An Advance Healthcare Directive Can Make a Difficult Conversation a Little Bit Easier
August 13, 2012
Does your family know your preferences for end-of-life care in case of emergency? Are you sure? If you haven’t created an Advance Healthcare Directive or spoken to your loved ones specifically about this issue, then chances are they don’t know your wishes, no matter how close you believe you are.
Our firm understands that opening up a conversation about DNR directives or end-of-life care can be difficult and awkward. Thinking about your own death, or the death of someone you love is painful. But the arguments—and potentially lengthy court battles—that can occur between caring relatives when these issues are not discussed will be even more painful. If the tragic Terri Schiavo case taught us anything it should have taught us that a difficult conversation now can save our loved ones years of pain and hardship later on.
We may not be able to save you from a difficult conversation, but this article from ABC News might help you get the conversation started. The first suggestion is to put your wishes in writing and then mail a copy of those wishes to your loved ones or to your healthcare agent. The article suggests a resource workbook which can be found online, but an even better option would be to execute an Advance Healthcare Directive with your estate planning or elder law attorney.
Executing and Advance Healthcare Directive not only provides you with an opportunity to say to your loved ones “I want to talk about this;” it also ensures that there will be no legal obstacles if tragedy should strike and you are unable to make your own healthcare decisions.
Once your loved ones know your preferences for end-of-life care this opens the door for them to ask questions if they have any, and even perhaps express their own views and preferences. Your primary care physician should receive a copy of your Advance Healthcare Directive as well. Confirm that your physician will be able to honor and respect your wishes if and when the time comes.
For more information about Advance Healthcare Directives, or talking to your family and friends about end-of-life decisions, please contact our office.
Finding A Trustworthy In-Home Caregiver May Not Be As Easy As It Sounds
August 10, 2012
As American seniors age and find that they need more and more help with daily tasks, many of our parents and grandparents are choosing NOT to go into nursing or retirement homes, opting instead to age at home with the help of in-home care. Of course, deciding that you want to age at home is one thing, but finding the right in-home aide—and figuring out how to pay for that aide—is easier said than done.
Hiring a home health-aide means bringing a stranger into your home during a vulnerable time; and according to this recent article published on the Northwestern University website, not all aides or agencies are created equal. “A troubling new national study finds many agencies recruit random strangers off Craigslist and place them in the homes of vulnerable elderly people with dementia, don’t do national criminal background checks or drug testing, lie about testing the qualifications of caregivers and don’t require any experience or provide real training.”
While it’s true that finding a trustworthy and experienced aide may be difficult, the good news is that there are plenty of excellent caregivers out there, and simply knowing the right questions to ask can make your search a whole lot easier. The article mentioned above lists 10 questions to ask an agency before hiring a caregiver, including questions such as:
* How do you recruit caregivers, and what are your hiring requirements?
* What types of screenings are performed on caregivers before you hire them? Criminal background check—federal or state? Drug screening? Other?
* Are the caregivers insured and bonded through your agency?
* If there is dissatisfaction with a particular caregiver, will a substitute be provided?
* Does the agency provide a supervisor to evaluate the quality of home care on a regular basis? How frequently?
Hiring a caregiver or aide to come into your home can be fraught with stress and second-guessing, but knowing that you don’t have to go through it alone—that there are trustworthy friends, agencies and advisors who can help you—can not only make the process a whole lot easier, but can also make you and your entire family feel much more comfortable with the person you eventually choose to hire.
Recent Polls Reveal the Tide is Turning Regarding Retirement Living
August 3, 2012
Where do you plan to live when you retire?
50-somethings and near retirees used to dream of moving to Arizona, California or Florida when they retired; planning to give up the responsibilities of mowing lawns and shoveling snow for a more leisurely life of regular golf-games and walks on the beach; but recent studies indicate that this trend to move to traditional “retirement states” is changing.
