Recognizing and Reporting Elder Abuse

What is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse is a problem that takes many forms. Unfortunately, many seniors are subjected to elder abuse and often times the abuse goes unreported and the abuser goes unpunished. Elder abuse may take the form of physical abuse, include hitting, striking, beating, kicking, and using excessive force. This may also include the overuse of restraints or drugs.

Emotional or psychological abuse is also a common form of elder abuse. This can be anything that causes emotional pain or distress and may include verbal assaults, intimidation, isolation, humiliation, and harassment.

Neglect is also a common form of abuse in senior citizens. Neglect is when a caregiver fails to provide the necessary care for the senior citizen under their care. In contrast, self-neglect is when a senior citizen who is mentally competent refuses to care for their own needs and causes harm to themselves.

Financial exploitation is yet another form of elder abuse. Financial exploitation is often committed by family members (most common), caregivers, or strangers.

Reporting Suspected Abuse
Adult Protective Services (APS) is often the first to receive reports of or to respond to reports of elder abuse. Their job is to provide for the safety, health, and well-being of elderly and vulnerable adults. The law requires those who work with senior citizens in various capacities to report to APS if they suspect elder abuse. When APS receives reports of abuse or neglect, they have several possible actions or interventions. They are responsible for receiving and investigating reports of elder abuse. They then must evaluate the victim’s risks and assess the victim’s ability to understand their risk and give informed consent. The APS worker can then develop a case plan for the abused elder. Once a case plan has been decided, the case worker can arrange for necessary care, medical attention, and legal consultation. Once this is done Adult Protective Services then monitors the services and evaluates the case.

More serious cases of abuse may be reported directly to police. If a senior is in immediate danger, this may be the best course of action.

Many websites provide information on warning signs of potential physical abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and financial abuse. If you have a loved one who is a senior citizen, it is important to know the warning signs for abuse. It is also key to stay involved with the caregivers and to make regular visits to check on the care of your senior loved one. The National Adult Protective Services Association, http://www.napsa-now.org/get-informed/ , has important information on different types of abuse, as well as ways to get help in any state

What is Long Term Care Insurance?

Long-term care insurance is very beneficial for the elderly or disabled person who need will services or support to meet their personal care or health needs. However, it is important to understand long-term care insurance before the time comes when the benefits are needed. Unfortunately, many people wait and then miss out on what long-term care insurance can offer.

Should I get long-term care insurance?
There are a few things to consider before you go out and purchase long-term care insurance. First, consider your age. Age is important because it is much cheaper to get long-term care insurance at a younger age. Older adults and those who already have existing health conditions may have more difficulty getting long-term care insurance and the premiums are guaranteed to be costly.

Second, consider your support system. In other words, do you have family who will be able to help provide for your care needs in the future? If so, then you may not need long-term care insurance. This is definitely a good time to sit down and talk about the future with your family.

Third, consider your savings and investments. This is where a financial adviser or elder law attorney can help you understand ways to pay for long-term care and whether or not long-term care insurance is right for you.

What is the cost of long-term care insurance?
The cost of long-term care insurance cannot be attached to specific numbers. The cost depends on age, gender, marital status, the insurance company, and the amount of coverage. The younger a person is when they get long-term care insurance, the lower the premiums will be. Generally speaking, long-term care insurance policies are less expensive for men than women. This is due to the fact that women generally live longer and therefore are more likely to make claims on the long-term care policies. Married people have lower premiums than single people. Just like with any type of insurance, rates for long-term care insurance will vary from one company to the next. It is important to shop around and compare the costs of long-term care insurance with a variety of carriers. The amount of coverage desired greatly affects the cost of the long-term care insurance. Better coverage with fewer restrictions will come at higher premiums. Be sure to do your homework, talk to your financial planner, and elder law attorney to help determine long-term care insurance needs.

What does long-term care insurance cover?
Once you have a long-term care policy, you are eligible for benefits if you have dementia or another cognitive impairment or you are unable to perform at least two of six activities of daily living. These activities include bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, caring for incontinence, and transferring. When a policyholder is eligible and in need of filing a claim on a long-term care insurance, a variety of services may be covered. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities may be covered services. Within those services, policies may only cover room and board or they may cover more extensive services. Long-term care insurance also covers adult day care services for those who need a program for health, social, and other support services during the day. Home care is also provided under some long-term care insurance. This service helps with activities of daily living in the policyholder’s home. When home adaptations are necessary, such as ramps or grab bars, long-term care insurance can cover these services. Care coordination and future service options are also available services with within long-term care insurance policies. You will need to understand your specific policy to determine the specifics of the services covered and to what extent they are covered.

Long-term care insurance can seem very complicated. Remember there are professionals who specialize in helping to determine long-term care insurance needs and coverages. A great place to start is with your financial advisor and elder law attorney.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact us.

New Law Encourages Reporting of Elder Financial Abuse

President Trump signed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act into law on May 24, 2018. The Act contains a section that was once a stand-alone bill from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) which is designed to encourage the reporting of elder (age 65 and older) financial abuse witnessed by financial institutions. The Act does not mandate that these institutions report financial abuse directed towards elders to avoid penalties, rather it gives them an incentive to do so. The Act provides immunity from any lawsuit alleging elder financial abuse if the financial institution reports it to state or federal law enforcement agents. To qualify for immunity, a financial institution has to create and administer a training program for employees to teach the employees how to spot elder financial abuse. This Act provides immunity to financial institutions because they are often the first to witness elderly clients making unusual transactions that may be linked to a scam.

