4 Mistakes Families Can Make When Advocating for Senior Loved Ones

4 Mistakes Families Can Make When Advocating for Senior Loved Ones

How do you respond to a health care emergency involving a senior loved one? The COVID-19 crisis has forced millions of families to confront this important question. The pandemic has hit elder adults disproportionately harder than the rest of society. Too often families realized they lacked the basic health care documents needed to act effectively on their behalf.

The coronavirus scare is far from over and taking steps to protect a senior relative means addressing key estate planning items. Many people think of estate planning as pertaining to wills and trusts, but it also means drafting legally sound health care documents, such as a health care surrogate, a living will, a health care privacy release, and more.

Whether a hedge against the coronavirus, or other health considerations like dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, let us discuss four mistakes to avoid when using estate documents to advocate for a senior loved one:

  • Failing to understand a living will. A living will differs from a last will and testament. It is a completely separate legal document that tells others what an elderly family member’s personal choices are concerning their health care, and, in particular, end-of-life medical decisions. A living will is also different from a health care surrogate in that the elder adult’s “agent” must abide by the instructions laid out in the living will document. 
  • Not knowing what the elder adult wanted. If an elder loved one’s health care wishes are either unknown or unclear, then even the most expertly drafted documents can be lacking. Make sure to have specific conversations with an older loved one about health care and put them in writing. This can serve as the basis for constructing accurate health documents, or updating them, and provide future guidance to more effectively advocate for them.
  • Failing to understand a health care surrogate. A health care surrogate may be one of the most important health care estate items an elder family member and trusted advocate can have. They may be useless, however, if poorly constructed or if the agent fails to understand his or her granted authorities. 
  • Choosing the wrong “agent.” Advocating for an elder loved one involves a lot more than legal documents. While critical, they cannot impart tenacity, communication skills, or the ability to observe and question results. Those qualities must come from the chosen advocate. If they are lacking, families should not wait long before choosing someone who is up to the task.

Health care planning may have never been more important than it is now in these times of great uncertainty. If you or someone you know would like more information or guidance on related legal matters, contact our office to schedule a meeting.

How to Understand an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

How to Understand an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

A positive Alzheimer’s Diagnosis is a life-changing event both for the person receiving it and for those who care about him or her. Did you know that understanding the diagnosis and early stages of the disease are critical for identifying effective medical treatments, caregiving options, and future planning items aimed at providing long-term care?

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease and the most common form of dementia, which is a general term for memory loss and degenerative mental capability. Toxic changes in the brain occur long before any Alzheimer’s symptoms are exhibited. Abnormal protein deposits form plaques throughout the brain and cause healthy neurons to cease functioning. To diagnose Alzheimer’s, doctors conduct tests to assess memory impairment, cognitive reasoning skills, functional abilities, and behavioral changes. They also perform a series of tests to rule out other possible causes of impairment.

While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, family caregivers and adult children can better understand a senior loved one’s diagnosis by asking the evaluating physician important questions, such as:

  • What tests or tools were used to determine the diagnosis?
  • What were you measuring when the tests were performed?
  • How will the disease progress?
  • What treatment options are available?
  • What care planning services do you provide?
  • What support services or resources are available to help with the disease?

Early detection usually provides the best opportunities for long-term care and access to clinical trials. Traditional and experimental drug and non-drug interventions can ease the burden of the disease, and slow memory loss and other symptoms. If diagnosed during more developed stages, specializing physicians can still impart caregiving strategies to enhance safety and maximize quality of life for as long as possible.

Understanding an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis also helps families plan for the future. For example, a trusted family member can obtain a durable power of attorney document that would allow him or her to make binding decisions on the elder adult’s behalf when the elder adult is no longer competent. Advance health care directives, medical privacy releases, and updates to estate plans are also important planning items for long-term care needs and inheritance wishes.

If you or someone you know would like more information or guidance on related legal issues, we are here to help. As an elder law firm, we are committed to providing legal counsel on matters relating to degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Contact us today to schedule a meeting.

Older Americans Month Involves Much Needed Resources for Family Caregivers

Older Americans Month Involves Much Needed Resources for Family Caregivers

Since 1963, the month of May has been devoted to honoring and supporting the nation’s senior population. Older Americans are an indispensable part of our shared society and the annual May designation of National Older Americans Month formally recognizes their value. May is also National Elder Law Month, which is dedicated to promoting and providing legal support for a wide range of senior-related issues. 

Without the aid of family caregivers, however, millions of seniors could be at risk. Indeed, family caregivers are integral to year-round elder care. In honor of National Older Americans Month, National Elder Law Month and family caregivers across the country, let us share a few much needed resources on our blog.

1. Respite care. Caregiving can be a tremendous sacrifice in terms of time, money, and opportunity costs, especially if a senior loved one has a physical or mental health disability. Often, caregivers are at risk of developing their own health problems due to exhaustion and unmet needs. Respite care, however, can allow caregivers to take breaks and care for themselves.

2. Health Care. Older Americans need good health care. They also need to find a way to pay for it. Let us share a few resources with you that can help you and your family with both.

