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Planning for the Inevitable: Advance Directives, Powers of Attorney and Wills

Bob Edwards talks about why it's important to make these decisions to ensure your final wishes are met

Power of Attorney and a living will

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Bob Edwards: Hello. I'm Bob Edwards with an AARP take on today.

On this week’s show, we take a look at a recent victory for older workers, who might never have known that micro-targeting advertising tactics on Facebook were being used to discriminate against them. Also, for those entering their post-retirement years, the sudden abundance of time can pose a puzzling dilemma. How does one fill it? Volunteer work is a common solution.

But first, discussion on preparing must have documents like advance directives, power of attorney, and wills aren't exactly a favorite conversation topic among families and loved ones, but by avoiding them, we do ourselves a great disservice. Those growing older who do not put their wishes in writing, may find their medical care is left in the hands of professionals, bound by state laws and regulations. And their loved ones are just as powerless. This is what makes advanced directives, both a living will and a healthcare power of attorney, two of the most essential, and reassuring legal documents everyone should have. They are different, but equally important to ensure your medical preferences are carried through.

Here to explain the legal implications is Amanda Singleton, and AARP expert and attorney, dedicated to providing estate planning services for families, and an advocate for unpaid family caregivers. Amanda, thanks for joining us.

Amanda Singleton: Thank you for having me.

Bob Edwards: How did you get involved in this work?

Amanda Singleton: Well, in my undergraduate at Florida State University, I took a course in death and dying. It sounds unusual, but I found it truly inspiring. That lead me to a degree in aging studies, where I learned quite a bit about caregiving, and the caregiving cliff, and the future expected caregiving crisis. But I didn't think too much more of it beyond my education. I went on to law school and thought I may do elder law, but ended up taking a different job. And then at the age of 30, I became a full-time caregiver and that completely recharted my course to where I opened a law practice that's devoted to caregivers.

Bob Edwards: This is a different topic to discuss with family. How do you recommend that our listeners, whether they're the children or the parents, start the conversation?

Amanda Singleton: Boldly. Fearlessly start this conversation. One half of Americans say they'd rely on family and friends to carry out their end of life care, but most of those people have never expressed what their wishes actually are. The numbers estimate that two thirds of us don't have advanced directives in place. So it's a complicated subject, but it's a part of life. And it's not one conversation. It's a series of conversations. So what I recommend, I talk about this all day, every day in my practice.

In my personal life, I experienced the same hold-ups and hiccups that other people do. So test the waters. There are a variety of ways you can start the conversation. Sharing your own wishes can work, to see if that opens up somebody's mind to discussing it with you. If you say, you know, "I really do not want a certain thing at this point in my medical care." See if somebody responds to that. You can use examples of friends, family or neighbors and how they've experience medical crises or deaths.

If that's too close, I like this trick, I do it all the time. I use the examples of celebrities. They live in the public eye, and they seem to have very little privacy, even in their deaths. So in the recent past alone, you know, we're privy to the fact that certain celebrities didn't create wills. That was a big story with regard to Aretha Franklin's passing last year, and Prince's the year before. We know that others, like Luke Perry who passed on recently, and Tom Petty, who I believe passed the year before, they did have advanced directives in place. It allowed their end of life wishes to be honored, and their passing's to be a little bit more private.

If all else fails, there are scripts online and at the library that you can find. The conversation starter kit, Death Over Dinner. The American Bar Association has a script. There's a book called How to Say it to Seniors that gives you script, conversations and rebuttals that you can have. All of that can just give you a little bit of tools in your toolbox to do it. And then if all else fails, you can blame your attorney or your doctor, and say that they advised you to have the conversation. I think it's so timely that we're talking about this today, because April 16th is national healthcare decisions day. So that on its own is a great way to open up a conversation with a loved one about their advanced directives. Or yours.

Bob Edwards: Well besides the prospect of having your loved ones fighting each other long after you're gone, there are many other risks of waiting, or putting off the conversation.

Amanda Singleton: That's right. And conflicts can and do, unfortunately, frequently happen. To me, I feel that the biggest risk is when you don't do your advanced planning, you're leaving everything up to chance. You're leaving your autonomy on the table, and allowing other people to make decisions that wouldn't necessarily be what you would want. Each of us are so unique, our values, our concerns and our experiences shape those wishes. So to have them go unexpressed, would have them go not respected or not followed. And it can be so emotionally taxing for your family members or your loved ones to have to make decisions, when they're already in the throes of a crisis. So to remove that burden from them is such a gift.

I can say, my mother had a living will. I didn't have to make any decisions at the end of her days. I so clearly remember that conversation with the nurse practitioner who told me, your mother has a living will, and it governs from now on. I took such comfort in that, because from that minute on, I wasn't the caregiver. I was just the daughter. I found that really precious, and cherished that time in those last days.

And you know there's a practical side to this as well. Not planning in advance does mean that if you experience a crisis and you can't convey what you want, that your loved ones may have to petition a court and request a guardianship, which can be time-consuming. It can be expensive. And also, as you said, it can be contested and raise conflict among your loved ones.

Bob Edwards: What's an advanced directive, and why is that so important?

Amanda Singleton: So an advanced directive communicates how you want to be treated if you cannot make decisions or if you cannot convey your decisions. It's your voice and it's your roadmap for others about you want to experience your life, your medical care, and eventually your death.

Bob Edwards: And what is durable power of attorney?

Amanda Singleton: Durable powers of attorney can vary. There are durable powers of attorney that are specific for healthcare, there are durable powers of attorney that are specific to your financial and legal affairs. What they do is name a person. That person is your attorney in fact, or your agent. That person can step into your shoes and handle your affairs. Even through incapacity, and up until the day of your death.

