Why Health Care Documents are Critical to Your Estate Plan

Why Health Care Documents are Critical to Your Estate Plan

Many of our clients tell us that creating a last will and testament is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about estate planning. While a will is a fundamental component of successful estate planning, including detailed health care documents in your estate plan is an effective way of ensuring any medical decisions made on your behalf are ones that you would approve of.

One of the main benefits of establishing advance directives is that you, as the creator, have the opportunity to create specific and detailed instructions with regards to the future medical care you wish to receive. Further, by creating advance directives, you have the ability to choose someone to act as your health care agent in the event you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself.

To help you make an informed decision about the types of planning documents you need, let us share three important health care documents that you should consider adding to your estate plan.

  1. Living Will

A living will is the first of these important health care documents. A living will is a legally-binding document that allows you to lay out your medical wishes in the event you are diagnosed with a terminal illness or experience a serious accident or injury. By creating this important planning document, you can provide as much detail as you like about your future medical treatment and end-of-life care wishes. This will lift some of the burden from your loved ones and will make it easier for them to make decisions about your care that align with your wishes.

  1. Health Care Power of Attorney

Through a health care power of attorney, you can designate an agent who has the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so yourself. It is almost impossible to plan for every conceivable circumstance, establishing a health care power of attorney can help accommodate for unexpected situations that arise. We want to share one cautionary note, however, about setting up a health care power of attorney. Be sure to choose someone you trust implicitly as your agent, as these types of decisions can be life and death.

  1. HIPAA Authorization

In order for your agent to gain access to your medical records as needed, he or she must have HIPAA authorization. HIPAA was created to protect your privacy when it comes to your health. Ensuring that your agent has the authority to access your records will make it easier for him or her to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and are unable to do so. Discuss with your estate planning attorney whether this authorization should be included as a part of your health care documents or as a stand alone document.

These are just a few of the health care documents you can add to your estate plan. Are you ready to discuss your legal planning needs and find out which documents fit best with your planning goals? Do not wait to get in touch with our office. As always, we are here to be a resource for you.

7 Tips for Evaluating Your Parents Potential Long-Term Care Needs Over the Holidays

7 Tips for Evaluating Your Parents Potential Long-Term Care Needs Over the Holidays

Choosing to visit your aging parent during the holidays can be a great gift from you to them. It is during these visits, however, that you may learn that your parents are not physically or mentally able to care for themselves as well as in the past. You may determine during your visit that your aging parents are having significant problems dealing with activities of daily living and may need more help in the home.

 

We know how difficult this realization can be for you and your parents. As you face these challenges together, it is important for you to determine what strategies may best provide the support they need. Let us share seven tips for talking to your aging parents this holiday season that we share with our clients, friends, family, and local professionals in our community.

 

  1. Are they having issues driving? As we age, driving becomes more difficult. It is not just the physical act of driving, but also, response times and observations. Be sure to let your parents drive you both short and long distances to determine how they are managing this task.

 

  1. How is their day-to-day health? Observe your parents throughout your visit, taking time to see how they are doing throughout the day. Are mornings easier? Do they go to sleep after dinner? How quickly can they move between tasks?

 

  1. Can they easily prepare meals? If your parents offer to prepare a meal, let them. Although many families go out to eat during visits or an adult child cooks, ask your parents to help. Be on the lookout for whether or not your parents have a hard time remembering frequently used recipes, where ingredients are placed, or remembering to turn off kitchen appliances, such as the oven.

 

  1. How many medicines are they taking? Medicines increase for many Older Americans. Ask them to share their medication list and schedule for taking prescriptions. Are there duplications? Can your parents tell you why they take specific medicines? Is anything expired? Do they need help opening bottles? There are many pharmacies now that will organize medications by day and time. Talk to your parents about this type of service and if it would be beneficial.

 

  1. What is the state of their house? If you can, stay at least one night in the home as you may not be able to observe the state of the house in a quick visit. Is it clean? It it well-maintained? Do your parents need help with organization or clutter?

 

  1. Is their estate planning up to date? Ask your parents about their estate planning. The documents within their planning, such as the durable power of attorney, will be necessary in a crisis should you need to make decisions for them. What documents do they have included in their estate plan? Who is their decision maker? Is there an attorney you may talk to in a crisis?

