Electronic Wills – Should You Have One?

Signing an electronic Will
Electronic Wills are here in Florida. But you might want to take a “wait and see” approach.

Florida is one of the early states permitting residents to have Wills, along with some other types of estate planning documents, signed and completed electronically and online. This will require remote notarizations and witnesses to appear via certain approved secure video chat services, reports News Chief in the article “Electronic wills are coming, but are they a good idea?”

A movement to pass a similar law failed in 2017, as the result of a veto by then Governor Scott. However, a revised and approved version of the bill passed this summer and was signed into law by Governor DeSantis.

Under the new law, notaries who wish to be able to conduct executions of electronic Wills will be required to undergo additional training. Certain qualified and “state-approved” custodians will oversee safeguarding the completed electronic Wills for safekeeping until the creator of the Will dies, at which time the electronic Wills will be electronically filed with the appropriate probate court.

Florida is only the fourth state to implement laws related to the execution and storage requirements for electronic Wills. One concern is whether other states will honor these documents.

If other states won’t accept the electronic Wills, then a deceased person’s assets that are subject to probate administration in other states may not go to the person’s intended beneficiaries. Traditional, hard copy Will executions typically occur in an attorney’s office, with proper procedures and safeguards put into place by a licensed attorney who practices in this area of the law. Many of these same procedures and safeguards won’t be in place for electronic execution of electronic Wills.

There is concern that these Wills present an enticing target and that many family members will argue that the Will is not valid, because of undue influence or a lack of capacity.

The 2019 version of the law has some safeguards that attempt to protect vulnerable adults. However, until these electronic Wills go through probate contests, there won’t be much clarity for estate planning attorneys. A big concern is that if the documents can be executed electronically, there could be greater opportunities for criminals or people with bad intentions to more easily take advantage of vulnerable seniors.

Other concerns include: what fees will be charged by the state-approved custodians to lawyers who wish to create such documents; how much will the recurring custodial fees cost the person who signs the Will; what happens to the Will if the custodial fees aren’t paid; and how will the electronic custodians know someone died if they don’t die in Florida?

Whether you agree that electronic Wills are the future, this is still a very new process that has yet to be tried and tested. There will likely be more questions raised in the next few years about their safety and cases will be taken to court to resolve issues and challenges.

For most people, this is the time to wait and see how the electronic Will scenario works out. It may take a few years before the bumps are ironed out. In the meantime, meet with an estate planning attorney to create an estate plan that is on paper and follows a traditional process.

Reference: News Chief (August 23, 2019) “Electronic wills are coming, but are they a good idea?”

Other articles you may find interesting:

Does Having a Will Avoid Probate?

A Basic Form Doesn’t Work for Estate Planning

Be a Smart Snowbird

Florida snowbird
The snowbirds are coming…  If you’re a snowbird, a little planning can make your stay even more pleasant.

The interstates get busy in September, when retirees take to the highways to leave the north behind and head to their southern or southwestern homes, reports Next Avenue in “7 Tips for Being a Successful Snowbird.” Some snowbirds have a more enjoyable experience than others, in part because of their preparation.

Here are a few lessons from the experienced snowbirds:

Choose a location that suits you. Don’t confuse a cold-weather home with a vacation spot. You’ll be living your daily life here. Therefore, you want to find the activities that you enjoy on a regular basis. If your regular life at home is busy and you like it that way, moving to a laid-back beach town or an isolated cabin in the woods may not be a good fit for more than a few days.

Look before you leap. Rent a place for a month or two, before committing to spending an entire winter there. You can’t know if you love a place before you live there for an extended period of time. If you’re not happy, you can try someplace else. Once you find the right spot, book the whole winter. Book the whole next winter as well. Good spots go fast.

Switch bills to be paid online. Before everything was online, it was tricky to take care of your home bills while living somewhere else. Make all your bills payable online or put them on autopay. If your bank doesn’t have a branch nearby, open an account in a nearby bank and link with your home bank, so you can easily move money between accounts.

Make new friends and new connections. One of the adjustments of snowbird life is leaving family and friends back up north. If you are in a community with lots of snowbirds, they are likely to be in the same position as you. Introduce yourself, join clubs and get active.

