What You Think You Know About Elder Law Could Hurt You

Jan 27, 2014  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law, Estate Planning

Elder law attorneys commonly hear a lot of myths about this area of the law. Whether you get your advice from someone who is well intended but uninformed, hear something from a friend, or see something on television, relying on bad information could harm you as you create an estate plan or consider elder law topics. If you ever have a question about an elder law issue or need assistance, you should talk to your attorney for specific advice. In the meantime, here are two of commonly held myths that many people believe about elder law and estate planning.

You can qualify for Medicaid by giving your property away.

When people consider the costs of long-term care, some of them turn to Medicaid as a way to cover the expenses. While Medicaid will pay for nursing home expenses or similar costs, not just anyone can use it. To qualify for Medicaid you have to meet some fairly strict income and asset eligibility criteria.

A lot of people are aware of the Medicaid eligibility restrictions, but they believe that they can meet these requirements by simply giving their property away. For example, people who believe they own more than the maximum Medicaid asset level believe that they can give away their property to their family and then apply for the program.

This isn’t entirely true. While you can reduce your assets by making gifts, Medicaid will look at the gifts you’ve given within the past five years. If the gifts you’ve made during that time put you over the eligibility limit, you won’t be able to qualify.

I have a will, so I don’t need to worry about elder law.

When people hear the term “elder law,” many of them associate it with estate planning. While it’s true that estate planning and elder law cover many of the same issues, they also address very different concenrs.

Your estate is the collection of assets and obligations you leave behind after you die. A last will and testament is a tool you can use to choose how you want to distribute this property to others. Unfortunately, a will isn’t the only thing you will need when you are creating an estate plan, and it does nothing to address some significant elder law issues.

For example, you cannot use your last will and testament in order to make medical choices. Wills only apply after you die.  If you want to communicate your medical wishes to your physicians in the event you become incapacitated, a last will and testament will do you no good. Creating a good estate or elder law plan requires you to address a wide range of issues, and develop the proper tools that address them.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Estate Planning in the Face of Alzheimer’s

Jan 27, 2014  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law

If you, or a close family member or loved one, has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, there are many estate planning issues you will need to consider. As with any significant medical condition, a diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease should prompt you to seek out the advice of an experienced estate planning lawyer in Washington. The progressive nature of Alzheimer’s disease means that your time to create an estate plan is limited, and you need to act quickly. To help you get started, here are two issues you need to consider.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Capacity

There is currently no treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, the disease has different stages, each of which can lead to different symptoms. In order to create an estate plan in light of Alzheimer’s disease, you must be sure that you’re capable of making choices.

The ability to make choices is necessary whenever you create a legal document. As someone with Alzheimer’s disease, your ability to make these choices could be compromised depending on how far the disease has progressed.

Your diagnosis and the opinion of your physician are critical when you’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As long as you retain your decision-making capacity, you can make an estate plan. However, if the disease progresses to the point where you lose your capacity to make decisions, a court will have to get involved to appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf.

Incapacitation Planning

Because Alzheimer’s disease eventually leads to incapacitation, taking steps to prepare for that event is essential for anyone diagnosed with the disease. When you lose your ability to make choices, you will need someone to manage your affairs. Whether you’re single or married, you have the ability to choose who those people will be.

First, you can create a durable financial power of attorney to appoint an agent to manage your financial concerns. The power of attorney can allow your agent to begin managing your finances now, or at a later time. You can choose anyone you like, but spouses, close relatives, or even close friends or professional advisors are common choices.

Second, you’ll need to create advance medical directives. Like a power of attorney, you can appoint someone who will make medical decisions for you, and who can talk to your doctors about your condition when you cannot make choices for yourself. Similarly, you can create a document that states what your medical wishes are in the event you lose capacity.

Beyond incapacity planning, you’ll also want to create an estate plan that addresses what will happen to your property after you die. For example, you’ll want to appoint an executor to manage your estate, as well as make inheritance decisions.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Are You Doing Too Much? The Difference Between Caretaking and Caregiving

Jan 26, 2013  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law

As more people spend time providing elder care services to parents or other elderly family members, they often experience stress or difficulties because of the services they provide. Elder care, especially for untrained volunteers, can be very difficult, and it’s important to know when you need to step back and think about the difference between caregiving and caretaking.

Caregiving and caretaking are both words that describe elder care, but they can also be used to distinguish between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one. A caretaker is someone who provides care but in a manner that is unhealthy either to the caretaker or to the elderly person. Caregiving, on the other hand, can be used to describe a healthy relationship where both the caretaker and the elderly person have a positive experience.

