any of your property is called a “beneficiary.”

Some types of property, including certain insurance policies and retirement accounts, generally aren’t covered by wills. You should’ve listed beneficiaries when you took out the policies or opened the accounts. Check if you can’t remember, and make sure you keep beneficiaries up to date, since what you have on file when you die should dictate who receives those assets.

 

What happens if I die without a will?

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If you die without a valid will, you’ll become what’s called intestate. That usually means your estate will be settled based on the laws of your state that outline who inherits what. Probate is the legal process of transferring the property of a deceased person to the rightful heirs.

Since no executor was named, a judge appoints an administrator to serve in that capacity. An administrator also will be named if a will is deemed to be invalid. All wills must meet certain standards such as being witnessed to be legally valid. Again, requirements vary from state to state.

An administrator will most likely be a stranger to you and your family, and he or she will be bound by the letter of the probate laws of your state. As such, an administrator may make decisions that wouldn’t necessarily agree with your wishes or those of your heirs.

 

Do I need an attorney to prepare my will?

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No, you aren’t required to hire a lawyer to prepare your will, though an experienced lawyer can provide useful advice on estate-planning strategies such as living trusts. But as long as your will meets the legal requirements of your state, it’s valid whether a lawyer drafted it or you wrote it yourself on the back of a napkin.

Do-it-yourself will kits are widely available. Conduct an Internet search for “online wills” or “estate planning software” to find options, or check bookstores and libraries for will-writing guides. 

I recommend Law Depot.  They were founded in 2001 and more than 2 million people have used LawDepot to create over 4 million legal documents and save over a billion dollars in legal fees. With their free trial subscription, you will have unlimited access to all of LawDepot’s documents which can be customized, downloaded, and printed in 5-10 minutes with no strings attached.

Your state’s departments of aging also might be able to direct you to free or low-cost resources for estate planning.

And while you’re working on your will, you should think about preparing other essential estate-planning documents. “When you create or update your will, that’s also a good time to think about other advance-planning tools like financial and health care powers of attorney to ensure that your wishes are carried out while you’re still alive,” says Naomi Karp of AARP’s Public Policy Institute.

 

Should my spouse and I have a joint will or separate wills?

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Estate planners almost universally advise against joint wills, and some states don’t even recognize them. Odds are you and your spouse won’t die at the same time, and there’s probably property that’s not jointly held. That’s why separate wills make better sense, even though your will and your spouse’s will might end up looking remarkably similar.

In particular, separate wills allow for each spouse to address issues such as ex-spouses and children from previous relationships. Ditto for property that was obtained during a previous marriage. Be very clear about who gets what. Probate laws generally favor the current spouse.

 

Who should act as a witness to a will?

Any person can act as a witness to your will, but you should select someone who isn’t a beneficiary. Otherwise there’s the potential for a conflict of interest. The technical term is a disinterested witness. Some states require two or more witnesses. If a lawyer drafts your will, he or she shouldn’t serve as a witness.

Not all states require a will to be notarized, but some do. Check. You may also want to have your witnesses sign what’s called a self-proving affidavit in the presence of a notary. This affidavit can speed up the probate process because your witnesses likely won’t be called into court by a judge to validate their signatures and the authenticity of the will.

 

Who should I name as my executor?

You can name your spouse, an adult child, or another trusted friend or relative as your executor. If your affairs are complicated, it might make more sense to name an attorney or someone with legal and financial expertise. You can also name joint executors, such as your spouse or partner and your attorney.

One of the most important things your will can do is empower your executor to pay your bills  and deal with debt collectors. Make sure the wording of your will allows for this, and also gives your executor leeway to take care of any related issues that aren’t specifically outlined in your will.

 

How do I leave specific items to specific heirs?

If you wish to leave certain personal property to certain heirs, indicate as much in your will. In addition, you can create a separate document called a letter of instruction that you should keep with your will.

A letter of instruction, which isn’t legally binding in some states, can be written more informally than a will and can go into detail about which items go to whom. You can also include specifics about any number of things that will help your executor settle your estate including account numbers, passwords and even burial instructions.

Another option is to leave everything to one trusted person who knows your wishes for distributing your personal items. This, of course, is risky because you’re relying on this person to honor your intentions without fail. Consider carefully.

