Maintaining Independence and Control Throughout Life
Attorney Sarah Kons appeared on WHBY’s Fresh Take with Josh Dukelow to discuss maintaining independence and control throughout life.
Josh: Fresh Take is brought to you by Hooper Law Office. Find their offices in Appleton, Oshkosh, or Green Bay. Or find them online at HooperLawOffice.com. For your elder law and estate planning needs, Hooper Law Office providing a pathway to your legacy. And providing great advice for maintaining your financial independence. That's what we're going to talk about right now as Sarah Kons from Hooper Law Office joins us on the Settlers Bank phone line. Sarah, welcome back to Fresh Take.
Sarah: Hi, Josh.
Josh: How are you doing today?
Sarah: I'm doing well. How are you?
Josh: I'm doing very well actually. We just got done talking about fireworks. Did you hear some fireworks in your neighborhood this weekend?
Sarah: I did. Absolutely, I did. I saw quite a few pretty good ones actually. And I was surprised, because I kept asking people around me, "I thought those were illegal, weren't they?"
Josh: Indeed. Indeed, they are. And then we find out that [...] we talked last week about prosecutorial discretion on the show. I think that would be a topic that would apply to that question you had right there.
Sarah: I think you're right.
Josh: Well we will leave the fireworks aside. But independence is the topic that we're talking about just as our nation has celebrated the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. The idea of independence is important to estate planning as well. That's really what it's all about, isn't it, Sarah?
Sarah: It really is, especially as you get older and you begin transitioning through different types of changes. As your health especially may change and you may need to transition through different types of living situations, you want to make sure that you are maintaining and exercising a strong amount of control and independence through those different types of changes.
Josh: And it's these changes that we are often talking about when you join us here on the show, Sarah. These changes, as you mentioned, with living situation, with health, with capabilities and capacities and being able to describe in your plan ahead of time how you want things handled is a great way to make sure that your wishes are honored even if you aren't the one giving the directions.
Sarah: Right. Even if you are not the person that is able to communicate what your decisions are at that point in your life, you want to have the ability to name the person that is speaking for you and be the one that has designated what are the powers and authorities that they have to either make decisions on your behalf or what are they able to access or control when it comes to the assets or property that you own or what it is that you want in terms of medical decisions.
So even if you're not at a point where you can communicate those decisions on your own, you have done all of that in advance so that you still have that measure of control. It's still your voice in that process even if it's not you actually communicating it.
Josh: Yeah. And this idea of being able to have your wishes be honored throughout all the decisions in your life, that is really at the heart of estate planning. It's at the heart of what we talk about. And Sarah, Hooper Law Office is actually putting together a weekly webinar series this week talking about this idea of maintaining control. Walk me through a little bit some of these topics and what you're going to be sharing with those who attend.
Sarah: We are going to be doing basically for the month of July, different topics associated with maintaining independence. So we're going to be talking about maintaining financial independence, maintaining independence when it comes to your medical care, your health, maintaining independence as you age or if you have to experience any sort of transition into long-term care, and maintaining independence even if you have a loved one that maybe is providing care for you at some point.
So all of these are different situations that you may find yourself in where either you need to have prepared in advance in order to make sure that you are maintaining your own independence or there's something that you need to do to maintain a larger amount of your voice in that process just in case things change for you at that point in your life.
Josh: People who may be listening now, getting older, thinking about these sort of issues that might become irrelevant to their lives here in the not-too-distant future, it's not just those who are aging or who may need the care that need to understand these issues. It's those who may be providing their care in the future [...] their loved ones, their family members. They need to understand these issues too, don't they?
Sarah: Right. There's a series that we did not that long ago on the common mistakes that we see sometimes caregivers making when they're providing care for a loved one or some of the common mistakes we see our clients making when they're receiving care from a family member or a friend.
And unfortunately, most people find out that they've made these mistakes when there's something else they can do about it at a point where they're transitioning into care and they're seeking out accessing other benefits or other resources to assist them and obtaining different kinds of care. And they find out, "Oh, you weren't supposed to have done it this way." Or, "If you needed that, you were supposed to have titles to display or called it this." Or, "You were supposed to have this document in place in order to do it that way. And now this is the penalty for that." Or, "This is the result that you are going to end up getting because of what you didn't know at that time.
And unfortunately, there just isn't a, "Well you didn't know, so therefore, it's OK." They don't care that you didn't know. And I've seen a lot of really unfortunate situations with people where they honestly just had no idea. They were doing the best they could with the information that they have at the time.
