Aging

Estate Planning For Aging Parents: Are Mom’s Affairs in Order?

Estate planning for aging parents
Discussing estate planning with your aging parents now will ease many transitions you are likely to face in the coming years

A few simple steps now, will greatly ease many of the transitions you are likely to face in the coming years with your parents. Estate planning for aging parents will help with the changes they face. What can you do to make sure your mother’s (or father’s) financial affairs are in proper order?

The Monterey Herald’s recent article, “Financial planning: Making sure Mom is taken care of,” says to first make sure that she has her basic estate planning documents in place. She should have a will and an Advance Health Care Directive. Talk to our experienced estate planning attorneys to make sure these documents fully reflect your mother’s desires. An Advance Health Care Directive lets her name a person to make health care decisions on her behalf, if she becomes incapacitated. This decision-making authority is called a Power of Attorney for Health Care, and the person receiving the authority is known as the agent.

Based on the way in which the form is written, the agent can have broad authority, including the ability to consent to or refuse medical treatment, surgical procedures and artificial nutrition or hydration. The form also allows a person to leave instructions for health care, such as whether or not to be resuscitated, have life prolonged artificially, or to receive treatment to alleviate pain, even if it hastens death. To limit these instructions in any specific way, talk to our attorneys.

Another option is to create a living trust, if the value of her estate is significant. In some states, estates worth more than a certain amount are subject to probate—a costly, lengthy and public process. Smaller value estates usually can avoid probate. When calculating the value of an estate, you can exclude several types of assets, including joint tenancy property, property that passes outright to a surviving spouse, assets that pass outside of probate to named beneficiaries (such as pensions, IRAs, and life insurance), multiple party accounts or pay on death (POD) accounts and assets owned in trust, including a revocable trust.  You should also conduct a full inventory of your parent’s accounts, including where they’re held and how they’re titled. Update the named beneficiaries on IRAs, retirement plans and life insurance policies.

Some adult children will have their parent name them as a joint owner on their checking account. This allows you greater flexibility to settle outstanding obligations, when she passes away. Remember that a financial power of attorney won’t work here, because it will lapse upon your mother’s death. However, note that any asset held by joint owners are subject to the creditors of each joint owner. Do not add your daughter as a joint owner, if she has marital, financial, or legal problems!

You also shouldn’t put your name as a joint owner of a brokerage account—especially one with low-cost basis investments. One of the benefits of transferring wealth, is the step-up in cost basis assets receive at time of death. Being named as the joint owner of an account will give you control over the assets in the account—but you won’t get the step up in basis, when your mother passes.

We invite you to request a consultation with one of our Madison area estate planning attorneys to discuss estate planning for your aging parents.

Reference: Monterey Herald (March 20, 2019) “Financial planning: Making sure Mom is taken care of”

Guns and Dementia: A Dangerous Combination

Guns and Dementia
Guns are the most common method of suicide for people with dementia.

Here’s a worrisome statistic: 45% of all adults age 65 or older, either own a firearm or live with someone who owns a gun. That’s a lot of people and a lot of guns. Firearms are the most common method of suicide for people with dementia, says the article “Guns and Dementia: Dealing With a Loved One’s Firearms” from J.D. Supra.

A person who has a gun and suffers from dementia can put family members or caregivers in grave danger, if the person suffers from confusion and doesn’t recognize the people around them. An investigation conducted by Kaiser Health in 2018 looked at news reports, court documents, hospital records and public death records since 2012. They found more than 100 cases, in which people with dementia used firearms to kill or injure themselves or someone else.

What is the best thing to do? Talk about the guns before they become a dangerous issue, like the moment someone is diagnosed with dementia. This is not that far from the conversation that must take place about driving and dementia, or for that matter, driving and aging.

Frame the issue as one about safety for the person and their loved ones. This is also the time to discuss guns and estate planning. Have a conversation with an elder lawyer that addresses an enforceable agreement about who has access to the guns, where the guns should be stored and what factors will determine when it is time for the guns to be taken out of the home. The gun owner may not remember the agreement, when it is necessary for it to be enforced. However, having the agreement in place will give the family member or other trusted individual clear directions about what steps to take.