So how do you know the difference? It’s a fine line, but caretaking is often stressful, frustrating, and exhausting. Caregiving, on the other hand, is loving and, though it can be stressful at times, is something you draw strength and inspiration from.

Caretaking will often lead to feelings of depression in the person who provides care. The long hours, stressful situation, and feeling of constant pressure are common feelings for caretakers who are overwhelmed by the process. Also, unhealthy caretaking relationships do not give the person providing care a sense of accomplishment. Caregivers, on the other hand, come away feeling better about themselves knowing that they have helped someone else with their problems.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

The Importance of Carrying an In Case of Emergency Card

Jan 25, 2013  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law, Estate Planning

We never know when we might be involved in a serious car accident, succumb to a medical emergency, or become a victim of a violent crime. If you are overcome by one of these situations, wouldn’t it be a comfort to know that emergency responders and health care providers had the information they required in order to save your life? And if they were unable to save your life, wouldn’t you want your loved ones to have the news of your passing be delivered as gently as possible? That is the purpose of an In Case of Emergency (ICE) card.

An ICE card usually contains the following information:

- Your name and contact information;

- Listing of any medical conditions with which you have been diagnosed;

- Listing of your known allergies;

- Name and contact information of the person(s) you wish to be contacted in an emergency;

- Name and contact information of your primary care physician;

- Name of your insurance provider, as well as your policy number.

Creating an ICE card is relatively simple and easy to do. There are some for-purchase websites that provide ICE cards that go into great detail, but there are also many free templates to be found online as well. One such website belongs to AAA, and it contains a free template that is easy to print and understand.

If you have not yet taken the time to create an ICE card, you should do so as soon as possible.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Maintaining Independence as a Senior

Jan 24, 2013  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law

As seniors age they often experience the desire to keep their interests static and to not branch out into new things. While this tendency is natural, it can also be a hindrance to your ability to maintain an independent lifestyle. Here are a few tips you can use to help you preserve your ability to live on your own terms.

Seek financial advice.

A good financial planner can help you maintain your financial independence by not only organizing your finances, but also by proposing new financial tools of which you may not be aware. Your advisor should also be able to help you determine how much your lifestyle costs and develop a plan that allows you to maintain that lifestyle for long as possible.

Update your home.

Elderly people have different needs than younger people have, and while you may want to remain in your home it’s always a good idea to consider new updates or improvements that can better allow you to do so. Simple additions, such as automatic lighting and additional grab bars or handrails in the bathroom can make your home environment much easier to navigate.

Stay active socially.

Even if you have good family relations and close friends, it’s always a good idea to try new things. That doesn’t mean you have to suddenly join a group of strangers, but it can mean taking simple steps, such as going on a regular walk in a park or attending community plays or other social functions.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Grandparents Who Become Guardians

Jan 22, 2013  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Blended Families, Elder Law

When parents become unable or unwilling to continue caring for their children, often the grandparents come to the rescue. Many serve solely as a guardian for their grandchild or grandchildren, while some grandparents proceed a step further and adopt the children. Without the love and care provided by these grandparents, these children would likely become another sad case in the state’s files. So what is a guardianship? For that matter, what is the difference between a guardianship and adoption?

A guardianship occurs when the court gives someone, who is not the child’s parent, custody over the child’s person or power over the child’s property. There are three different scenarios in which a guardianship may end: (a) the court may determine the guardianship is no longer needed because the natural parents have been deemed fit, (b) the child turns 18, or (c) the child is emancipated.

Serving as a guardian is a big responsibility. A guardian will be tasked with providing the child a place to live; monitoring and guiding the child’s conduct; making sure that the child gets an education; and, providing the child with proper food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.

The difference between a guardianship and adoption is the effect it has it on the natural parents. If the court grants an adoption by the guardian then that will completely sever the natural parents from the child. They will no longer be able to regain custody, or even to involve themselves in the life of that child.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Three Ways to Handle Parents That Become Increasingly More Difficult as They Age

Jan 22, 2013  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law

Getting older is difficult, but dealing with a parent that lets everyone know just how bad it is is not so easy either. Millions of Americans provide unpaid care to elderly parents each year, and, whether it’s done out of love or just to save money, providing this care does not have to drive you insane. If you are providing care to a difficult aging parent, remembering the following information can help you retain your sanity and help to relieve your stress.

Remember: You need to put yourself first sometimes.

