Question: Hello, I have and older aunt who is beginning to think about end-of-life issues and is planning to move into an assisted living community. She has no family nearby and is trying to do everything on her own, which is daunting. She has asked me to be the executor of her estate, and while I am happy to do it, I have no idea of what it will entail.

I want to guide her as she thinks about how to downsize her life and deal with her affairs in a way that makes sense for her. She doesn't have much in assets -- just a house that she financed with a HUD loan that she will have to sell before she can move. She is planning to hire a lawyer to get a will together, but I don't know if it will be worthwhile for her to spend the money to do that, given how little she has. I would appreciate any advice you could give. Thank you very much. Suzanne, Billings, MT

Answer: I'm glad you want to help her out. She has a lot to deal with on her own.

I think it's important that she consult with an elder law attorney, an attorney with an older client base or perhaps a nonprofit organization with assisted living experts on staff. The reason is to have an expert look at her assisted living contract. These are often pretty thick legal documents. A professional would help her understand what the contract says -- and doesn't say. (I don't know if you're in a position to help her out financially by paying for a lawyer or helping to partially defray the cost, but it's something to consider.)

She should have a will, even if it's very simple. A will is the legal foundation of her wishes after she passes away. She does have some money and there may be personal effects, mementos and memories, to pass on. You could ask the lawyer that looks at the assisted living contract to also draft one for her. If you don't go the lawyer route, there are a number of good online wills that cost very little. For instance, has a good will-writing kit. (This Nolo article lays out what an executor does, by the way.)

Most importantly, I would strongly recommend that she fill out an advance medical directive -- including durable power of attorney -- if she hasn't already. The medical directive deals in advance with her wishes over medical treatment when she isn't capable of making those decisions herself. You can read more about it here. I'm sure the assisted living center has all the forms, but she could also get them from her doctor or a medical office.

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