And there's a lot of information out there. This isn't really a situation where you can't find any information about this. It's an over-abundance of information that's the problem. There's just so much information out there on what the best thing to do is or different types of programs that might be relevant to your situation at that time.
Different places [...] geography matters a whole lot when it comes to what information you're looking at. If you're reading something about Medi-Cal out in California, it has absolutely no relevance at all to Wisconsin. Because we don't use Medi-Cal. So if you're looking at that to guide you, you're going to have a problem. If it's older than 2014, for example, it's also going to be very out of date, because there were a lot of significant changes that happened then. Or significant changes that happened even more recently. So the age of what you're looking at has a big impact.
People are trying to navigate all of this the absolute best that they can, and they'll ask the same question of three different people and they'll still get three different answers. So they make the best decisions that they can at the time, but they can still end up in a position where they didn't realize that they needed to have done something a little differently.
So what we're trying to do is make sure that people are making the best decision they can with the best information they can in order to maintain a high level of control over their situation and maintain a degree of independence. Even if you're transitioning to different types of care, you still want to make sure that you are exercising control over your situation and that your family is able to say, "This is the style of life that this person wants, that this is the quality of life that they really need to have. So therefore, this is the situation we're going to make sure that they continue to have even as their health may change. Or they might transition to the higher levels of care. And that's really that it is that you're trying to create for yourself or for your loved one.
Josh: The July webinar series on maintaining control begins tomorrow, July 8th. And that is with maintaining control of your finances. One of the biggest questions we're all having, I think, as we head into retirement, will we have enough money? Maintaining control of the money you have, a key way to maintain that independence. That topic will be covered in the webinar tomorrow. You can get more information at EstatePlanningLive.net or call Hooper Law Office for more information (920) 993-0990.
Give them a call. Tell them you heard about it on Fresh Take, you want to sign up for the webinar to maintain control and independence.
We're talking to Sarah Kons with Hooper Law Office. When we come back, we're going to talk a little more detail about ways that people may lose their independence and what can be done if some aspects of independence have been lost or are being lost, what steps can be taken and what you can do. If someone has already lost some of their capacity, can you still help them maintain control as they age? We're talking about independence and maintaining your independence and control as you age. This is Sarah Kons from Hooper Law Office. We'll talk more about that when we continue with more Fresh Take after this on WHBY.
[00:09:33] Break in the show
Josh: Real local radio helping you maintain your control and independence with Sarah Kons from Hooper Law Office talking estate planning and making sure that you keep control of your finances as you age. Sarah, you and Peter from Hooper Law Office are offering a series of webinars starting tomorrow with maintaining control of your finances. Folks can call Hooper Law Office, (920) 993-0990, to get signed up. The first 50 people to register get a free copy of your book, Your Life Your Legacy.
So let's sort of build a little excitement here, Sarah. Let's get people curious about what they might learn. Talk a little bit about some of the ways people can lose financial independence.
Sarah: People, I think, mistakenly believe that if they do planning or they put together like a financial power of attorney that they're, then, turning over the authority to do things or that they're turning over control to somebody else. So if they just don't name anybody to do anything, then they're keeping control in their hands. And by doing that, they're actually kind of doing the exact opposite.
It's not that if you later lose capacity, it means that you get to keep control over everything even if you lose capacity. It just means if you then lose capacity later on, your loved ones then are just going to go through the court process of guardianship to have a guardian named. And that process actually strips authorities from you as a person and gives them to somebody else to exercise on your behalf. And only with the court's approval are you able to get them back.
So it's actually a much more, almost heavy-handed process. It can be appropriate for certain situations, but if you don't do planning on your own to say, "These are the people that I trust. These are the powers that I give them to help me," is necessary. And by doing that, you're not giving up powers yourself. You're just sharing them with somebody else, if necessary, down the road. You're not avoiding the need to do that. You're just kind of putting your loved ones in a situation of having to use a much more heavy-handed process down the road.
So it really isn't a, "If I don't do this, it means everything stays with me." It's more of a, "If I don't do this and end up needing it, it's going to be a much more significant process." So it's really something people need to be aware of. "If I fail to take action and looking at what documents are out there [...] what are the ones that are really appropriate for me and my situation?" There are things that family members can do. They just might not be ideal or the best for your situation.
And there isn't one set of documents out there. It's not like there's one document that everybody has to do. Everybody's circumstances really dictate a different scenario or different set of documents. And you want to make sure that you know what it is that's right for you.
