Posted on Friday, October 5th, 2012

Who can you count on when you are old ?

Alice was an only child who had worked many years for a big bank in the city. She never married, and had always lived with her parents. In her sixties when her mother died, Alice had only modest savings of her own. When her father became gravely ill, He asked to see me. His Will was in order, and it left the house and all his savings to Alice. She was within a few years of retirement. With what her parents left her and her own small pension, she could live indefinitely in the family home. He asked me to advise Alice as I had over the years advised him and his late wife.

In the years following her parents’ death, Alice would call periodically with a question – occasionally about choices in the pension or other investments; more frequently to change her Will as a new friend came along or another fell out of favor.

Alice had no car, and did not drive. For companions she had several cats. A long-time neighbor, friend of Alice’s late parents, would take her shopping and to doctor appointments. A couple times the neighbor called to report that a new acquaintance had apparently moved in with Alice, and was running errands for her, buying things with Alice’s money. Eventually the new friendship cooled, the guest moved out. Alice had bought temporary friendship, at a cost. Several times Alice would complain that she had to cash in some certificates to pay real estate taxes, could not afford repairs to the house. Eventually the long-time neighbor herself was now going into a retirement home, and could no longer drive Alice to the doctor and the grocery.

While not robust, her physical and mental health were still too good to qualify Alice for a nursing home. Nor would any nursing home allow the cats. But the house was deteriorating, repairs becoming more costly, and the savings were dwindling. Her parents had provided a legacy; but they were gone, and the legacy was slipping away. Their daughter had followed a path they had not foreseen.

As people grow ever older, they can outlive their savings and jeopardize their own security. Mental infirmity, or just unwise decisions, can slowly destroy the protection and security built up over a lifetime. In retrospect, a plan for joint control of assets, or a trust in the Will, would have better served her parents’ plan for Alice.

There are today many hundreds of people in their 70s, 80s, 90s, living alone and fearful of the future, not just because they have diminishing resources or little money; but because there are no children, no spouse, no close siblings available to guide and counsel them. Looking for friendship, they are open to improper advice and influence. There are instances where even a trusted son or brother has been guilty of betrayal for his own financial gain.

Estate planning with an experienced lawyer is not just a tool for the rich. Any one who is concerned for the future wellbeing of a spouse, a child, or someone who has meant much during life, should discuss it with a lawyer. Get seasoned and disinterested advice.People can buy cheap printed Will forms at storefront places, even download legal forms free on their computers. The real price is exacted years later.

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