I’m 76 and have been widowed since 1994. I’m retired in South Carolina. I have savings of $620,000, Supplemental Security Income of $2,200 per month and have up to a five-year long-term care policy of about $4,200 per month. My only debt is $900 a month on a $190,000 mortgage balance for an $850,000 home. However, I have no relatives to whom I would leave estate assets, and I’m considering various charities as estate beneficiaries.
I have no close family or friends living in South Carolina who are familiar with my current circumstances and finances that might serve to help manage my estate. And I’m hoping to remain in my home — possibly in time relying upon home healthcare for as long as possible. Do you have suggestions regarding who, what, and how I may manage my estate? Surely there must be others in such a predicament.
You are certainly not the only person in this situation. Even when people do have relatives to manage and leave an estate to, they don’t always plan for the future, so you’re actually ahead of the game.
If you have no close relatives, or any family or friends with whom you trust to leave the management of your estate, you can rely on professionals you pay to do the job. This could be a financial planner, an accountant or an attorney. There are also professional executors you could look into. Just be sure to vet them thoroughly before giving them the job.
Before choosing someone, check their credentials and look for referrals. It also doesn’t hurt to interview a few professionals, as this is a serious and important relationship. Lastly, make sure they focus on estate planning — specifically in your state — so that everything you want to happen with your finances can actually happen.
You will have to pay them, of course. This fee can be charged per hour or on a monthly basis. That’s another question to ask as you look around for the right person.
This person will take on the role of estate administrator, which means they do just about everything you need after you pass. They handle a probate estate, distribute inheritances as you wish and pay any debts, the Internal Revenue Service says. I talked a lot about the ideal candidate when responding to this reader’s question, which wasn’t that different from your situation.
Power of attorney
There are a few documents you should have. A power of attorney is one of those documents because it allows the person you choose to have the legal right to act on your behalf. There are different types of powers — durable, for example, is effective if you were to become incapacitated, while nondurable would cease if that happened. A “springing” durable power of attorney would become effective at the time of incapacity.
A healthcare proxy grants someone the power to make decisions for your healthcare. You should also have a living will, which lists out what you want to happen (or not happen) if you’re incapacitated. Here is more on advance care planning, from the National Institute on Aging.
If there are any charities you have close ties to, and have already made a connection with, you might find they have an individual who can assume the role of executor. But again, make sure you can trust them so that your wishes are met.
In the meantime, your main focus should be on your health — now and in the future. Think of everything you can and would want in your older age. That could be something as simple as working with a paratransit company, which transports people with mobility issues (if, for example, you need to get to doctor appointments) and/or finding a grocery-delivery service.
Be sure to have a solid network of medical professionals, and it is even better if they can communicate with one another to go over your health or keep each other informed of your visits and wellbeing. (You may have to give written permission to these people to work together or with a caregiver to avoid any legal medical hurdles.) While you’re still well, get your house in order to be functional if you ever need more assistance, such as extra bars to hold onto in the bathroom or railings outside the house if there are steps.
The National Institute on Aging suggests putting all of your important paperwork and legal documents in one place and telling someone you trust (your attorney, for example) where to find them. The agency also suggests reviewing your plans regularly — at least once a year and/or after a major change in your life.
You’re doing a great job by being proactive in your estate planning, and it will absolutely help you in the long run.