Estate planning tools are more than just a calculator and pen for document signing

What Seniors Can Learn from the Crash-and-Burn of Buzz Aldrin’s Estate Plan

It’s been all over the news lately – world famous hero and astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, actually had to sue two of his children and a former business manager to remove them from handling his finances. This is a sad crash-and-burn landing for an American hero. And the wreckage to his family continues – the dispute is ongoing in Florida courts. It could happen to anyone.

The intricacies of Colonel Aldrin’s case are typical of what can happen with families when communication breaks down, when greed takes over, or when a senior has welcomed a new friend into his or her life. The specifics usually involve control of the senior, a business, and/or money. Motivations of the family can range from purely loving to desire for money and control. There are trusts, powers of attorney, and allegations of incapacity and guardianship filings to take control of the senior’s decision making. There are lawyers, large fees, and pain and suffering.

The issues are also difficult. In other known and unknown cases, it is the senior who is being taken advantage of or has lost the ability to make rational decisions.

We have found that the best plan is to avoid these situations whenever possible.

Here are seven tips for avoiding a crash-and-burn family conflict:

  1. Maintain Open Communication. Involve all of the members of your family (if appropriate). Make sure that everyone understands your wishes. If you wishes change, talk about this openly and explain and document your reasons for changing your mind. This is not to say that you should make changes willy-nilly, just that your well-thought-out wishes are known and you expect them to be honored.
  2. Stay Involved. If you have given authority to a family member to handle your finances, stay involved and actively monitor what is happening. Loved ones rarely “steal” from their parents, but they do sometimes “borrow” without the means to reimburse.
  3. Share Financial Information. Make sure that in your documents and business arrangements that all family members whom you trust have the ability to receive reports and accountings, even if they are not the one in charge.
  4. Use Third-Party Experts. If there is conflict in your family (or you think one could occur), consider an independent third party such as bank, trust company, or attorney to act on your behalf.
  5. Document Your Health. Be proactive in seeking your own medical and/or psychological review by a qualified expert if others are challenging your decision-making ability. In guardianship proceedings you have a right to this.
  6. Talk to Your Advisors. If you feel threatened or exploited by anyone (including family), you should talk with your attorney, physician, or counselor. Be aware that the professional will likely need to file a report with Adult Protective Services. While this may seem scary, it also helps protect you from further harm.
  7. Get Outside Help. You may ask family members to agree to a formal mediation to work out differences. A word of caution though – this could serve to inflame tensions if not handled well.

Planning now is the best cure to avoid future conflict involving your family.

Posted in Blog, Estate Planning, Older Adults.