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Elder Law

When Do I Need an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law is different from estate law, but they frequently address many of the same issues. Estate planning contemplates your finances and property to best provide for you and your family while you’re still alive but incapacitated. It also concerns itself with the estate you leave to your loved ones when you die, minimizing probate complications and potential estate tax bills. Elder law contemplates these same issues but also the scenario when you may need some form of long-term care, even your eligibility for Medicaid should you need it.

A recent article from The Balance’s asks “Do You or a Family Member Need to Hire an Elder Law Attorney?” According to the article there are a variety of options to adjust as economically and efficiently as possible to plan for all eventualities. An elder law attorney can discuss these options with you.

Medicaid is a complicated subject, and really requires the assistance of an expert. The program has rigid eligibility guidelines in the event you require long-term care. The program’s benefits are income- and asset-based. However, you can’t simply give everything away to qualify, if you think you might need this type of care in the near future. There are strategies that should be implemented because the “spend down” rules and five-year “look back” period reverts assets or money to your ownership for qualifying purposes, if you try to transfer them to others. An elder law attorney will know these rules well and can guide you.

You’ll need the help and advice of an experienced elder law attorney to assist with your future plans, if one or more of these situations apply to you:

  • You’re in a second (or later) marriage;
  • You’re recently divorced;
  • You’ve recently lost a spouse or another family member;
  • Your spouse is incapacitated and requires long-term care;
  • You own one or more businesses;
  • You have real estate in more than one state;
  • You have a disabled family member;
  • You’re disabled;
  • You have minor children or an adult “problem” child;
  • You don’t have children;
  • You’d like to give a portion of your estate to charity;
  • You have significant assets in 401(k)s and/or IRAs; or
  • You have a taxable estate for estate tax purposes.

If you have any of these situations, you should seek the help of an elder law attorney.

If you fail to do so, you’ll most likely give a sizeable percentage of your estate to the state, an ex-spouse, or the IRS.

State probate laws are very detailed as to what can and can’t be included in a will, trust, advance medical directive, or financial power of attorney. These laws control who can and can’t serve as a personal representative, trustee, health care surrogate, or attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney.

Hiring an experienced elder law attorney can help you and your family avoid simple but expensive mistakes, if you or your family attempt this on your own.

Reference: The Balance (Jan. 21, 2020) “Do You or a Family Member Need to Hire an Elder Law Attorney?”

Read more at:

What Does An Elder Law Attorney Do?

What is Elder Law and How Can an Elder Law Attorney Help Me?

Also read one of our previous blogs at :

Elder Law Attorney Can Help Plan for Long-Term Care Costs

How Do I Plan for My Incapacity?

The Post-Searchlight’s recent article, “How to go about planning for incapacity,” advises that planning ahead can make certain that your health-care wishes will be carried out, and that your finances will continue to be competently managed.

Incapacity can strike at any time. Advancing age can bring dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and a serious illness or accident can happen suddenly. Therefore, it’s a real possibility that you or your spouse could become unable to handle your own medical or financial affairs.

If you become incapacitated without the proper plans and documentation in place, a relative or friend will have to petition the court to appoint a guardian for you. This is a public procedure that can be stressful, time consuming and costly. In addition, without your directions, a guardian might not make the decisions you would have made.

Advance medical directives. Without any legal documents that state your wishes, healthcare providers are obligated to prolong your life using artificial means, if necessary, even if you really don’t want this. To avoid this happening to you, sign an advance medical directive. There are three types of advance medical directives: a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care (or health-care proxy) and a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). Each of these documents has its own purpose, benefits and drawbacks, and may not be effective in some states. Employ an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare your medical directives to make certain that you have the ones you’ll need and that all documents are consistent.

Living will. This document lets you stipulate the types of medical care you want to receive, despite the fact that you will die as a result of the choice. Check with an estate planning attorney about how living wills are used in your state.

Durable power of attorney for health care. Also called a “health-care proxy,” this document lets you designate a representative to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR). This is a physician’s order that tells all other medical staff not to perform CPR, if you go into cardiac arrest. There are two types of DNRs: (i) a DNR that’s only effective while you are hospitalized; and (ii) and DNR that’s used while you’re outside the hospital.

