Elder Law

Save Your Family Stress and Plan Your Funeral

Making your way through the process of the death of a family member is an extremely personal journey, as well as a very big business that can put a financial strain on the surviving family.

Rate.com’s recent article entitled “Plan Your Own Funeral, Cheaply, and Leave Behind a Happier Family”  notes that on an individual basis, it can be a significant cost for a family dealing with grief. The National Funeral Directors Association found that the median cost for a traditional funeral, with a basic casket that also includes a vault (the casket liner most cemeteries require) can cost more than $9,000. With the cost of a (single) plot and the services of the cemetery to take care of the burial and ongoing maintenance and other expenses, it can total more than $15,000.

Instead, if you opt for cremation and a simple service, it will run only $2,000 or less. That would save your estate or your family $13,000. Think of the amount of legacy that can grow from your last wishes.

Without your directions, your grieving family is an easy mark for a death care industry that’s run for profit. Even with federal disclosure rules, most states make it impossible to easily comparison shop among funeral service providers, and online price lists aren’t required. However, you can do the legwork to make it easier on your family, when you pass.

Funeral homes also aren’t usually forthright about costs that are required rather than optional. The median embalming cost is about $750. However, there’s no regulation requiring embalming. Likewise, a body need not be placed in a casket for cremation. The median cost for a cremation casket is $1,200 but an alternative “container” might cost less than $200.

The best thing you can do for your family is to write it down your wishes and plans and make it immediately discoverable.

It can be a great relief to tell your family everything you want (and don’t want). However, if that’s not feasible with your family dynamics, be certain that you detail of all your wishes in writing. You should also make sure that the document can be easily located by your executor.

This elementary step can be the start to helping their decision-making when you pass away, and potentially provide some extra money to help them reach their goals.

Reference: rate.com (June 21, 2020) “Plan Your Own Funeral, Cheaply, and Leave Behind a Happier Family”

Florida Addressing Elder Abuse in Troubled Guardianship Program

Legislators and officials from Governor DeSantis’ administration met with judges, guardian trade groups, state attorneys and representatives from the Elder Law section of the Florida Bar to discuss how to protect seniors from exploitive and neglectful guardians, as reported in the article “DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program” from the Orlando Sentinel.

The Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom said that more must be done to enhance the accountability of guardians and be sure they are acting in the best interest of their wards. He added that the matter extends beyond the Department of Elder Affairs, and that families, communities and public officials need to work together.

This past summer reports surfaced about a professional guardian who was responsible for more than 400 wards. She reportedly signed “Do Not Resuscitate” orders for clients against their wishes. She also double-billed a healthcare company for nearly $4 million over a ten-year period.

Florida has 550 registered guardians.

Some of the suggestions made included capping the number of wards a person could take on and requiring a judge to approve a DNR order. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland said that increased standards for guardians and more thorough monitoring was called for.

More stringent penalties for guardians who violate the law may be in the works. However, judges would have to approve the removal of any guardian from the state registry, which could be appealed.

Lawmakers said that more money to address the caseload isn’t the issue. Monitoring of guardians needs to be increased, said Passidomo.

As yet, there is no concrete plan in place to address this issue.

The Department of Elder Affairs houses the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, which currently has four employees. Prudom took charge of the department when the agency’s director, who was in charge when the guardian mentioned above, was asked to resign.

The governor’s administration will publish a budget request for the Department of Elder Affairs, which could include more funds for investigators to review complaints.

Reference: Orlando Sentinel (September 16, 2019) “DeSantis, Florida lawmakers consider changes in troubled guardianship program”

What Does an Elder Law Attorney Really Do?

A knowledgeable elder law attorney will make certain that he represents the best interests of his senior client in a variety of situations that usually occur in an elderly person’s life.

An elder care attorney will also be very knowledgeable about several different areas of the law.

The Idaho Falls Spokesperson’s recent article, “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?” looks at some of the things an elder care attorney can do.

Elder care attorneys address long-term care issues, housing, quality of life, independence and autonomy—which are all critical issues concerning seniors.

Your elder law attorney knows that one of the main issues senior citizens face is sound estate planning. This may include planning for a minor or adult child, as well as probate proceedings, which is a process where a deceased person’s assets are collected and distributed to the heirs and creditors.

The probate process may also involve the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The UPC is a set of inheritance rules written by national experts. A major responsibility of the probate process is to fully administer the entire estate, including appointing executors and ensuring that all assets are disbursed properly.

An experienced elder law attorney can also assist your family to make sure that your senior receives the best possible care arrangement, which may become more important as his or her medical needs increase.

