William R Remery, National Elder Law Attorney

Estate planning and getting one’s legal affairs in order is like buying insurance. Like insurance, advance legal planning cannot prevent bad things from happening but can anticipate such things to minimize the damages and provide for better outcomes overall.  Car insurance does not prevent accidents, earthquake insurance does not prevent earthquakes and life insurance does not prevent death. However, they can help mitigate or lessen your damages and permit you and your family to go on even if a bad thing happens. Just as there are different kinds of insurance for different problems, there are different legal plans and strategies that can be put in place to anticipate and deal with different problems.

    Advance legal planning is also like good preventive health care. Periodic checkups, preventive medicine and tips on healthy living can prevent some diseases and catch others early-on so that they can be treated before they become fatal. Similarly, getting your legal affairs in order before a problem arises or catching a legal problem early, is infinitely better, less expensive, and more likely to render favorable results.

    Good legal planning can save time and money by taking advantage of tax exemptions, deductions or other special tax rules, avoiding expensive court supervised conservatorship proceedings by using powers of attorney and advance health care directives, avoid the expense and delay of a court supervised probate proceeding at death by using a simple living trust, and saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on long term care expenses by doing advance planning for Medicaid, or in California Medi-Cal, among other things.

    Like preventive health care, legal planning should be a lifelong habit. For young people just getting started with new families, their estates may be modest, but they have big responsibilities with young children and aging parents. They need to consider replacing their income in the event of disability or death and nominating guardians for their children to avoid family disputes. They may also have issues regarding apartment leases, purchase agreements for a new home or other installment purchases.

    As wealth grows that wealth needs to be protected, with tax advice and investment advice. As income increases and the family grows, replacing income in the event of death or disability may become even more important.

    As people approach retirement, investment strategies should change and issues about Medicaid, or in California Medi-Cal, planning, reverse mortgages and substitute decision-makers to help as the person declines physically and mentally become more prominent in the planning.

    While legal planning often revolves around saving money and addressing the financial issues that may arise, good lifelong legal planning is equally about minimizing the emotional costs of life’s twists and turns. Subjecting yourself or your loved ones to unnecessary court proceedings like probates or conservatorships which are extremely stressful and emotionally draining at the very time when the family is in distress over the loss or disability of a loved one can be even more important than the financial savings. Basic estate planning is relatively inexpensive, using powers of attorney, advance health care directives and trusts. Even Medicaid, or in California Medi-Cal, planning is fairly easy and inexpensive if done well in advance of need. In the forty years that I have been practicing, I have seen the cost for trusts and other routine planning documents fall with the advent of word processing and computer programs. Unfortunately, I do spend an inordinate about of time-solving problems and curing failures to plan, which is much more time consuming and, therefore, expensive.

    A year and a half into the Covid-19 pandemic we have found that having “face-to-face” meetings with our clients using Zoom and Skype, emailing completed documents for the clients to print out and sign, and even arranging for “traveling notaries” to complete signing the documents has made legal planning safe and, in many cases, even more convenient and less expensive than traditional “in-office” meetings. Also, with the extra time we have been spending at home “social distancing,” there is more time to review our legal affairs and get them in order.

Mr. Remery is one of the founding members of The Wellness Village. Visit his page at, watch his video, and be inspired to do your long-term care planning. He is only a phone call away.

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Updated: August 16, 2017