Durable power of attorney (DPOA). This document lets you to name an individual to act on your behalf. There are two types of DPOA: (i) an immediate DPOA. This document is effective immediately; and (ii) a springing DPOA, which isn’t effective until you’ve become incapacitated. Both types end at your death. Note that a springing DPOA isn’t legal in some states, so check with an estate planning attorney.

Incapacity can be determined by (i) physician certification where you can include a provision in a durable power of attorney naming one or more doctors to make the determination, or you can state that your incapacity will be determined by your attending physician at the relevant time; and (ii) judicial finding where a judge is petitioned to determine incapacity where a hearing is held where medical and other testimony will be heard.

Incapacity planning basics.

Reference: The Post-Searchlight (December 13, 2019) “How to go about planning for incapacity”

Are You Forgetting this Estate Planning Document?

Forbes’ recent article, “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document,” explains that a health care directive is a legal document in which an individual writes down his decisions for caregivers in the event of illness or dementia and makes instructions about end of life decisions. It can also provide guidance on how caregivers should handle the body after death.

Health care directives are also called living wills, durable health care powers of attorney, or medical directives, but they all serve the same function, which is to provide guidance and direction on how a person’s medical and death decisions should be made.

Despite the importance of a health care directive, a 2017 study found that only 33% of all Americans have one.

A critical decision in a health care directive is selecting an agent. This is a proxy who acts on your behalf to make decisions that are consistent with your wishes. It’s important to pick an individual whose values are aligned with yours. This is your advocate on decisions, like if you want to have treatment continued or just be kept comfortable in palliative care.

Once you choose an agent, review your directive with her. This will give her guidance if and when the need for her to step in arises.

The agent’s role in the health care directive doesn’t end at death but continues to ensure that your post-mortem wishes are carried out. When the person dies, the agent takes control of the body. Prior to funeral plans, the agent must make certain that any organ donation wishes are carried out. This decision is usually shown on a person’s driver’s license, but it’s also re-stated in the health care directive.

After the donation wishes are carried out, the agent helps to make sure funeral wishes are handled properly. These instructions can be detailed in the health care directive.

With a health care directive put in place, you make things easier for your family and loved ones.

Good estate planning brings peace of mind.

Reference: Forbes (December 13, 2019) “Two-Thirds Of All Americans Are Missing This Estate Planning Document”

How Can Celebrities’ Estate Planning Be Impacted by Alzheimer’s?

Forbes’ recent article, “Top 7 Celebrity Estates Impacted By Alzheimer’s Disease” looks at seven celebrity estates that were affected by Alzheimer’s disease and how the estate planning was done too late.

  1. Rosa Parks. The civil rights icon died at 92 in 2005. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Legal battles over her estate continue to this day. Her estate plan left her assets to a charitable institution she created. However, her nieces and nephews challenged the validity of her will and trust, due to her mental deficiencies and allegations of undue influence. That claim was settled, but there have been fights over broken deals and leaked secrets, claimed mismanagement of her estate and assets, allegations of bribery and corruption and a battle over Rosa’s missing coat that she wore at the time of her famous arrest at the Alabama bus stop in 1955.
  2. Gene Wilder. Wilder’s widow–his fourth wife, Karen–and his adopted daughter didn’t fight over Gene’s estate after he died, which shows good estate planning. Wilder makes the list because of how his widow used her husband’s struggle—which she kept private while he was alive—to bring attention to the terrible disease, including permitting his Willy Wonka character to be used in a campaign to raise awareness.
  3. Aaron Spelling. The Hollywood producer left behind a reported fortune worth $500 million. His death certificate listed Alzheimer’s disease as a contributing factor. Spelling changed his estate plan just two months before he died, reducing the share to his daughter, actress Tori, and his son, Randy, to $800,000 each.
  4. Etta James. Legendary blues singer Etta James passed away in 2012, at 73. Her family said she had been struggling with Alzheimer’s disease for several years, and her illness ignited an ugly court battle between her husband of more than 40 years and her son from a prior relationship, over the right to make her medical and financial decisions, including control of her $1 million account. Her husband, Artis Mills, alleged that the power of attorney she signed appointing her son as decision-maker was invalid, because she was incompetent when she signed it. Mills sued for control of the money to pay for Etta’s care. After some litigation, Etta’s leukemia was determined to be fatal, which led to a settlement. Mills was granted conservatorship and permitted to control sums up to $350,000 to pay for Etta’s care for the last few months of her life.
  5. Peter Falk. The Lieutenant Columbo actor died at 83 in 2011, after living with Alzheimer’s disease for years. His wife Shera and his adopted daughter Catherine fought in court for conservatorship to make his decisions. Shera argued that she had power of attorney and could already legally make Peter’s decisions for him, which included banning daughter Catherine from visits. The judge granted Shera conservatorship, but ordered a visitation schedule for Catherine. However, a doctor, who testified at the hearing, said that Falk’s memory was so bad that he probably wouldn’t even remember the visits.
  6. Tom Benson. The billionaire owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans was the subject of a lengthy and bitter court battle over control of his professional sports franchises, and hundreds of millions of dollars of other assets. Prior trusts, that he and his late wife established, left the sports franchises and other business interests to his daughter and two grandchildren. One of granddaughters operated the Saints as lead owner, until she was fired by her grandfather. Tom decided to take the controlling stock of the teams out of the trust and substitute other assets in their place, taking over control of the teams. However, his daughter and grandchildren fought the move. A 2015 court ruling declared Benson to be competent, despite allegations he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Benson then changed his will and trust and left everything to his third wife, Gayle. They all settled the dispute in 2017, leaving other assets to the daughter and grandchildren—but ultimately leaving Gayle in control of the Saints and Pelicans, after Benson’s death in 2018 at age 90.
  7. Glen Campbell. Campbell’s 2007 estate plan left out three of his adult children. They sued to challenge their disinheritance after he died. They dropped the case in 2018, without receiving a settlement. The fact that Campbell’s final will was drafted several years prior to his Alzheimer’s diagnosis was a critical factor in the outcome of the lawsuit.