 

  1. Have they created a plan for long-term care? It is never too early to plan for long-term care. Ask your parents what plans they have created so far. Although this can be a difficult conversation to have, it is never too early to talk to them about what they want so you can both be prepared for the future.

 

We want you to know that we are here to help you answer these questions. We can work with your aging parents and you both now and in the new year. Do not wait to contact us to ask us your questions.

A Marriage in Your Family is Cause for Updating Your Estate Plan in the New Year

A Marriage in Your Family is Cause for Updating Your Estate Plan in the New Year

One of the most costly mistakes people can make, especially as they get older, is not having a comprehensive estate plan. For those who do have one, failing to regularly update it can be just as costly. Without a legally sound plan, there is no guarantee that your wishes will be honored and your property will go to the people you love or the organizations you support.

There is no better time to address this issue than at the start of a new year. Significant life changes or new tax laws, for example, may have occurred in the preceding calendar year or since your last update. Addressing your estate plan at the beginning of a new year offers the chance to get a jump start on the year to come.

One of the most common reasons to update an existing plan is marriage. Did you, your children or another family member named in your estate planning documents get married since your plan was created or last updated? An estate planning attorney could help you determine how that might affect your will, trust, beneficiary designations, insurance policies or other important estate documents.

Marriage changes family structure, and estate documents need to reflect those changes. For instance, if you were recently married, designating your spouse as a beneficiary to your property, or perhaps naming him or her as a personal representative to your will, would be something to handle right away. In the case of a living will, your new spouse should be made aware in writing of your health care wishes in the event you become terminally ill. A power of attorney document also could be crafted to give your spouse the ability to make decisions on your behalf relating to financial, legal and health care matters.

Estate planning is just the first part of the equation. You and your new spouse need to discuss your long-term care future. What you may not know is that when it comes to being able to afford the high cost of long-term care, you need to give your new spouse the ability to plan and work with an elder care attorney in the event of a crisis.

If the marriage is not your first, an additional set of considerations may apply. A review of previous estate documents would be required to understand how any prior arrangements would impact your plans moving forward. For instance, if you were contractually obligated through a previous divorce to keep your ex-spouse as beneficiary to a retirement account, you may not be able to update the beneficiary designation to your current spouse. Doing so could inadvertently cause a series of avoidable problems.

In any case, consulting with your estate planning attorney can provide the most efficient path to creating an overall estate plan that confidently meets your needs. We encourage you to ask us your questions. Do not wait to schedule a meeting to create the right estate plan for you now and in the new year.

Do You Know the Ways You Can Say Thank You to a Caregiver?

Do You Know the Ways You Can Say Thank You to a Caregiver?

While many of us consider November and Thanksgiving the season of giving back, did you know that November is also National Family Caregivers Month? This is a great time to show your appreciation and gratitude to the caregiver in your life. Whether your caregiver is a hired professional that is considered part of the family or an unpaid family member who sacrifices his or her time to care for your loved one, being a caregiver is one of the most selfless roles there is.

Caregiving is a full-time profession that goes further than a typical nine-to-five job. Being a caregiver is a 24-hour, 7 days a week commitment that follows the caregiver home each day. Many caregivers share that because of the intense nature of the position, they frequently neglect to take care of their own health and well-being. This is why we want to share with you four ways to say thank you to the caregiver in your life this National Family Caregivers Month and into the remainder of the holiday season.

  1. Educate yourself about caregiver health.

Caregivers spend so much time taking care of your loved one, they sometimes neglect to take care of themselves. Becoming familiar with signs that your caregiver is overwhelmed and may be in need of some time off is one way that you can show your appreciation for your caregiver.

  1. Encourage respite breaks.

Respite care is an effective way of allowing the caregiver in your life to take a well-earned break. These programs provide a place where your senior loved one can go and interact with other seniors in a supervised facility, so you know they are still being watched over and their needs taken care of.

  1. Propose counseling or support groups.

Sometimes, the best gift is just having somebody to talk to. Your loved one’s caregiver may not feel like they can openly discuss their frustrations or feelings with you. Encouraging him or her to attend one-on-one counseling or a caregiver support group can provide an outlet for the caregiver to discuss their feelings and receive advice from people who can relate.