An elder care law attorney also helps clients find the best nursing home to fully satisfy all their needs. Finally, they often will also work to safeguard assets to prevent spousal impoverishment, when one spouse must go to a nursing home.

A qualified elder care attorney can be a big asset to your family, as you journey through the elder care planning process. Working with an attorney to set up contingency plans can provide peace of mind and relief to you and your loved ones.

Reference: Idaho Falls Spokesperson (May 20, 2019) “What is an Elder Law Attorney and What Can They Do for You?”

Stan Lee’s Former Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

District Attorney of Los Angeles County Jackie Lacey has leveled elder abuse charges against Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan.

Lee, the creator of Spiderman, the Black Panther, and other comic book heroes.

MSN’s recent article, “Stan Lee’s Ex-Manager Hit With Elder Abuse Charges; Arrest Warrant Issued” reports that Morgan is facing one felony count of false imprisonment of an elder adult, three felony counts of theft, embezzlement, and forgery or fraud against an elder adult, as well as the initial elder abuse misdemeanor count.

Morgan took control of Lee’s business affairs and personal life in February 2018. Lee, the creator of Spiderman, the Black Panther, and other comic book heroes, had assets of more than $50 million in the last years of his life. Lee passed away on November 12, 2018. Morgan is said to have isolated his client from family and friends. Morgan also embezzled or misappropriated $5 million of assets, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2018.

The five counts of elder abuse filed on May 10 could put Morgan in prison for 10 years, if he’s found guilty.

The public first learned of the troublesome relationship between Morgan and Lee last summer, when the then 95-year old Marvel comic book legend sought a restraining order against his ex-aide over elder abuse. The request was made just three days after Lee put out a June 10, 2018 video on social media insisting that he and Morgan were working “together and are conquering the world side-by-side.”

Because of the video and the elder abuse filing, Lee’s financial advisor was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department on suspicion of filing a false police report, allegedly concerning a supposed break-in incident at Lee’s residence.

A three-year restraining order against Morgan was granted by a county judge last August. He was found guilty of the false police report misdemeanor charge in April 2019 and was ordered to stay away from Lee’s family and residence among other conditions.

After years of making cameos in all the Marvel blockbuster movies, Lee’s last appearance was in the record smashing Avengers: Endgame, which was released last month.

Reference: MSN (May 15, 2019) “Stan Lee’s Ex-Manager Hit With Elder Abuse Charges; Arrest Warrant Issued”

How are Financial Advisors Trying to Prevent Financial Exploitation?

The next time you see your financial adviser, you may be asked to provide a trusted point of contact, such as a relative or friend to call, if the adviser has a reasonable belief that you might be a victim of financial exploitation.

St. Petersburg Estate Planning
Financial advisors are working hard to prevent clients from falling prey to financial exploitation

Kiplinger’s recent article, “New Rules Battle Financial Scams, Elder Abuse” says that your adviser could place a temporary hold on a suspicious disbursement request from you, so your money is protected until the concern is investigated. Once money has left an account, it’s hard to get it back.

Changes include several new laws that protect seniors and their money. For older adults, financial exploitation is a growing problem. One in five older Americans are the victim of financial exploitation each year, resulting in the loss of $3 billion annually.

Mild cognitive impairment can result in older adults not seeing red flags for fraud, says Michael Pieciak, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), which represents state securities regulators. The ability to judge risk may be diminished. He noted that social isolation plays a part, with vulnerable seniors home during the day and apt to answer the phone when a fraudster calls.

Federal and state lawmakers, along with the financial services industry, have initiated new rules to help safeguard seniors and their assets. The idea is that financial institutions and professionals are on the front lines of spotting elder financial abuse. The changes are designed to protect seniors and to shield financial professionals from liability for reporting possible exploitation.

Congress passed the Senior Safe Act in 2018. This law protects financial services professionals from being sued over privacy and other violations for reporting suspected elder financial abuse to law enforcement, provided they’ve been trained. If a bank teller notices that a senior seems confused about withdrawing money or making puzzling transactions, the teller could tell a superior, who could contact authorities, if necessary.

Nineteen states have enacted some version of a NASAA model act that provides registered investment advisers and broker-dealers with guidance on telling a trusted point of contact and putting a temporary hold on a client’s account to investigate financial fraud.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 3, 2019) “New Rules Battle Financial Scams, Elder Abuse”

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,

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”

How Seniors Can Improve Their Health in the New Year

After the holidays, you might be looking for ways to focus on your health and well-being. It is fine to enjoy the holidays, but if we continue to indulge ourselves throughout the year, we can be setting ourselves up for fatigue, low energy and a weakened immune system. Let’s make a plan to feel better in 2019.