The Act was inspired by the Senior$afe program in Maine. Senior$afe encourages state regulators, financial institutions, and legal organizations to work together on educating banking and credit union workers to spot and stop elder financial abuse. When elders have a trusted third party to talk to about their finances, they are less likely to fall victim to elder financial abuse, and this program has found success in reducing the amount of elders who fall victim to these scams.

However, this isn’t an entirely new idea. In 2016, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a report that found how reporting elder financial abuse has already become a respected norm in hundreds of counties around the country. The report found that these counties created voluntary community-based partnerships to prevent, detect, and respond to elder financial abuse situations. These partnerships often include entities such as financial institutions, adult protective services, and law enforcement. The CFPB found that these partnerships can be incredibly effective in protecting their elderly citizens. What’s more, in states without elder financial abuse protection laws, these community efforts have created a sense of responsibility within these counties to protect their most vulnerable from financial scams, without reward or threat of prosecution against financial institutions. Following this report, the CFPB released a resource guide and best practices to help and encourage other counties across the US to adopt their own protection partnerships. Among other recommendations, the CFPB encourages communities to directly include law enforcement and financial institutions in these partnerships. Financial institutions are often the first to spot these cases, and law enforcement has an obligation to investigate once a claim is made. Also, the CFPB recommends that partnerships which serve diverse areas engage with groups that are already entrenched in the community, such as service groups or faith-based organizations.

Protecting our most vulnerable is important to providing a safe and prosperous society for all citizens. These community-based partnerships and the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act are both steps in the right direction towards protecting those who aren’t able to protect themselves. If you have any questions about something you have read, please do not hesitate to contact our office.

Solo Aging and the Challenges it Brings

For some seniors in the baby boomer generation aging brings with it new challenges in the form of solo aging. Solo aging is a senior who has no children and no younger (or healthier) family members to assist them as they age. As in generations before, baby boomers are living longer and healthier lives but for some there is no escaping the eventualities of disease like heart disease, arthritis, diabetes or dementia. Others may require extensive care following a fall that results in a broken hip or other serious injury.
In prior generations when an aging senior needed assistance with activities of daily living they would typically enter a residential facility or be treated at home, often times with a younger family member to supplement their needs. In the case of the baby boomers however, healthy family members who can provide care are in shorter supply. Solo aging requires a modified approach to the requisite standard planning around the larger family system of previous generations.
The Pew Research Center found the rate of childlessness in baby boomers to be about 20% -double the number of previous generations. This childless statistic translates to one in five baby boomers having no adult children to help them when independent living becomes difficult or impossible. This solo aging segment of the baby boomer population is typically white, highly educated, reasonably affluent, and has a desire to remain living in the United States. Any of their immediate family that could provide care is often small in number and likely to live far away. These solo agers are fiercely independent and are accustomed to making their own decisions and will not let go of their self-determination easily.
Like most seniors, the solo ager prefers to remain in their private home. Living at home in the earlier years of retirement is often a suitable arrangement but over time the downward slope of mortal decline can lead to a number of dangerous difficulties. Incorrect management of medication, poor nutrition, isolation and loneliness, alcoholism and depression, dementia, and susceptibility to scam artists are just some of the problems that can become prevalent. Without the benefit of a younger family member who can “well check” them the solo ager is at an increased risk of becoming a victim of fraud, abuse, or more serious health decline. Moreover, when the time does come for care giving and/or relocation to a more suitable and safer living environment the solo ager will not be able to rely on an adult child to help them find qualified caregivers and appropriate living arrangements as well as orchestrate the physical downsizing and relocation to a new home.
What to do? Prepare and prepare early. Even if a solo ager is healthy it is impossible to predict the future. The unexpected fall or illness happens and more often than most people think. The solo ager needs to empower a third party, through proper legal documents, to act in a fiduciary capacity in the event the senior becomes incapable of making decisions. This includes a trusted friend, extended relative or even a professional fiduciary or private guardian.
There must also be legal protection in the form of a healthcare directive and estate plan or trust in place. Without the benefits that a traditional family support system brings the solo ager must pay strict attention to the details of their life planning and seek professional counsel to make proper arrangements. The reliance must shift from immediate family to legal professional counsel to ensure the solo ager is cared for in the manner they want should the need arise. While it may seem an uncomfortable discussion at first, the solo ager should be reminded they are maintaining life control by having legal documents created to reflect their own wishes. The solo ager can garner a sense of inner peace in their retirement years knowing their plans are properly in place and that the course of their life will reflect their desires.
If you or someone you know is a solo ager, we can help. Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to plan for your future!

Make Sure Your Wishes Are Carried Out

The importance of making end of life preparations cannot be stressed enough. Many put off making these plans thinking there is always time. The sad reality is that none of us are guaranteed time. Others may be bothered by the thought of death itself and allow this to paralyze them when it comes to making plans and getting their affairs in order for the end of life. However, most of these same people have wishes and thoughts about where and to whom their assets are distributed. Many of them also have ideas about what they do and do not wish to have happen when their life ends. Lack of preparation and planning means that these wishes likely will not be honored. In addition, it causes additional strain and stress on the people who are left to sort out the affairs. An example of this is the story of Debbie.

