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Life. Hope. Care. Assets. – The Complete Story

By: Attorney Katherine S. Breckenridge, Esq.

Published April 12, 2019 – INSIDENOVA / Culpeper Times

Estate Planning : Life. Hope. Care. Assets. – The Complete Story

Prophecy. A word that seems shunned in contemporary vernacular. Why? When referenced correctly it is what gives our community the most steadfast, secure foundation known to man, yet not of man. “He is not here . . .” (Matthew 28:6 KJV); a message delivered by an angel whose “countenance was like lightening.” If the story ended there, what would this Easter season look like? ” . . . for He is risen, as He said.” The fulfillment gives us – Life. Hope. Celebration.

In the midst of this season of renewal and restoration, thinking about how many in our older adult community have gone to great lengths year-after-year to share with many of us the traditions of Easter, I found myself hoping that we give back; that our actions enrich their lives manifold.

How does one accomplish this? Perhaps helping in the areas of care and assets. What do the two have in common? Everything, as it relates to estate planning.

Recently, I was asked to present during a community gathering, addressing two aspects. The first, being what were the most prevalent challenges faced by most of my clients. The second, to talk about what the older adult generation contributes to our community.

Admittedly, I struggled as I was challenged to condense the first response into five minutes, and the second response into two minutes, as I was part of a panel of speakers.

Being used to having on average ninety minutes to speak when teaching a seminar, I embraced the challenge of encapsulating estate planning challenges into five minutes by narrowing down the issues into two main categories, care and assets. Estate planning clients are generally dealing with one, if not both, subject matters.

Five minutes to highlight the struggles. What better way to share the urgency of planning ahead than thru a story, emphasizing that planning ahead is the best approach.

Beginning with the care of a person, picture the older adult who is facing a cognitive challenge, which has robbed her of the ability to make sound decisions, to understand her environment, and is placing her in harm’s way. The same cognitive challenge has aged her physique, making her appear twenty plus years her senior.

No longer able to give agency authority through a power of attorney, the alternative is a petition for guardianship and conservatorship. The ultimate outcome, the protection of the older adult – maintaining her quality of life and using her assets for her benefit, was affected. However, this was not without the cost of a painful trial, pitting a mother holding tight to conspiracy theories against adult children bearing witness to the public display of irrational behavior and hurtful comments brought on by such a disease. If we had been able to use the least restrictive means of a power of attorney, the matter may have remained private and a level of dignity maintained.

The concept of care segued to assets, with a mere three minutes to go. Control the use of your assets for your care and the distribution of your assets upon your death. Doesn’t all pass to spouse even if I don’t have a last will and testament? Not if you have children outside of your current marital unit. Picture the person who has lived many years in a house with his bride, creating memories that upon her passing he has only those on which to lean. You see, it was her name only that was on the deed, and she passed without a last will and testament – meaning intestate. She had three children outside of that marital unit, and because of the default to the Code of Virginia for an intestate estate, the husband was left owning only one-third of the house and his three step-children owned equal shares of two-thirds. Such a scenario may create quite a painful situation when the husband, who clings to the memories, now does not wholly own the roof over his head, but shares a minor interest with three step-children with whom he never got along, who combined own the majority interest.

The theme communicated – plan in advance. Utilize the documents offered in the Code of Virginia. Protect you. Control your assets. Memorialize your wishes, your intent.

Having delivered the message under the five-minute wire, I then turned to sharing a response, a compact one nonetheless, about the contribution of older adults to our community. Even though I wanted to say, “we are the community,” and my preference would have been to speak on the subject for hours; however, thankful for the two minutes, I shared from my heart.

The two words that encapsulate the contribution are legacy and stability. In the hopes of depicting the essence of such a contribution, I shared how I recently met with a gentleman of senior years who was facing the challenges of Parkinson’s. He was experiencing the physical limitations brought on by the disease, and he knew the physical and mental projections that are in store. Not having either a power of attorney or advance medical directive in place, it was his objective to memorialize his wishes for his care and to give agency authority to another to help make decisions for him when needed.

During our meeting, this precious man looked at me and shared how he would trust his grandson to be his agent under his power of attorney and advance medical directive. That family members were always turning to his grandson for help, which he willingly gave. What he shared next was what I will forever treasure. He stated that he had watched his grandson grow up, and he never thought he would be in a position to think this; however, he thinks so highly of his grandson, his character, the way he helps others, that if he – the grandfather, were a younger man, he would want to grow up to emulate his grandson.

Priceless. A grandfather who mentored his grandson so well and made such an impression, that the grandson now has the skills to help others. Such a contribution by both to the community is a tradition that can be celebrated, giving us all a legacy of hope.