“History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future.”
As we celebrate President’s day in memorialization of the great leaders of this nation’s past, we reflect on this quote by former President John F. Kennedy and what I call the greatest teacher in life- history. With this in mind, there is perhaps no population group in our society that are greater students of history than our elders, who throughout the years have experienced life and encountered history in ways many of us hope to attain by reaching greater age.
Significantly, according to the Administration on Aging (AA), the United States is experiencing a dramatic increase of people who live to old age, creating challenges for Americans of all ages. Although elders are often synonymous with senior citizens aged 65 and over, with the growing aging population and baby boomers coming into retirement age, AA categorizes “preseniors” as those ages 55-64. Like senior citizens, preseniors often face the same issues that come along with aging as years continue.
Furthermore, as our population ages and transitions, we face unique obstacles in not only protecting the legacies left behind by our elders, but in protecting the lives of our elders themselves. As we grow, our estate grows, our family grows, and our needs grow. We have more to lose and protect, including the key categories of asset protection, health protection, and income protection. Yet, with proper planning, we can “ensure” preservation of wealth and assets for the benefit of future generations, as well as personal protection for the well being of our beloved elders.
First, regarding asset protection, the more we age and earn, the more we acquire. But, we all know that we cannot take our possessions with us after death, so what happens to our prized valuables? This is where an estate plan becomes pivotal, whether it be instructions left in a simple will or a more complex but structured trust to distribute assets, which can also be tailor made to fit individual situations, such as a special needs trust. Regardless of the outcome, the key requirement in estate planning is capacity. One must know what they possess and the natural objects of their bound, usually close family members like spouses and children, or else the plan can be challenged or overruled due to lack of capacity. With memory illnesses like Dementia and Alzheimer’s often affecting older populations, testing for capacity can be quite a challenge, but it is nevertheless possible and necessary in constructing an adequate estate plan.
Second, as referenced, with the aging process, our health needs change, including our ability to care for ourselves physically and make decisions mentally. In planning for elder health requirements, government insurance programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid play key roles in covering these needs. However, there are a variety of other options available to cover issues that are not so commonly tied to traditional health needs such as medical treatment and prescriptions. Often times, due to deteriorating physical and mental health conditions, in additional to medical care, seniors may require assistance in making common decisions and transactions. In these scenarios, guardianships and conservatorships present attractive options, as guardians are appointed to meet personal care needs and conservators appointed to make informed decisions, most often regarding finances.
Third, speaking of finances, with advanced age comes the joy of retirement, but the loss of income. Social Security, once again, is a program to provide income during our golden ages, but the caveat is that it is a fixed income, which leaves little room for many expenditures for lower income seniors. Nevertheless, there are many useful options for managing income and retirement finances, including aforementioned conservators, as well as powers of attorney- written instruments that give another person the authority to make decisions on behalf of the person granting the power. Additionally, estate planning presents a multitude of options to best utilize retirement plans such as IRA’s and 401Ks.
Because our population is rapidly aging and retiring, the need to protect elders and preserve their legacies is paramount. Granted, though accounting for all needs may seems like a daunting task, it is nonetheless necessary for the well being of the older individual affected, as well as beloved family and friends. So today, as we reflect and honor the nation’s forefathers and greatest leaders, let us also hold our current elders in these highest regards by ensuring their personal protection and preserving their legacies for future generations to honor and celebrate.