Debbie was a teacher who had been retired for several years. She was aging alone. She never married and had no family around. She did have a small circle of friends. After retirement, Debbie’s health progressively declined and she had more and more difficulty caring for herself. After a few years, Debbie passed away in her home.

Previously, she had conversations with a handful of her friends telling them her wishes for the possessions and assets she had. Because of these conversations, these friends each thought she had made the proper preparations to ensure these wishes would be followed. Unfortunately, Debbie had none of the necessary end of life documents that would allow her wishes to be followed. Her friends were left to try to piece together a puzzle that only many missing pieces. Her burial was prolonged and what she did have after paying expenses to settle the estate and bury her will not end up where Debbie wanted. This scenario can, however, be avoided.

If you or your elderly loved one have not made end of life preparations, make time to do so as quickly as possible. An elder law attorney can help guide you in what you should be doing, and can make sure the proper documents are in place to carry out your wishes regarding your health, care you want (or don’t want) to receive, and who should receive your money and possessions.

The first key document to be sure you have is a will or a living trust. A will allows you to specify where your money and possessions should go upon your passing. It also allows you to choose an executor of the estate. The executor will take care of managing the estate, paying debts, and distributing property as specified. A will only takes effect upon your death.

A living trust does everything a will can do, but also allows for you to choose someone to manage your assets if you become incapacitated because it is effective during your lifetime. A living trust also provides privacy, as it is not subject to court proceedings that become open to the public like a will is. There are numerous other advantages to a living trust that can be explored with the help of an attorney.

A living will and health care power of attorney are two additional documents that take effect while you are alive. A living will specifies your wishes for end-of-life medical care. For example, you can specify whether you want to be kept alive by artificial means if you are in a terminal state. A health care power of attorney provides for someone to make health care decisions for you, in case you aren’t able to make decisions yourself. Both of these documents outline your wishes about medical treatment and care when you can’t make them for yourself, so it’s important to seek legal guidance to make sure these documents are drafted properly.

A financial power of attorney should be in the plan as well. A financial power of attorney names an agent to handle your finances in the event you are no longer able to. An agent can open and close bank accounts, write checks, and sell property if you choose to allow them the authority to do so. Like the health care power of attorney, the financial power of attorney should be created with legal advice to make sure your wishes regarding your finances are properly documented.

Having an estate plan is necessary for you to have a say in what happens if you become sick and cannot make decisions for yourself, and to determine what happens with your money and your belongings after death. An estate plan also helps those who are left to deal with the estate to do so in a more simple and straightforward manner.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact us.

Power of Attorney Misconceptions

A durable power of attorney is one of the most important estate planning documents you can have.  It allows someone who you appoint (your agent) to make decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated. If you have not appointed an agent then your friends and family may not have the authority to make decisions on your behalf.  In that case, a judge may have to appoint someone for this task, which can require a court process that is expensive and tedious.

While a durable power of attorney (POA) is one of the most common estate planning documents, it is also one of the most misunderstood. This article will break down some of the common misconceptions regarding POAs and help you understand what you need to create a valid POA.

Misconception: Technology is so great now, there is no need to speak with an attorney, I can just create my own POA online.

Truth: POAs are not one-size-fits-all. Each person’s situation is unique.  If you use a cookie cutter program it may not cover specific transactions.  In order to conduct many financial transactions specific language must be used to grant proper authority.  Elder law attorneys create these documents regularly which gives them valuable experience in unique situations and can make sure you have all your bases covered.

Misconception: POAs are one-and-done documents. Once I create it I will never have to touch it again.

Truth: POAs are documents that should be updated regularly. Laws change and if you have not regularly updated your documents you may find out too late that your POA is not valid. Further, some financial institutions may not accept a POA that was not updated in the last few years for fear of a lawsuit.

Misconception: I shouldn’t make my POA active until I become incompetent (a “springing” POA).

Truth: While the timing of granting agency through a POA is a matter of personal preference an immediately effective POA should be considered.  A springing POA usually requires a finding of incompetency by at least one doctor and sometimes two.  However, there may be an emergency where a doctor will not sign off that you are incompetent. Making your POA effective immediately removes the need for a doctor to declare you incompetent.

Misconception: I don’t need a POA, I’m young and healthy, plus I don’t have many assets.

Truth: Every single person over the age of 18 should have a POA. You never know when something catastrophic may happen.  You need to have a plan in place to take care of you in the event you become incapacitated unexpectedly.  If you do not have these documents in place then you have no control who will be making decisions on your behalf.  It can be expensive and time consuming for your loved ones to go through the court to have one of them appointed by a judge.

POAs are absolutely essential documents that everyone should have. It is important to consult an elder law attorney who can examine your unique situation to create your POA and to keep it updated. Please do not hesitate to contact our office if you would like to speak with an attorney about creating your own POA.

Helpful Ways to Pay for Assisted Living Costs

Assisted living rent can vary from $2,000 to $5,000 monthly. Depending on what type of care your loved one needs, assisted living can be the most affordable solution when compared to a nursing home ($5,000 to $10,000 or more per month) or long-term in-home care. If closely monitored medical supervision is not necessary for your aging senior, assisted living might be the best financial choice.

