Recently, I received an interesting book on the topic: “Blood & Money: Why Families Fight Over Inheritance and What To Do About It.” As I’ve begun digging through it, I saw that the book, written by veteran estate planning and elder law attorney P. Mark Accettura, offers good information for advisors and their clients.
As you think about beefing up the estate planning side of your practice or adding it to your repertoire, here are Accettura’s three keys as to why estate planning is so timely. And why it’s vital that advisors need to know more on the subject to better help their senior clients as well as to protect their client’s assets from prying relatives-or even from themselves:
- Increase of elder abuse. The vast majority of financial elder abuse (estimated to be as high as 90 percent) is perpetrated by family members. When the bad people are the victim’s family, such abuse is essentially an inheritance dispute that begins while the testator is still living. Although the incidence of elder abuse is hard to gauge, since the vast majority of it goes undocumented, multiple media reports suggest that a troubled economy increases temptation and contributes to heightened incidence of financial elder abuse.
- Growing epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease. Financial elder abuse and inheritance disputes begin when elders are no longer able to maintain the status quo. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia lead to vulnerability and dependence and open the door to those who wish to “fix” perceived past inequities. Health organizations predict that an epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease will accompany the aging of the population. The incidence of Alzheimer’s increases as we age, by some reports rising from 10 percent for those 65 and older to as much as 50 percent for those 85 and above. Eighty million baby boomers are now entering the age of concern. A growing cognitively challenged population will likely see increased elder financial abuse.
- Failure to plan. According to a March 1, 2010 survey by Forbes Magazine, half of Americans don’t have even the most basic estate plan. A national telephone survey of 1,022 adults conducted in December 2009 by Lawyers.com (the Internet branch of Martindale Hubbell, the esteemed lawyer rating service) found an even lower rate of protection: only 35 percent of respondents had a will. The failure of elders to formalize their wishes provides fertile ground for conflict among those they leave behind.