Thursday, November 21, 2013
Making Your Home Senior-Proof
Let’s face it – it’s tough getting old. The aches, pains, and pills often associated with aging are things that many members of the baby-boomer generation know all too well by now. Though you might not be able to turn back time, you can help an aging loved one enjoy their golden years by giving them a safe, affordable place to call home. If an aging parent is moving in with you and your family, there are many quick fixes for the home that will create a safe environment for seniors.
Start by taking a good look at your floor plan. Are all the bedrooms upstairs? You may want to think about turning a living area on the main floor into a bedroom. Stairs grow difficult with age, especially for seniors with canes or walkers. Try to have everything they need accessible on one floor, including a bed, full bathroom, and kitchen. If the one-floor plan isn’t possible, make sure you have railings installed on both sides of staircases for support. A chair lift is another option for seniors who require walkers or wheelchairs.
Be sure to remove all hazards in hallways and on floors. Get rid of throw rugs – they can pose a serious tripping hazard. Make sure all child or pet toys are kept off the floor. Add nightlights to dark hallways for easy movement during the night when necessary. Also install handrails for support near doorframes and most importantly, in bathrooms.
Handlebars next to toilets and in showers are essential for senior safety. Use traction strips in the shower, which should also be equipped with a seat and removable showerhead. To avoid accidental scalding, set your hot water heater so that temperatures can’t reach boiling. You may also want to consider a raised seat with armrests to place over your toilet, to make sitting and standing easier.
This applies to all other chairs in the house as well. Big, puffy chairs and couches can make it very difficult for seniors to sit and stand. Have living and dining room chairs with stable armrests, and consider an electronic recliner for easy relaxation.
To keep everyone comfortable and help avoid accidents, store all frequently used items in easily accessible places. Keep heavy kitchen items between waist and chest height.
Even with appropriate precautions, not all accidents can be avoided. Purchasing a personal alarm system like Life Alert can be the most important preparation you make for a senior family member. If they are ever left alone, Life Alert provides instant medical attention with the push of a button that they wear at all times.
Amidst all the safety preparations, remember that it’s important to keep the brain healthy, too. Have puzzles, cards, large-print books and magazines, computer games, and simple exercises available to keep seniors of healthy body and mind.
These simple preparations can not only help extend the life of your loved one, but help to make sure their remaining years are happy and healthy.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Guardianships and How to Avoid Them
If a person becomes mentally or physically handicapped to a point where they can no longer make rational decisions about their person or their finances, their loved ones may consider a guardianship. In Texas, there are two types of guardians - a guardian of the person would make decisions concerning the physical person of the disabled individual, and a guardian of the estate would make decisions about the finances.
Typically, a loved one who is seeking a guardianship will petition the appropriate court to be appointed guardian. The court will require a medical doctor to make an examination of the disabled individual, also referred to as the ward, and appoint an attorney to represent the ward’s interests. The court will then typically hold a hearing to determine whether a guardianship should be established. If so, the ward would no longer have the ability to make his or her own medical or financial decisions. The guardian must file annual reports on the status of the ward and his finances.
Guardianships can be an expensive legal process, and in many cases they are not necessary or could be avoided with a little advance planning. One way is with a financial power of attorney, and advance directives for healthcare such as living wills and medical powers of attorney. With those documents, a mentally competent adult can appoint one or more individuals to handle his or her finances and healthcare decisions in the event that he or she can no longer take care of those things. A living trust is also a good way to allow someone to handle your financial affairs – you can create the trust while you are alive, and if you become incapacitated someone else can manage your trust property on your behalf.
In addition to establishing durable powers of attorney and advanced healthcare directives and living trusts, it is often beneficial to apply for representative payee status for government benefits. If a person gets VA benefits, Social Security or Supplemental Security Income, the Social Security Administration or the Veterans’ Administration can appoint a representative payee for the benefits without requiring a conservatorship or guardianship. This can be especially helpful in situations in which the ward owns no assets and the only income is from Social Security or the VA.
When a loved one becomes mentally or physically handicapped to the point of no longer being able to take care of his or her own affairs, it can be tough for loved ones to know what to do. Fortunately, the law provides many options for people in this situation. As with most things, thoughtful planning in advance can prevent many problems down the road.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Should you withdraw your Social Security benefits early?
