Letter: When making wills find elder law attorney

About five years ago, I remember sitting around the Christmas tree with my entire family, enjoying everyone’s company. We were all so happy being together, and I never wanted that to change.

As fate would have it, life had a different plan. Over the next three years, we had to make a difficult transition to move my grandparents from their home to a nursing home to get the care they needed. Once they were there, we thought life would get easier for everyone. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

My aunt met with my grandparents’ local attorney (who had drafted their wills) to decide how to help my grandparents. This attorney, not knowing any better, instructed my aunt to make sure my grandparents had updated wills, but otherwise, advised everything would have to be sold. Just like that, my grandparents’ hard-earned life savings was in jeopardy to pay for their care.

We had to sell their home to help pay for their high nursing home costs. And just like that, everything they had worked so hard for, the home where we spent every Christmas, was gone.

This is a terrifying reality that most families will sadly face at some point. Statistically, there is a 90 percent chance at least one spouse of a married couple will eventually need some type of long-term care. Does that mean everyone has to spend their life savings and sell their houses to pay for care? Absolutely not. We could have avoided this pitfall had we educated ourselves and worked with an elder law attorney.

While the family attorney was a great friend, he wasn’t well-versed in elder law. The damage: We lost everything to cover nursing home fees. Had we worked with an elder law attorney, we could have avoided depleting my grandparents’ life savings, protected their home and maybe even passed it on to someone in the family.

When my grandfather passed away, his will had to go through probate. The attorney fees were astronomical. An elder law attorney informed us that relying on a will is a one-way ticket to probate and provided estate planning advice about how to avoid it.

If I could turn back time, I would have immediately met with an elder law attorney — someone who practices this specialized law every day — to ensure my family wouldn’t lose everything to probate or the nursing home. It is my hope that my hindsight becomes your foresight for the sake of your family’s future.

Marissa Fitzpatrick, Lima