Bob Edwards: And do these vary by state?

Amanda Singleton: Yes. This is a big conversation. You always want to check to see what your states laws are, and use a form or document that's specific to the state in which you reside.

Bob Edwards: What's the difference between a living will, and a will?

Amanda Singleton: A living will is a medical advanced directive. The living will covers the end of life decision making. When you're truly at the end of your days, how you want your care to go. Whether you wish for life-prolonging procedures to be continued, or if you wish for them to be withdrawn, or not even started in the first place. They can cover anatomical donation wishes, organ and tissues donation wishes. It is purely a medical document that you make.

A will covers what happens after you die. It can address your funeral plans, who you want to handle your affairs, name guardians for your dependents, and what you would like to happen with your assets and liabilities. The conversation comes up in my practice a lot. The confusion between a living will and a will. So I always tell people, just think of the living will as a life document, and think of your will as your post life document.

Bob Edwards: Yeah, and go do both.

Amanda Singleton: And yes, do both.

Bob Edwards: The tax deadline of April 15th is right around the corner. What should caregivers of a family member know when it comes to taxes?

Amanda Singleton: Well, caregivers know that caregiving is expensive. The average expense to caregivers a year is $7000. It can rise very quickly from there. In the future, we expect that there's going to be a bigger push for caregiver tax credit laws. So there are some options now. I would recommend that people check their state tax board to explore options that may be available to them. And consult with a CPA, because a CPA can advise you very well on what is available for caregivers in your state, and also what changes have happened since the tax cuts and job act in 2017 for caregivers. Learn who qualifies as a dependent. How can you claim medical expenses incurred by dependents and so on. All of that may be available to reduce your tax burden, and just these costs of caregiving. And for everyone, as soon as you begin caregiving, keep detailed records and receipts for next year’s taxes.

Bob Edwards: Are there any resources you recommend to people, regardless of where they live?

Amanda Singleton: Yes. There is a wealth of information out there. Tons online, tons in your local libraries. AARP has a state by state advanced directive guide. I always tell people, if there's a question about what they want to use in their particular state of residence, great plan is to check your state bar association. That's the organization that governs lawyers in your state. Also the American Bar Association has some good options. And departments of health and departments of elder affairs. There are so many free and accessible resources, including advanced directives, that people can find online. They just have to do a little research and make sure that it complies with their states laws.

Also, one that's still out there. I did my first living will at the age of 19 in that class at FSU. It was the five wishes form. That fivewishes.org I believe is the website. It still exists. It's still out there. It's accepted in many states. I think I still have a copy of that one, to be honest.

Bob Edwards: 19 you say?

Amanda Singleton: Yeah.

Bob Edwards: Never too early.

Amanda Singleton: At the age of 18, I recommend that everyone consider doing, at a minimum their advanced directives.

Bob Edwards: All good advice. Thank you so much.

Amanda Singleton: Thank you so much, Bob.

Bob Edwards: Amanda Singleton, attorney and caregiving expert. You can find more resources and information at AARP.org/caregiving. To learn more, visit AARP.org/advancedirectives, or AARP.org/caregiving.

Facebook, the social media giant that makes its money by allowing advertisers to micro-target their ads to users who fit a certain profile recently found that its business model can prove costly. As part of a settlement in several discrimination lawsuits, Facebook can no longer permit advertisers on its website, to direct job recruitment ads only to people who fit certain characteristics, like age. The agreement is a victory for older workers who might never have known that this technology was being used to discriminate against them. Of course, micro-targeting advertising will continue, but not when it comes to product, services and employment, where discriminating tactics are prohibited by civil rights laws.

Facebook said it will build a new section on its site for companies that want to advertise for jobs, housing and credit. Companies will be prohibited from targeting ads by age, race, gender, or any other legally protected characteristics. Facebook has also agreed to permit the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups to monitor the site for three years, to make sure that it fully implements the changes in the settlement. It's one hurdle of many when it comes to workers over 40 getting their fair shake at job opportunities. But it's one less. That certainly deserves a thumbs up.

Over 800 employers have signed AARP's pledge to promote equal opportunity for all workers, regardless of age. Take a look and see what job opportunities might await at AARP.org/employerpledge.

For those entering their post-retirement years, the sudden abundance of time can pose a puzzling dilemma. How does one fill it? Volunteer work is a common solution. And if you've ever had a natural curiosity for science, volunteering as a citizen scientist not only provides opportunities for social connection, it makes you part of a process that advances science. NASA, for example, engages amateur photographers to observe and snap photos of clouds from the ground that the New York Botanical Garden, scientists monitoring the effects of climate change depend on volunteers to study seasonal changes in its plants and trees. Collecting water samples for study is also highly dependent on volunteer participation. The best part? Volunteers don't have to have a scientific background, or specific skills beyond observation. Just a desire to help scientists address how human beings affect the environment.

Depending on where you live, finding citizen scientists opportunities may be as simple as checking with your local library, or a nearby college or university. Websites, too, like citizenscience.gov are great places to start. And if spending time in the great outdoors is not your thing, scientists have created online games that incorporate research. Just think, your contribution to science may be just a mouse click away.

For more, visit AARP.org/podcast. Become a subscriber, and be sure to rate our podcast on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, and other podcast apps. Thanks for listening. I'm Bob Edwards.

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When planning for care, there are boxes to check to ensure you or a loved one’s preferences are met. It’s no one’s favorite conversation topic, but it’s important. This week Amanda Singleton, a caregiving expert and attorney who is dedicated to providing estate planning services, explains what these documents are and why they are necessary.

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