Meet the Yin family. At 83, mom was weak and ill from stage IV lymphoma and atrial fibrillation. She’d gone through exhaustive chemotherapy and she’d run out of options. Yet it was still a surprise when the doctors told the family that she had fewer than six months to live and it was time to consider hospice care. Read about what happens with the Yin family. They were ready, but Mom doesn’t die.
Most concerned about extended suffering and loss of control
What Mrs. Yin feared most was pointless suffering and the loss of control over her own life. She wanted her kids to understand that, if she had little hope of recovery, she’d rather go quickly than die slowly and painfully. Her son wanted to pursue every possible option to keep their mother alive.
Her daughter supported their mother’s pragmatic right to die on her own terms
The daughter remembered when their grandmother died. “We sat by her bed and told family stories as she slipped into unconsciousness. We drew close to one another and time seemed to stop. We held her as she took her last breaths, letting her know how much we loved her. It taught me that dying well can be a natural experience.”
Together, the family agreed on a trip to New York’s Sloan Kettering for a comprehensive diagnosis. After some tests, Mrs. Yin’s blood pressure dropped dangerously low, and she was admitted as an inpatient. By the next day, she could hardly breathe, and a doctor activated her Do Not Resuscitate Order (DNR).
Then, back from the brink . . .
A hospice nurse, who is uniquely trained for just this kind of situation, checked on Mrs. Yin and came back to tell the family that she didn’t think their mother was going to die that night, the next night or maybe for weeks. The family reversed the DNR and doctors initiated treatment.
Over the next month, the hospital’s medical teams worked together to bring Mrs. Yin back to relatively good health. She was transferred to a rehabilitation center for another month, then came to live with her daughter’s family in Brooklyn. She and her daughter fulfilled one of her longtime dreams. They edited and self-published her memoirs, which she’d been writing for years.
Mrs. Yin still wrestles with neuropathy, shortness of breath and sometimes crushing fatigue, but she is very much alive. She’s been living on her own for the past two years and still enjoys a very good quality of life.
The power of the family’s collective decision-making
In retrospect, the family reflected on their mother’s care and their own roles in the treatment process. “We made better decisions because we listened to one another and weighed all the conflicting information. My mother acknowledges that she wanted to “pull the plug” too soon because she became overwhelmed by fear.
No one thinks clearly or acts well when gripped by panic
This story by Monona A. Yin, in The New York Times, pointsout the need to start talking long before the end. We need to have open dialogs with our families about what constitutes a good death and when a diminished life is no longer worth living.
While a large segment of our LivingTrust clientele tends to be older couples, we’re now seeing more Millennials and Gen-Xers creating Trusts. It starts with buying a home–scraping together a down payment and buying a Bay Area home is a sobering experience. But the big motivator is the birth of a child. As parents, our clients feel the need to provide a safety net for their children if something happens to them. Watch California Document Preparer’s Video: Millennials Create Living Trust After Birth of Son, Charlie!
CDP video on one young couple’s Living Trust
We recently made a video that highlights the Living Trust process for one of these representative young couples—they have good jobs, a bright future and a home in Oakland. With the birth of their son Charlie, they felt the need for financial planning. They began working with a financial adviser who recommended creating a Living Trust as part of the process, and he referred them to California Document Preparers’ Oakland office.
The Living Trust process
Getting started. Our savvy younger clients like that they can begin the process online. We’re still available by phone and email with questions.
The intake process. You will need to gather all of your financial documents, to include bank and brokerage account statements, mortgage information and other investment and financial data. Life insurance policies and retirement accounts are not included in Living Trusts.
We prepare the legal documents.Once we have all of your financial information, we prepare the legal documents.
Our Trust package includes a Power of Attorney and an Advance Healthcare Directive. You will want to be thinking about whom you will name to be your Agent as well as your backup. If there are children, you will want to identify a Guardian who will be responsible for raising your children until they turn 18.
Finalizing your Trust. We call you when your Trust is ready to be signed and notarized.
Funding your Trust. A Trust needs to be funded—all of your assets need to be moved into your Trust. We create a Trust Transfer Deed to move real property into your Trust.
Our deliverable is a bound Trust and a pdf file for your records
To be thinking about: Your growing list of digital assets
Our Living Trust package includes a section to identify important contacts, including healthcare providers, veterinarians, accountants, financial advisors, CPAs, etc. Try to be thinking about all those people with whom your family would need to be interacting if you were not available.
Start thinking about your online accounts
You’ll want to make a list of your digital assets and login information. This list will include computers, hard drives, flash drives, smartphones, tablets, files stored on the cloud and accounts with online retailers and healthcare providers. Social media sites, video gaming accounts, domain names, forums, your dropbox, websites and blogs you manage. You can consolidate this information in an excel file store it on a flash drive.
A note about banks and other financial institutions
Banks and financial technology companies tend to merge and constantly upgrade their technology. Because of that, beneficiary data might get lost. Keep a paper copy of all beneficiary data or store a digital copy of important documents on a password-protected flash drive.
Laurie Scherrer, 55, a hardworking sales executive, found herself forgetting customers and unable to perform simple math calculations. She was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia, which causes deterioration in behavior and ability to understand language.
Ms. Scherrer gave herself some time to feel sorry for herself, then took action. Knowing that her life now had limits, time became more precious. “I began to appreciate the joy and beauty around me,” she said. Ms. Scherrer knew that she still had plenty of time to live–and thrive–with Alzheimer’s.
