Elder Care

The Latest on Florida’s Attempt to Create an Online Notary Law

The Florida legislature is giving consideration to HB 409, which would make signing estate planning documents, like a will or power of attorney, more convenient. Some have expressed concerns that greater convenience could lead to more fraud, especially for the elderly.

Florida’s proposed law had pros and cons.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports in the story “Florida may allow legal papers to be notarized online” that the legislation was proposed by Representative Daniel Perez, R-Miami. The bill moved Tuesday through the House transportation and tourism appropriations subcommittee and will be considered next in the Judiciary Committee—the last step before a House vote. However, a Senate version hasn’t made as much progress.

Representative Perez remarked that he’d recently traveled to Colombia and realized as he boarded his flight, that he’d failed to assign power of attorney to his in-laws. The requirement that he appear in person before a Florida-commissioned notary made it impossible to fix his oversight, he said.

The notary bill has made it past attempts by two Democrats that would’ve limited its scope. Representative Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, compared the risks of fraud under the system to college students who buy fake IDs to illegally drink alcohol. She proposed requiring notary witnesses to be in the same place physically, as whoever is signing legal documents.

“When we have no one tangibly looking at this information, not having it in their hands for close inspection to verify its validity, we’re in trouble,” Watson said.

Representative Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, said allowing wills and powers of attorney to be created online was dangerous for Florida’s elderly. He said lawmakers need to balance between better business and protecting older residents.

“I have a concern about someone going into a nursing home with an iPad and walking room to room and getting people to click buttons and then they get a couple of powers of attorney,” Diamond said.

Perez responded that it was possible for criminals to take advantage of elderly people, even with the current notary requirements.

Attorneys are split. Lawyers from the Florida Bar’s Real Property Probate and Trust Law section said the proposal puts the elderly at greater risk of fraud, but those in the Elder Law section said the online services will make it easier for Florida’s older population to plan estates.

Reference: San Francisco Chronicle (March 27, 2019) “Florida may allow legal papers to be notarized online”

Moving to a Care Community? Check the Fine Print

Reading the fine print when purchasing a home in a retirement community or a care community is intimidating. The typeface is tiny, you’ve got boxes to pack and movers to schedule and, well, you know the rest. What most people do, is hope for the best and sign. However, that can lead to trouble, advises Delco Times in the article “Planning Ahead: Moving to a care community? Read the agreement.”

Pay attention to the fine print

If you don’t want to read the fine print or can’t make heads or tails of what you are reading, one option is to ask your estate planning attorney to do so. Without someone reading through and understanding the contract, you and your family may be in for some unpleasant surprises. Here are some things to consider.

What kind of a community are you moving into? If you are moving to a Continuing Care or Life Care Community, your documents will probably have provisions regarding health insurance, entry fees, deposits, a schedule of costs, if you need additional services, fees for moving to a higher level of care and provisions for refunds and estate planning.

When you enter an Assisted Living facility, you may find yourself signing documents regarding everything from laundry policies, pharmacy choices, financial disclosures and statements of your rights as a resident. Not every document you sign will be critical, but you should understand everything you sign.

If moving into a nursing home that accepts Medicaid, you and your family need to know that nursing homes that accept Medicaid are not permitted to demand payment on admission from either an adult child or a power of attorney from their own funds.

If your adult children ask you to sign documents and “don’t worry” about what documents are, you may want to sit down with an attorney to review the documents. When someone is not trained to review these documents, they won’t know what red flags to look for.

If someone signs the document who is not the applicant/future resident, that person may become responsible for the costs, depending upon what role you have when you sign: are you a guarantor or indemnitor? That person typically agrees to pay after the applicant/resident’s funds are exhausted. The payments may have to come from their own funds. Sometimes the “responsible party” is simply the person who handles business matters on the applicant’s behalf. You’ll want to be sure that the person signing the papers understands what they are agreeing to.

Almost all agreements will say that the applicant, or the person receiving services, is responsible for payment from their own assets. However, if someone signing the documents is power of attorney, they need to be mindful of what they are signing up for.

If possible, the person who will receive services should be the one who signs any paperwork, but only after a thorough review from an experienced attorney.

Reference: Delco Times (Feb. 5, 20-19) “Planning Ahead: Moving to a care community? Read the agreement”

Protect A Life of Saving from Long Term Care Costs

Every month, Lawrence Cappiello writes a check to a nursing home for $12,000 to pay for his wife’s nursing home and long term care costs. Two years ago, his net worth was $500,000. In less than two years, the Cappiello’s savings will be gone. This unsettling story is explained in the article “How to Keep LTC Costs From Devouring Your Client’s Life Savings” from Insurance News Net. He is suffering from nursing home sticker shock and says he should have known better.