Don’t overbook your time with guests. You may love having friends come down, but being a frequent host takes a lot of time and energy. Don’t turn your winter residence into a bed and breakfast. Don’t be afraid to limit the number of nights for your houseguests. This is your home, not a hotel.

Make it a second home if you own it. If you buy rather than rent, it’s easier to keep some things there. Therefore, you are not lugging quite as much back and forth. However, even in a rental, you may be able to store some items, or rent a small storage unit nearby. Doing so will make traveling easier, and your snowbird nest will feel more like home.

Enjoy the ride back and forth. There’s no need to rush, if you’re going to be staying for a few months. If you’ve always travelled by interstate, maybe a side trip along local roads will break up the monotony and create some new memories. Stop by to visit with relatives along the way, or the national park that you’ve been meaning to experience. Make the ride an enjoyable part of your journey.

Reference: Next Avenue (Sep. 13, 2019)  “7 Tips for Being a Successful Snowbird.”

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Florida’s Troubled Guardianship Program

Guardianship program - DNR
Florida’s guardianship program is under scrutiny after a professional guardian signed DNRs for people who allegedly didn’t want them.

Legislators and officials from Governor DeSantis’ administration met with judges, guardian trade groups, state attorneys and representatives from the Elder Law section of the Florida Bar to discuss how to protect seniors from exploitive and neglectful guardians, as reported in the article “DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program” from the Orlando Sentinel.

The Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom said that more must be done to enhance the accountability of guardians and be sure they are acting in the best interest of their wards. He added that the matter extends beyond the Department of Elder Affairs, and that families, communities, and public officials need to work together.

This past summer, reports surfaced about a professional guardian who was responsible for more than 400 wards. She reportedly signed “Do Not Resuscitate” orders for clients against their wishes. She also double-billed a healthcare company for nearly $4 million over a ten-year period.

Florida has 550 registered guardians.

Some of the suggestions made included capping the number of wards a person could take on and requiring a judge to approve a DNR order. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland said that increased standards for guardians and more thorough monitoring was called for.

More stringent penalties for guardians who violate the law may be in the works. However, judges would have to approve the removal of any guardian from the state registry, and that action could be appealed.

Lawmakers said that more money to address the caseload isn’t the issue. Monitoring of guardians needs to be increased, said Passidomo.

As yet, there is no concrete plan in place to address this issue.

The Department of Elder Affairs houses the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, which currently has four employees. Prudom took charge of the department when the agency’s director, who was in charge when the guardian mentioned above was asked to resign.

The governor’s administration will publish a budget request for the Department of Elder Affairs, which could include more funds for investigators to review complaints.

Reference: Orlando Sentinel (September 16, 2019) “DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program”

Other articles you might find interesting:

Expressing Your End-of-Life Wishes

Grandparents Lose Millions to Fake Grandchildren

Help Your Elderly Parent Without Ruining Your Relationship

Elderly parent
Even if your  family was like the Cleavers in “Leave it to Beaver,” providing care to an elderly parent can sometimes be difficult for the parent and the child.

If you have elderly parents, you might have to step in at some point and provide caregiving services. Whether that concept means hands-on personal assistance with things like bathing, dressing, grooming, and feeding, or handling their finances and making decisions for them, this change in your roles can be challenging for you and your parent. Here are some issues to consider about how to help your elderly parent without ruining your relationship.

It’s Usually Not “Leave It to Beaver”

Many people grow up seeing fictional families on television and wish their parents and siblings got along like those families. But very few families measure up to the fictional ones. You and your parent may not have had the kind of relationship in which you would regularly get together for coffee or shopping. That’s not unusual; many people have strained interactions with their parents.

Relationships carry the baggage of the past. Your parent is the same person with whom you have had conflict, which means he or she will continue to do things that upset you. And you will do things to upset him or her. If your parent was extremely authoritarian or independent, it’ll be very difficult for him or her to accept someone telling them what to do – especially a child.

Patience versus Doormat

You should try to be understanding of what your parent is going through – losing independence and feeling less valuable and weak can be very difficult. Forgetfulness can also be an issue. Dad might get confused and forget you already did things – which he now accuses you of not doing. He might also be dealing with chronic pain and other health issues.