 

Where should I keep my will?

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A probate court usually requires your original will before it can process your estate, so it’s important to keep the document safe yet accessible. If you put the will in a bank safe deposit box that only you can get into, your family might need to seek a court order to gain access. A waterproof and fireproof safe in your house is a good alternative.

Your attorney or someone you trust should keep signed copies in case the original is destroyed. Signed copies can be used to establish your intentions. However, the absence of an original will can complicate matters, and without it there’s no guarantee that your estate will be settled as you’d hoped.

 

How often does a will need to be updated?

It’s possible that your will may never need to be updated — or you may choose to update it regularly. The decision is yours. Remember, the only version of your will that matters is the most current valid one in existence at the time of your death.

With that in mind, you may want to revisit your will at times of major life changes. Think of pivotal moments such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, the death of a beneficiary or executor, a significant purchase or inheritance, and so on. Your kids probably won’t need guardians named in a will after they’re adults, for example, but you might still need to name guardians for disabled dependents. A rule of thumb: Review your will every two or three years to be safe.

Who has the right to contest my will?

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Contesting a will refers to challenging the legal validity of all or part of the document. A beneficiary who feels slighted by the terms of a will might choose to contest it. Depending on which state you live in, so too might a spouse, ex-spouse or child who believes your stated wishes go against local probate laws.

A will can be contested for any number of other reasons: it wasn’t properly witnessed; you weren’t competent when you signed it; or it’s the result of coercion or fraud. It’s usually up to a probate judge to settle the dispute. The key to successfully contesting a will is finding legitimate legal fault with it. A clearly drafted and validly executed will is the best defense.

 

Having a will is so important for your peace of mind and that of your loved ones.  Take some time to think about your assets and your wishes, and get started at your earlier convenience.  You’ll be glad to have it done.

I’d love to hear from you if you thoughts on or have had experience preparing a will.  Please leave your comment below.

 

Related:

Cost Effective Wills

Estate Planning Mistakes

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Estate Planning Mistakes

Avoid These Costly Estate Planning Mistakes

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Why work hard to build wealth only to have your wishes thwarted or your family left with much less than you anticipated? From wills to trusts and beyond, protect your loved ones by avoiding these four costly but common estate-planning mistakes.

1. Forgoing an expert’s review.

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There’s nothing wrong with saving a few bucks by drafting your own estate-planning documents. You can find templates for basic wills and such online or in bookstores. It’s a good idea to also invest in a review of the final documents by an expert to be sure everything is in order.

“Ninety percent of the online estate-planning documents  I see don’t do what the people think they’re going to do,” says Leanna Hamill, an estate planner and elder law attorney in Hingham, Mass. “I’ve seen people use online documents, documents out of estate-planning books or documents borrowed from friends. But they screw up their estate plan because they don’t understand the legal and technical aspects of the documents.”

Common mistakes Hamill has seen? One client signed a deed transferring his house to a trust but hadn’t properly created the trust. Thus, the deed had no effect. Another client’s confusion over the term “beneficiary” resulted in the immediate transfer of all his property to his children and required him to pay them an annual income, leaving his wife in the cold.

 

2. Failing to tie your business to your estate plan.

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If you own a business, include it in your estate plan. “Parents sometimes don’t want to talk to their kids about it and just leave the business to the kids,” says Steve Ciepiela, president and owner of Charles Stephen & Co., a financial planning firm in Albuquerque, N.M. “That’s a huge mistake.”

A typical conundrum is how to provide equally for children who work in the family business and those who don’t. Ciepiela had hounded a couple with five children to do estate planning that covered their business. But they stuck with simple wills and died within five months of each other. At a family meeting after the parents’ deaths, three children not working in the business wanted to know how much income they’d begin getting from the business. The two brothers who worked in the business contended they had to sell it to pay estate taxes.

The business was shut down and sold at a huge discount. The two brothers opened a new, but less successful, business, recalls Ciepiela. All of that could have been avoided if the parents had bought life insurance to cover estate taxes or equalize the distribution to children who didn’t work in the business.