One payment strategy that has become popular is to use Medicaid. If your loved one does not have many financial assets and their income levels are low, this could be the right solution for them. Medicaid varies from state to state both in name and in eligibility requirements. Many states dictate that a senior is eligible if he or she has less than $2,000 in assets, or $3,000 if married.

If you are trying to help a senior with a creative financial strategy by gifting money and other assets to family members, known as “Medicaid spend-down”, the government has a five-year look-back rule regarding financial transactions. There are strict guidelines about Medicaid spend-down. If a senior is caught incorrectly spending down resources to qualify for Medicaid, the penalties are steep, including disqualification from receiving Medicaid for a lengthy period. Also, many states do not cover assisted living under Medicaid, but require the submission of an additional wavier. Be aware that Medicaid assisted living payments are only accepted by some communities and Medicaid beds are usually limited. There can be long waiting lists to enter into a Medicaid financed assisted living facility.

If your senior has a disability, he or she may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is a federally administered program. SSI is the government safety net for those destitute and wholly or partially disabled by illness or injury. SSI is a monthly payment which a senior can use to pay for assisted living. To qualify for SSI, contact the appropriate local Social Security office and provide financial documentation and a doctor certification to attest to your senior’s inability to work because of a medical disability.

If your loved one or their spouse is a Veteran, residential care could be paid for in a variety of situations with Veterans benefits. There is a set of benefits available to those with disabilities or service-related injuries, and there is also another set of benefits called Aid and Attendance, made available to any Veteran or surviving spouse who is both disabled and whose income is below a certain threshold. The Veterans Administration website outlines the complicated process to access benefits. It is extremely beneficial to work with an elder law attorney who knows the details of the programs and can assist with the application.

A life insurance policy can pay for your loved one’s assisted living. Often, seniors have a long-standing policy that was implemented to help family members upon their death, but a life insurance policy can provide financial support now. A process known as “accelerated” or “living” benefits is a “cash out” policy that can have your senior redeem 50 to 75 percent of the face value of the policy. Each amount is based on specific policy conditions as well as individual corporate rules. Some policies can only be cashed out if the policyholder is terminally ill while other companies are more flexible in cash outs. If your senior’s particular company does not allow the policy to be cashed, it can still be sold to a third-party company who usually affords the same 50 to 75 percent face value cash out. That company continues to pay the original premiums until their death, at which time the company redeems the full value of the policy. Finally, if your loved one’s policy is of lesser value, it may qualify for a life settlement option known as a “life assurance” benefit or conversion program, which allows the senior to convert between 15 and 50 percent of the policy value directly into long-term care payments.

Does your loved one have a long-term care insurance policy? It can pay for assisted living care. Policies vary, but once the determination and action is taken to collect on it, those monies can be paid directly to an assisted living facility or to the beneficiary who in turn pays the facility. It is wise to consult with an elder law attorney to help understand individual company requirements to optimize the process of collection.

An annuity can be used to pay for some or all of the senior’s assisted living. If your loved one invests a lump sum into an annuity, they will receive regular payments over a promised time period, usually the rest of their life. The annuity helps to stretch your senior’s budget and guarantee at least some money is coming in, even in the event they live longer than expected. Most annuities allow the beneficiary to continue to receive money regularly even if the purchase premium runs out. If your senior were to live a very long time, they would get more back than they put in and an added bonus is that annuities are oftentimes not fully counted as assets by Medicaid when applying for government assistance. The income is counted but not the value of the asset. It is imperative to seek the advice of an elder law attorney before opting into an annuity as they are complex financial products and a wrong decision could be disastrous.

Reverse mortgages are another strategy to pay for assisted living. If your loved one owns their home outright or has only a small mortgage on it, they can get cash value from their home equity in a lump sum or series of monthly payments. The bank will decide the valuation of the home based on multiple factors like the homes worth, interest rates and the applicant’s age. The borrower can stay in the house until death even if the loan balance exceeds the worth of the home. After death, the loan balance has to be repaid which usually means selling the home. Reverse mortgages were developed to help widows remain in their homes after the primary income earner passed away or if that spouse needed to move into assisted living, leaving the other spouse to reside in the long-time family home. Like annuities, a reverse mortgage is a complex financial product, and it is crucial to receive sound advice from a trusted professional and work with a reputable reverse mortgage company. If only one senior parent is living and they do not want a reverse mortgage, they might consider renting out their home and using a landlord to manage the property. The income from renting the house can be used to pay for assisted living expenses.

Lastly, it is possible to pay for assisted living with a bridge loan, which is a short-term loan of up to $50,000 explicitly designed to provide funds to move a loved one into an assisted living facility or continuing care retirement community. It is an unsecured (no collateral required) line of credit with the intent to finance the first few months of living expenses during the sale of the senior’s home, while the application for Veterans benefits is pending, or other actions that are taken that free up funds. Since the interest rates can range from 8.25 to 12.5 percent, this option is best as a short-term strategy. The other type of bridge loan is called the Capital Access Program. It is a lower interest lump sum loan secured by real estate or other assets that the company deems acceptable collateral. It is designed to help seniors come up with the large upfront entrance fee some senior assisted living facilities require. Both types of loans are based on the usual credit criteria: credit score, credit history, debt to income ratio, and more. The senior or an adult child can secure the loan, and up to six family members can cosign loan applications, allowing the risk to be shared among multiple family members.