However, you should set boundaries. Getting old does not give your parent a right to be physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive. Be firm with your parent if any of these things happen. Being a dutiful son or daughter does not include being a doormat. Calmly inform your parent that the behavior is not acceptable. You might want to consider having someone in social services arrange for counseling to help your parent adjust to the realities of aging and of needing assistance.

The Silver Lining

For some people, this stage of life is a time to deal with unfinished business. You may be able to talk out problems or get answers to questions. You might be able to resolve conflicts that could have caused you regrets down the road. But the best approach for this goal is to tread lightly. Just because your parent is frail doesn’t give you the right to beat her up verbally with a long list of criticisms and complaints.

Address just one piece of a small issue during a visit, and don’t dredge up unpleasant topics on every visit. You don’t want your parent to dread seeing you. Be the kind of person you might wish your parent had been when you were a child – kind, compassionate, and nurturing.

For those of you who have enjoyed a happy, healthy relationship with your parents, this time together can deepen your mutual affection and interaction. Since your parent is no longer rushing around to work and raise a family, you can have uninterrupted conversations and create memories to treasure. Even children and parents who had strained relationships in the past may end up having pleasant times with each other.

References:

A Place for Mom. “Parenting the Parent: Caring for Elderly Parents.” (accessed August 21, 2019 ) https://www.aplaceformom.com/planning-and-advice/articles/caring-for-elderly-parents

Other articles you may find interesting:

Having the “Someday” Talk with Parents

Understanding Palliative Care

Grandparents Lose Millions to Fake Grandchildren

Senior woman giving credit card information over the phone.
Grandparents are being scammed out of millions of dollars by people convincing them their grandchild needs help.

Con artists steal an average of $9,000 per person from older victims, by convincing the seniors that their grandchild is in a crisis. These imposters stole over $41 million from Americans in 2018. Learning how grandparents lose millions to people pretending to be their grandkids could help you or a loved one avoid becoming a victim.

The losses from this scam are skyrocketing, from $26 million in 2017 to $41 million in 2018. In 2017, only one out of fourteen people age 70 and older who reported the scam paid money to the fraudsters. However, in 2018, one out of every four of the people in this group handed money over to the con artists.

The scam usually starts with a telephone call to the grandparent. Here are some of the common tactics the fraudsters use to steal from grandparents:

  • The caller pretends to be injured and fakes uncontrolled sobbing to disguise the caller’s voice. Most grandparents would recognize the voice of a grandchild, so the pretend crying masks the difference in the caller’s voice and that of the grandchild.
  • The caller pretends to be a friend of a grandchild and says their grandchild has been arrested or is in some other form of legal trouble. The con artist says the grandchild went on a quick trip to another country and got into trouble there. This tactic makes it less likely the grandparent will travel to where the grandchild supposedly is to render help in person. About half of the incidents in which grandparents send cash payments involves a claim of legal trouble.
  • The con artist claims the grandchild was in a car accident and needs money for the hospital or doctor. Sometimes the crook will claim the grandchild was at least partly at fault, or had been drinking, to motivate the grandparent to keep the matter private.
  • The crook says the grandchild told him the grandparent is the only person who can help or the only one whom the grandkid trusts. Another common allegation is the grandchild is embarrassed about the situation and does not want anyone to know. The purpose of these claims is to decrease the likelihood the grandparent will check with any other relatives to see if the story is true.
  • The scammer provides some personal information about you or your family in an attempt to verify the call is legitimate. You cannot trust this information, because the con artist probably got the details about you and your family from social media postings.

What to Do If You Get a Family or Friend Emergency Phone Call

Security experts say if you get a phone call like this, it is almost certainly a scam. You should pause and think before acting. Write down the information from the caller, but don’t provide any of your information over the telephone. Absolutely do not provide your address, date of birth, credit card number, bank account information or any other personal data.

