Teachers, I hope the title caught your attention because this message is especially for you, though it is applicable to many others. Summer is your season to enjoy a bounty of time and opportunity, and this article assumes and hopes that the type of family crisis which involves elder law issues will be the furthest thing from your mind as you begin the ten weeks of summer when school is not in session.
This article borrows the title of a song by Alice Cooper, who is now 65 years old and hopefully has planned for the issues of this article. Cooper’s 1972 rock anthem captured the euphoric feeling of American teenagers anticipating summer recess. Perhaps “School’s Out” also resonates with teachers who are taking a break from lesson planning for their challenging students, even if the song’s trite lyrics don’t actually speak to that.
As the days are getting warmer and the hours of sunshine longer, your calendars probably are beginning to fill up, not with faculty meetings, but with plans for reunions and picnics, outdoor sporting activities, and maybe vacation trips or festive summer weekends at home that end with fireworks. So, teachers, please know that I am smiling as I also encourage you to get some homework done during summer when school is not in session.
Metaphorically, summer is the season of maturity in our lives when we make sure we prepare for what will come in later seasons of our lives. Seasons, and our life’s challenges, sometimes arrive suddenly without being forecast. Thomas Cole’s series of paintings titled Voyage of Life, on display at the National Gallery, uses allegorical nature scenes as a warning to prepare for what will arrive with advancing age. Similarly, an October 2011 storm, whose unseasonably early snow clung to leaves hanging on trees still in their autumn glory, devastated local landscapes that were ill prepared for sudden change.
While grocery stores sell berries and corn year round, summer brings opportunities to buy these and other fresh produce items directly from a neighboring farm. When I was a child, my family paid close attention to the ripening cycles so we could preserve produce for the winter. I encourage teachers to recognize the summer break to be a time when you are both fresh as the local produce, and “in season” to prepare for the inevitable winter of life, which might not occur exactly on schedule in relation to your plans for retirement.
The extent of the homework assignment you, as teachers, are now receiving from me depends mostly on your age, health and retirement plans. Just as Cliff’s Notes might be an acceptable solution for a math major taking a required college course in literature on a pass or fail basis, an office supply store or on-line resource might be an adequate source of fill-in-the-blank legal documents for someone who is under age 40, in good health, and single or happily married with young children who have no special needs diagnosis.
For those teachers who are middle-aged, healthy, perhaps married with children in college, you are truly in the “summer months” of your allegorical life. Your issues are beginning to get a bit more complicated, as your planning opportunities become more limited and expensive each year. You should not only address your need for a will, durable power of attorney, and advanced healthcare directive, but also consider how trust planning along with long-term care insurance could make the retirement lifestyle you are now working towards to be more likely to meet the expectations of your dreams.
For reasons of their health or advancing age, your parents might be nearing the end-stage of life, after which they would prefer to leave you or their grandchildren an inheritance, rather than to lose it unnecessarily to the cost of their own care, or taxes following their death. Changes in tax laws and regulations related to health care can make it worthwhile to reconsider estate plans, especially if your parents have an IRA or 401k account. It can be an expensive mistake if your parents miss an opportunity to have the proper documents in place to shelter family wealth.
Without giving your parents cause for alarm that your marriage is in trouble, or that you might not fully trust your spouse’s wisdom around money, appropriate legal counseling can make sure that the grandchildren’s future needs are protected. If the extended family of your spouse has potential to behave more like outlaws than in-laws, you don’t need to be specific about unpleasant details to encourage your parents to be counseled for wise document preparation. Your children should receive what your parents intend, free of both outlaw interference and the availability of excessive funds that either could undermine your parental authority or unwisely enable your post-adolescent child who remains vulnerable to poor spending choices.
Teachers who are over age 50 and beginning to look closely at retirement incentives could benefit from an analysis of how an average need for long-term care can be accommodated with respect to projected retirement income, savings, potential government benefits, and insurance. Such an extended care planning analysis is useful to share with your financial advisor, accountant, adult children and others who you might need to advise or assist you in relation to your retirement.
The above homework assignment can help you even if you are not a teacher. But, in appreciation for teachers, and to motivate them to do their homework over the summer, we will offer a 25% discount from our initial consultation fee to any teacher who schedules an appointment before July 31st and brings a copy of this article with them. Those who prefer a free pre-test review are invited to attend Keystone Elder Law’s “summer school” on Thursday, June 20, when we will be offering a one hour seminar at 10, 2 or 7 at the Rossmoyne Business Center, just off Turnpike Exit 236 in Mechanicsburg. Please call 717-697-3223 for details and to register.