If your loved one is healthy enough to successfully live in an assisted living facility, the monthly cost is likely a top factor when considering their options. These are some, but not all of the viable and creative ways to pay these costs. To fully explore the options available and what is best for your senior seek the advice of an experienced elder law attorney and make the best decision for your loved one. Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning and which strategy is best to help your senior pay for assisted living.

America is Facing a Family Home Caregiver Shortage

The aging population of the United States is widely reported as the bulk of the baby boomer generation is already retired or nearing retirement. However, what has not been widely reported is how the rest of the nation will provide care for this large, aging population. According to a 2017 Merrill Lynch study, nearly 95% of caregivers are family members. These family members are providing over $500 billion worth of free care annually. For perspective, that’s three times Medicaid’s professional long term care spending. The number of family caregivers is shrinking at a time when the population that needs them is expanding at a rapid rate. In 2020, there will be over 56 million people in the U.S. age 65 and older. In 2010, that number was just 40 million.

This is a unique problem for the baby boomer generation for several reasons. The main reason is the simple fact that there is just an unusually large number of people in this generation. Unfortunately, every elder who needs care will not have a family member willing to give care. This responsibility will then fall to professional home care workers. Government statisticians project that the nation will need an additional million home care workers by 2026, an increase of 50% from 2014. Fulfilling the need for this many additional workers will be difficult, however.

Home care workers face extremely low wages, inconsistent work schedules, and there is little, if any, room for advancement in the industry. For example, the median salary for a home care worker is a minuscule $10.66/hour according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For comparison, that’s about the same hourly wage as a fast-food cook and about 30% less per hour than a veterinary technician makes. Looking beyond just salary, benefits are dismal, also. Only a third of home care workers are full-time and qualify for benefits. Further, there is a better chance you get injured on the job as a home care worker than if you worked in the oil and gas extraction field.

Another reason why this is such a unique problem for baby boomers is that it was more common in the past for children to stay in the same geographic area as their parents and be able to provide free care to them when it was needed. With advancements in travel and technology, it has become exponentially easier for people to move away from their parents, whether it be for job seeking reasons or simply for a change of scenery. Also, with the increasing rate of debt Americans are taking on, some family members just do not have the means to take time away from work to care for ailing family members.

There are several small initiatives taking place to help combat this shortage. In Massachusetts, the Home Aide Care Council has started a two-week training program that introduces new home care workers to what the job entails before they start their formal training as a home care worker. Also, some states are starting programs that provide opportunities for advancement. New York has a program that trains home care workers to administer routine medication, which gives them experience that can help them move into other positions in the healthcare industry.

4 Steps to Choosing the Right Nursing Home

Choosing a nursing home for a loved one is an important decision and should be carefully considered. Below are some steps designed to assist families in choosing a nursing home.

1. Identify Nursing Homes in the Area
The first step in choosing the right nursing home is to identify all the possible nursing home options in the area. Asking friends, family, and other people you trust is an excellent way to begin the search for possible options, especially if have had personal contact with the nursing home. Doctors and hospitals can also help identify nursing home options that provide the type of care a loved one may require.

Another option is using the internet to locate nursing home facilities. The Medicare website has a locator for nursing homes and even provides some comparisons of nursing homes – an important benefit highlighted in the next step below.

2. Research the Quality of Care Provided by the Nursing Home
Using comparisons like those found on the Medicare and Medicaid websites can be a very helpful starting place for gathering information on nursing homes and the quality of care provided. This information along with information from other sources like the long-term care ombudsman. Many facilities may provide survey results that can give insight into the facility’s care.

Other sites that allow consumers to post reviews, like Yelp.com, can also be an important way to compare nursing homes. While best known for its restaurant reviews, Yelp also includes reviews of skilled nursing facilities and rehabilitation centers.

3. Visit the Nursing Homes in Person
After doing ample research, it is time to visit the nursing home. Nursing homes will schedule tours for prospective residents. While there, pay close attention to the cleanliness of the facility, and the appearance of the residents. Make note of what the residents are doing and how they look. Are they engaged in activities, is there evidence of neglect, is there enough staff to attend to the patients? Ask about patient to caregiver ratios so you can compare it with other nursing homes.

Other things to consider include how the facility provides for social, religious, recreational, or cultural needs, and the types of meals they prepare. You may have the opportunity to have a meal during your visit, which will allow you to sample a meal, but also observe how the residents are treated during meal times.

Before leaving, find out who you can call if you have additional questions. Then, make a second unplanned visit at a different time or on a different day. An unplanned visit will allow you to observe the nursing home and its residents on a “normal” day.

4. Choose a Nursing Home
Making notes during the first three steps can help families go back and carefully look at the information gathered to make a decision. If more than one facility fits the needs of the loved one, then it is important to consider cost and what is most important to the family.

Once a nursing home is chosen, an agreement will need to be signed. It is important to have an elder law attorney review this agreement to make sure there are no hidden provisions, like holding a child responsible for non-payment, or a minimum number of months before a resident can apply for Medicaid.

These steps will allow families to make the best nursing home choice possible. Although, many families find themselves in sudden need of a nursing home facility after hospitalization, most have time to make preparations. If time is not a factor, following these steps can help to avoid making a decision that is not best for the loved one in need of care. Any long-term care decision is made best when families are armed with as much information as possible.