With proper planning, long term care costs won’t take your life’s savings

Cappiello was a professor at the University of Buffalo for 25 years. During that time, he taught an introductory course on health care and human services that touched on the costs to consumers. He said it was clear even then, that the cost of long term care was going to escalate out of control.

To qualify for Medicaid payments of nursing home care in New York State, residents are permitted to own no more than $15,450 in nonexempt assets. However, elder law attorneys, whose practices focus on these exact issues, say that the way to protect the family’s assets, is to take steps years before nursing home or long term care is needed. Some general recommendations:

  • Signing over the deed of the home to children or any others who would otherwise inherit it from you in a will. The transaction would need to stipulate that you have life use of the home.
  • Establishing an irrevocable trust, that upon death, transfers the house to the beneficiaries. There must be language that ensures that you have life use of the house.
  • Giving away savings and other financial assets.

Transfers of any assets must take place more than five years before applying for Medicaid nursing home and long term care coverage. If they have been given away or transferred within the five year “look-back” period, then there is a chance that they may still qualify, or they may have to wait five years.

That is why planning with an experienced estate planning attorney is so critical for families, especially when one of the spouses is facing a known illness that will get worse with time. There are steps that can be taken, but they must be done in a timely manner.

Many older people are not exactly jumping with joy at the idea of handing over their assets, even when relationships with adult children are good. The idea of giving up assets and the family home is a marker of the passage of time and the inevitability of one’s own passing. These are not things that we enjoy considering. However, taking steps in advance, can make a huge difference in the quality of the well spouse’s life.

It should be noted that a sick spouse can move assets to a healthy spouse, to make the sick spouse lawfully poor and eligible for Medicaid. There is no look back period or penalty relating to long term care for interspousal transfers. This may sound like a very simple solution. However, these are complex matters that need the help of an experienced attorney. If it were so easy, countless spouses would not be facing their own impoverishment because of an ill spouse’s long term care needs.

Reference: Insurance News Net (Feb. 4, 2019) “How to Keep LTC Costs From Devouring Your Client’s Life Savings”

Be Careful Granting Power of Attorney

Power of Attorney abuse has emerged as a serious problem for elderly people who are vulnerable to people they trust more than they should, reports the Sandusky Register in the article “Consumer beware: Understanding the powers of a Power of Attorney” The same is true for a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care document, which should be of great concern for seniors and their family members.

Care should be taken when choosing an agent to act in your behalf

This illustrates the importance of a Power of Attorney document: the person, also known as the “principal,” is giving the authority to act on their behalf in all financial and personal affairs to another person, known as their “agent.” That means the agent is empowered to do anything and everything the person themselves would do, from making withdrawals from a bank account, to selling a home or a car or more mundane acts, such as paying bills and filing taxes.

The problem is that there is nothing to stop someone, once they have Power of Attorney, from taking advantage of the situation. No one is watching out for the person’s best interests, to make sure bank accounts aren’t drained or assets sold. The agent can abuse that financial power to the detriment of the senior and to benefit the agent themselves. It is a crime when it happens. However, this is what often occurs: seniors are so embarrassed that they gave this power to someone they thought they could trust, that they are reluctant to report the crime.

Similarly, an unchecked Health Care Power of Attorney can lead to abuse, if the wrong person is named.

The following is a real example of how this can go wrong. An adult child arranged for their trusting parent to be diagnosed as suffering from dementia by an unscrupulous psychiatrist, when the parent did not have dementia.

The adult child then had the parent admitted into a nursing home, misrepresenting the admission as a temporary stay for rehabilitation. They then kept the parent in the nursing home, using the dementia diagnosis as a reason for her to remain in the nursing home.

The parent had to hire an attorney and prove to the court that she was competent and able to live independently, to be able to return to her home.

Meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss your situation and figure out who might become named as Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of attorney on your behalf. The attorney will be able to help you make sure that your estate plan, including your will, is properly prepared and discuss with you the best options for these important decisions.

Reference: Sandusky Register (Feb. 5, 2019) “Consumer beware: Understanding the powers of a Power of Attorney”

Suggested Key Terms: Power of Attorney, Health Care, Principal, Agent, Elder Abuse, Estate Planning Attorney,

Why Is Everyone Retiring to Florida?