You don’t have to be retired to dip into your Social Security benefits which are available to you as early as age 62. But is the early withdrawal worth the costs?
A quick visit to the U.S. Social Security Administration Retirement Planner website can help you figure out just how much money you’ll receive if you withdraw early. The benefits you will collect before reaching the full retirement age of 66 will be less than your full potential amount.
The reduction of benefits in early withdrawal is based upon the amount of time you currently are from full retirement age. If you withdraw at the earliest point of age 62, you will receive 25% less than your full benefits. If you were born after 1960, that amount is 30%. At 63, the reduction is around 20%, and it continues to decrease as you approach the age of 66.
Withdrawing early also presents a risk if you think there is a chance you may go back to work. Excess earnings may be cause for the Social Security Administration to withhold some benefits. Though a special rule is in existence that withholding cannot be applied for one year during retired months, regardless of yearly earnings, extended working periods can result in decreased benefits. The withheld benefits, however, will be taken into consideration and recalculated once you reach full retirement age.
If you are considering withdrawing early from your retirement accounts, it is important to consider both age and your particular benefits. If you are unsure of how much you will receive, you can look to your yearly statement from Social Security. Social Security Statements are sent out to everyone over the age of 25 once a year, and should come in the mail about three months before your birthday. You can also request a copy of the form by phone or the web, or calculate your benefits yourself through programs that are available online at www.ssa.gov/retire.
The more you know about your benefits, the easier it will be to make a well-educated decision about when to withdraw. If you can afford to, it may be worth it to wait. Ideally, if you have enough savings from other sources of income to put off withdrawing until age 66 or after, you will be rewarded with your full eligible benefits.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ – Taking Care of Your Kids While Taking Care of Your Parents
“The sandwich generation” is the term given to adults who are raising children and simultaneously caring for elderly or infirm parents. Your children are one piece of “bread,” your parents are the other piece of “bread,” and you are “sandwiched” into the middle.
Caring for parents at the same time as you care for your children, your spouse and your job is exhausting and will stretch every resource you have. And what about caring for yourself? Not surprisingly, most sandwich generation caregivers let self-care fall to the bottom of the priorities list which may impair your ability to care for others.
Following are several tips for sandwich generation caregivers.
- Hold an all-family meeting regarding your parents. Involve your parents, your parents’ siblings, if any, and your own siblings in a detailed conversation about the present and future. If you can, make joint decisions about issues like who can physically care for your parents, who can contribute financially and how much, and who should have legal authority over your parents’ finances and health care decisions if they become unable to make decisions for themselves. Your parents need to share all their financial and health care information with you in order for the family to make informed decisions. Once you have that information, you can make a long-term financial plan.
- Hold another all-family meeting with your children and your parents. If you are physically or financially taking care of your parents, talk about this honestly with your children. Involve your parents in the conversation as well. Talk – in an age-appropriate way – about the changes that your children will experience, both positive and challenging.
- Prioritize privacy. With multiple family members living under one roof, privacy – for children, parents, and grandparents – is a must. If it is not feasible for every family member to have his or her own room, then find other ways to give everyone some guaranteed privacy. “The living room is just for Grandma and Grandpa after dinner.” “Our teenage daughter gets the downstairs bathroom for as long as she needs in the mornings”, etc. etc.
- Make family plans. There are joys associated with having three generations under one roof. Make the effort to get everyone together for outings and meals. Perhaps each generation can choose an outing once a month.
- Make a financial plan, and don’t forget yourself. Are your children headed to college? Are you hoping to move your parents into an assisted living facility? How does your retirement fund look? If you are caring for your parents, your financial plan will almost certainly have to be revised. Don’t leave yourself, and your spouse, if you are married, out of the equation. Make sure to set aside some funds for your own retirement while saving for college and elder health care.
- Revise your estate plan documents as necessary. If you had named your parents guardians of your children in case of your death, you may need to find other guardians. You may need to set up trusts for your parents as well as for your children. If your parent was your power of attorney, you may have to designate a different person to act on your behalf.