Creating a team of professionals became an immediate priority
As part of her planning, Ms. Scherrer began to research dementia. She found a group called Dementia Mentors, and joined the group’s virtual memory café. The format: Nine or so people, each in a box on a screen, shared strategies to ease symptoms, medication tips and learn from each other. She learned to avoid those things that caused confusion, to celebrate her achievements and to savor the good things in her life.
Those with Alzheimer’s can still lead fulfilling lives and plan for the future
Ms. Scherrer has gotten involved in the Alzheimer’s community. As a member of the advisory board of the Dementia Action Alliance, she speaks at conferences of policymakers and neurologists. She contributes suggestions for better, more sensitive, care. Her advocacy could help other baby boomers who are reaching the age when the risk for dementia rises. The number of people with Alzheimer’s who are 65 or older is projected to climb to 7.1 million in 2025 and 13.8 million in 2050, up from 5.5 million today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Among challenges for families: Assessing ability to understand and sign legal documents
A challenging question for families is whether the person with dementia can understand and sign legal documents. Even mildly impaired persons may need to be carefully evaluated.
An Advance Healthcare Directive provides guidance on end-of-life treatment. A person with dementia may live for a long time after a diagnosis, and instructions could include details for caregivers, and how and where patients choose to spend their final days. Ms. Scherrer has directed her Agents to withhold treatment, under certain circumstances, for serious illnesses like cancer.
The economics of long-term care
Evaluating assets to pay for long-term care also becomes a priority. Patients go through different levels of care, and there are different costs associated with each level. Medicaid, which is financed by state and federal governments, pays for care for people with limited assets, though state laws differ. The Scherrers expect to sell their four-bedroom house, which they no longer need. A smaller place would be easier to manage and free up cash for long-term care. Ms. Scherrer has looked at assisted living facilities, though members of her family have promised to care for her at home for as long as possible.
Another challenge: Dealing with the loneliness of Alzheimer’s
People with dementia stress the importance of developing social connections. Communicating with others who still engage in hobbies, sports and other activities keeps patients from feeling isolated. Many chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association offer early-stage support groups where individuals and caregivers can socialize.
Ms. Scherrer has created and signed her legal documents and made financial plans
The article about Ms. Scherrer, by Susan B. Garland in The New York Times, provides an insight into how life-altering a dementia diagnosis can be—especially at the age of 55. Yet dementia can be a slow-moving disease, and Ms. Scherrer knows she’s lucky to be surrounded by a supportive family. She’s making the most of the time she has left and knows that each day is a blessing.
The baby boomers–that big, bold generation that marched, protested, innovated and made things happen–are leaving another legacy. That of debt. The boomers, unlike their frugal parents before them, have not done a very good job of preparing for retirement. The number of senior households with debt increased from about 44% in 1989 to more than 61% in 2013, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances. The median debt in households headed by people 60 or older rose from $9,038 in 1989 to $40,900 in 2013. Children of these baby boomers find themselves asking “are we responsible for our parents’ debt?”
Many seniors will die with their debts still unpaid
If you don’t have any assets, your debts will typically die with you. “In most cases, your debt belongs to you, and it isn’t passed to anybody else,” says Lisa LaMarche, president and co-founder of Milestone Wealth Advisors in Greenville, Delaware. “It doesn’t go to your children.”
If you have assets, expect creditors to be the first in line to get paid
If you have any assets at all, your creditors go to the front of the line to get paid from the proceeds of your assets during the settlement of your estate. In essence, your heirs will end up paying your debts because your creditors will be paid first—before any inheritance is transferred. If you die with credit card debt or an outstanding mortgage, they will have to be paid off if your heirs want to keep the home. If there’s additional debt, the house likely will have to be sold to pay those debts.
In community property states such as California, a spouse is responsible for debt incurred during the marriage.
Things to do if someone you love dies with debt:
If there’s no Living Trust or if there’s a Will, you will need to go through Probate.
Get professional help. California Document Preparers can help you. Bring a Living Trust or Will if they exist. If not, you will need to go through Probate, and we can assist you. While it may sound overwhelming, it is actually a very straightforward process, and we guide you through every step.
Cancel credit cards. If you’re handling a deceased loved one’s affairs, you should cancel credit cards immediately. This freezes the account and keeps any additional charges from being made. Creditors will need to make official claims for repayment with the estate. You will probably need multiple copies of the death certificate, and some creditors will require official copies. In California, children are not required to pay their parents’ credit-card debt.
Inventory your loved one’s assets.You can hope that your father, mother or spouse left everything in good financial order, which will allow you to easily locate brokerage, bank and credit card accounts and mortgage documents.
There’s a good possibility, however, that this is not the case
When my own parents were getting close to the end of their lives, my brother and I stepped in. While they had a Living Trust, it hadn’t been updated in 20 years, and they had made some good investments over the course of that time. When we asked about current financial documents, my stepfather opened a cupboard and a huge mass of documents literally spilled out onto the floor We spent hours trying to get a clear financial picture. Our most immediate priority was updating their Trust while they were still able to legally sign documents.
Determine what your loved one owes. Ask credit-card companies and other creditors for statements showing outstanding balances. This will help determine what is owed and what you’ll need to sell to pay the debt.
Have beneficiaries file for assets that pass without Probate.Retirement accounts, life insurance and some other assets are not considered part of the estate. They pass directly to the designated beneficiaries. These beneficiaries can start filing immediately after the death.