What should you do with the guns themselves? You can start by separating the guns from the ammunition. If possible, have the weapons completely removed from the house. Local and state laws about the possession and transfer of firearms vary. Therefore, the family should consult our estate planning attorneys, who are experienced in the relevant laws. It may be necessary for a gun trust to be created, and for family members to undergo training and licensing, if the firearms are going to be maintained or transferred to them.

Reference: J.D. Supra (Feb. 12, 2019) “Guns and Dementia: Dealing With a Loved One’s Firearms”

How Caregiving Can Impact Older Women

When an older woman takes care of a loved one, it can be at the expense of the caregiver’s physical, emotional, and financial health. Many women end up in poverty in retirement because they had to leave the workforce at the peak of their careers to care for someone. With more than 40 million people in America serving as unpaid caregivers for family members and most of the caregivers being women, we need to understand how caregiving can impact older women.

Caregiving Affects Our Entire Economy

When you have tens of millions of workers or former workers who have to reduce their hours or drop out of the workforce because a family member needs care, the caregivers face poverty, but our overall economy suffers as well. Whenever significant numbers of people are unemployed or under-employed, the economy loses those wages, the income taxes and everything that the person would have bought, if fully employed.

Caregivers Take a Hit on Social Security Benefits

The amount you receive in monthly Social Security retirement benefits will depend on several factors, including:

  • Your average wages for your 35 highest-earning years. Making less money a year because of caregiving will lower your Social Security check when you retire. If you have to quit work to take care of a family member before working for 35 years, those missed years will count as zero earnings, which can slash the amount of your average wages. Since our last working years tend to be when we make the most money, missing out on these years will leave you with a check based on things like your jobs during college.
  • When you retire. If you start collecting benefits early, your monthly Social Security check will be much smaller than if you can wait until full retirement age. If you can wait beyond your full retirement age, you will get a bonus added to every Social Security check you ever receive. The bonus gets larger the longer you wait to start collecting benefits, until age 70, when there is no additional bonus. You will still collect the bonuses for the rest of your life, but they will not increase in size, except for things like cost-of-living adjustments (COLA).

The Physical and Emotional Toll of Caregiving

Being responsible for someone with fragile health puts a mountain of stress on your shoulders.  Unless you have a large, involved family nearby, you might be carrying this responsibility by yourself. Imagine what would happen to an ICU nurse who was on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Before long, her health would suffer.

The physical and emotional exhaustion would be unbearable, yet millions of Americans call that description everyday life. When a caregiver who had to leave her job gets sick, she often does not have health insurance. Her medical bills then add to her already overwhelming stress.

Are There Solutions to the Caregiver Problem?

Most developed countries offer better supports to families, who have a person with care needs. As a result, women can stay in their labor force in much higher numbers, which helps the family’s income and the country’s overall economy. Without additional supports, American caregivers face a bleak future.

Talk with our elder law attorneys to see if your state’s regulations differ from the general law of this article.


References:
AARP. “The Trickle-Down Effect of Caregiving on Women.” (accessed January 8, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2018/women-caregiving-trickle-down-effect.html

Professional Guardian Preys on Elderly in Nevada

Several people described their personal grief, and they read letters from several others who lost thousands of dollars and expensive heirlooms that would never be replaced because a guardian stole from elderly victims for whom she was supposed to care.

The Las Vegas Journal-Review reported in a recent article, “Ex-Nevada guardian to serve up to 40 years behind bars,” that as victims wept and told their stories of suffering during a court hearing, a shackled and seated April Parks kept her head turned and never looked their way.

Karen Kelly, Clark County’s public guardian, read through a long list of names of seniors who were victimized and lived under “intense anxiety and anguish” for the final years of their lives because of Parks and those who worked closely with her. Parks’ business partner, Mark Simmons, and her husband, Gary Neal Taylor, also were ordered to serve time in prison. The judge also ordered the three defendants to pay more than $500,000 to their victims. Parks, 53, pleaded guilty last year to exploitation, theft and perjury charges.

One woman, Barbara Ann Neely, said Parks separated her from family and friends, saying, “She was not a guardian to me.”

Neely said. “She did not protect me. As each day passed, I felt like I was in a grave, buried alive.”

Another victim compared Parks to Hitler.

The 53-year-old Parks told the judge that she accepted responsibility “but never intended harm,” adding that “things could have been done better. … We were a group practice, and honestly, I think some things got ahead of us.”