  1. Purchase a small gift.

You do not need to spend a lot of money to give your caregiver a meaningful gift. Purchasing a gift card to his or her favorite coffee shop for an afternoon pick-me-up, or offering to take the caregiver out to lunch can help put a smile on his or her face.

Above all, remember to say thank you to the caregiver in your life. A simple thank you can be especially meaningful and shows the caregiver that you recognize and appreciate the work he or she is performing. Do not hesitate to contact our office if you would like some more ideas on how to say show your appreciation to your caregiver this holiday season.

Legal – Medicaid Long-Term Care Benefits

Legal – Medicaid Long-Term Care Benefits

‘Tis Better to Give than Receive, but … It’s the giving season. Whichever holiday you celebrate, most enjoy showing their affection by giving gifts to loved ones. For larger families, these gifts can amount to a lot of money each year.

And that’s wonderful, but if you might need to apply for Medicaid long-term care benefits, you need to be careful. Giving away money or property can jeopardize your eligibility. Here’s why you need to speak with an experienced elder care/elder law attorney about gifting.

If you give assets away to someone other than your spouse within five years before applying for long-term Medicaid, you might be ineligible for benefits. Medicaid pays for some or all your care at home, in an Assisted Living Community, or in a Nursing Home.

The length of time you’ll be ineligible depends upon how much you give away. Even small gifts affect eligibility. The 2017 IRS rules allow gifts up to $14,000 a year, but Medicaid rules allow the government to deny benefits anyway.

And there is no exception for gifts to charities. So, gifts for holidays, weddings, birthdays, and graduations could all cause ineligibility. If you buy something for a friend or relative, this could also result in a denial.

If you face this problem, you can overcome it, but you’ll need help. To overcome a denial, you’ll have to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the purpose of the gift had nothing to do with becoming eligible for Medicaid. “Clear and Convincing” is almost the same as “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.”

So, before giving away assets or property, check with your elder law attorney to ensure that it won’t affect your Medicaid eligibility. Contact us today with any questions you may have.

Two Under-Used VA Pension Benefits That Can Help Pay for Long-Term Care Needs

Two Under-Used VA Pension Benefits That Can Help Pay for Long-Term Care Needs

We know that Florida seniors often find themselves in a difficult situation. As their health care and living expenses increase, their ability to work and generate income decreases. It is an unsettling scenario, but one that the Veterans Administration may be able to help with for those eligible for VA pensions.

A VA pension is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to low-income wartime vets who are either age 65 or older, disabled, living in nursing homes, receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income. An additional, and under-used, type of pension benefit that all impacted veterans should be aware of is called Aid and Attendance. This is available for veterans and the surviving spouses of veterans whose unreimbursed medical expenses exceed their monthly income. The purpose is to provide financial assistance for those who need help performing activities of daily living.

If you are not sure if you or your loved one qualifies, consider contacting an accredited VA attorney to help determine your eligibility or for information about how to access the VA Pension with the Aid and Attendance benefit. Remember, veterans whose income is above the limit for a VA pension also may qualify if they have large medical expenses that are not reimbursable. Your VA accredited attorney can discuss with you options to become eligible or how to find the long-term care support you need.

Aid and Attendance support is available for vets who served at least 90 days, with at least one day during wartime. It is not reserved for those with service-related disabilities. Veterans, and their surviving spouses, are eligible if they meet the above criteria and if they need aid from another person to help them perform basic living activities, such as:

  • Assistance with personal care needs, like bathing, dressing and using the bathroom.
  • Living in a nursing home.
  • Are mentally or physically incapacitated.
  • If they are bedridden.
  • Suffer from extremely poor eyesight.

A second long-term care benefit tied to the VA Pension program is known as the Housebound Allowance. This underused pension feature offers an additional monthly monetary benefit for veterans who are significantly restricted to their homes because of a permanent disability. Eligibility rules may require a written statement from a doctor describing a qualifying vet’s needs and limitations and you will want to discuss this with your VA accredited attorney as well.

Finally, Aid and Attendance and Housebound Allowance benefits are paid on top of monthly pension payments. This means that they increase the overall pension amount, making people who are not normally eligible for a basic VA pension due to excessive income potentially eligible for these long-term care items.

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers for you. We encourage you to ask us your questions this Veterans Day or, at any time, schedule a consultation with attorney Scott Selis to get the elder care support you need.