Life care planning

The Legal Point

By Catherine E. Sears, Esq., Attorney, The Peninsula Center for Estate and Lifelong Planning

Over the next 25 years, it is estimated that caring for elderly relatives will become as common as childcare. Most people want to stay at home or with an adult child, rather than enter a nursing home. However, most people also don’t want to be a burden on their children, or their children live far away or are too busy with their own lives to provide care. Additionally, many people don’t have children or don’t trust their children to make wise decisions on their behalf. A life care plan can address these issues and concerns.

It’s never too early to start thinking about this. So often, clients involve an elder law attorney only when there is a crisis: a diagnosis may have occurred several years ago or the family might be running out of money to pay for the senior’s long-term care needs. At this point, there are far fewer options available. Often, the senior is already living in a long-term care facility (despite, perhaps stating that she wanted to age in her own home), or Medicaid is needed imminently, which means that many asset protection strategies, which are subject to a five-year lookback period, are no longer available options. Therefore, by planning early, seniors can establish their overall priorities and plan to meet these goals, adapting as the medical or financial situation changes.

With a life care plan, the law firm is at the center of the aging process. So much of the aging process intersects with the law, including estate planning, long-term care planning and probate or trust administration. While the client is still healthy, the attorney creates a plan to protect the client and his assets based on his wishes, goals and priorities. This includes a review of the client’s current estate-planning documents to ensure that they meet his needs and includes the preparation of new estate-planning documents if the current documents are insufficient. It also involves an analysis of how to pay for care: for example, with long-term care insurance, Medicaid or paying out-of-pocket. By being involved from the start, instead of only becoming involved due to a crisis, a life care plan can maximize the legal options available to the client and ensure the client ages with dignity.

An elder care coordinator, who works for the law firm and has a background in social work or health care, visits the client and checks in with him routinely to ensure that his living situation is still appropriate for his health. This way, when a medical event happens, a plan will already be in place, which aligns with the client’s wishes.

The elder care coordinator serves as the eyes and ears for family members who are too busy or live too far away to help regularly. For clients without children or who do not trust their children, the law firm can serve not only as trustee of a trust or agent under a durable power of attorney, but also as agent under a medical power of attorney because the elder care coordinator knows exactly about the client’s medical situation.

Additionally, by involving a law firm from the beginning, families ensure that they avoid common mistakes made the first time they experience an aging-related crisis. Seniors can also reduce the risk of falling victim to elder financial abuse, since the law firm can monitor the finances to watch for suspicious transactions and advocate on the senior’s behalf if he does fall prey to a fraudulent situation.

There are many individual components to consider in planning for your aging. With a life care plan, you can take control of where and how you age and reduce the stress of loved ones.

This column is intended only for general information purposes; it is not to be construed as providing legal advice. Consult an attorney to discuss how the law applies to specific situations and how best to implement a plan that will meet individual goals.

Catherine E. Sears, Esq. is an attorney with The Peninsula Center for Estate and Lifelong Planning. She can be reached at 757-969-1900 or by email at Web address is

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