The rise of bankruptcy in the lives of aging Americans

The golden years are turning into bankruptcy red for many retired and aging Americans. While medical advances are keeping seniors alive longer, the associated healthcare costs in the quest for longevity are being off-loaded onto the older individual at a time when reduced income is a hallmark of senior living. Older Americans are increasingly filing for consumer bankruptcy. According to the Consumer Bankruptcy Project, the population aged 65 or more are filing for bankruptcy at a two-fold increase, and there is nearly a five-fold increase in the percentage of seniors in the US bankruptcy system. The economic risk for seniors is running rampant, and the sad truth is currently 97 out of 100 people aged 65 and over are not able to write a check for $600 or more due to insufficient funds.
The sentiment among Americans is that their standard of living will increase at the age of retirement when it is quite the opposite. The typical retiree has set aside about $60,000 for their old age living, and more than 50% over the age of 55 have saved less them $50,000; as much as 40% of these workers have less than $25,000 set aside. The stark reality is none of these “nest eggs” are enough to see a senior through old age and the unforeseen disasters that can deplete what little has been saved.
One of the more common financial obstacles that create this bankruptcy scenario is a health issue. Medicare is not comprehensive. In the absence of a supplemental insurance plan picking up the non-Medicare funded 20 percent cost, a senior can be left with unforeseen operation and rehabilitation costs. Without full health care coverage, the cost of staying alive as a senior is practically prohibitive between prescriptions, treatments, surgeries, rehabilitation, and assisted care. The primary two options available to a senior to cover these costs of survival are credit card debt and loans. Suddenly, at a time when most seniors should have very low monthly living costs, they find themselves back in a debt slave scenario with little or no income to address their healthcare debt.
Many seniors have concluded that retirement is not a part of their future as they will need a viable stream of income to avoid financial disaster. While this seems reasonable, it is not a good plan to assume one will be healthy enough to work forever. As we age, there is an increased probability that working will become impossible due to unforeseen illness. When this happens, debts begin to mount, and bankruptcy becomes a likely result. Additionally, the era of stable pensions afforded to a long time employee has gone by the wayside. Fewer companies even offer them anymore and those that do often modify and reduce pension benefits to meet corporate expectations of financial profits.
The cost of living rarely if ever is reduced over time and while social security benefits seem like the answer to a senior’s retirement years; these benefits seldom cover basic living expenses no matter how long an individual may have worked or how much they paid into the system. The senior who is faced with government social security benefits and very little additional income usually turn to credit cards to address the gap between low income and living expenses. This scenario takes a senior right back to debt slave mode. As many as two out of three seniors who file for bankruptcy cite credit card debt as one of the primary reasons.
Scams that target the senior population are becoming more sophisticated and prolific with the advent of technology. What used to be a “one to one” scam can now be distributed via email to thousands of targeted seniors who are online in greater numbers than ever before. Often the unsuspecting senior will make passwords or personal bank information available to what they believe is a legitimate request for information from what appears to be a valid email. Seniors can also fall prey to predatory lenders as many seniors cannot read the fine print or understand the consequences of their actions. When scam artists victimize a senior, the senior often loses a large chunk of their assets which in turn can put them in a bankruptcy scenario.
While it is impossible to know the exact future, it is possible to make reasonable plans for it. Learn the ways that you can protect yourself from becoming part of these bankruptcy statistics in your senior years. Even a modest plan is better than no plan at all. Seek the advice of trusted legal and financial professionals to help you understand what you can do to protect your future. Please feel free to contact our office today to discuss how we can help you with your planning.
If you have any questions about creating a secure financial future for retirement years, call us today! Tel: 623-252-0292

Reasons to take your social security benefit early

Receiving your social security benefits at an earlier age will not reduce the overall amount of your benefit over time. Because you will be taking it at a younger age, your monthly payment will be smaller than if you had waited but the aggregate payout overtime will be the same amount. To see how the numbers work out use the Social Security table or Social Security detailed calculator to understand how your monthly benefit payout amount differentiates depending on when you claim your benefits.

While it is not always optimal, there are some reasons to take your social security benefit early. If the potential for program insolvency is causing you additional anxiety, then it may make sense to start taking benefits earlier than your full retirement age.. Lack of quality sleep and over anxiousness in waking hours thinking about when to take your benefit can lead to health problems.

Another reason to take your social security benefit early is if you believe your life expectancy has changed. While the longevity rate keeps increasing the more you age, it does not prevent the unfortunate diagnosis of a life-threatening disease. If your health has declined and you may not live out your statistical life expectancy, then it may be proper to claim your benefit early. Claiming your benefit earlier can give you comfort financially, physically, and mentally.

If you are a legally married woman, you can make a rational case to start taking social security benefits at the earliest possible time if your husband has been the significant wage income earner. Statistically, the wife will outlive the husband, and the spouses can share the wife’s early benefit as an income source. But if you take your benefit early, how long do you have to be married before receiving your deceased spouse’s increased benefit? The answer is, it depends. There are three types of benefits in this married spouse category: spousal, survivor, and divorced spouse. Each status has different qualification rules, and it can be complicated to decipher the best benefit available to you. It is crucial to check Social Security Administration benefits for spouses as well as a trusted legal advisor to outline your best course of action.