She claimed that she had a “great passion” for guardianship and took “great care and concern” in her work.

Parks was one of the most active private professional guardians in Nevada, and she frequently acted as the surrogate decision-maker for as many as 50 to 100 elderly and mentally incapacitated people at a given time. As guardian, she had total control of their finances, estates and medical decisions.


Las Vegas Journal-Review (January 4, 2019) “Ex-Nevada guardian to serve up to 40 years behind bars”

How Can I Protect a Loved One From Elder Abuse?

The (Lorain OH) Morning Journal’s recent article, “How to protect elder loved ones from abuse,” reports that the National Center on Elder Abuse says the 2010 census showed the largest number and proportion of people are 65 years old and older in the U.S. population with 40.3 million people, or about 13% of the population. By 2050, that number is expected to more than double to 83.7 million.

A 2010 national study found that financial abuse is the most commonly reported form of elder abuse followed by potential neglect, emotional mistreatment, physical mistreatment, and sexual mistreatment. With financial abuse and neglect, the courts often must get involved to limit the damage and try to get the elderly person the help they need.

When looking for elder abuse in family or friends, look for changes in their circumstances. A neighbor may become more isolated or is making decisions that are potentially harmful to themselves. There’s also self-neglect, where a senior isn’t taking good care of themselves. “New people” in their lives may also be a risk. They may want to assume control over the senior’s person’s life and exclude other people who have had longstanding relationships with the person.

Financial exploitation can take many different forms. Isolation is a critical component of financial exploitation. If a senior is isolated from the people who’ve helped them make financial decisions in the past, and then a new person comes along, that individual may try to make financial decisions for their own gain.

If you think a loved one or neighbor is suffering from elder abuse, start by just talking to them. Talk to them about some of the changes you’ve seen.

Some people are required by law to report elder abuse, and that list has recently expanded to include chiropractors, dentists, ambulance drivers, coroners and member of the clergy, among many others.

A judge can freeze a bank account and suspend powers of attorney. She can also order evaluations and require that Medicaid and Medicare applications be made for the adult. A judge can continue her orders up to six months and appoint guardians.

The best way to keep loved ones safe from this kind of elder abuse is to make sure that important legal documents like a will and powers of attorney are done while the person is still competent, and that people they trust are named to carry out those documents.


Reference: The (Lorain OH) Morning Journal (December 26, 2018) “How to protect elder loved ones from abuse”

How Do I Discuss Care With My Aging Parents?

Discussing the next steps for aging parents isn’t an easy conversation, but if you plan ahead it can be less painful for everyone involved, says KARE 11 in Minneapolis in the article, “Making the best care decisions for aging parents.”

Many families find this out the hard way. When an aging parent requires immediate urgent care, the family must jump into “go” mode. It can be overwhelming. There are many options, which range from various levels of in-home care, to independent living, to assisted living and even to skilled nursing care. You should understand the level of care you need and what you can afford.

Unless you qualify for Medicaid, you’ll need to pay for assisted living out of your own pocket. For most of us, this could drain assets in short order. Many people also aren’t planning for long-term care in retirement.

It’s best to plan early. If you’re going to buy a long-term care policy, the best time to apply is in your 40s or 50s, when your health is good and the cost is cheaper.

Sit down with our elder law attorneys, regardless of your assets, because the laws concerning Medicare and Medicaid are confusing. Every situation is also different.

Many people aren’t aware that Medicare doesn’t cover many long-term care services. In fact, that limited benefit is designed to get somebody back to independent living, not help them with basic activities of daily living. Therefore, if it becomes a situation where an aging parent is going to need help with such basics as dressing, bathing and other activities of daily life for the rest of their life, Medicare is not going to cover it.

If you believe gifting your estate away now will stop you from losing it in the future, remember that most states have a five-year look back period. Any gifts of money or property in the 60 months before applying for Medicaid, can be taken back to pay for the program or the applicant will be penalized.

It’s difficult enough to make the decision to place your aging parent in someone else’s care, let alone to fret about how you’re going to pay for it. Plan now, if you can.