The estate planning of these celebrities show the importance of proper estate planning, before it is too late. Wills and trusts that are created or changed after someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or similar conditions are more apt to be challenged in court.

Can you tackle elder law on your own?

Reference: Forbes (November 25, 2019) “Top 7 Celebrity Estates Impacted By Alzheimer’s Disease”

What Estate Planning Documents Does My Child Need Now That She’s an Adult?

Your child may graduate from high school and head off to college or start a full-time job or vocational training program. What estate planning documents do they need?

Although they’re still your children, the law sees them as are adults. As a result, parents’ “rights” to protect their adult children or make decisions for them immediately becomes quite limited. Your children need their own estate planning documents.

The Tewksbury Town Crier’s recent article, “Is your child turning 18? Here’s what you need to know,” explains that people often have an estate planning attorney draft the appropriate documents, so they will be legal and binding. Let’s look at a list of estate planning documents to consider and discuss with your young adult:

  • HIPAA Authorization: if your 18-year-old has a job in another state or will be attending college and needs medical records or assistance making appointments, ask her to go to the doctor’s and dentist’s office and sign forms that designate agents to act on her behalf. Due to HIPAA laws, information can’t be released without the adult child’s permission.
  • Healthcare Proxy: Have your 18-year old complete this document, make a copy, put a copy on each parent or guardian’s phone and put a copy on your child’s phone. This is for an emergency, like when the child can’t speak for herself. However, don’t wait for an emergency. If your child is at college, the school will only contact you as the emergency contact, but the proxy is between you and the hospital and includes mental health issues. A healthcare proxy lets you to participate in life and death decisions, should your child not be able to advocate for herself.
  • Durable Power of Attorney: A general durable power of attorney or financial power of attorney is the most basic of estate planning documents. It must also be signed by the 18-year old, designating his parents, guardians, or others as agents authorized to act on his behalf. This allows the agent access to financial information, so that he can participate in the financial issues with a university or business in the event that the child cannot.
  • FERPA: This is an educational records release, which allows the educational institution to share grades, transcripts and other related materials with parents or designated agents. Without it, the school will not provide you with access to any information.

Finally, encourage your young adult family member to register to vote.

Learn what you need to know about a power of attorney.

Reference: Tewksbury Town Crier (December 8, 2019) “Is your child turning 18? Here’s what you need to know”

Why Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

You might nominate both of your children as attorneys-in-fact, requiring that they agree to act on your behalf under a power of attorney.

Fed Week’s article, “Giving Someone the Power of Attorney,” uses the example that you might suffer a stroke with no prior warning signals and be unable to sign your name. This could mean serious financial consequences. However, executing a power of attorney can protect you in that kind of situation.

It’s important for just about everyone to have a power of attorney. You can name more than one attorney-in-fact, stipulating if they are permitted to act alone or if they must act in concert.