A recent report by WalletHub ranks Florida as the best place to retire in terms of affordability, health-related factors and overall quality of life. According to the U.S. Census’ 2017 Population Estimates Program, roughly a half-million Miami-Dade County residents are over the age of 65, and by 2040, 1 in 5 Americans will be over the age of 65, according to the annual report produced by the Administration for Community Living.

It is no surprise to us that people would want to retire in Florida.

Advances in medicine are helping with longevity, but various improvements in diet and lifestyle have also helped, says The Miami Herald in the article “Plan now on ways to take care of yourself through a long retirement.”

It’s important to keep your lifestyle through retirement, and it’s an essential part of any financial plan. You’ll need to budget for plans or services that help you in your later years, such as everyday tasks, medical care, or even where you live.

Take some time to consider how you want your later years to look, like where you would want to live—whether that’s at home (possibly with live-in help) or in an assisted-living facility. With our longer life spans, we encounter more significant health risks, like cognitive issues. According to research, 37% of people over the age of 85 have some mild impairment and about one-third have dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association says that 540,000 people aged 65 and older reported living with Alzheimer’s in Florida in 2018. Roughly 15% of those in Florida hospice care had a diagnosis of dementia in 2015. Therefore, you can see why it is critical to think about this now and communicate your long-term needs to your family.

As we get older, the ability to maintain a lifestyle we like, can become a financial challenge. This is especially true, if we also face an unexpected health condition. Making wise decisions now, can have a dramatic impact on what those later years will look like. Saving for a lengthy retirement can help you prepare to face any potential issues that may arise.

Making provisions for your family and leaving a legacy, isn’t always an easy task. However, the financial security of your family may depend not only on how you manage your wealth today, but also on how you protect and preserve it for the future. Your estate plan can help you prepare now to provide for your loved ones in the future.

Talk to your family and your estate planning attorney about these issues and ensure that your legacy planning is up to date, by regularly updating your will, trust, or advanced medical directives.

Reference: Miami Herald (February 1, 2019) “Plan now on ways to take care of yourself through a long retirement”

Why is Actress Edie McClurg’s Family Asking the Court for a Conservatorship?

Family and friends of the 67-year-old actress Edie McClurg recently filed court documents requesting a conservatorship to manage her affairs, according The Daily Mail article, “Edie McClurg of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off suffers from dementia prompting family to seek conservator.”

Edie McClurg

They said neurological tests provide evidence that McClurg is unable to live alone without assistance and is “especially vulnerable to undue influence, given her poor judgment and evident dementia.”

A conservatorship is a court case where a judge appoints a responsible person or organization (“conservator”) to care for another adult (the “conservatee”) who is unable to care for herself or manage her own finances.

Court documents show that her family and friends have an immediate concern about a 72-year-old male friend, who has been living with McClurg for several years. The individual has discussed marrying her. However, McClurg’s family and friends don’t believe she’s capable of understanding their relationship. They also allege that he’s been verbally abusive and tried to compel her to sign documents altering her estate planning. The filing asked the court to appoint McClurg’s cousin Angelique Cabral as the conservator.

McClurg played Grace, who was the assistant of Principal Edward R. Rooney, in the 1986 teen comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, starring Matthew Broderick. She made her film debut in the 1976 horror movie Carrie by director Brian De Palma based on a novel by Stephen King.

McClurg’s film credits also include A River Runs Through It; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; and Back to School. The actress also has done voice work on film and television including The Little Mermaid, Frozen, Wreck-It-Ralph, and A Bug’s Life.

McClurg was born and reared in Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City and also earned a master’s degree from Syracuse University.

Reference: Daily Mail (February 2, 2019) “Edie McClurg of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off suffers from dementia prompting family to seek conservator”

Choose Power of Attorney Agents Wisely

For nearly four years, John Jerome O’Hara took charge of his mother’s care at a Kentucky nursing home. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

O’Hara gained power of attorney over her affairs in June 2014. He was expected to manage thousands of dollars in income a month. In addition, O’Hara was supposed to use that income for his mom’s living expenses at Wesley Manor in Louisville.

However, reports The Washington Post in the article “He had power of attorney over his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother—and stole $332,000, grand jury says,” for nearly four years, O’Hara robbed his mother instead. The charges contained 18 counts—ten of bank fraud, four of wire fraud and four of “access device fraud.”

The charges carry a maximum of several lifetimes in prison, the indictment said.

Each bank fraud count carries a maximum of 30 years in prison. In addition, there’s the potential for hefty fines and restitution.

O’Hara took the funds, in part, by writing checks to himself, according to the indictment.

He also wrote checks out to cash or signed “POA” for power of attorney. He withdrew money from her bank accounts to use for his expenses, prosecutors allege.

