Financial & Legal Issues — Estate Planning

Estate planning allows people to determine, in advance, how they would like their care and assets handled in the case of their disability or death

When there is a chronic illness like young onset Parkinson's disease, it becomes even more important for the individual or family to arrange for the funding and legal documentation necessary to support future special needs.

People often think that only the wealthiest people engage in estate planning. In actuality, there are aspects of estate planning that are essential for everyone, regardless of income or net worth. Generally, elder law attorneys who specialize in estate planning also have expertise in disability and special needs planning. An elder law attorney can educate you about your options and guide you through this process. To find an elder care attorney near you, contact the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA).

Some of the more basic aspects of estate planning include:

  • Wills: Anyone over the age of 18 with any assets should have a will. It simply tells the world exactly how you want your assets distributed when you pass away. If you have children, this document should also include who you would like to care for your children should something happen to you. If you are to die without a will, state law dictates how your assets will be distributed (generally, half of your assets to your spouse and half to your children). You will have no additional say in how your assets are divided or who will care for your children (if you are not married)/
  • Trusts: Provide for management of your assets while you are alive and can distribute your assets on your death. In some cases, trusts (and wills too) can be structured to permit a reduction in state or gift taxes and can help some estates avoid probate (going to court). Additionally, some trusts allow greater protection from creditors in cases of lawsuits.
  • Giving: An estate planning tool that is typically a win-win situation for the person with the estate and the person or organization receiving the gift. However, if you may need Medicaid in the future, you should talk to an elder law attorney before any lifetime gifts are made, since these gifts can disqualify the person making the gift from Medicaid benefits.