Tri-County Mental Health Services offering behavioral health services for the Kansas City Northland community. Prevention, assessment and treatment services for individuals and families throughout Clay, Platte and Ray counties of Missouri.

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Elder Law Attorney P. Glen Smith and Tri-County Older Adult Educator Becky Franklin (standing) recently led a discussion on estate planning at the Shepherd Center in Gladstone. The program is one of several free seminars offered for older adults and caregivers in the Northland.

Seniors Examine Harsh Realities of Estate Planning

Disconnecting a Facebook page after someone has died is among the legal realities facing increasing numbers of people in America, including the Northland.

The Together We Care support group examined this and other surprising issues of estate planning during the Sept. 20 quarterly meeting at the Northland Shepherd's Center in Gladstone.  Co-sponsored by Tri-County Mental Health Services and the center, the meeting featured Elder law attorney P. Glen Smith, who is quick to urge all older adults to examine these issues. “Congratulations!” he told the diverse audience. “You’re trying to do the best you can for yourself and the people you love. Sadly, most do not.”

But acting, not just listening, is important. “Too many people go to a seminar and then go home, put the material in a drawer and forget about it,” he added. “That doesn’t do you or your loved ones any good.”

Smith provided an overview of wills, trusts, durable power of attorney and more. He said some important steps can be completed by individuals for themselves, while many require professional help. “If you don’t do what you need to do, someone else will do it for you, and you won’t like it.”

He also noted many try to avoid probate court, which is “a pain in terms of both time and money.” However, widespread misconceptions include the idea that wills avoid probate. They do not.

Smith said a relatively simple solution that can be used by many is a non-probate transfer mechanism. A simple step most can complete is to create a transfer on death for items such as car titles. “You can do that at the license bureau for $11,” he said. He also recommended that every account have a beneficiary.

Another recommendation was that every will have a special needs trust, which creates a vehicle that keeps beneficiaries from being disqualified for benefits should they become disabled or suffer a chronic illness. “People ask, ‘What happens if I get sick and die?’” Smith said. “The question I see more often is, ‘What happens if I get sick and don’t die?’” Related issues include guardianships and conservatorships.

Smith said trusts are especially flexible and include three basic types. One is a revocable living trust, which avoids probate and allows many types of restrictions and conditions on how assets are distributed. However, it does not protect the funds from creditors. An option is an asset protection trust, which is not counted as an asset for Medicaid, for example.

In addition, Smith strongly recommended a durable power of attorney as one of the best strategies for many of these issues, but he cautioned that there are many types of these vehicles and getting the right one for individual situations is important. “You have to have the right information on it or it won’t help you when you need it,” he said.

Organized by Tri-County Adult Educator Becky Franklin, the quarterly Caregiver Support Group meets at the Northland Shepherd's Center. Tri-County also sponsors a caregiver support meeting monthly at the Woodneath Library Center. Both are free and open to the public, although reservations are requested.

For more information, contact Tri-County (816) 468-0400 or Franklin at (816) 678-3036 or

24-Hour Emergency Crisis Line 1-888-279-8188 (TTY or Voice: 1-800-380-3323)

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