According to a recent article in CBS MoneyWatch, retirees are reconsidering where they want to spend their golden years. “Among U.S. workers age 55 and older, almost two-thirds — 62 percent — think that when they retire they will continue to live in their current state of residence. . . That’s up 20 percent from a similar survey taken just two years ago.”
While some of this change has to do with different states’ income tax and estate tax laws, the CBS article points out that most of it has to do with a shifting attitude toward retirement. “More and more Americans [are moving] away from the traditional definition of ‘all play and no work’ during their retirement years to start second careers or continuing to work in some manner. In fact, 50 percent of [survey respondents] report that they work part-time or are starting new businesses or careers.”
What this means is that more and more retirees are looking to make only small changes as they move from full-time work to part-time retirement. Many are staying in their city of residence and choosing to simply give up a larger family home in lieu of a smaller two-bedroom home. Some retirees are moving away from their lifetime city of business and residence to move closer to family and work remotely as contractors.
Wherever you choose to spend your retirement, you’ll want to know your state’s rules and regulations regarding gift and income taxes, estate planning, powers of attorney, health care, and government resources. Contact our office—or your own local elder law attorney—to ensure that you’re familiar with local laws, and taking advantage of every opportunity available to senior residents.
The Most Important Part of an Estate Plan is the Memories
August 1, 2012
Most people, when they design their estate plan, think primarily about the large financial assets: Real property, bank accounts, investment accounts, family businesses, etc. But any estate planner will tell you that the most heart-wrenching family rifts and disputes are not over money, but over the little things that end up having little or no monetary value at all.
The family bible, mom and dad’s wedding bands, grandma’s heirloom hope-chest—these are the items that end up costing families more in harsh words, hurt feelings, and legal fees than any expensive property or valuable bank account. This is because these are the items that, although they may have a low financial value, have a high emotional value for families; a fact that many parents or grandparents don’t consider when they’re making out their wills or trusts.
Instead of leaving heirs to decide among themselves (read as: fight among themselves) after your death who gets photo albums, jewelry, furniture and handmade artwork; consider talking to kids and grandkids about this memorabilia and emotional heirlooms right now. Keep in mind that this might not be an easy conversation to initiate. Most kids are reluctant to talk about—or even think about—their parents’ eventual passing; and many parents have found that they have to broach the subject more than once before their kids are willing to talk about it.
Another option is to privately make up your own list of which heirlooms you’d like to go to which heir (in legal terms this is called a Personal Property Memorandum) and then show it to your heirs ahead of time. This gives heirs the opportunity to voice their preferences or concerns while you’re still alive; but in many cases simply knowing that you put time and thought into the giving of each heirloom makes heirs more likely to accept and appreciate your gifts when the time comes to receive them.
Contact our office for more information about how to execute a personal property memorandum, and how it can benefit your heirs and loved ones.
How to Protect Your Partner Even if You Choose Not to Marry
July 30, 2012
According to the U.S. Census Bureau the number of senior couples choosing to cohabitate instead of marry (or remarry) has risen significantly. Although this may seem like a shocking choice that goes against tradition, the truth is that there are quite a few reasons why senior couples might choose not to tie the knot:
* Tax disincentives
* Loss of military and pension benefits
* Keeping medical expenses separate
* Keeping any current debt separate
* Asset protection for the benefit of children or grandchildren
Any couples who do decide against marriage, however, will need to take extra steps to protect their partner and preserve any traditionally spousal privileges you would like your partner to have. For example, in case of accident or emergency, do you want your partner to have the same access to medical information that a spouse would have? Do you want your partner to a voice in making medical decisions if you are unable to do so?
Seniors will also want to consider the subject of real property and living arrangements. If something were to happen to you or your partner, would the surviving partner be able to remain in the home? Would he or she at least have time to find another living situation? Most people would like to think that relatives who inherit shared property will be compassionate toward the surviving partner, but this is not always the case.
Fortunately, there are ways for seniors who choose to cohabitate instead of remarry to arrange their affairs in such a way that they preserve the benefits of staying legally single, but provide their partner with traditionally spousal benefits. The best way to do this is through excellent estate planning. Our office can help seniors create a plan that will protect their rights, protect assets for their heirs, and protect the rights and well-being of their partner as well. Contact us for more information.