Reference: KARE 11 (Minneapolis) (November 27, 2018) “Making the best care decisions for aging parents”

Time for a Series of Conversations with Aging Parents

Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season. It is when family calendars start filling up with holiday gatherings from baking cookies to lighting the menorah and unwrapping presents piled up under the Christmas tree. This is also the season to start talking with parents about aging and their future care, reports News3LV in “Tough talks over turkey: Is it time to have “The Talk” with your parents?”

It is not easy to approach this topic, especially if you have a parent who is not open to discussing the harsh realities of aging. Even if you try your very best to be sensitive, they may still bristle. They may feel like they are too young to be spoken to about these issues or worry that they’ll be considered a burden to your family, or that you simply want to get them out of the way. It’s a tough topic.

Here are some tips for these conversations:

Don’t wait. It’s easier not to have the conversations at all. However, then when an emergency strikes the family is faced with a series of decisions and missing paperwork. Explore options before a crisis. Let your loved ones get comfortable with the concept of talking about these difficult issues and then explore the different topics.

It’s important to get up to speed with your parent’s health care benefits and their wishes. Do they have the right health care plan in place? Talk with them about the Medicare Advantage plans that are available to help them stay independent longer.

Be sensitive. Let them know clearly that, at some point during their visit, you want to discuss their future. Give that thought time to sink in. You don’t want them to get defensive. Remember that talking about aging and death (or, as we often hear, “end-of-life”) is difficult for everyone. Decide which topics to dig into and which you can leave for another time.

Be prepared and be specific. What topics regarding aging do you want to cover and what are the most important ones to discuss first?

Long-term care wishes: do they want to try to live at home? If that is not possible, what would they like? Do they have the ability to pay for an in-home caregiver or would they be better off in an assisted living facility? Could they live with any family members?

End of life decisions: is a living will in place? Do they have a durable power of attorney? Have they thought about what they would like, if they are no longer able to communicate their wishes?

Medical coverage: what kind of long-term care insurance do they have? Are they able to afford it and what does it cover?

Listen. Really listen. Hear what they are saying. Listen to their fears about aging and to their wishes. Speak in a loving manner and be patient. Let them know you will do the best you can to honor their wishes.

Take a break. If at first the conversation is halting, and they are visibly uncomfortable, it may not be the right day for them. Or, they aren’t yet able to share their thoughts with you.

Remain respectful and be empathetic. It is important to be patient. This is not a one-time conversation but a series of conversations to work through all of the salient points and make sure that everyone is focused on the same thing: taking good care of your aging parents.


Reference: News3LV (Nov. 12, 2018) “Tough talks over turkey: Is it time to have “The Talk” with your parents?”

Aging as a Solo Presents Unique Challenges

“Over 30 years ago, researchers and geriatricians identified an “elder orphan” (sometimes called a “solo ager”), as a person aging alone with little support.”

Little is known about “elder orphans,” people who don’t have parents, a spouse or family members. Decades ago, when families stayed closer to each other, a single or widowed person would remain connected to the extended family throughout their lives. However, today, as reported in Next Avenue’s insightful article titled “Identifying the Unique Challenges of Solo Agers,” many without families lack support and their needs are different than others aging at home. …

Widows Be Wise About Social Security

“Losing one’s spouse is one of life’s most difficult and overwhelming experiences. Claiming Social Security survivor benefits apparently ranks as a close second, based on a frantic phone call I received from a close friend this week.”

A friend who was unexpectedly widowed, when her husband died at age 44 of a massive heart attack, was left with a toddler, a teenager, too little life insurance and household income that had been cut in half. She managed, as reported in Investment News’ article “Inaccurate info from Social Security Administration a challenge for widows,” in part thanks to Social Security. …

You Can Avoid Elder Financial Abuse, But How?

“While a longer life is a good thing, it will also present challenges – and unfortunately, sometimes financial predators.”

The prospect of a long, healthy and active life is a wonderful thing to consider. However, one in 10 seniors have suffered financial abuse, according to The Kansas City Star’s article “Five ways to avoid elder financial abuse.” The grandson of Brooke Astor spoke at a conference about how his grandmother’s last years were spent living in squalor, as a result of her son and guardian stealing from the estate and cutting the amount of money available for her care. The grandson and his brother sued their father to protect their beloved grandmother, a leading philanthropist and one of New York’s high-profile society figures.

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