Q. Last year, I married my college sweetheart. I’m 83 and she’s 81. My wife has a 52-year old son who only visits when he wants money. My wife’s loaned him most of her money and he hasn’t paid it back. Now, he wants a loan from me and I don’t want to give it to him. I want it to take care of myself and my wife. If there’s anything left, I want it to go to my niece. My wife agrees. Now, he’s calling us names and making my wife miserable. What can we do?
A. Whenever you have a change in personal circumstance, like a marriage, you should review your estate plan. This would be a great time to do it; Here are my thoughts.
First, you need the advice of an experienced, reputable attorney who specializes in estate planning or elder law. Since you are computer savvy, you can search for one on the Web sites of either the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (www.naepc.org) or National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (www.naela.org). Then, verify the attorneys’ standing with your state Bar Association and check references before selecting one.
Second, talk to your attorney about the loans your wife made to her son. Describe the circumstances surrounding them and take any IOUs or paperwork with you. Your attorney can advise you about the prospect of recovering this money, if that is a goal, and the cost, in terms of legal fees and family relationships.
Also, talk to him about the loans your stepson is pressuring you to make. Elders should never be pressured into loaning or giving money to anyone, especially when that money is needed for their care and comfort. Your attorney can help your stepson understand this.
Third, talk to your attorney about your estate plan. If you die first, you may want to establish a trust for the exclusive benefit of your wife during her lifetime. Then, it can be distributed to your niece when your wife passes. This means naming a trustee; a trust company may be a good choice because such a firm would be required to act only in the best interest of your wife, not her son. It would have no difficulty saying “no” to your stepson, deflecting the burden and blame from your wife and niece.
Planning tip: We recommend all families, friends and caregivers learn about elder abuse, how to prevent it, how to it recognize it, and what to do if you spot it. In general, it is any form of mistreatment resulting in harm or loss to a senior, and it can be emotional, physical or financial in nature. Elder abuse is a growing problem because of our aging population. You can learn more by visiting the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse Web site (www.preventingelderabuse.org).