Deciding when to take your social security benefits involves numerous factors. A balance has to be struck between the cost of living adjustments (COLA), current expenditures and expected longevity. If we can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Long Term Care and Estate Planning

It is a given that all of us are going to grow old. After the age of 65, about 75 percent of us are going to require some form of long term care. So put away the list of excuses (It won’t happen to me. The Medicaid will pay if I need LTC. I will always make my own decisions. And so many more…), because there’s a good chance it is going to happen to you.
In point of fact, Medicaid will pay for long term care, but in order to participate in Medicaid, federal law requires states to cover certain groups of individuals. Low income families, qualified pregnant women and children and individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income, as there may be options for other groups. In short, that means if your assets or income are too high, you may have to divest yourself of all assets in order to receive benefits.
So unless you fall into a low income category, you probably need to rethink how you are going to approach the long term care you might need. You should also plan for the unexpected — what if you require long term care but can no longer make your own decisions?
In fact, decisions regarding home or assets should be made five years prior to needing long term care. Wait … WHAT? How the heck can you plan that far ahead when you don’t know the date it’ll happen… use a crystal ball?
In a way, yes. An attorney experienced in estate planning can help you peer into the future and prepare well in advance of your need for long term care. The attorney might suggest steps such as purchasing long term care insurance, allocation of funds to transfer titles or deeds quickly, creating a Will or Trust, creating Powers of Attorney (both medical and financial) and many more steps.
Please feel free to call Poulos Law Firm … we will help you peer into the crystal ball and plan for your future.

Points to Discuss with Your Aging Parent

Your parent is getting on in age, but you don’t have a clear idea if there is a plan in place for their care. It is a difficult topic to broach; no one wants to talk about death and the financial realities that come with aging. Instead of having a proactive conversation early in a parent’s aging process most families have a reactive discussion under high levels of stress and emotions while their parent is experiencing an adverse health event. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has reported that 85 percent of time long-term care decisions are made during a medical crisis. The message is clear, be proactive and start discussing the important financial questions with your parent.

Prepare Yourself
Your parent will be feel more comfortable and at ease if you have processed your feelings before talking to them. Conduct research so that you are knowledgeable enough to present a clear and concise set of options for your parent. Having options allows your parent and family to make decisions and feel in control of the process. You are seeking progress, not perfection. It may not all become settled in one conversation, but the price of silence about your parent’s plan may be very costly to you.

Review Documents
Two of the most critical personal legal documents are a durable power of attorney (DPOA) and a healthcare proxy. All older adults should have these documents as it gives legal authority to a designated representative to make financial, legal, and health care decisions on your parent’s behalf. If your parent does not have a DPOA and becomes incapacitated, you will have to go to court to get appointed as your parent’s guardian which can be a complicated legal process at a time when your energy is better spent in the care and decision making for your parent. If they do not have a DPOA and health care proxy in place make arrangements for them to meet with a trusted elder law attorney to properly draft the legal documents.

Often a parent will have a will, retirement account information and insurance policies that have not been revisited or updated in years, sometimes decades. When was the last time your parent reviewed beneficiary designations? Family circumstances change, and the birth of a child, death or divorce can affect how your parent may want beneficiaries designated. It is best to review financial and insurance data annually with your parent and make adjustments if necessary. For example, if the parent’s children are grown it might be best to cut back on the amount of life insurance they carry to save money on annual premiums.

Long Term Care Plan
Address the issue of long-term care. According to the PBS, a full 70 percent of all seniors will need some long-term care as they age. Even if your parent is healthy today odds are they will require long-term care and the costs are staggering. Some life insurance companies will add a long-term care rider to an existing policy. Medicaid also can cover some long-term care costs, but neither standard health insurance nor Medicare will cover your parent’s long-term care expenses.

Meet the Team
Ask your parent about their financial advisors and request a brief introduction to them. Find out who they are and how you might contact them in the event your parent is unable to do so. This information will allow you to keep an eye on your parent’s accounts and be confident the advisors are trusted, objective and well versed in elder financial issues. Oversight by you in a slightly detached way provides your parent privacy and independence about their finances but allows you to protect them from unscrupulous advisors.

Understand Filing System
The last thing you need to discuss is where this vital information is filed so that before a crisis hits you know where to find the important documents, online passwords, and forms of ID you will need to facilitate your parents well being. While you do not have to see all the specific contents of the information, particularly the financials, knowing where they keep the data is critical in a crisis. Remember that as your parent ages they may start to change the location of the information. Check with them a couple of times a year to ensure the information is still in the same place and physically look to be sure it is.

Discussing your parent’s strategy is best begun while they are healthy. Proactive planning is the best way to help your family as your parents age. Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you and your family.

Medicare and Medicaid: Unlocking the Mystery

Medicare and Medicaid have long been a mystery to many consumers. In fact, it can baffle and confuse even some of the smartest citizens. Like me, you might have thought, “I don’t need to worry about this right now.” However, it is never too early to gain a little understanding and awareness that just might help you help an aging loved one or yourself down the road. As the saying goes, “Time flies.”, and you will be there sooner than you think. Let’s break it down and learn some of the differences and basics of Medicare and Medicaid to unlock the mystery.