O’Hara’s alleged theft left a trail of financial distress, which was clear to investigators. Most significantly, he failed to pay his mother’s living expenses, the indictment said. This forced other family members to pay more than $100,000 to keep her cared for at the nursing home.

In addition, O’Hara left other obligations unpaid. He missed mortgage payments at his mother’s home in Lexington, the indictment said, and the home was foreclosed in March, as a result.

Reference: The Washington Post (December 9, 2018) “He had power of attorney over his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother—and stole $332,000, grand jury says”

When Do I Need a Financial Power of Attorney?

A financial power of attorney is a document that provides a trusted individual with the authority to act on your behalf. The person who creates a power of attorney is called the “principal, and the person who receives this authority is called their “agent” or “attorney-in-fact.”

The Brainerd Dispatch recently interviewed Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson in its article, “Guest Opinion: Your legal rights – Financial powers of attorney.” The Attorney General explains that this person doesn’t have to be an attorney, but it should be someone the person trusts. This person should be responsible, honest and diligent.

A power of attorney is required to be in writing, signed before a notary, dated and clear on what powers are being granted by the principal (i.e., the person having the document prepared). If you want to make the power of attorney durable, meaning you want it to last even if you become incapacitated, then the document must have a statement like: “This power of attorney shall not be affected by incapacity or incompetence of the principal.”

You should talk to a lawyer when creating a power of attorney to be certain the power of attorney is drafted in a way that aligns with your wishes and with state law.

When creating a power of attorney, you must decide on the degree of authority you want your agent to have over your affairs. A general power of attorney gives your agent the ability to act on your behalf in all affairs.  However, a limited power of attorney grants your agent this authority only in certain circumstances.

A power of attorney is a wise move for every adult American, because each of us may become unable to manage our own financial affairs or make other decisions. Here are some examples of powers you can give to your agent:

  • To use your money to pay your everyday living expenses;
  • To manage benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs;
  • To conduct transactions with your bank and retirement accounts; and
  • To file and pay your income taxes.

A principal can revoke a power of attorney. A mentally competent person can remove a power of attorney at any point with a signed document. If a power of attorney isn’t removed, it ends with the principal’s death.

Note that some banks and investment firms have their own power of attorney forms. Preparing these organization-specific forms may make it easier for your agent to work with certain organizations with which you do business.

Reference: Brainerd Dispatch (November 20, 2018) “Guest Opinion: Your legal rights – Financial powers of attorney”

Where Do I Start as an Executor if There’s a House in the Estate?

Handling an estate can be a monumental task. The Greater Baton Rouge Business Report explains the details in its article that asks “So you inherited a house … now what?

For instance, an executor’s immediate worry might be the safety of the house. One of the first questions an heir might ask, is whether there’s a security company involved that has a contract for monitoring. If so, contact the company to see where to call should there be a security breach and change the security passwords. Another suggestion is to change the locks on the house, because who knows who has been given keys to the home over the years. Siblings might want to place valuable items in safety deposit boxes or remove them from the house, as soon as they can.

The key to this entire process among heirs is communication. Keep everyone up-to-date. This alone will reduce the risk of misunderstanding, mistrust and frustration in the family.

Different interests among siblings often creates tensions after inheriting a house. A house may have sentimental value to the heirs, but the executor must stay objective about the situation. Reducing the house to cash by selling it and dividing the proceeds, typically makes the most financial sense.

It’s costly to maintain a house in an estate and insurance and court proceedings can also be expensive. Come to an up-front agreement on terms of the sale, when drafting an estate plan, because disagreements among siblings can sometimes lead to costly and lengthy court proceedings.

Heirs might decide to keep a house, especially if it’s a beach house or mountain retreat. You’ll then need someone to be the manager. One way to accomplish this is to establish a limited liability company (an LLC) with the other heirs. This gives the heirs a more stable, corporate management structure, while allowing for more flexibility. Place a year’s worth of cash to cover of expenses into the LLC and sign an agreement between heirs that states what happens with repairs, renting the property and other scenarios.

If you do sell, the sooner you sell it and the closer to the time of death, the less likely you’ll have to pay taxes on any appreciation since the time of death and have to worry about what the value was at the date of death. Inherited assets get a new tax basis, known as the date-of-death value. Use a qualified real estate appraiser to value the property, because the beneficiaries need to know the house’s most recent value to calculate capital gains tax later, should they choose to sell it.

Reference: Greater Baton Rouge Business Report (November 13, 2018) “So you inherited a house … now what? Here’s some advice

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