The Cutting Edge: Developments in Estate Planning

I just returned from the annual WealthCounsel “Generations Symposium” that was held in Denver, Colorado from July 18, 2012 through July 20, 2012.  Over 500 estate planning attorneys from across the country convened for attorney-education classes, workshops, and a general collaboration of ideas.  WealthCounsel is known for its state-of-the-art approach to estate planning.  Below are a few highlights from the event.

1.  Filial Responsibility for Long Term Care Expenses on the Rise

With the rising cost of long term care and health-related expenses, I am often asked the question of whether family members are responsible for medical or long term care expenses of their parents.  In the past, my response had been that in general, long term care and medical expense creditors are limited to the recipient’s estate and such creditors are unable to pursue claims against family members (other than the spouse in certain situations).  However, a recent case from Pennsylvania held that a son is liable for his mother’s unpaid nursing home expenses based upon filial responsibility law.  Filial responsibility laws date back to England’s Elizabethan Poor Relief Act of 1601.  These laws establish a duty for adult children to care for their indigent elderly parents.  Although 30 states have filial responsibility laws (including California), historically they have been rarely enforced (if at all) and thus the Pennsylvania case came as quite a surprise.  As states and counties continue to lose funding and other resources for a variety of services, enforcement of filial responsibility laws may increase.

2.  The Importance of Medical Advocacy

One of the most memorable presentations was given by an attorney who is also a registered nurse.  The underlying message of the presentation is that you are the center of your health care team.  It is important to take an active role in your health care and to be your own advocate.  If you are not able to do so, your health care agent needs to know how to be your advocate.  You can become a health care advocate by remembering the acronym, “S.P.E.A.K. U.P.”:  Speak up if you have questions or concerns about your care; Pay attention to the care you get; Educate yourself about your illness; Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate, advisor, or supporter; Know what medicines you take and why you take them; Use a hospital, clinic, surgery center, or other type of health care organization that has been carefully checked out; and Participate in all decisions about your treatment. 

3.  The Power of Collaboration Among Advisors

Your estate planning attorney, accountant, and financial planner all have their own distinct roles.  While it is important for each advisor to be conscious of the boundaries of his/her own area of expertise, it is also important that they collaborate with each other in order to make sure that your plan is as effective as possible.  Far too often there is not sufficient communication among your advisors.  The attorney might think, “Well, if that’s how the accountant thinks we should do it, I’ll go along with it,” not realizing that the accountant is simultaneously thinking, “Well, if that’s how the attorney thinks we should do it, I’ll go along with it.”  However, when all of your advisors take an active role to work together to find solutions that address all legal, tax, and financial aspects of your situation, the results are beneficial to everyone involved.  It is important to work with advisors who are interested in collaborating with each other in order to provide you the best service possible.