Of course, the individual you designate must be someone you trust. This is typically a close (albeit younger) member of the family or a close friend.

If desired, you can assign different responsibilities to different individuals. For instance, you can name your spouse to make your housing decisions and your son to manage all your financial affairs.

You may not want to give power over your assets to a family member, while you’re still in command of your faculties (or have capacity). To address this, many states recognize springing powers of attorney. These do not become effective, until specified events take place, like incompetency (certified by a doctor) or when you go into a nursing home.

If your state doesn’t recognize springing powers, you often can see the same result with a durable power of attorney that’s accompanied by a letter saying that the power will go into effect, if certain events occur. For example, in Florida, contingent or “springing” powers are not permitted after legislation was passed in 2011. However, the State of Minnesota does recognize them.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney. He or she can also keep these signed documents until they’re needed.

Your attorney will also know if the law also provides that powers of attorney properly executed under the laws of another state are recognized in your state of residence.

You can create a power of attorney without giving up control.

Reference: Fed Week (October 3, 2019) “Giving Someone the Power of Attorney”

Everyone Needs a Power of Attorney

What to Know About a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney, often called a POA for short, typically grant the agent specific powers to conduct financial matters for the principal. A healthcare POA grants the agent the authority to make specific medical decisions for the principal, typically at a time with the principal is unable to do so, due to medical incapacity.

The Aitken (SC) Standard’s recent article, “The durable power of attorney,” explains that there are three different types of powers of attorney: nondurable, springing and durable.

A nondurable power becomes operative right away, when executed by the principal. It remains in effect until it’s revoked by the principal, or until the principal becomes mentally incapacitated or dies.

The durable power of attorney states that it is to be revoked neither by the subsequent incapacitation of the principal, nor by the passage of time. The principal can change or revoke a durable POA at any time, before the onset of mental or physical incapacity. Death of the principal terminates a durable POA.

Springing powers of attorney are effective at a future date: the power “springs up” into existence when a specific event happens, like the illness or disability of the principal. An issue with springing powers that take effect when the principal is disabled, is that it may be hard to prove conclusively that the disability has actually happened. Springing powers are not allowed in Florida.

The big advantage of the durable POA is that it stays in effect after the principal has become impaired. The agent can act without court approval. It’s a good idea (and in some states the law) that you draft a different POA document for financial matters and another, separate one for those powers pertaining to healthcare decisions.

Have this document in place long before a person begins having trouble handling certain aspects of life. Without a durable power of attorney, family would be precluded from making many important financial decisions or important healthcare decisions on behalf of the loved one.

Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about all types of powers of attorney.

Find out how powers of attorney protects you as well as your heirs.

Reference: Aitken (SC) Standard (August 24, 2019) “The durable power of attorney”

When Do I Need a Power of Attorney?

When do you need a power of attorney? Always. Without a good durable power of attorney, your loved ones will have to go to court if you become incapacitated.

A power of attorney is a legal document signed by the “Principal,” granting the authority to another individual to make decisions on the Principal’s behalf. This document is only in effect during the lifetime of the Principal.

nj.com’s recent article on this topic asks “Who can sign for an incapacitated person if there’s no power of attorney?” The article noted that to have the authority to conduct financial transactions concerning the assets solely owned by the incapacitated person who failed to execute a power of attorney, a guardian will have to be appointed by the court.

A guardianship is a legal relationship established by the court, in which an individual is given legal authority over another when that person is unable to make safe and sound decisions regarding his or her person, or property.

For example, in New Jersey, an application will have to be filed in the probate part of the Superior Court, in the county where the incapacitated person resides.

If it’s not an emergency, a guardian also will need to be appointed to make medical decisions for an incapacitated person who hasn’t signed a health care proxy. This is a legal document that gives an agent the authority to make health care decisions for an incapacitated person. It will take effect, if the person is incapacitated or unable to communicate. The agent will make decisions that reflect the wishes of the incapacitated individual.

It’s typically not necessary to be appointed as an agent under a power of attorney or health care proxy or legal guardian for another person to sign an assisted living or nursing home admissions contract or a Medicaid application.

However, prior to signing another person’s admissions contract, read the fine print to be certain that you don’t become responsible for the bills!

Learn more about the importance of having a good durable power of attorney in place.

Reference: nj.com (July 22, 2019) “Who can sign for an incapacitated person if there’s no power of attorney?”