- Seek out and accept help. Help for the elderly is well organized in the United States. Here are a few governmental and nonprofit resources:
- www.benefitscheckup.org – Hosted by the National Council on Aging, this website is a one-stop shop for determining which federal, state and local benefits your parents may qualify for
- www.eldercare.gov – Sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging
- www.caremanager.org -- National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
- www.nadsa.org – National Adult Day Services Association
Monday, December 10, 2012
Medicare vs. Medicaid: Similarities and Differences
With such similar sounding names, many Americans mistake Medicare and Medicaid programs for one another, or presume the programs are as similar as their names. While both are government-run programs, there are many important differences. Medicare provides senior citizens, the disabled and the blind with medical benefits. Medicaid, on the other hand, provides healthcare benefits for those with little to no income.
Overview of Medicare
Medicare is a public health insurance program for Americans who are 65 or older. The program does not cover long-term care, but can cover payments for certain rehabilitation treatments. For example, if a Medicare patient is admitted to a hospital for at least three days and is subsequently admitted to a skilled nursing facility, Medicare may cover some of those payments. However, Medicare payments for such care and treatment will cease after 100 days or if the patient stops improving.
Nursing home patients often find their Medicare payments are terminated much sooner than 100 days. If a patient’s condition stops improving, Medicare coverage will be discontinued. For example, many older Americans are suffering from diseases with no known cure, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Disease. Accordingly, it is simply impossible to “rehabilitate” these patients so Medicare typically denies skilled nursing facility coverage in these types of situations.
- Medicare provides health insurance for those aged 65 and older
- Medicare is regulated under federal law, and is applied uniformly throughout the United States
- Medicare pays for up to 100 days of care in a skilled nursing facility
- Medicare pays for hospital care and medically necessary treatments and services
- Medicare does not pay for long-term care
- To be eligible for Medicare, you generally must have paid into the system
Overview of Medicaid
Medicaid is a state-run program, funded by both the federal and state governments. Because Medicaid is administered by the state, the requirements and procedures vary across state lines and you must look to the law in your area for specific eligibility rules. The federal government issues Medicaid guidelines, but each state gets to determine how the guidelines will be implemented.
- Medicaid is a health care program based on financial need
- Medicaid is regulated under state law, which varies from state to state
- Medicaid will cover long-term care
Thursday, July 19, 2012
A Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney? Or Do I Need Both?
Many people are confused by these two important estate planning documents. It’s important to understand the functions of each and ensure you are fully protected by incorporating both of these documents into your overall estate plan.
In Texas, a Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates, commonly referred to as a “living will,” and often called an advance health care directive, is a legal document setting forth your wishes for end-of-life medical care, in the event you are unable to communicate your wishes yourself. The safest way to ensure that your own wishes will determine your future medical care is to execute an advance directive stating your wishes for the future. In some states, the advance directive is only operative if you are diagnosed with a terminal condition and life-sustaining treatment merely artificially prolongs the process of dying, or if you are in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
A health care or medical power of attorney is a document in which you name another person to serve as your health care agent. This person is authorized to speak on your behalf in order to consent to – or refuse – medical treatment if your doctor determines that you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. A medical power of attorney can be operative at any time you designate, not just when your condition is terminal.
For maximum protection, it is strongly recommended that you have both a living will and a medical power of attorney. The power of attorney affords you flexibility, with an agent who can express your wishes and respond accordingly to any changes in your medical condition. Your agent should base his or her decisions on any written wishes you have provided, as well as familiarity with you. The advance directive is necessary to guide health care providers in the event your agent is unavailable and to assist in making your end of life decisions consistent with your wishes. If your agent’s decisions are ever challenged, the advance directive can also serve as evidence that your agent is acting in good faith and in accordance with your wishes.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
A Way to Help Parents and Grandparents in Financial Need
Estate planning is often about how people can pass wealth on to their children or grandchildren, but what if a child wants to give financial gifts to a parent or grandparent? This article from Bloomberg discusses just that: how GRATs Let Children Pass Millions to Mom or Granny Free of U.S. Gift Taxes.
As the elderly population of the U.S. increases, and as the effects of the economic downturn hit, more and more adult children find that their parents or grandparents are not doing as well financially as they had hoped. Many need help paying for medical expenses, home care expenses, mortgage or rent payments, etc. Adult children would like to be able to help, and a properly executed GRAT can be the perfect vehicle for wealthy children to give financial aid to their parents or grandparents without taking away from their lifetime gift-tax exemptions.
