For two hours, nearly two dozen people listened to three experts discuss the complex issues of health care, estate planning, and charitable giving on Jan. 14 during the Estate Planning Workshop provided by Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta.

Death and taxes. Long term living facilities and funerals.  Probate and wills. Durable power of attorney and designated beneficiaries. Bequests and charitable remainder trusts. Difficult words; difficult concepts.
Sixty-five percent of Americans refuse to discuss these topics because they make them feel  uncomfortable, according to the National Institute of Health.  

Denial about death, however, will not prevent the inevitable. Ignorance about what happens to your estate is not bliss; in fact, knowledge creates power. Such was the focus of the Jan. 14 Estate Planning Workshop provided by Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta.

For two hours, nearly two dozen people listened to three experts discuss the complex issues of health care, estate planning, and charitable giving. Ken Platou, Mercy Mt. Shasta president, discussed health care reform issues as they relate to Siskiyou County. Mount Shasta attorney Terry Taforo gave a presentation on estate planning, the benefits of a trust, problems with wills, and end of life issues. Bill Altavilla, Mercy’s Planned Giving Specialist, explained the process of mitigating taxes through planned giving.

Platou began by acknowledging the difficult decision involved with closing Mercy’s Care Center last year. MediCal paid the hospital $380 per day per resident for the 35 residents who lived at the Center; unfortunately, according to Platou, care cost $520 per day per resident. “When the economy was good, the hospital was willing to carry the two million dollar a year subsidy,” he said. “But given the tough economy, we had to choose between closing the Care Center or the hospital. Everyone had done a great job; it hurt to close the Center, but  was necessary. ”

Catholic Healthcare West closely monitors quality, Platou noted. “CHW has 41 hospitals; Mt. Shasta ranks number one. Something special happens here; regardless of future health care reform, we’ll work hard to maintain our quality. Our commitment is to stay in the top ten percent, nationally. I’m excited about our future and the type of care we offer the community.”

In his estate planning overview, Taforo explained how people could protect their assets. Estate planning is defined as the process of anticipating and arranging for the disposal of an estate; an estate includes real property (regardless of mortgage), life insurance, retirement and bank accounts, vehicles, and possessions.

According to Taforo, although a will is a statement of intention, it carries no legal weight until brought before a court; that means going through probate. “A will is a ticket to probate court,” he said. “Probate is costly and time consuming for heirs, regardless of intention stated in a will.” Additionally, in probate, all assets are frozen until a court determines otherwise.
Taforo used case scenarios typical of the average American to discuss such difficult concepts as joint tenancy, payable on death accounts, beneficiary designation, gifting, and living trusts. He explained the process of each concept as well as their drawbacks and benefits. By the end of the discussion, it was clear estate planning was the most beneficial choice when considering asset distribution upon death.

“Why doesn’t everyone do estate planning?” Taforo asked the group. “First, lack of awareness; most don’t know their choices. Second, they fear losing control of their assets, but as they become informed, they realize planning gives them more control. Third, to make things work, assets must be transferred, but again, information makes that process manageable. Procrastination, putting off the planning, interferes far too often; we all know the New Year’s Resolution fallacy. Finally, affordability prevents many from creating a living trust.”

“How much does it cost to create a living trust?” one member of the audience asked.

“1,600 for an individual and $2,000 for a couple,” Taforo replied. Probate on an estate of $500,000, the typical American estate, is a minimum of $13,000; it is $4,000 on an estate of $100,000.

Taforo also discussed long term care and nursing home issues, urging caution. “Consider every possibility,” he suggested. “Be very clear about what you want and what you are getting.”

Altavilla closed the workshop with a discussion of planned giving. He compared and contrasted charitable gift annuities with charitable remainder trusts. “Your legacy can last for eternity,” he noted. “There are many ways to use your money and protect it while you are alive. You can mitigate your taxes through planned giving, improving the quality of your life today and supporting the charities you most care about.” He encouraged the group to investigate their options.

After the workshop, members of the group asked Altavilla and Taforo questions; while they waited their turns, they talked about what they had learned.

“I’m really glad I came,” one participant said. “I learned a lot.” “I’ll have to save money to do the planning,” another agreed. “But I’m definitely getting a living trust.” “I’m glad I know what my choices are,” a woman said.