  • Department of Veterans Affairs. The V.A. provides a vast array of support services for qualifying senior veterans and their families, including a paid family caregiver benefit. The program is called Veteran-Directed Home and Community Based Services. Elder law attorneys are potent advocates for senior veterans’ rights and often help secure V.A. benefits if they are denied.
  • Medicare. Medicare is a massive federal health program for people aged 65 and older. Senior caregivers might not realize that Medicare covers home health and skilled nursing services in certain circumstances.
  • Medicaid. Medicaid is a federal-state partnership program that provides health coverage for people with limited income and assets. Medicaid can also pay for long-term care in nursing homes.
  • SHIPs. State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, or SHIPs, provide free support to Medicare beneficiaries and their caregivers.

3. Legal. You need a trusted advocate on your side at all times. Navigating the myriad of issues that Older Americans and their families face, is not always easy. Know that, at all times, we are here to help.

  • National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys — NAELA is a nonprofit association of lawyers and organizations that provides legal services for older adults and people with special needs. NAELA established National Elder Law Month as a way to acknowledge the elder law profession and provide critical support for the nation’s senior community.

We know that you may have questions based on these resources we are sharing with you. If you or someone you know would like more information or specific guidance on legal matters, do not wait to contact us today.

Significant Life Events Mean Re-Evaluating Your Estate Plan

Significant Life Events Mean Re-Evaluating Your Estate Plan

The truth is without a legally sound Florida estate plan, there is no guarantee that your end-of-life wishes will be followed. When we discuss this with our clients, we let them know that this is true for both financial and health care considerations. Once a solid estate plan is created, however, it may also need to be re-evaluated after significant life events.

While most of us are focusing on the pandemic, and this does qualify as a life event, that is not the only time we need to think about potential changes. If a married couple divorces, for example, and so-called “Grey Divorces” continue to be on the rise, then removing an ex-spouse from your estate planning requires legal attention. Be aware that it is not as easy as crossing out his or her name in red ink. 

Similarly, including a new family member in your estate plan due to marriage or the birth of a child or grandchild involves more than just writing their name in the margin. Most wills and trusts can be changed at any time while the estate creator is alive, providing that he or she is mentally competent, but a formally executed plan is required. Your Florida estate planning attorney can help you identify when new changes need to be made to your plan to accomplish your goals. 

Other significant life events requiring an estate plan re-evaluation can include, but are not limited to, any of the following:

  • Death of a beneficiary
  • Significant illness or death in your primary decision maker
  • A life-threatening health diagnosis
  • Catastrophic injury
  • Large increase or decrease in the estate value
  • Moving to a state with different tax laws
  • Changes in federal tax law
  • Dramatic market changes
  • Children or grandchildren reaching the age of majority

While you may only have a last will and testament right now, it may be time to consider adding a trust agreement. Similar to wills, trusts are another common estate planning item.  A trust is a fiduciary arrangement that allows a third party, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries. 

Trusts can be established in many ways and specify exactly how and when the assets held in trust should pass to beneficiaries. Significant life or market events also mean re-evaluating a trust and may require changing trust beneficiaries or disposing of assets held in trust given a marriage, death, divorce, market fluctuation or other important reason. Any change, however, would require a formal amendment to the existing trust, while outright revoking an existing trust would involve a series of legal considerations. 

These are just a handful of considerations to get you thinking about what you need from your estate plan. We know you may have questions right now and are here to answer them. Do not hesitate to contact us to schedule a meeting now, or at any point in the future.

Tips for People Who Cannot Visit Loved Ones in Nursing Homes

Tips for People Who Cannot Visit Loved Ones in Nursing Homes

Human beings are social creatures. Similar to animals, we live in family groups for much of our lives and tend to seek out companionship. For the most part, we also seem to find comfort in human contact during stressful or difficult times. If the findings of a recent survey are any indication, this instinct or need to be together persists throughout our lives.

Let us share a bit more information here. In the 2019 survey of people with loved ones in nursing homes, nearly 55 percent said they do not spend enough time visiting. Those who felt this way visit their loved ones four times per month, and devote less than two hours to each visit. By contrast, participants who said they spend enough time visiting their loved ones did so more often. They also devoted more time to each visit.

Now, with the Coronavirus Pandemic prompting skilled nursing homes across our state to halt visitation, residents cannot see their loved ones in person at all. We all worry about not only how our loved ones are being cared for, but also want to ensure that they do not feel increased isolation or depression. Let us share some simple tips to keep in touch and ease your fears during this time.

1. Send photographs and small gifts. Start by checking with staff to see if it is okay to send your loved one a care package. If you can, send a homemade card along with a few of his or her favorite things. Depending on his or her preferences, consider sending paperback books, music, snacks, puzzles or games. Exchanging photographs is another easy way to stay connected while visits are prohibited. If they have not done so already, ask the nursing home staff about starting a program to facilitate this activity. That way, your loved one could send photos to you, and you could take photos to send to them.

2. Use technology to facilitate communication. If your loved one has access to email, feel free to communicate that way. You may also want to ask if your loved one can have access to video conferencing services such as FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype. If not, there is nothing wrong with making routine telephone calls or sending letters.

3. Get the information you need as well. Do not hesitate to request regular updates from facility staff, including administrators. This may alleviate any fear or concerns you have about your loved one’s well being. You can also request information about any protocols implemented to promote staff and patient safety.

In the meantime, we are here to address any legal concerns you may have about visitation. Simply contact our law firm to arrange a telephone consultation with attorney Scott Selis at your convenience.