Contact family members to verify whether your grandchild is indeed traveling or has gotten into trouble with the law. If you suspect the call was a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

References:

AARP. “Family Emergency Scams Cost Victims $41M.” (accessed August 1, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2018/cash-grandparent.html

Other articles you may find interesting:

IRS Scams: What You Need to Know

Financial Advisors Try to Prevent Financial Exploitation

Understanding Palliative Care

An elderly man receiving palliative care
Palliative care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

The term “palliative care” can cause many people to draw a blank. Many people think it’s just a synonym for hospice care. However, that’s an inaccurate assumption. Here’s some information that may help you better understand palliative care.

Hospice Care

Hospice care is one of many types of palliative care. If your loved one is in the hospital with a terminal illness, the doctor may suggest that the family talk with someone in the hospice department of the hospital. This is the first encounter many people have with the concept of hospice care.

Hospice care is typically delivered during the end stages of a final illness. Hospice care may be given in the hospital, in a hospice care center, or in the home. This type of treatment focuses on keeping the person as comfortable as possible, including pain management and emotional distress.

Palliative Care

Palliative care encompasses quality of life issues for people who have severe ongoing health issues or life-threatening conditions. You don’t have to be in the end stages of life to receive palliative care. The doctor who treats your medical condition can refer you to a palliative care specialist.

The services the palliative care specialist can provide include:

  • Reducing your symptoms
  • Relieving your pain
  • Providing general physical comfort
  • Providing spiritual comfort

Because palliative care can help the patient achieve a better outcome, many doctors prescribe this type of treatment for conditions like multiple sclerosis, cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, severe kidney disease and other significant conditions. Anyone who needs help managing a major health crisis or ongoing illness that is life-changing can benefit from palliative care.

Myth-Busting Palliative Care

There are many misconceptions about palliative care. Here are some of the most common:

  • You have to be dying to get palliative care.
    • This is not true. People with severe injuries or illnesses can receive palliative care, whether they are expected to make a full recovery, have life-long limitations, or not survive the illness. You can be two years old or 92 years old.
  • Palliative care is a way for people addicted to painkillers to get a steady supply of drugs.
    • This is also not true. Palliative care does not give you unrestricted access to painkillers. Medical professionals will determine the appropriate level of medications for your condition. You must have a significant medical condition to qualify for palliative care.
  • The people who provide palliative care services are “hippie dippies” and not medical professionals.
    • This isn’t true. Your primary care doctor will be part of your treatment planning team, along with the medical professionals who are appropriate for your condition. Your team might include a doctor who specializes in medical care, nurses, physical therapists, a dietician or nutritionist, psychologist, social worker and spiritual advisor.
  • You have to stop your medical treatment to go on palliative care.
    • This is also not true. Palliative care works in conjunction with the medical treatment that your primary care doctor prescribes.
  • Palliative care is for people who refuse traditional medical care and prescription medicines.
    • This is not true. Palliative care incorporates both traditional medical care and complementary services. Palliative care also often involves prescription drugs for pain control.

With a better understanding of palliative care, more people can benefit from these services and manage major health challenges more comfortably.

References:

A Place for Mom. “Palliative Care: Facts and Questions.” (accessed August 7, 2019) https://www.aplaceformom.com/planning-and-advice/articles/palliative-care

Other articles you may find interesting:

Becoming Your Aging Loved One’s Money Manager

Including Pets in Your Estate Plan

Planning for the Unexpected

A hospital visit can make you realize you need to do some planning for the unexpected.
A hospital visit can make you realize you need to do some planning for the unexpected.

Sadly, this is not an unusual situation. The daughter spoke with her mother once or twice a week, and the fall happened just after their last conversation. She dropped what she was doing and drove to the hospital, according to the article “Parents” in BusinessWest.com. At the hospital, she was worried that her mother was suffering from more than fractures, as her mother was disoriented because of the pain medications.

The conversation with her brother and mother about why she wasn’t notified immediately was frustrating. They “didn’t want to worry her.” She was worried, and not just about her mother’s well-being, but about her mother’s finances, and whether any plans were in place for this situation.

Her brother was a retired comptroller, and she thought that as a former financial professional, he would have taken care of everything. That was not the case.

Despite his professional career, the brother had never had “the talk” with his mother about money. No one knew if she had an estate plan, and if she did, where the documents were located.

