What does planning for life have to do with elder abuse? This is a question that we asked the audience who participated in our technology-based project called: “The ABC’s of Preventing Elder Abuse”. Thanks to funding from the federal government, Caregiving Matters partnered with Programs for 50+ at Ryerson University to deliver a series of workshops to educate and encourage a variety of conversations.
In this article, I share with you some of the highlights from two of our speakers who are lawyers. Both spoke to the importance of planning for declining health and for the end of life. Their presentations encouraged questions and engaged the audience in discussions that showed how being proactive can actually help prevent elder abuse. By the end of our workshops, one participant answered our question quite simply by saying: “I’ve learned that I am less likely to be a victim of elder abuse by being more aware and educated. I now know that there are different types of abuses and just how important it is to plan and to be clear about my wishes.
Planning for life and life’s uncertainties: Wills, trusts and powers of attorneys
Elaine Blades, LLB, JD, MTI, TEP; Director, Fiduciary Products & Services, Scotiatrust
Ms. Blades deals on a daily basis with clients’ issues of wills, trusts and powers of attorney. She sees first-hand how families deal with money both in estate planning and after the death of one of her clients. She came armed and prepared with important messages to share about how to prevent financial elder abuse. Her presentation began by pointing out that estate planning is far more than just having a will. She believes estate planning should maximize wealth for both the individual and their heirs; minimize the impact of liabilities (especially taxes); reduce family burdens; assure a continuation of one’s interest and values; include a plan for the unexpected; and provide peace of mind.
Estate planning should include not only a will, but the following:
1) Probate planning
2) Income tax planning
3) RSP/RIF designations
4) Life insurance designations
5) Dependent relief legislation
6) Powers of attorney
7) Inter vivos (gifts made while the person is still alive) trusts and planning
While acknowledging that estate planning is a difficult and uncomfortable topic for many, Ms. Blades suggested that we look at “starting at the end” when we begin estate planning. She offered a few sample questions that we should ask ourselves when thinking about our estates. Some of her questions included:
• Whom and/or what is to benefit? Will it be family, friends, charities?
• How much will each benefit, and when?
• Are there any issues surrounding the beneficiaries (such as minors, special needs, unstable marriages)?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help determine the best ways to provide for them.
Part of good estate planning also means choosing the right executor. Although many people appoint their adult children, consideration should be given to the expertise, availability, financial accountability, trustworthiness, good judgment, impartiality and longevity of one’s chosen executor.
The group learned about what happens when a person dies intestate, or without a will. Here are a few of the consequences to be aware of:
• The person’s assets will be distributed according to arbitrary provincial formulas.
• There will be no ability to appoint guardians for minor children.
• There will be no ability to establish testamentary trusts (for minors, spouse, those with special needs).
• It will be too late to engage in tax or probate planning.
• It will be too late to choose an executor.
• It will be a more costly and time-consuming process.
Ms. Blades said she often meets with clients to discuss the issues and options around trusts and powers of attorney. There are two basic types of trusts to be aware of: inter vivos and testamentary. Trusts allow you to transfer the benefit of assets while establishing a degree of control. They are commonly used in complex family situations, where the beneficiaries are minors or have special needs, to provide charitable legacies, and in incapacity planning.
Our speaker also noted that some people have wills but don’t have a power of attorney (POA) set up. This can be an issue should you become incapable of managing your affairs or of making decisions about your personal care. Not having a POA means important decisions may go unmade; a court application will be required to appoint someone to make decisions for you, which can be very costly and time-consuming; and the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee will be involved. POAs have two basic types. The first is for the management of property (which is effective when signed) and the second is for personal care. These can be used only if you become incapable of making your own decisions.
Closing comments focused on three things to remember:
1) Proper planning provides protection and peace of mind, and can help stop elder abuse.
2) Be sure to choose the “right” executor and attorney.
3) Don’t take dangerous shortcuts.
Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an internet-based registered charity that offers education and support to people dealing with the declining health or death of a parent. caregivingmatters.ca