“With a GRAT, a child sets up a trust with a term of at least two years and funds the trust with stock or other investments. The trust pays the principal plus interest back to the child over its term as if it were an annuity, based on an interest rate set by the Internal Revenue Service. Any appreciation of the underlying investments above this ‘hurdle’ rate passes on to the GRAT’s beneficiary, in this case the parents, without being considered a gift for tax purposes.”
However, this opportunity may not be around forever. The Obama administration has recommended imposing a 10 year minimum term on GRATs, an act which would make the GRAT strategy significantly less useful for many families. Adult children who would like to use a GRAT to pass wealth up to their parents or grandparents should consult with a financial or estate planning advisor sooner rather than later.
If you do miss out on the GRAT window, however, there are other options for helping elderly relatives, including paying medical expenses for the loved one (so long as payments are made to the service provider directly, rather than to the relative.) Contact our office for other options and more information about helping elderly parents and grandparents.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Adult Children and Elderly Parents: Caring for Each Other
The idea of adult children caring for aging parents or grandparents is not a new one. In fact, with the aging Baby-Boomer population, adult children giving up free time or extra hours at work to care for relatives is a growing trend. But recently families have begun creating “caregiver compensation agreements,” something which can end up benefiting both parties in a number of ways.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “the high unemployment rate, the rising cost of nursing-home care, an aging population, and a 2006 change in Medicaid law that makes it harder for people who wish to qualify to give away assets” are all contributing factors to the growing trend of these compensation agreements among family members.
How can it help you?
If you’re a caregiver the benefits of a caregiver compensation agreement are fairly self explanatory. “Some 37% of caregivers surveyed by the NAC in 2007 said they had quit a job or reduced their hours to accommodate their responsibilities,” some kind of compensation seems only fair. And if you feel uncomfortable taking “wages” from your parents, there are other ways to arrange for compensation. “Attorneys say many families pay an hourly wage. As an estate-planning tactic, others opt for annual gifts or a lump-sum payment designed to cover services over an extended period. Some arrange for the caregiver to receive a larger inheritance.” It will all depend on what works best for your family.
If you’re the one receiving the care, compensation agreements can benefit you as well. Paying a family caregiver can help you deplete your savings and qualify for Medicaid, it can also help you reduce your taxable estate, as well as give a gift of sorts to younger family members who may be in need. Remember that Medicaid rules vary from state to state, so enlist the help of your attorney before signing any contracts.
However you may decide to structure your compensation agreement, disclosure can be of the utmost importance. Make other family members aware of the agreement up front to avoid suspicion or hurt feelings later on.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Talking to Siblings About Caring for Mom and Dad
Many modern families have members living all over the country—and all over the world. Which means that the holiday season provides one of the only times to all get together in person, celebrate, catch up... and talk about caregiving strategies for aging parents. Unfortunately, this kind of conversation can be a difficult one, especially if not all siblings agree about mom or dad’s needs, or if one sibling feels that he or she shoulders an unfair amount of responsibility. In spite of the difficulty, having the conversation can be of the utmost importance.
In this article in Time Magazine author Francine Russo describes the consequences that can follow when lines of communication break down. “It wasn't until my mom's funeral, watching my dad and sister cling to each other and weep, that I got a hint of their long ordeal — and how badly I'd screwed up.”
Russo makes the point in her article that much of the tension and disagreement among siblings can come from inaccurate or conflicting information. “Friction often stems from parents giving their children different information about how they're doing. Mom may put on a good show for the out-of-towner, who then discounts what the local sibling says.” This is all the more reason for siblings to communicate with each other, not just through mom or dad.
If you aren’t sure how to get the conversation started, Paula Spencer, senior editor for Caring.com wrote this article for Third Age which gives some helpful strategies on how to ease into the difficult topic of caring for aging parents this holiday season.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Estate Planning Through the Ages
Can you remember what you were doing in your early 20s? Can you imagine what kind of life you’ll be living in your 70s or 80s? We experience incredible changes as the decades roll by—not just to ourselves, but in the world at large. With our lives changing so much, our estate planning documents and strategies should hardly remain static. Here is a guide to how your estate plan may or may not evolve through the decades.