Prudential to Stop Offering Group Long-Term Care Insurance, Giving Buyers One Less Option
July 25, 2012
If you have been thinking about investing in long-term care insurance when planning for the future, you now, unfortunately, have one less option to consider. Recent news reports that as of August 1 of this year, Prudential Financial Inc will stop selling group long-term care policies in all but five states. According to news sources this makes Prudential the latest in a line of insurers to stop selling the product.
While the growing inevitability of the need for long-term care and how to pay for it is a rising concern for the American public, offering long-term care insurance has not been a profitable practice for insurers. “Most insurers that offer [long-term care insurance] have suffered through sizeable losses. In the early days of the product, insurers underestimated the size and length of claims, and more recently the rate environment has exacerbated the problem.”
If you already have long-term care insurance through Prudential don’t panic, “Prudential said coverage under existing policies would not change, and would remain renewable.” It will be in your best interest to be vigilant, however, considering that Prudential “cautioned that premiums could change, subject to regulatory review.”
If you do not yet have long-term care insurance, never fear, there are still plenty of companies you can turn to for coverage. The National Care Planning Council has an excellent online guide to many aspects of long-term care, but your options and requirements will vary depending on your health, your age, your state of residence, and other factors. Please contact our office for the most up-to-date and relevant options for your family.
Crucial Steps Can Help Ease the Burden of the Sandwich Generation
July 20, 2012
A recent study from the University of Michigan reveals a worrisome trend for the children of Baby Boomers. According to the study (and this recent article) “more than 60 percent of young adults ages 19-22 receive financial help from their parents,” a tally which comes to “about $7,500 a year when help with rent, transportation and college tuition are included.” This by itself wouldn’t be so disturbing, were in not for the fact that there are also “more than 10 million Americans [who] currently need long-term care;” care that their adult children will have to contribute to financially.
The good news is that this doesn’t come as much of a surprise to the children of Baby Boomers who are beginning to take seriously the title of “the sandwich generation.” Many of these sandwich generation adults can see what’s coming in the next decade or so; they’re looking ahead, asking questions, and planning for the future. If you are one of these sandwich generation adults, our firm can help you get answers to your questions and take steps to prepare for what may lie ahead.
The article mentioned above advises that some of the most helpful things you can do to prepare are to:
1. Get the help of a financial and/or legal advisor. People who work with advisors are the ones who end up making the changes that need to be made, instead of just talking about them. An advisor can help you understand a complicated situation, explore your options (including lesser known options you may not be aware of), and most importantly, implement your decisions.
2. Don’t drag your feet when it comes to paperwork and documentation. “Many documents that can ease sandwich years fears – from a living will or power of attorney to trusts and a 529 education saving plan – require busy adults to take time out and consider the big picture.” Waiting won’t make it any easier, and may result in certain opportunities passing you by.
3. Talk to your family members. First and foremost, have a conversation with your parents. Find out what plans (if any) they’ve already made. They might have long-term care insurance already, or estate planning documents in place, both of which can remove a huge burden from your shoulders. Secondly, talk to your children. Kids living at home can contribute—even if it’s just a little—to expenses, or help provide physical care for ailing grandparents.
Low Interest Rates Good for Borrowers, Bad for Retired Seniors
July 16, 2012
If you’re nearing retirement and looking forward to living off the interest of your retirement savings you may have to consider staying in the job market for another year or so. Interest rates have hit record lows recently; a turn of events which is good for homeowners and borrowers, but very bad for seniors hoping to make the most of their retirement savings.
An article in the USA Today Money section reports that “The bellwether 10-year Treasury note yielded 1.46% Monday and went as low as 1.44% in intraday trading… Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages closely follow the 10-year T-note yield. On Thursday, the average mortgage rate fell to a record low of 3.56%.” This isn’t all; currently “Money funds yield an average 0.03% [and] the highest-yielding one-year bank CD, from CIT bank, yields 1.1%.”
