Procrastination: A Hidden Trap
by Joanne Seminara, Esq.
When you were young and one of your teachers gave you an assignment that was due in two weeks, did you rush home to complete it? Or were you more likely working to finish it late on the night before it was due?
We all procrastinate. Ok, maybe not when your boss says “I want this on my desk in an hour.” But if no one is looking over your shoulder, it’s a task that requires a certain amount of effort and there’s a cost involved, so it’s easier to say “I’ll get to it later.”
As a lawyer I’ve seen this to the extreme. One week I met two women, both over 100 years old, who both indicated they were in no rush to prepare a Will. That’s a great story to tell over cocktails but I’ve also seen the pain and suffering that comes when tragedy strikes while someone was procrastinating. For example, one day in court I watched a woman crying to the judge because her husband was incapacitated, had never made a Power of Attorney (which meant that she didn’t have any access to their money) and she was about to lose their house. And her husband was a lawyer.
The most common problem that walks through the door of my office is a family with an elderly mother or father who has to be put into a nursing home. Because they’ve done no planning, rather than have Medicaid foot the bill, $15,000 or more a month is going to have to come out of the elderly person’s assets. While we can provide some help at this “11th hour,” planning this late results in unavoidably greater cost in terms of stress, finances and delay. This is a situation that could have easily been prevented with the earlier help of an experienced elder law attorney. But because there’s a “five-year” transfer or “look back” period which can lead to the imposition of a Medicaid penalty period, the necessary legal work must be completed years before nursing home care is required. And so, due to no planning, family members who would have inherited substantial estate assets pay the high price of procrastination.
Sadly, dementia, often caused by Alzheimer’s disease, is on the rise. Once a dementia sufferer reaches a certain level of cognitive decline, she or he can no longer sign legal papers. And that often means that procrastination will claim financial victims, who are often the spouse or children of their incapacitated loved one, as well.
One reason that people procrastinate in making these plans is that, in our society, we are ill prepared to deal with the concept of death. Death is inevitable and because planning for it requires facing its inevitability many people prefer to push anything having to do with death aside. Which is one reason I wrote “5@55: The Five Essential Legal Documents You Need By Age 55.” 55 is an age when thoughts of dying are probably dim enough not to frighten you away from protecting yourself.
If you’re 55 years of age or older and don’t have a Will, Health Care Proxy, Living Will, Power of Attorney and Digital Diary, I urge you to stop procrastinating in order not to become a victim of Father Time.