The Ethical Will: Putting Your Values on Paper
June 29, 2012
Q: In connection with creating our estate planning documents, my husband and I would like to leave our children and grandchildren something more than just our money and assets. We would like to leave them a sense of our values. A friend mentioned something to us about an “Ethical Will”. Can you tell us anything about them?
A. Yes. An Ethical Will is a statement in your own words expressing your values, hopes for the future, family history, emotions, and anything else that you would like to pass on to your loved ones. It deals with values, rather than with assets. It’s really a very old concept: one of the earliest references is found in the Book of Genesis, chapter 49, where Jacob gathers his 12 children around him and gives them his charge for their futures. Initially, Ethical Wills were transmitted orally, but eventually they were written down. Although an ethical will is not a legal document, it can be a valuable complement to legal documents. It can be an expression of love, a statement of personal or family history, a statement of lessons learned in life, a wish for the future of your loved ones, or anything else that you would like to pass on down as a personal legacy.
An Ethical Will is really a personal statement that carries your “voice” to future generations. It can be as simple as a one-page letter of love to a novella length memoir detailing your life experiences. In our family, we actually went a step further and videotaped my grandmother over a number of sittings, a project that ultimately took approximately 2 years to complete. We began with her earliest memories of growing up in Europe and covered all the history forward, all in her own voice. At times she broke into song, especially when our young children toddled into the room. That videotape, since turned into a DVD for preservation, is now a cherished family heirloom and each member of the family has a copy. We view it from time to time at family gatherings.
If you wish, your “Ethical Will” can be shared with your loved ones during your lifetime, and it can be added to from time to time. It is your spiritual legacy which can live on long after your will or trust has been permanently filed away.
Filial Responsibility Laws May Force Children to Pay for Elderly Parents’ Nursing Costs
June 24, 2012
Many of our clients and readers are caregivers of elderly parents; they have chosen to take responsibility for their parents—whether it be physical responsibility, financial, or other. But what if instead of making that choice, you had responsibility for your aging parents thrust upon you? This is exactly the issue addressed in this recent article from Elder Law Answers.
“John Pittas’ mother entered a nursing home for rehabilitation following a car crash. She later left the nursing home and moved to Greece, and a large portion of her bill at the nursing home went unpaid. Mr. Pittas’ mother applied to Medicaid to cover her care, but that application is still pending. Meanwhile, the nursing home sued Mr. Pittas for nearly $93,000 under the state’s filial responsibility law, which requires a child to provide support for an indigent parent. The trial court ruled in favor of the nursing home.”
The article points out that many states still have filial responsibility laws on the books, but that those laws are rarely enforced. This ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not bode well for Baby-Boomers, many of whom are finding themselves caught between caring for elderly parents and for grown children who have not yet left the nest.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about this case is that the nursing home was given so much leeway. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that “the law does not require [the nursing home] to consider other sources of income or to wait until Mrs. Pittas’s Medicaid claim is resolved.” This would seem to condone (if not encourage) a litigious mind-set among nursing homes. As if this weren’t bad enough, the court “also said that the nursing home had every right to choose which family members to pursue for the money owed.” If you are one of many siblings you could find yourself involved in a lawsuit merely because you live the closest, are the wealthiest, or called mom more often than your brothers or sisters.
California has not yet seen a lawsuit which goes as far as the case in Pennsylvania, but the law is on the books and only time will tell if this becomes an inssue in our state.
Meanwhile, the best way to ensure that your family doesn’t find itself embroiled in a similar lawsuit is to ensure that you (or your elderly parents) have a plan in place to pay for long-term care. That plan may include making a timely application for a Medi-Cal subsidy where appropriate.