Medicare

Medicare is a health insurance program provided through the federal government. In order to receive Medicare, a person must meet certain requirements. A person must be 65 years old or older or have a severe disability. In order for a disabled person under the age of 65 to be eligible for Medicare, they must have received Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for two years. In order to be eligible a person must have Social Security retirement benefits or Social Security disability benefits. Because Medicare is run and administered by the federal government, it is uniform from state to state. If a person meets Medicare eligibility requirements, they can receive Medicare no matter their income or assets. Costs for Medicare are based on the recipient’s work history. This means that costs are determined by the amount of time a person paid Medicare taxes. These costs like all insurance include premiums, copays, and prescriptions.

Medicare can be confusing because there are four parts. The commercials talk about Parts A, B, C, D. What does it all really mean? Parts A, B, and D can be somewhat simplified. Part A is hospital insurance, Part B is medical insurance, and Part D is prescription drug coverage. Parts A and B are covered in Original Medicare offered by the government. Part C is often called the Medicare Advantage Plan. This is a private health plan. The Medicare Advantage Plan or Medicare Part C plan are required to include the same coverage as Original Medicare but usually also include Part D as well. It is important to do your homework on these plans to find what works best and is most cost effective for you.

Medicaid

Medicaid is a health care assistance program. Its guidelines come from the federal government, but it is administered by each state. Medicaid is for people who cannot afford to pay for their care on their own. It is based on income and assets, and is available to people who belong to one of the eligible groups. The eligible groups are children, people with disabilities, people over age 65, pregnant women, and the parents of eligible children. Seniors who require nursing home care can qualify for Medicaid and only pay a share of their income for the nursing home. Medicaid then pays the rest.

Dual Eligibility

A person can be eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid and can have both. The two programs work together to help the recipient best cover the expenses of health care. For example, Medicare costs include premiums, copays, and deductibles. Full Medicaid benefits can cover the costs of Medicare deductibles and cover the 20% of costs not covered by Medicare. Medicaid can also help with Medicare assistance and may cover costs of premiums for Part A and/or Part B.

Although Medicaid and Medicare can be quite confusing, it is important at a minimum to know the basics. When you or someone you love is eligible or in need of the benefits, there are organizations willing to help and your elder law attorney is also a valuable resource.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact us.

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Do Not Plan or Save at Your Own Retirement Peril – Copy

A significant portion of Americans are saving nothing for retirement and very little in their day to day lives. While the unemployment rate is low and wages are seeing an increase the American worker is not saving enough of their income which will inevitably lead to short falls of operational cash during an unexpected crisis and in their retirement years further down the road. (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/15/bankrate-65-percent-of-americans-save-little-or-nothing.html

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Bankrate maintains that half of all Americans will not be able to maintain their standard of living once they have stopped working. GoBankingRates corroborates these findings citing that over forty percent of Americans have less than $10,000 dollars saved for their retirement. These statistics point to a dismal retirement future for nearly half of all Americans. 

This doesn’t have to be your future. It doesn’t matter how little you currently save. You don’t have to become the horror story of retiring and meeting financial ruin like so many do. What matters is that you change the trajectory of your retirement life by proactively examining how you are spending and saving. The sooner you begin the better your chances of success. 

The first and most important strategy to implement is learning to live beneath your means. That translates into saving money: probably more than you currently do. Saving money is an underestimated survival skill. To save begin by tracking your spending habits for thirty days. Once you have the data create a realistic and doable budget. Fluid expenditures like groceries, eating out, clothing, gasoline and auto maintenance need to have a set monthly budget. Create a simple two columned sheet of paper with budgeted and actual expenditures to monitor your progress. Typical categories where you can reduce expenditures include; cable packages, phone plans, groceries, entertainment costs, gym memberships, clothing and dining out. Start asking yourself over and over “Is this a need or a want?” and if it is a need, how can you make the cost lower. The game is how much money you can save, not spend.

Consolidate your non essential debt and pay it off, completely. Make it a primary goal to get out of debt. Stop being a debt slave. In the credit card industry there is an insider term used for people who fully pay their credit cards off each month. Guess what it is? It is a deadbeat. Companies cannot make money off of you if you stop becoming a slave to debt. If you can’t afford it then find a way to live without it.

Double check your insurance rates on your car, homeowner, and health. Do not purchase flight insurance, extended warranties, and disease insurance. Check this site for fifteen insurance policies you don’t need. (https://www.investopedia.com/insurance/insurance-policies-you-dont-need/). Get rid of the policy all together or find wiggle room for reduced premiums or get a more competitive provider to save money. 

Get rid of automatic payments attached to your banking accounts. Most people can eliminate expenditures they forgot they are even locked into. This also forces you to take control of your bill/payment cycles. Being involved in the day to day of bill payment keeps you far more aware of your financial situation and keeps your mind active.

Consider downsizing your home. If you are in a two story house it is inevitable that one day you will not be able to climb those stairs. A one story home or a first floor condo or apartment can help you purge your life of ‘stuff’ you no longer need. Some of those things can be sold and the proceeds can be saved. Any profit left over from downsizing immediately goes into savings or a financial investment vehicle to provide and protect your senior years. 

These are some but not all of the ways it is possible to change your savings habits. Guidance from a trusted professional is key to the pathway of success because there will always be roadblocks and setbacks that you must make adjustments for. Structuring a legal plan in connection with a retirement plan can provide added protection and allow you to enjoy retirement more thoroughly.

Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning. Use this link: Schedule an ElderCare Appointment