Sacrificing your sanity or your own marriage is not required. Recognize that you cannot do everything for everyone. If you can, try and delegate some tasks and responsibilities to other people that are able to help you. Similarly, if providing care is testing your temper then you need to recognize that, own it, and find someone who can do the job before you lose that temper.

Remember: Know your limitations.

Instead of delegating tasks you have undertaken, this concept reminds you not to undertake some tasks in the first place. In short, you needn’t think of “no” as a bad word.

Remember: Account for their condition.

Your parent may say things that are hurtful to you, or not notice things you’re doing for them, but remember to account for their condition before you get upset. For example, if your parent has dementia, their brain is not functioning properly so you shouldn’t expect them to praise your kind actions.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Should You Take the Keys Away from Your Parent?

Dec 04, 2012  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law

Sometimes, it becomes necessary to take the keys away from an aging parent for safety reasons. Doing so is never an easy decision since driving is such an integral part of our society. The following considerations may help you to decide when it’s time to broach the subject with your parent.

Driving a car involves both physical and mental ability, and both must be considered when evaluating a person’s fitness to drive. How is your parent’s vision? Does he or she have cataracts, glaucoma, or another vision-related condition that may limit or prevent safe driving? Perhaps a restriction, such as no night driving, would be more appropriate than no driving altogether. Consult your parent’s optometrist or ophthalmologist for help in identifying vision problems and solutions.

What is your parent’s physical ability? Does he or she lack the strength to control the vehicle properly? As people age, physical strength and size diminishes. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most elderly people engage in no regular, physical activity. As a result, their bodies are frail, which is why seniors have the highest death rate from car accidents. Although your parent can’t stop their body from shrinking, they can take steps to limit its physical decline by engaging in some type of aerobic and strength conditioning program.

Finally, consider going for a ride with your parent behind the wheel. Take that time to evaluate the way in which they are handling the vehicle. Do they allow the vehicle to drift? What is their driving speed in relation to the speed limit? Do they seem confused?

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Frequently Used Elder Law Terms

Dec 03, 2012  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law

Attorney-in-fact. Anyone who creates a power of attorney chooses another person or organization who has the legal right make decisions on that person’s behalf. The person or organization chosen is known as an attorney-in-fact or an agent. Attorneys-in-fact do not have to be lawyers. Being named to that position does not allow them to do anything other than act in the way the power of attorney document specifies.

Incapacity. Under the law, an incapacitated person, also known as an incompetent person, cannot enter into new agreements or make decisions on his or her own behalf. A court must determine if a person is incapacitated and, once it does, that person must have a guardian or conservator appointed over him or her. It falls to the guardian to make decisions for incapacitated person.

Guardian or conservator. Courts can appoint a guardian, sometimes known as a conservator, for an incapacitated person. Guardianship responsibilities will usually be divided between two different types of guardians. One guardian will have the responsibility to manage the incapacitated person’s financial responsibilities and property, while the other will have the responsibility to make decisions about the person’s daily life, including medical or healthcare choices.

Advance Directive. Along with the power of attorney, a person can make his or her own choices about who will make decisions should that person become incapacitated. With an advance medical directive, also known as advance directive, health care proxy, or healthcare power of attorney, a person can choose someone who will act to make medical decisions, should incapacitation occur.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Financial Traps Retirees Should Avoid

Oct 17, 2012  /  By: Geoffrey H. Garrett, Estate Planning Attorney  /  Category: Elder Law, Financial Planning

For retirees and those on a fixed income, financial planning is necessary to ensure you don’t run into financial problems. Because you’re retired, you cannot count on bringing more money in from work, so you’ll have to be doubly careful to avoid common financial pitfalls that can quickly get out of hand. Here are several of the most common.

Credit Card Bills

If you’ve used credit cards in the past and have maintained a balance from month to month, you’ll definitely want to stop this habit before you retire. A credit card balance, and its associated interest rates, will eat away at your retirement money without any good to show for it. If you need to get some credit card debt under control, you might want to find a personal loan with lower interest rates and focus on paying the loan off while not using the cards.

Reverse Mortgages

A reverse mortgage allows you to use the equity in your home to get an additional monthly income or a lump sum payment while agreeing to pay off the loan when you die. You need to carefully consider the various fees and other factors involved in a reverse mortgage before you agree to take one, though they can be worth it for some people.

Reverse Pension Plans

While reverse mortgages are sometimes a good idea, reverse pension plans are always a scam. If anyone offers you a reverse pension plan or reverse retirement plan, you need to walk away immediately.

Byrd : Garrett, PLLC is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.