All too often, families discover that no planning has taken place during an emergency.

The conversation took place in the hospital, when the siblings learned that documents had never been updated after their father had passed—more than 20 years earlier! The attorney who prepared the documents had retired long ago. The originals? Mom had no idea. The names of her banks and financial institutions had changed so many times over the years that she wasn’t even sure where her money was.

For this family, the story had a happy ending. Once the mother got out of the hospital, the family made an appointment to meet with an estate planning attorney to get all of her estate planning and elder law planning completed. In addition, the family updated beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts, which are now set to avoid probate.

Both siblings have a list of their mother’s assets, account numbers, credit card information and what’s more, they are tracking the accounts to ensure that any sort of questionable transactions are reviewed quickly. They finally have a clear picture of their mother’s expenses, assets and income.

If your family’s situation is closer to the start of the story than the end, it’s time to contact a qualified estate planning attorney who is licensed to practice in your state and have all the necessary preparation done. Don’t wait until you’re uncovering family mysteries in the hospital.

Reference: BusinessWest.com (Aug. 1, 2019) “Parents”

Other articles you may find interesting:

Having the “Someday” Talk with Parents

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Expressing Your End-of-Life Wishes

End-of-life wishes are needed.
Document your end-of-life wishes now to make things easier for your loved ones later.

Discussing end-of-life wishes is something most people still avoid as a difficult topic. It’s true: for many people this topic is just too sad and scary to talk about, says Flagstaff Business News in the article “Easing the End-of-Life Transition with Advance Care Planning.”

However, planning for your death is a kindness to your loved ones, family members, friends or even neighbors who are left to make decisions about your medical care when you can’t do it yourself.

In the estate planning field, this is called advance care planning. It involves learning about the decisions that often need to be made, considering the options and decisions ahead of time, and memorializing those decisions with the correct and enforceable legal documents. This gives a person the ability to think about what they want in the way of treatment or care, and what they don’t want.

Documenting your end-of-life wishes makes things much easier for the survivors who otherwise would have to guess what was on their loved one’s mind or what they would have wanted.

Here are the medical decisions that most frequently need to be made:

CPR, or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. This is to get the heart to start beating again, when it has stopped and can range from the use of hands, a defibrillator or chemical means.

Ventilator or Assisted Breathing. This is the use of a machine, connected to a breathing tube that is inserted through the mouth or lungs and down the throat. It is not comfortable, and the patient cannot speak with the tube in their throat.

Artificial Nutrition. This is the delivery of nutrition through an IV (intravenous) or a feeding tube.

Comfort Care. Doing anything to make an individual comfortable at the end of their life. It can include everything from medication to emotional and spiritual counseling. The goal is to provide a person with a dignified end of life, while relieving as much suffering as possible.

Once decisions have been made about these end-of-life medical treatments, it’s time to get them down on paper.

You’ll need a Living Will. This is a written document expressing your wishes for end-of-life care. If you cannot speak on your own behalf, this is the document doctors will use to guide your care.

Durable Power of Attorney. This is a legal document used to name another person to make health care decisions on your behalf.

In addition, you should have your estate planning attorney prepare a Last Will and Testament or a Revocable Living Trust, so your property is distributed according to your wishes. An estate planning attorney can help make sure all the details are addressed.

These are not fun topics but thinking about what you would like to have occur and documenting your end-of-life wishes provides direction for your loved ones, who would otherwise be guessing at what you would have wanted.

Reference: Flagstaff Business News (Aug. 2, 2019) “Easing the End-of-Life Transition with Advance Care Planning”

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New Income Tax Form Designed for Seniors

IRS Form 1040
The IRS has created a new Form 1040 for seniors.

There’s a new tax form designed with seniors in mind. The IRS released a draft form of the 1040-SR, “U.S. Tax Return for Seniors,” says Kiplinger in its article, “IRS Releases Draft Form of New 1040 Tailored for Seniors.”

This form was created by the 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act. One of its provisions required the development of a tax return that would be easy for seniors to use. The form will highlight retirement income streams and other tax benefits for seniors. Taxpayers age 65 and older can use this form to file their 2019 tax returns.

