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Make Plans Now in Case You Aren’t Able to Make Them Later

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Question: What advice do you have for an elderly person who has no one to handle her affairs should she become incapacitated? Is this a service that a bank would be willing to provide?

Answer: Indeed, many banks are willing to take on this role for a fee. If you don’t have a friend or relative you would trust to fill this role, hiring a professional custodian might be an option for you.

But you might consider other possibilities first. Ed Long, a Torrance attorney who runs a Web site for seniors, suggests you work with your minister or other religious leader to develop a group that can discuss these issues and agree to look out for one another. Some churches and temples already have these older-adult ministries in place.

You also could consider hiring a private geriatric-care manager to help you. These specialists can help you find care and manage your finances. You can find a manager through the National Assn. of Professional Geriatric Care Managers at www.caremanager.org or by calling (520) 881-8008.

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Long’s organization, HELP (Healthcare and Elder Law Programs), offers a free handy guide, “Your Way,” that can help you pick health-care agents and talk with them about your wishes. The guide is available at the group’s Web site, www.help4srs.org.

It’s not just elderly people who should plan for incapacity, by the way. Just about every adult should have a document, known as durable power of attorney, that authorizes a trusted person to make decisions in case he or she can’t. (Most people will want two such documents, one for health-care decisions and another for financial matters.)

If you don’t do this planning, a court might have to appoint a conservator for you, and that’s a fate just about everyone should try to avoid. Much better to designate someone in advance, while you still have time to make your wishes known.

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Parents Aren’t an Investment to Protect

Q: I am 42, single, with an annual income of approximately $65,000. I send $300 to $500 a month to my parents, whose only other income is Social Security. Three years ago, I attempted to get my six siblings involved in helping to support them, but so far it has not worked.

To protect my investment, my father has noted in his will that all my contributions will be paid back before the estate is divided. The only asset my parents have is their house, worth about $140,000 with $80,000 left on the mortgage.

Is there a better way to handle this? Should I buy the house, or have them add me to the deed? I want to minimize any squabbling that could happen after my folks pass away.

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A: Let’s back up a minute here.

Your parents are not an investment. Stocks are an investment. Real estate is an investment. A good education is an investment. Your parents, those folks who clothed, fed and educated you, are not.

You also might want to cut your siblings some slack. There may be some deadbeats among them, but others probably have children and other expenses that limit their ability to help. You may be the only one contributing to your parents’ support precisely because you’re in the best position to do so.

Regardless of the situation, you might not be able to avoid squabbling with your siblings after your parents’ deaths, particularly if you end up with the bulk of the estate.

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If you’re determined to get paid back, you could spend a few hundred bucks to hire an estate planning attorney to go over your options, or you could read “Plan Your Estate,” the Nolo Press book by Denis Clifford and Cora Jordan.

Everyone’s estate planning situation is different, so it’s hard to give advice without knowing more details about the financial situations of everyone involved.

You may find that buying the house or being added to the deed is a good idea or it could be a lousy one, because you might lose some or all of a valuable break that otherwise would make the home’s appreciation tax-free.

Relying on your father’s will to compensate you is risky because he could, after all, change his mind, and so could your mother if he dies before her.

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But remember, this is not an estate worth millions. Although the value of their home could grow between now and their deaths, right now you’re talking about an estate worth $60,000, which is to be split seven ways.

How much more of your energy do you really want to invest just to make sure you get a few bucks more and your brothers and sisters a few bucks less?

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Liz Pulliam Weston is a personal finance writer for The Times and a graduate of the personal financial planning certificate program at UC Irvine. Questions can be sent to her at money talk@latimes.com or mailed to her in care of Money Talk, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. She regrets that she cannot respond personally to queries. For past Money Talk questions and answers, visit The Times’ Web site at www.latimes.com/moneytalk.

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