Josh: And Sarah, it sounds like based on what you're saying there, there are some situations or eventualities you may find yourself in that once you're in the situation, some of your options may be already foreclosed once you've gotten to that point. So you need to be planning ahead for if you find yourself in that scenario.
I'd imagine there's an endless series of "if" scenarios. How do you determine what you need to plan for and what is just too much?
Sarah: A lot of it is just based on conversations, honestly, that we have with people. What is it that your life is like? Who are the people that are important to you? How is it that you spend your time? What is it that you commonly do when you travel? How far do you go? Do you spend a lot of time traveling?
What about the people that are close to you and the people that you trust? What are their lifestyles like? What is their availability like?
And this pandemic, I think, has also really highlighted availability as a big factor when it comes to especially financial planning. People that have been quarantined or stuck out of the country even and trying to get back into the U.S., their assets don't just go away or don't just stay on hold indefinitely. They need to continue to manage the things that they own. They still have responsibilities. And if they don't have people that can do that on their behalf or do that for them, they might not be able to do that from a long distance.
Some places, unfortunately, don't have great Wi-Fi. So being able to do online banking isn't always a reality if you're not in an area where that's possible. So having somebody else that has the authority to deal with your assets, to deal with your financial accounts, to file taxes for you, to do basic things like that can be really helpful even if it's just a situation where you're unavailable. It's not necessarily a health event where you're no longer able to participate. It's just you're not able to access something for a period of time.
In that scenario, you're also not likely able to sign something. There are a lot of exceptions that went into effect not all that long ago that allow a lot of different documents to be signed electronically, but unfortunately, estate planning documents don't tend to fall in that category. So you want to make sure that you appropriately sign some of these things before you're in a situation where you need them. Because the people that need to present them are the ones that have to have access to correctly sign documents.
Josh: So Sarah, if there's somebody listening right now and they are hearing what you're saying [...] you're describing some scenarios [...] and they are concerned that maybe they or a loved one is already beginning to lose some aspects of their independence, what can they do about that? What's that first step they should take?
Sarah: One of the best things that you absolutely can do is talk to them about where they keep things. Where is it that they keep important records? Where is it that they keep their financial information or vital records like birth certificates or marriage certificates, military records, things that might become important down the road. Where is it that they keep important papers and documents? Is it in a safe where they're the only one that has the combination or they're the only one that has a key? Is it in a safe deposit box where nobody else has access? So where is it that you keep things?
What other professionals do you use? Do you work with a financial advisor? Do you have an attorney that you worked with to put together some planning documents? Who are these professionals? And then introduce the people that you're putting in these positions or the people that you trust to these professionals and give them permission to talk to this person so that this person, if they're your sort of go to, if you start to decline in health and this person's going to step in and be the one that's going to help make sure that you have the type of life and the quality of life that you really want. Being able to access people to help guide their decision and help understand what it is that they need to be doing can be invaluable to them. So introducing them to who these professionals are, connecting them with these people, making sure that these professionals are allowed to talk to them, all of those are just basic pieces of information that usually family members just don't have because they haven't had these conversations.
So starting with where do you keep things, who is it that you work with, what documents do you currently have in place, who is it that you have named, and how old are these document? Are these things that we can use easily at this point, or are they 15 years old and we're going to struggle to present them at a financial institution?
Doing a basic review, that can be extremely helpful. Let's say you work with an estate planning attorney, taking the person that you have named to act for you into the attorney's office and walking through your documents with them and the attorney so that the person understands what the documents are, what it is they're named to do, what it is they're authorized to do, what it is that you want them to be doing in these different situations, and give them the opportunity to ask questions.
Peter, I know, has said on your show a number of times a line that we tend to repeat pretty commonly, "A person cannot do a good job for you if they do not know that they have a job to do." So you need to make sure that you talk to people that you've named in your planning. And that's going to make a world of difference both to them and to the success of any plan that you have.
Josh: We know those conversations can be difficult, but Sarah, you've explained just how important they are. And I appreciate you doing that. I encourage everybody to consider signing up for the estate planning seminar tomorrow.
And you can get signed up by calling Hooper Law Office (920) 993-0990. That's 993-0990. Get signed up for the estate planning seminar, Maintaining Control of Your Finances, July 8th.
Sarah Kons from Hooper Law Office, thank you. It's always great to talk to you.
Sarah: It's always a pleasure, Josh.