It’s designed off the regular 1040, and the IRS says it uses all the same schedules, instructions, and attachments. Taxpayers who use tax software to file may not even notice the difference.

However, for taxpayers who still complete paper tax forms, the new form will be friendlier to aging eyes. The font is bigger, and the shading on the regular 1040 has been removed to improve the contrast and increase legibility.

One important feature of the new tax form is the addition of a standard deduction chart. The form lists the standard deduction amounts, including the extra standard deduction amount for which taxpayers age 65 and older qualify. This way, seniors don’t have to search around for the information. The chart also makes it simpler for seniors to take advantage of the full standard deduction for which they’re eligible, especially for those who may not even be aware of the extra amount for which they qualify.

The tax form has lines for specific retirement income streams, like Social Security benefits, IRA distributions, and pensions, as well as earned income from work.

The draft form will be finalized later this year.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 12, 2019) “IRS Releases Draft Form of New 1040 Tailored for Seniors”

Other articles you may find interesting:

Filing Estate Taxes for a Deceased Family Member

Who Should Be the Agent of My Power of Attorney?

Becoming Your Aging Loved One’s Money Manager

money managers help others with their finances
Before a loved one is showing the beginning symptoms of cognitive decline, make sure the necessary legal documents are in place so you can easily step in as his money manager.

Sometimes a loved one starts having trouble managing her money because of confusion, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, or some other form of dementia. When that happens, you might find yourself having to serve as her money manager. Here are some things you need to know about handling your aging loved one’s finances.

Changes to Make Now

Your loved one must be legally competent to take certain steps, such as adding a trusted friend or relative to a bank account or creating a power of attorney so her chosen money manager can  handle her financial matters. Once your aging loved one becomes incapacitated, she will not be able to hand the reins over to someone else. So plan ahead, before the confusion or dementia really sets in.

At that point, the only option is to go to court and obtain a guardianship or conservatorship. This legal process can take weeks, months, or even longer, and they often cost your aging loved one thousands of dollars in legal fees. Not only does she have to pay for the lawyer who files and handles the guardianship for you, she also has to foot the bill for court costs and payment to the person the court appoints to represent her.

People often challenge changes to legal documents that a person makes after a certain age, or while in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The best way to counter this situation is to get a letter from your loved one’s doctor at the same time she decides to execute a power of attorney or add you to her bank account. The doctor’s letter should say your relative was of sound mind at that time.

How to Avoid Elder Financial Abuse

Sadly, the vast majority of people who steal from older adults are the people they trust the most. Family members, friends, clergy and financial professionals commit the lion’s share of elder financial abuse. To prevent this outcome for your loved one, you have two options:

  • Have two people in charge of your loved one’s finances instead of only one. The two people can alternate the responsibility monthly or quarterly. This arrangement provides automatic oversight of each person’s actions. You could, for example, have a close relative and a dear friend serve as the two money managers.
  • Use a money management service. These companies can take care of things like paying the bills and balancing the checkbook for your aging relative. You should have a relative or friend go over the reports from the company every month to check for fraud on the part of the company. Your local National Association of Area Agencies on Aging can provide names of money management programs in your area.

When a money manager starts handling your loved one’s finances, she should prevent identity theft and fraud by canceling and shredding your relative’s debit cards and credit cards. She should also close the accounts at PayPal and other online shopping services.

Keep All Transactions Above Suspicion

Because incapacitated people are so vulnerable to theft and fraud, the people who manage your loved one’s money and other assets should take precautionary measures to make it clear they are acting in your relative’s best interests. Always write the reason for the payment on the memo line of the check. And never co-mingle funds.

Do not borrow from the account. Do not use your loved one’s assets for purchases that benefit anyone other than your relative. Do not use her assets for your own benefit, like driving her car to work.

Every state has different regulations, so talk with an estate planning or elder law attorney near you.

References:

AARP. “Managing a Loved One’s Money.” (accessed July 11, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/info-2017/managing-someone-elses-money.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-LEG-EOA1

Other articles you may find interesting:

Why is an Advance Directive so Important with Dementia?

Are Your Estate Planning Documents Age-Appropriate? (Part 1)