Skip to main content
Estate Planning

Estate Planning that Keeps the Caregiver Out of Jail

By February 22, 2012No Comments
Arsenic and Old Lace

Try the Family Meeting without Elderberry Juice

Recent news stories abound about individuals who were caregivers for aging loved ones, and found themselves in court because they cared too much…about the loved ones’ bank accounts.  But we really don’t need to go online or read the papers to hear about Aunt Abby’s favorite nephew, Jonathan, who changed the beneficiary designations on all of his aunt’s retirement accounts and life insurance policies, naming Jonathan as the single beneficiary.

Sometimes family members who spend significant time as the sole or primary caregiver are resentful and feel entitled to the funds because they sacrificed their careers or lifestyles to ensure the dearly departed’s final years or months were comfortable. On other occasions, family members are just plain old everyday crooks. Then on rare occasions, we have the family murderer.

To prevent family members who were or will be primary caregivers from feeling resentful and taking nefarious steps toward their “fair share,”  perhaps a family meeting should be held once the loved one at issue passes a golden or silver milestone. The meeting should cover 3 primary stages: (1) current living, (2) future living, and (3) postmortem needs. The agenda should also review needed resources and arrangements and pre-existing arrangements: money, physical assistance, companionship, time, estate planning documents, government benefits, and insurance, for example.

Once the family determines the relevant needs for the appropriate stages, family could decide together who among its members is willing, able, and competent to manage the tasks and which resources could make tasks more manageable. Furthermore, if one person becomes a primary caregiver, the family should also determine how much that person should expect as compensation from the family and/or the loved one for his or her efforts. Maybe the loved one is disabled too, requiring even more assistance from the family caregiver. Individuals hear this and often say, “But this is family. You shouldn’t have to be paid to take care of your elders. After all…” Well, that is typically said before those individuals have helped elders out of bed, into the bathtub, driven them to and from, prepared their meals, and cleaned their homes.


Uncle Teddy is 78 years old. He lives in a 2 bedroom apartment he adores. The building has all of the amenities one really needs – cleaners, laundry, small supermarket, parking, doorman, and even a “wellness checker.” Uncle Frank has 2 children: a daughter who is a single parent with a high school teenager and another child in college, and a son who’s married, without children, and lives in a nearby state. Uncle Teddy’s siblings and parents are dead. However, he has a favorite niece, Martha, who visits him monthly and phones weekly. Uncle Teddy is fiercely independent but his health is declining. Currently, he performs most of his errands, cooks, and drives himself to the doctor. A cleaning person comes in once weekly. He also has life insurance, a will, and Martha as an authorized user on his primary checking account. In a year or 2, Uncle Frank’s mobility will dramatically decrease. However, will still need bills paid, meals prepared, personal grooming, and doctor visits. When he passes away, memorial services will need planning and implementing, his estate will need administering, and before that, his apartment will need cleaning and inventorying. There’s something for every family member to do to help Uncle Teddy now and then. Powers of attorney could also help currently and in the near future.

Now, for family members who want to skip stage 2 and help the loved one to the post-mortem stage, like many states, Illinois has a “slayer statute” where family murderers can’t inherit the family home.

Leave a Reply