Legal complications often haunt seniors


When did you have your last legal checkup? We have regular appointments with our primary care physician, specialists, eye doctor, dermatologist and dentist to stay healthy — to live to age 100 or more. Going to an attorney is not worse than having a root canal, but it is preventive legal care.

Attorney Cassidy Peterson of the Estate Planning & Elder Law Center of Brevard recently provided an outstanding program at One Senior Place that dealt with many issues about “What Happens to Your Assets After You Die?” She provided a list of the Top 10 estate planning mistakes that cost their heirs money. What about you?

Additionally, there are a lot of mistakes made by seniors when they title property, put it in trust, fail to make revisions after changes in marital status, or after the death of a spouse. How have you listed your checking account and savings accounts? Who is the beneficiary of your IRAs, your retirement savings, certificates and stock holdings?

Some seniors want to avoid spending money on attorney fees and make their own legal decisions. If you list a daughter as a joint owner on your checking and savings account, those funds can be removed by any owner and are subject to claims of creditors for either party. Many options are available with “payable on death” designations or trusts.

If you are planning marriage as a senior, each party brings to the relationship non-marital and marital assets. Family members can challenge arrangements before and after a marriage. Drafting a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement should include the assistance of an attorney. What is the economic impact on all parties after the death of one party? How is the inheritance of children affected with or without a trust?

Physical and mental challenges place a burden on family members. A guardianship of the person, a durable power of attorney with authority to handle financial matters and paying healthcare providers requires trusted family members. Incapacity of the senior creates conditions loaded with potential complications. A living will along with a regular will are most important to avoid complications.

Make a list of your property ownership, legal questions, and make an appointment for one hour of consultation with an experienced estate or elder law attorney. Avoiding legal complications is a challenge in both life and after death. 

Ed Baranowski is president of Topics Unlimited, a Melbourne-based education, seminar and consulting company. He can be contacted at