Here are some tips on how seniors can improve their health in the new year.

Get Back to Good Nutrition

You gave yourself permission to nibble on the tasty morsels that accompany the holidays. As the years go by, you might find that some of your favorite treats leave you feeling less than jolly. You are not alone. As we age, some of the things that change include:

  • The metabolism gets less efficient, so it is harder to keep off excess weight.
  • The digestive tract becomes less tolerant of things like spicy or rich foods.
  • You might experience dehydration.
  • The immune system can weaken.

Not to worry, you can take control of all of these facets of aging. Work with a nutritionist to set up some guidelines and meal plans tailored for your situation, including any medical conditions you have and all supplements or prescription drugs you take.

If you prefer to approach this issue DIY, the “old school” advice still works. Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains and lean protein. Drink plenty of water, and reserve processed and junk food for special occasions.

Stay Physically and Socially Active

Few things are better for your health, than getting off of the sofa and out of the house. Although it is tempting to become sedentary if your arthritis hurts, your diabetes makes you feel low energy and you have ongoing aches and pains, getting regular activity can improve how you feel. Talk with your doctor about your options for “gentle” exercise, like walking and swimming.

Call your local park system, fitness facility, or community or senior center for information about their programs for seniors. Make sure you ask about their 55+ discounts.

Many people become socially isolated after retiring, particularly if most of their friends were people from work. If you find yourself in this situation, you have two options: keep in touch with your old friends from work or make new friends. Some experts suggest that staying engaged socially can help to stave off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Go to the Dentist

Your tooth enamel gets thinner as you age, so your risk for cavities increases as you get older. Dentists also advise that your likelihood of having a stroke, heart disease and diabetes has a connection to infections in the mouth. Catching and treating oral problems can protect your overall health.

Do Something New and Different

One of the best ways to maintain your ability to process information, think clearly and perform cognitive functions is to challenge the “little gray cells” with new activities on a regular and ongoing basis. Read books that you have never read before. Shake up your daytime, evening and weekend routine every now and then. Listen to a different genre of music for a few days. Take up a new hobby. All of these activities can help you to stay sharp and independent.

Your state’s regulations might differ from the general law of this article, so you should talk with an elder law attorney in your area.

References:

A Place for Mom. “10 Healthy Habits for Seniors to Keep.” (accessed November 15, 2018) https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/11-5-14-healthy-habits-for-seniors/

300,000 Americans to Gain Medicaid Benefits

Most of those who will be eligible in 2019 are over age 50 and would otherwise have no healthcare.

Ballot measures in three states—Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah—will extend the federal- and state-funded healthcare program to allow access to approximately three hundred thousand low-income Americans.

MedicaidAARP’s recent article, “Medicaid to Expand in 3 States,” reports that with the passage of ballot measures in those three states, 37 states, including DC, have now expanded the Medicaid program, since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) created the opportunity to offer more people coverage.

The success of the three ballot measures “is a recognition that Medicaid plays an important role in our society for those who are in need and that it’s an issue that has changed a great deal over the past five or six years from a political standpoint,” says John Hishta, AARP senior vice president for campaigns. “I think the voters have led the way in some of these states.”

Montana voters rejected a measure that would have increased tobacco taxes on cigarettes and taxed other tobacco products to pay for the state’s share of Medicaid expansion, veterans’ mental health, and home- and community-based services. Nearly 130,000 low-income residents in that state may now lose their Medicaid eligibility in 2019, if the state Legislature doesn’t act.

The mid-term election results in three other states could have implications for their Medicaid programs as well. Maine’s Democratic Governor-elect Janet Mills supports expanding Medicaid. The state’s voters decided in 2017 to expand the program, but the current governor, Republican Paul LePage, refused to implement the expansion.

Kansas’ Democrat Governor-elect Laura Kelly stated in the campaign that she’d push for legislation to expand Medicaid during her first year in office. In 2017 the Republican-controlled Kansas House of Representatives and Senate passed legislation to extend Medicaid, but the current Governor Sam Brownback vetoed it. The Legislature couldn’t override his veto.

Wisconsin’s Governor-elect Tony Evers says he wants to expand Medicaid, which would provide coverage to at least an additional 80,000 people in that state.

Most of the people who apply for Medicaid work but do not earn enough to cannot afford health insurance. The program allows people between 50—64 years of age to get health care coverage.

Reference: AARP (November 8, 2018) “Medicaid to Expand in 3 States”

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