It is not uncommon for my office to receive a call from a panicked family member of an elderly individual. The call may go something like this:
Caller: Hi, I'm calling to see how much it costs to get some estate planning done for my mom.
Paralegal: We'd be happy to help you if we can. Why don't you first tell me a little bit about your mom.
Caller: Okay. Well, mom's not doing too well these days. She's in an assisted living facility and mostly doesn't recognize us anymore. Although she sometimes has good days, most of the time she's confused and is asking for her husband who died three years ago.
Paralegal: Okay. What kind of property does your mom have?
Caller: Well, she has a home that's paid for. She has a brokerage account, a checking and savings account, some farm land in Tooele and I think she has some municipal bonds that she invested in once. But I'm not really sure.
Paralegal: Does your mom know what property she owns and does she understand its value?
Caller: Oh heavens no! She put me on her checking account years ago because she was so overwhelmed with trying to manage her finances. I don't think she has a clue how much she owns, nor could she keep it straight even if we told her.
Paralegal: I think we can help you, but you'll need to meet with an attorney to discuss some of the legal implications of your mother's situation.
Although this above excerpted conversation is a fictitious example, and a very abbreviated one at that, it illustrates a trap that many people fall into with regard to estate planning.