Can I Prevent a Will Contest After I’m Gone?

When the details of a will are announced, “bad blood” can continue to boil between estranged family members, who won’t even speak to one another. Good planning can avoid a will contest.

Wealth Advisor’s recent article, “How to Protect Your Will From Legal Challenges,” explains that unfortunately, a similar scene can also play out in real life, if you fail to make proper provisions.

However, with some planning, you can avoid these kinds of will contests and disputes—or at least minimize the risk of your will being contested by your loved ones.

Before you (and your spouse, if married) consider your will and your comprehensive estate plan, discuss estate matters with close family members who likely will be impacted. Give them a rough outline of your plans for the disposition of your assets and other important topics. These types of conversations can eliminate potential problems and better prepare your heirs. It will also avoid a dramatic “shocker,” like those seen on the big and small screen.

While there are no guarantees, review these ways to bulletproof your will from a will contest or legal challenge:

A no-contest clause. This is also known as an “in terrorem clause.” It says that if anyone named in your will challenges it, he or she is excluded from your estate.

Witnesses. Use witnesses who know you well, like close friends or business associates because they can state convincingly that you were of sound mind when you made out the will. You should also select witnesses in good health, preferably younger than you are, and easily located. You can also add extra witnesses for more protection.

A physician’s note. A doctor’s note about your health status is recommended, if you’re extremely ill or elderly. This can declare that you have the requisite mental capacity to make estate planning decisions, which can be useful in addressing legal challenges. Get the physician’s note near to the time that the will is signed.

In addition, you can protect your will from a will contest, by recording it. State laws may have something to say about this, so speak with your estate planning attorney.

Learn here the importance of having a will.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (August 12, 2019) “How to Protect Your Will From Legal Challenges”

Do You Need a Power of Attorney When Diagnosed with a Serious Illness?

Having a power of attorney is critical for the more than 130 million Americans living with chronic illness. Forbes’ recent article, “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness,” says that if you (or a loved one) are living with a chronic illness, you’ll likely need a good power of attorney and other important estate planning documents.

The article discusses these key estate planning documents, along with some suggestions that might help you customize them to your unique challenges because of chronic illness. These documents might need to be altered to better serve your needs or address your challenges. It’s best to get your estate planning documents in place, soon after your diagnosis.

HIPAA Release. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 governs the requirements for maintaining the confidentiality of protected or personal health information (PHI). A HIPAA Release lets someone you trust access your protected health information.

Living Will. This is a statement of your health care wishes and can address end of life decisions, as well as many other matters. If you’re living with a chronic illness, there are special considerations you might want to make in having a living will prepared. You might alter the general language to explain your specific disease. The fact that you’re living with disease doesn’t mean you might not face another health issue. Therefore, if you make modifications, set them out as examples of specific changes but retain the broad language that might be more typically used. You can address the disease you have, at what stage and with what anticipated disease course, and how if at all these matters should be reflected. You might wish to also speak to experimental treatments.

Health Care Proxy. This is also known as a medical power of attorney. It is a legal document in which you designate a trusted person to make medical decisions for you, if you’re unable to do so. If your health challenges might result in your becoming incapacitated, you can say that the agent appointed under your health proxy is also to be named as your guardian of the person, should a guardianship proceeding ever happen. Although this may not be binding on the court, it may be persuasive.

Physician Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). This is a document that may be included as part of your medical records. A POLST is meant for the end of life medical decisions and may not be as broad as what you might accomplish with a health proxy or living will.

Financial Power of Attorney. This legal document lets you designate a trusted person to handle your legal, tax, and financial matters, if you can’t. There are some unique considerations for those living with chronic illnesses to consider. One is the amount of control that should be given up now or at what stage. Relinquish enough control, so you can be assisted to the degree necessary, but not more than you need at any point in time. Another characteristic for your powers of attorney, is if you should sign a special power that restricts the agent’s authority to certain specified items or sign a general power that provides broad and almost unlimited powers to the agent.

A Revocable Trust. A frequent goal of a revocable trust is to avoid the publicity, costs and difficulties of probate. However, if you or a family member has a chronic illness, using a revocable trust may be a good way to provide for succession of management for your finances.

Learn when you need a power of attorney.

Reference: Forbes (July 5, 2019) “Estate Planning Musts When You Or A Or A Loved One Has A Chronic Illness”

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