Friday, January 28, 2011

The WILL part I - Are you Gambling?

Most people would not think they are gambling by doing nothing, but when you do nothing about having a will made, you certainly are.  Caregivers are often the first to realize this need as they helped loved ones put their affairs in order.

What is a will? According to good ol’ Mr. Webster it’s an act of your wish, desire, or longing. It is of course also a “legal statement of a person’s wishes concerning the disposal of his property after death.”  But better still is the definition offered by Attorney Art McQueen. “A will is simply the certificate of title – for your life,” he explained. No one would work hard to earn the money to purchase a car without being sure to get the title to it.  So why would we put off getting the title for all we’ve worked hard for our lives?

This is a wonderful example of perspective. Ask someone if they’ve had their will made and you’re likely to get a gruff answer, if any. Death is a topic no one wants to talk about because most associate wills with dying. It’s a natural response given our society’s incredible drive to hide from the reality of our own mortality. But taking care of business is a part of everyday life. We know that if we don’t pay the power bill, eventually, our lights won’t turn on. If we don’t get our legal affairs in order, we lose control of them.

Caregivers often have a hard time getting their loved ones to face their own mortality and deal with legal issues such as will making, end-of-life care issues, and money management. Putting these issues into an unexpected perspective may be just the fresh approach needed to get the job done.

So what does this certificate of title relate to?  It really depends on the person. That is why legal counsel is important. Attorneys will often offer a free consultation which may be what your aging parent needs to feel comfortable about starting this process.

Having trouble getting that parent in the door of the attorney’s office?  Here are some tips:
  • Focus on one issue, the will – let the attorney discuss related concerns like powers of attorney and health care proxies. Bringing up too many legalities at once can feel like an attack to a person who already knows and doesn't want to admit that there are important issues they've neglected.
  • Don’t press to be involved – a parent might not want to discuss these issues with children until after a consultation or after the legalities are finalized. 
  • Suggest non-family involvement – Encourage your parent to talk to others for attorney recommendations. This may open the door for your parent to ask questions that he or she might not feel comfortable asking you.
  • Provide resources – find articles about will making that you feel would be helpful and leave them with a parent with a gentle reminder that you hope they’ll look into this
  • Make sure your parent understands your motives. It’s not about you, it’s about your parent’s wishes. You cannot honor their wishes if you don't know them and have the legal support you need to ensure those wishes are met. Even if you, the primary caregiver, is not the executor of the will, you can offer assurance of your desire to support whatever your parent's wishes will be.  
In the long term, taking care of business for one, gives peace of mind for all.  Perspective can make all the difference.

Caregivers, while you're at it, check into your own will - it's never to early to get the certificate of title for your life too!

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