What all of this means is that the percentage of income workers have been putting away for retirement all these years isn’t giving them much of a return right now—if it’s giving them any return at all. Seniors who were planning to live for a certain number of years off the income of their investments are finding themselves having to work longer than they had planned, or they find themselves dipping into the principal of their investment—a move which could leave them scrambling for living funds a few years down the road.
Some seniors are choosing a different kind of risk. “To get more income, some elderly have been pushed into riskier investments, such as stocks, to get higher yields.” Unfortunately, these higher yield stocks can be very unstable and end up tanking, losing both the potential income as well as the initial investment.
There are no easy solutions to this problem, especially if you’re already in retirement or nearing retirement age. The best thing you can do is be careful with your money, give yourself room to work a few more years than you may have initially planned, and above all, keep the lines of communication open with your experienced and trusted advisors.
Start Planning Now to Help Your Parents—And Yourself—In Retirement
July 13, 2012
This recent article in CBS MoneyWatch is calling attention to what they call “the national retirement nightmare.” The article points out that what used to be the simple plan of socking away a little bit of money from each paycheck has now turned into the huge nightmare of planning not only for your own old age, but also the elder years of your parents and possibly your spouse’s parents. The thought of such an overwhelming financial responsibility is enough to make anybody want to bury their head in the sand… unfortunately, ignoring the issue is the absolute worst thing you can do.
According to the article, “A long-term care event — either with your parents or yourself — can easily destroy anyone’s retirement plans. The cost of paying for long-term care at a nursing home for a few years — which insurance firm Genworth recently calculated at more than $80,000 per year — could pay to send a grandkid to Harvard or fund a nice retirement.”
This means that if you want to want to be able to keep your head above water during your golden years you’ll need to start planning now. The article suggests that “there are only two things we can do: (1) Take steps to reduce the odds of needing long-term care, and (2) prepare a plan for paying for the costs in case we need such care.”
Preparing a plan to pay for the costs of such care—especially if you’re planning for your parents as well as yourself—always begins with two conversations: The first conversation is with your parents about what planning they’ve done already, the second conversation is with your attorney or financial advisor to explore your options and start taking action.
As mentioned above, the idea of paying for your own golden years and for your parents can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to plan for it alone. Our firm can help you feel good about the years ahead for yourself and your loved ones.
Has Home Foreclosure Become an Elder Law Issue?
July 11, 2012
The past decade has not been good for homeowners; especially young homeowners just starting out and struggling to get by, and older homeowners who may be struggling to make the mortgage on severely depleted retirement savings. Some news sources such as CBS News are now going so far as to report that this most recent foreclosure crisis is actually affecting a disproportionate number of elderly people.
“Local governments can seize and sell a home if the owner falls behind on property taxes and fees. The process helps governments make ends meet at a time when low property values and the weak economy are squeezing tax revenue. But tax debts as small as $400 can cause people to lose their homes because of arcane laws and misinformation among consumers… The rules for property tax sales can be confusing, especially to elderly people who can’t keep track of their finances.”
Many people believe that these “arcane laws” are unfair, and that changes should be made. In fact, the National Consumer Law Center recently released a report stating that “governments should make it easier for homeowners to retake their homes after tax lien sales. It said they should limit the interest and penalties investors can charge and increase court oversight. It also called on local governments to let people pay back taxes or fees to investors on an installment plan, and to increase notice to homeowners and make sure they understand their rights.”
Increasing notice and helping homeowners—young or old—understand their rights is certainly a step in the right direction, but it may not be enough to help everyone. Recently widowed and grieving spouses, and relatives suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia; these are just a few examples of individuals who may require extra care when it comes to protecting their finances. One of the first things to do is ensure that all their paperwork is in order—including a financial power of attorney in case of emergency. Our firm can help ensure that you or your elderly loved ones have everything they need to protect their home now, and in the years to come.