In Your 20s:You’re young, just finishing school and starting in your career, unlikely to be married yet... the last thing you’re thinking about is estate planning! At this time of life, who gets your “stuff” may not be as important as who will make your decisions. Choosing your financial and healthcare agents and creating your power of attorney and healthcare directive are the important things to do at this time.
In Your 30s:Marriage, children, home ownership—most of these things happen in your 30s, and your estate plan should reflect that. Now is the time to choose guardians for your young children, decide with your spouse how your joint property will be distributed, and get serious about life insurance.
In Your 40s:This is when your strategy may switch from simple direction of inheritance to more serious asset protection. You’ve worked hard and saved, and you’ll want to think about the best way to maximize your assets with trusts and tax planning.
In Your 50s:As your children start to become independent you may have more freedom with your income. Some people choose to create charitable trusts, some prefer to invest for retirement, and still others decide it’s time to take a risk and start over with a second career. Your estate planner can advise and help with all of these.
In Your 60s:Ah retirement! Making the big change from work to retirement means making changes to your estate plan as well. If you’ve been keeping up with your planning through the decades all that is required now will be some basic maintenance; changes to account for marriages of your children, the birth of grandchildren, and your own relocation to someplace warm and sunny. But beyond the basic maintenance, you may want to start doing some simple Medicaid and long-term care planning—just in case.
In your 70s and Beyond: Health is the key word now. Our life-spans are getting longer, but so are our illnesses, you need to be ready. Tighten up your estate plan, invest in long-term care insurance, and although it may sound morbid, talk to your doctors and family about your end-of-life decisions.
The life alterations that come over a span of decades are difficult enough; you don’t want to have to find a new lawyer every time your circumstances change. Our firm makes it our business to keep up with you at every stage.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
Facing the Future with Long Term Care
November 2010 is Long Term Care Awareness Month, which means it’s the perfect time to talk about your thoughts, concerns, and plans for your own long term care. According to this article by Ken Dychtwald, PhD, “average life expectancy is now at 78 and rising. And, if you're already 55 or more, life expectancy has soared to around 84.” Furthermore, “Two-thirds of people over age 65 will need some kind of long term care.” This means that it can never be too early to start planning for your future.
Dychtwald points out in his article that “Uninsured medical expenses are the top financial worry among men and women age 55 and over. People... worry most about these expenses' unpredictability and potential for high costs.” People know that their health is likely to decline slowly as they age, and people know that they will need care—possibly a lot of it—that the cost of this care is rising steadily, and that they will need a way to pay for it. In spite of this, “many Americans are confused about what long term care actually is, and they're surprised to learn that Medicare and/or traditional health insurance do not cover most long term care needs.”
Life expectancy is rising, and the nature of “old age” is changing quickly. We live longer, but we don’t necessarily live better; and what we’re headed for is an entire generation of people who are unprepared for the rigors and expense of “the new” old-age. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case.
The article above suggests that “There are three core topics in family conversations about long term care: (1) what care options are most preferred (e.g. if you needed some help, would you prefer to be cared for at home, in an assisted living facility or in a nursing home?); (2) potential roles and responsibilities of different family members' (and possibly, help from a professional care coordinator, aid or nurse), should it ever be necessary to manage care; and (3) how to pay for any required long term care (with your or a family members' savings, through Medicaid or with a long term care insurance policy?).”
We urge our readers to talk about these issues with their loved ones. The conversations may be uncomfortable at first; but fear of the future—lack of preparation for the future—is far worse. Discuss long term care with your loved ones and your trusted advisors. Be ready for whatever the future may bring.
Law Offices of Elyssa M. Schnurr focus their practice on Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts of all degrees of complexity, Probate, Estate Administration & Business Entity Formation. They are also available to assist with Uncontested Divorces and Mediation. They serve clients throughout the greater Houston area, including, but not limited to Houston, Bellaire, West University, Sugar Land, Missouri City, Richmond, Rosenberg, Katy, Cypress, The Woodlands, Kingwood, League City, Webster, Clear Lake, Pearland, Angleton, and throughout Harris County, Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, Brazoria County and Galveston County.