Facing up to our own mortality presents a challenge at any stage of life and, unfortunately, many of us cling to the idea that we can put off making plans for incapacity until we reach our elder years. Fortunately, most Kent residents will have the good fortune of aging into their golden years before it falls upon loved ones to carry out their end-of-life wishes. Unfortunately, as the story of one paralegal illustrates, some of us may need to rely others to make difficult decisions long before anyone expects.
Some Kent residents may be familiar with certain free or low-cost estate planning tools and wondering if those tools are adequate to meet their individual estate planning needs. One popular example is the "Five Wishes" package that may be offered as a form of living will to participants in certain Medicare supplemental insurance programs. This particular document package may meet the legal requirements for a valid living will in many states, but financial planning experts warn seniors against believing that similar free tools provide a comprehensive solution to long-term care planning.
Medical expenses made during the last two years of life, as Kent readers may know, account for a disproportionate share of individual lifetime health care costs. In many cases, those expenses are passed on to spouses or children as estate assets are depleted and, in some cases, insufficient to meet the costs of care.
Kent residents may not be surprised by the results of a survey of terminally ill cancer patients that sought to determine which factors most affected a person's perception of the quality of end-of-life experiences. The most important factors identified by study participants were to avoid dying in a hospital, to avoid extreme life-sustaining procedures and to be treated with respect by their doctors. While a patient may have little ability to change a doctor's bedside manners, long term care planning can help make sure that end-of-life wishes are heard and met.
As Kent residents may know, an increasing number of Americans find themselves spending at least part of their retirement years without a spouse. Some will fly solo through retirement due to divorce or the death of a husband or wife. Others simply choose never to marry. Although people commonly think about estate planning in terms of providing for their heirs, estate planning and long-term care planning may be equally if not more important for singles.
Last week's post, "Estate plans for King County's changing needs," reminded readers in the Seattle area about the importance of long-term care planning as American life expectancy continues to increase. A recent study about conflicting attitudes among doctors regarding end-of-life care further illustrates the importance of thoughtful and comprehensive estate planning as it relates to carrying out end-of-life wishes.
King County readers may recall a previous post on this blog discussing the surprising percentage of Americans without wills. Even if King County stands ahead of the national curve when it comes to having wills prepared, area residents and Washingtonians on the whole are likely to face a variety of complicated estate planning challenges.
Washington residents may be aware of the crisis in long-term care insurance. U.S. legislators have been debating over how to address the problem, since about 10 million Americans currently need long-term care, and 15 million Americans are expected to need long-term care by 2020. Despite those staggering numbers, only 8 percent of U.S. citizens purchase private long-term care insurance.
For many Washington residents, caring for loved ones with special needs may be especially difficult in these tough economic times. In addition to the cost of care, all manner of other bills are piling up. However, experts say that, as difficult as it may seem, families that are providing for loved ones with special needs should also do their best to plan for the long term. Doing so is a good idea not only for loved ones with special needs but also for the caregivers' retirement. For example, advance directives, end-of-life wishes, and a living will should all be considered when estate planning becomes a reality.One of the more important reasons people are now seeking estate planning for those with special needs is that the bad economy has resulted in reduced incomes for caregivers, as jobs have been lost or hours cut. This reduction in income can make things very difficult for many families, especially those that are caring for loved ones. Estate planning allows families to get control over what they may be facing in the future, as well as make plans to address those issues.