America relies on more than 50 million people a year to care for our chronically ill, disabled, or aged loved ones. Many times, the bond between patient and caregiver is as close as that between family members. After all, patients often spend more time with their caregivers than they do with family members. More and more, people are designating unrelated caregivers as heirs.
Legal Inheritance Rights
The law is very clear on the legal rights of family members in regard to inheritance. But it is not as clear for those who are unrelated to you, the testator. That can pose problems if you want to leave a gift or inheritance to your unrelated caregiver. If a family member contests the will, you need to ensure that your money and assets are distributed as you requested.
However, there are certain steps you can take to ensure your wishes are executed properly. First and foremost, it is imperative that you have a will. This is the crucial legal document that ensures your estate will be divided up exactly as you see fit.
Make Your Wishes Known
After making your will you should make your wishes clear to another person. It helps to have a witness to your will. Your wishes should be known to your family before you pass away. If you are not comfortable sharing this information, then make sure the rationale or the reason for your gift to your unrelated caregiver is clearly stated in the will. This will help protect your wish from challenges later.
State Your Reasons Clearly
A clear statement may help protect against a challenge of undue influence, but you should also talk to an estate planning attorney in your state to see what else may be required. In CA, for example, certain gifts to non-family member caregivers are considered to be the product of undue influence unless you have a certified statement from an independent attorney.
A Detailed Letter
In addition to your will, some states will allow you to write a separate signed and dated letter detailing your wishes. The accompanying letter can be binding if it is mentioned in the will.
If you're one of the many who wish to show appreciation to a dedicated caregiver by including him or her in your will, use the tips above to be sure your wishes are clear and uncontestable.