 

3. Leaving lump sums.

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If you have money to leave behind, be sure it makes a difference in your family members’ lives by leaving it in a trust, rather than cash. Donald A. DeLong, an estate, business and tax-planning lawyer in Southfield, Mich., witnessed one case in which a father left $250,000 to his heroin-addicted son, who was penniless six months later.

“He did his own will,” says DeLong. “He knew the problems his son had with drugs because his son lived with him. I think he just wasn’t aware he had other options. A trust was probably his best option, because it’s the best way to protect people from themselves.”

With a trust, you transfer property to a trustee, who is bound by a trust agreement. The trust agreement stipulates how you want the property distributed. So rather than giving property outright to a beneficiary, the trustee holds your property and doles it out per your instructions. It’s an added layer of protection.

The most common types of trusts —  revocable living trust  and  irrevocable trusts  —  can contain so-called spendthrift provisions. “A spendthrift provision prevents the beneficiary from getting advances against or trying to get a loan using his interest in the trust as collateral,” says DeLong. “It also leaves the beneficiary’s creditors in the cold because the beneficiary has no control over or access to the trust funds in the trust.”

 

4. Neglecting to update your estate plan.

Each time the law or your family changes, revisit your estate plan. The all-time record for an out-of-date estate plan may go to a couple who not long ago came to Everett Sussman, an estate-planning attorney in Stratford, Conn. “They said they’d done their wills when their kids were young — that was in September 1957,” says Sussman. “Legally, those documents were valid, but they’d have been worth nothing at all. The couple no longer needed guardians for their children, who now have adult children of their own. Their assets were wildly different, and the executor they’d chosen had died many years earlier.”

Changes can also require alterations in not-so-old estate plans. Sussman is in the process of “fixing” the estate of a woman who split her assets between her daughter and granddaughter. But when she died, her daughter was again pregnant. “The grandmother didn’t update her will when she found out her daughter was going to have a second child because she probably thought her attorney drafted it properly to accommodate for later-born children,” says Sussman. “I was brought in to overturn the estate so half would be split among the grandchildren. Had there been feuding children, we never would have accomplished this because the will was valid on its face.”

If you would like to see how to prepare a trust inexpensively online, I recommend Law Depot for simple do-it-yourself legal document preparation.  You can always have an expert check it over for a small fee, and you can make changes to your document any time.

Please share your thoughts and experience with estate planning in the comment section below.

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Cost Effective Wills

Online software and ready-made forms make creating a will simple and affordable.

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If you’ve put off making a last will and testament because you don’t want to pay a lawyer, you should know that it’s not necessary to hire an attorney to draw up a will.

Many people who require a basic will can create one online or simply use store-bought legal forms. Each of these methods of creating a will is far less expensive than retaining a lawyer to do the job.

 For instance, several Internet-based companies, such as Law Depot,   allow you to create a will from your own computer. 
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When you create a will online, you are walked step-by-step through a series of questions to help you create the will.  You then print out the will, and get it signed by at least two witnesses and notarized. Most online software programs for wills also let you go back into the will and make changes or additions to the document as you see fit.

 

The cost of making an online will usually ranges from about $20 to $100. For as little as $5 to $20, you can also buy a standard will and testament on ready-made forms sold in stores such as OfficeMax, Office Depot or Staples.

 

By comparison, a lawyer may charge anywhere from roughly $100 to $1,000 to create a will, depending on the part of the country in which you live and the complexity of your personal circumstances.

 

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…So don’t let money be an obstacle to creating your will.

 

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You really do have easy, convenient, low-cost alternatives to get the process completed.

 

There are some situations, however, when you may want to hire a lawyer.

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For example, it’s best to get an attorney involved if:

  • You have a large estate and want some estate planning guidance.
  • You want to disinherit a spouse.
  • You are concerned that someone may contest your will or try to claim that you weren’t of sound mind when you signed it.

 

I used an online software program to create my will; my husband did, too.  So if your situation is pretty straight-forward, you can do the same thing. And rest assured that a will prepared on online software — or one prepared on a store-bought form — is just as legal as if an attorney drew it up.

 

I used and recommend Law Depot for Americans,  Canadians,  Australians and citizens of the UK.

 

Please share your thoughts and experience with will preparation in the comment section below.

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Make A Living Will Today

What is a Living Will or Healthcare Directive

And  Do You Need One?

