Who Do You Trust When it Comes to Creating a Trust?
By Dennis B. Sullivan, Esq.
Back in the 1950's there was a very popular television game show entitled "Who Do You Trust." It was
hosted by the legendary comedian Groucho Marx. The show was always good for a few laughs as
Groucho ribbed the contestants. A model of a duck (with a Groucho-style big cigar in its mouth) would
appear at the start of every show with a special word printed on a card. If a contestant, during the
course of trading quips with Groucho or answering a question "said the secret word" he or she won an
extra $100... remember this was the 1950's!
Perhaps some of you reading this remember the program? If not, and you have elderly parents, they
will. Sadly though for many aging individuals, life is nothing close to a game show these days as their
fear and uncertainty about declining health (and money) paints far from a rosy picture. Maybe you have
this same fear as well? Boston area eldercare law attorney Dennis Sullivan recently sat down for a candid
conversation with healthcare advocate Chip Kessler on several important estate, asset, and trust
Q: Mr. Sullivan thanks for joining us today. Before we began this interview you mentioned to me a startling
fact that there are a great many people this very moment who either don't have any kind of asset protection
program in place, or are walking around thinking what they've done in this area has them covered, would you please elaborate?
Dennis Sullivan: Well for one thing our society has changed substantially since many people created their documents which leaves them extremely vulnerable. People are living much longer today into their eighties and nineties. This brings on a whole new set of concerns because according to the World Health Organization 50% of all those above 80 will have some form of dementia. For example, new cases of dementia are increasing at an alarming rate. In fact every sixty-eight seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer's disease. It's estimated that by mid century every thirty-three seconds someone in the U.S. will develop Alzheimer's disease.
Q: Because as you mention people are living longer and with this comes the real potential for declining physical and/or mental health, is it safe to say that individuals with no plan in place or who have an out-of-date plan are running the risk losing what they've taken a lifetime to accumulate?
Dennis Sullivan: That's right. If you, a spouse or a family member has diagnosis of dementia, it can have a devastating effect on your financial well-being if not properly addressed. In addition to the financial concerns of course such as losing everything we also need to be prepared to help loved ones to obtain the best possible healthcare. We help many people review and improve their planning. Unfortunately, many people do not have a plan at all or their trust documents were never designed to address the issues we're speaking about relating to dementia or refer to more generally as disability.
Q: From what you're saying today people need an up-to-date plan that protects them and their loved ones from disability and dementia as well as providing for what they want when they die?
Dennis Sullivan: Yes, that's right. The message for many of us who already have a trust or estate plan is that your documents focus on death, not disability. When you created your documents years ago, they were designed to address issues that occur after you die such as avoiding probate, reducing taxes which are still very important today however the alarming issues relating to dementia were not thoroughly addressed years ago because mental deterioration was not as prevalent as it is today. However in our day and age with people living much longer, the threat of dementia and decline is a more realistic possibility. For many people because the initial focus on death so their estate plan is no longer adequate to provide access to quality healthcare as well as to protect your spouse, home and life savings.
Q: Dennis we've been discussing that we are living a lot longer with the average life expectancy into the eighties, and because of this most of us need updated plans for better access to healthcare and protection for the rest of our extended lifetimes. Would you mind to share some examples of these specific concerns?
Dennis Sullivan: We find that most people have an opportunity to have their home and life savings better protected during their lifetime. Many folks in fact are surprised to learn that their existing estate plan and trust leaves them vulnerable. One problem we often see if the trustee section of your trust was never designed to address the issues that arise from disability or dementia. What this means is that the current trust is missing important provisions that appoints someone as a silent partner who can help protect your assets and life savings during times of either a temporary or permanent disability.
Q: What happens if the right trust and trustee provisions aren't in the documents?
Dennis Sullivan: Well this can be a very expensive mistake and unfortunately we've seen it happen in the past. If you or your spouse goes to a nursing home all of your life savings will be at risk to pay for long-term care costs that can range from thirteen thousand to sixteen thousand dollars a month in Massachusetts. At this rate most people cannot afford the nursing home bills of a hundred and fifty thousand to a hundred and ninety thousand per year.
Q: Then people can improve their protection with an updated plan?
Dennis Sullivan: That's right. They can protect everything but because of the way the law
works now it needs to be done five years in advance of the problem for the best most flexible
results. In 2013 a law was proposed to increase the time from five to ten years which would
increase the time it takes to protect your home and savings. It's still five years for now and we've
noticed that when people do take action and protect themselves it's quite a relief for them
because their life savings is going to be protected from the nursing home rather than everything
Q: What else should people consider with an updated plan?
Dennis Sullivan: Well there's quite a bit, but in one particular area, it's very important that all the planning be updated so the plan works when it's needed. For example, there are additional areas of major concerns of both financial powers of attorney and healthcare proxy. It is vital that these documents work properly and are accessible during an emergency. It's important to check to see if you've appointed an agent to make medical decisions on your behalf through a document which accurately reflects your current desires and satisfies the recent changes.
Q: What other healthcare documents in your opinion are important to have?
Dennis Sullivan: Well not just in my opinion but the opinion and research from the American Medical Association estimates that 67% of the time all of the important healthcare documents are not available when needed. This creates a very serious problem for anyone over eighteen who does not have medical information release form authorizing healthcare professionals discuss their condition with a spouse, parent, or a child specifically by name and signed in advanced. Otherwise, they're not going to be permitted to discuss anything about your condition. This creates all sorts of problems including not being able to help an elderly parent or aunt or a child over eighteen that may need help with an important decision or even being able to help a spouse pick up x-rays or even set an appointment. You can imagine it can be extremely frustrating. We hear it all the time as well as create serious health problems if you're not able to help out or get help because you do not have up-to-date documents available.
Because of this and the importance of help from a family member in an emergency, we've developed a unique solution for all of our clients who would like to have twenty-four seven access for someone to help in an emergency along with the right documents. By having the right access, EMTs or healthcare professionals can contact your healthcare agent and family if ever there is an emergency.
We sincerely hope you have found this information both useful and timely. One never knows when a healthcare crisis or emergency may strike so it's best to be prepared and have things taken care of well in advance.
For more information on any of the free materials that Mr. Sullivan has referenced in this article, please visit EstatePlanandAssetProtection.com or you may call 781-237-2815. Dennis Sullivan also provides a free review of your present estate protection goals and objectives for residents who reside in Greater Boston and surrounding communities. For your review please call 781-237-2815 or to learn more in a free workshop call 800-964-8298 or visithttp://www.DSullivan.com. Please join Mr. Sullivan Sunday morning at 8 a.m. on both WBNW AM 1120 In Boston/Concord, MA and WESO AM 970 in Southbridge, MA for his weekly radio show "Your Life and Legacy Program." You may also tune in via the internet at WBNW1120.com Sunday mornings at 8 a.m.