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Prepare for unforeseen circumstances to save yourself and your family needless pain.

We have all heard stories of people who, because of a terrible accident or illness, become unable to make health care decisions for themselves. It may happen gradually, when someone develops dementia, for example. If he or she did not previously designate another person to do so, the matter can end up in the courts.

Having a health care power of attorney  is the best way to make sure that your wishes are followed and that you receive the level of care you choose.

In this video by Milwaukee Public Television, attorney Betsy Abramson, deputy director of the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging, offers pointers on how you can put your mind at ease by filling out the vital paperwork.

 

Living Will states your wishes regarding life support in the event that you cannot communicate your end-of-life wishes yourself. Your Living Will only comes into effect if you are in a persistent vegetative state or irreversible coma and can no longer make and communicate your own wishes. A Living Will spares your family the anguish of making life-support decisions without your input. A Living Will also ensures that your doctor understands your end-of-life wishes and treats you accordingly.

Living Wills can be very specific or very general. Living Wills that are too general may not provide sufficient direction and serve only to create confusion and conflict between medical personnel, your health care agent, and your loved ones. More specific Living Wills are preferred. These are shown to be most successful when they include informed, thoughtful reflection on your wishes and values supported by personal communication between you and your health care agent before a medical crisis occurs.

Recently, Living Wills have moved away from focusing on specific treatments and medical procedures to focus on patient values, personal goals, and health outcome states. For example, a Living Will might: designate an agent to make care decisions; dictate what kind of life support treatment that patient does or does not want; discuss pain management, personal grooming and bathing instructions; address how the patient wants to be treated, including religious, spiritual, and emotional support; and detail funeral or memorial plans.

Choosing an Agent for Your Living Will

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When you become unable to make medical decisions for yourself, the power to make life-support decisions for you is transferred to the person you designate as your agent in your Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney. 

This person must act according to the directives set out in that document. The person that you designate as your agent should be someone you know and trust. Some states refer to the agent as an “attorney-in-fact,” “health care agent,” “health care proxy,” “health care representative,” “patient advocate,” “proxy” or “surrogate.”

The statutes of most states require that your agent be an adult. In addition, under most circumstances, your agent cannot be your health care provider (for example, a physician, nurse, employee, officer, director, or operator of a home health agency, hospital, nursing home, or residential care facility) unless that person is related to you. In selecting an agent for your Living Will, you should not designate a person who is, or may become, directly involved in providing health care to you unless that person is your spouse or a family member.

Make sure your agent is willing to assume responsibility for your medical decision making. If she agrees to be your proxy, talk with her about your values, beliefs and desires. Good health care agents are able to separate their own feelings from yours and your wishes, but may feel guilt and anguish at having to make such difficult end-of-life decisions. Communicating early and often with your agent can help ensure that both you and your agent are comfortable and at peace with your life-support wishes.

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Choose just one person to serve as your agent at a given time to avoid conflicts. But choose an alternate agent in case the primary agent is not available. Once you have selected an agent, make sure they get a copy of your Living Will, and tell your family and physician whom you’ve selected.

Many individuals give their health care agents broad authority to override their written Living Will. Other individuals give the written Living Will priority. Make sure to articulate which instruction to follow when there is a conflict between your agent and your Living Will.

 

Summary For Americans:

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Create your US Citizen Living Will today.  Call your lawyer or prepare one simply and inexpensively yourself online at Law Depot.

What is a Living Will?

A Living Will lets you specify your choices for medical treatment. A Living Will documents your preferences for the time when you are no longer able to communicate or provide consent.

What is a Medical Power of Attorney?

A Medical Power of Attorney allows you to designate someone (your Agent) to make health care decisions for you when you are no longer able to do so.

What are my rights?

If you have a Living Will, the decisions made by your Agent will be constrained by that document. The Medical Power of Attorney is useful for those issues that are not covered by your Living Will. In those cases, your Agent can ensure the intent of your wishes are followed.

The U.S. Constitution allows people to determine the kind of health care they will receive. However, many states limit the types of health care decisions that can be made, and the instructions that you provide below may go beyond what is allowed in your state. This will not invalidate your instructions, but your health care providers may be limited to what is legally permitted.

 

Summary For Canadians:

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Create your Canadian Citizen Living Will today.  Call your lawyer, or prepare one inexpensively yourself online at Law Depot.

What is a Representation Agreement?

A Personal Directive or Living Will allows you to designate someone who will make health care and personal care decisions for you when you are not able and also to provide instructions for future care while you are still capable of making decisions for yourself.  A Personal Directive provides an opportunity for you to discuss treatment options with your medical staff as well as to discuss and resolve difficult issues with your family and friends.  Your directive must be made while you are still capable of giving consent.  Note that a Personal Directive is also called a Living Will, Advance Directive, Health Care Directive, or Power of Attorney for personal care.

Every adult who is 19 years of age or older is presumed to be capable of making, changing or revoking a representation agreement, and making decisions about personal care, health care and legal matters and about the adult’s financial affairs, business and assets.In addition the following will apply:

  • You must be mentally competent.
  • You must be fully informed of your treatment options for all possible medical outcomes.
  • You should not be unduly influenced by anyone else during your decision making process.

Who can write a Heath Care Directive?

Every adult who is 19 years of age or older is presumed to be capable of making, changing or revoking a representation agreement, and making decisions about personal care, health care and legal matters and about the adult’s financial affairs, business and assets.In addition the following will apply:

  • You must be mentally competent.
  • You must be fully informed of your treatment options for all possible medical outcomes.
  • You should not be unduly influenced by anyone else during your decision making process.

Other Countries:

Create your  UK Living Will Today.

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Do Not Resuscitate

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A “do not resuscitate” (DNR) order indicates that a person — usually with a terminal illness or other serious medical condition — has decided not to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) attempted in the event his or her heart or breathing stops. In most situations, a DNR order is written by a physician after discussing the burdens and benefits of CPR with the patient or the patient’s surrogate decision maker.

Why would a person sign such an order?

At some point for late stage terminally ill patients, CPR will not be life-saving, and will only cause harm. If the physicians caring for you or your loved one believe strongly that this is the case, they will discuss with you why it is not being offered as an option.  Various methods of CPR often involve more than chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. CPR also might include the use of powerful drugs or electric shock to start the heart beating again, or might require the insertion of a breathing tube. Although CPR can save lives, it frequently does not work. Even if a person is resuscitated, he or she might suffer painful injuries during CPR or might be left in a worse condition than before. Also, people with terminal illnesses or other serious medical conditions might not want to have CPR performed on them, even if that means they might die as a result.

Some people believe that CPR offers hope. Such hope, however, is not useful if there’s no chance of restoring heart function. The resuscitation procedure is complex, costly, labor intensive (involving many health care providers), and causes physical damage to the patient. Such a demanding procedure should not be performed when there’s no chance of success.

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Physicians are not obliged to provide treatment that can’t possibly work, and the ethics of doing so are questionable. For example, a surgeon can’t be expected to perform surgery that has no chance of success; a physician can’t be obliged to prescribe medication whose use is not supported by evidence.

If you or a loved one are facing a life limiting condition, chances are that you will be asked to sign a DNR order at some point.  My father was asked to sign a DNR order for my Mom, who had late stage liver disease.  The doctor explained it as deciding not to perform heroic measures in an attempt to restart the heart and breathing, as attempts to restore heart function in a person dying from a progressive terminal condition rarely work and often just cause damage.  It is difficult but important to understand that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) rarely works in these circumstances because the heart has stopped from the burden of illness on the entire body and not due to a problem with the heart itself.

Discussing resuscitation decisions can be very difficult.  Often if feels unnatural not to do anything and everything to prolong life.   Open and honest communication with the medical team is essential, as are having all the facts. 

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It is not honest to offer CPR as an intervention that offers hope in the end stages of a terminal illness, and  therefore, it may not be offered by your physician.  If there is a disagreement among the patient, their family and the health care team, it would be a good idea to obtain a second opinion from another physician.  If the second physician doesn’t support the first physician’s decision, then care may be transferred to the second physician.

Finally, remember that CPR is a vigorous emergency procedure and it is not always successful. Experience has shown that CPR does not restore breathing and heart function in patients who have widespread cancer, widespread infection or other terminal illness.

Please share your thought on DNR orders in the comments below.

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