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.
Monday, November 01, 2010
The Quiet Devastation of Alzheimer’s Disease
According to a recent report put out by the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million people have Alzheimer’s disease. Chances are that you or someone you know has been touched by this illness. In spite of these overwhelming statistics, Alzheimer’s continues to be a disease that sneaks up on individuals and their families, quietly tearing apart lives with uncertainty and confusion. Estate planners and elder law attorneys sometimes see this heartbreaking confusion in our own offices when elderly clients or their families come to us, concerned that a loved one no longer has the capacity to sign or make decisions about legal documents.
A new article in the New York Times discusses the slow and sometimes invisible development of Alzheimer’s disease, and some of the earliest warning signs that your loved one may be suffering. “New research shows that one of the first signs of impending dementia is an inability to understand money and credit, contracts and agreements.” This comes as particularly bad news to families who put off their estate planning year after year, each time telling themselves “We’ll do this next year for certain.”
By the time families come into our office with their suspicions about their aging loved one it may be too late for us to help. “Lawyers have guidelines, published in 2005, that include warning signs of diminished capacity, like memory loss and problems communicating and doing calculations. The guidelines instruct lawyers to look at the legal requirements for capacity in specific situations, like making a gift. But many questions remain.”
Plans created after the suspicion of Alzheimer’s or dementia has set in can be fraught with doubt, and often cause conflict among family members. We have seen the rifts and heartbreak the illness causes in even the strongest of families. We urge you to take care of important legal and estate planning issues early, before questions of competence can cast the shadow of doubt over your wishes.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Just Say No? Medical Marijuana in Nursing Homes
The legalization of marijuana is on the ballot in California this November, but California isn’t the only part of the country where marijuana is making news. The use of marijuana for medical purposes is being debated around the nation—especially as concerns elderly patients in nursing homes which receive federal funding through Medicare or Medicaid.
This article on the New York Times’ New Old Age Blog reports on this issue, and just how concerned and confused nursing home facility administrators are about what their options are and how to proceed. “Any patient using medical marijuana breaks federal law. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule 1 drug, which means the federal government considers it to have no medicinal value. Despite this, physicians in 14 states and the District of Columbia are allowed to recommend it. . . Many facility administrators wonder how they can comply with federal law and preserve their reimbursements and at the same time permit residents to medicate with marijuana.”
Federal funding isn’t the only conflict attached to the medical marijuana issue. Nursing homes in New Mexico (a state where marijuana was legalized for medicinal purposes in 2007) report that “the lack of dosing direction has caused problems. . . Pills in nursing homes are in what they call vacuum packs: you have to pop a pill out one at a time. They don’t do that with marijuana. It’s an amount of marijuana in a small plastic bag, so there is no way to track if someone took one or two pinches.”
Another issue to consider is the stigma attached to marijuana use, and complaints from other patients or residents.
Medical marijuana is generally prescribed to seniors to help them deal with chronic pain. Oregon’s long-term care ombudsman, Mary Jaeger, asks in the article above “Wouldn’t any one of us, in our own homes, feel that we have the right to live our lives by our own values and choices, to preserve our own dignity and, frankly, to live pain-free?” Will seniors moving to federally supported nursing homes have to find other ways to deal with chronic pain? And more importantly... will they be willing to do so?
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
What “The Cost of Aging” Means Today
“The cost of aging” used to mean failing eyesight, bodily aches and pains, and maybe the loss of your teeth; but nowadays “the cost of aging” can mean the loss of your happy marriage!
With growing numbers of senior citizens being diagnosed with debilitating elderly illnesses, and with the cost of nursing care on the rise, more and more couples are finding that they simply can’t afford to pay for the numerous visits to the doctor, endless medical treatments, and rising cost of prescription medicines. Many seniors hope that Medicaid will help, but before you can get assistance from Medicaid you will have to spend down your own assets to almost nothing—this includes spending down any savings or retirement assets you may have.
If you are the spouse of someone diagnosed with an illness such as Alzheimer’s or dementia you can really get the short end of the stick. As this editorial in the New York Times points out, you can put all of your financial resources toward your spouse’s care, only to find that at the end of it all you “face a bleak retirement with neither [your spouse] nor your savings.” Some seniors are discovering a dismaying truth: that if they want to keep some kind of nest-egg for themselves, one of their only options is divorce and the separation of finances that comes with it.
This isn’t the first time the subject of divorce for financial reasons has come up. MSNBC dealt with the issue earlier this year with this segment on “Today”. But there is some good news amongst all this gloom and doom—poverty or divorce don’t have to be your only choices. If you start planning early, you can be prepared should something like this happen to you and your spouse. Long-term care insurance is one good preventative measure, or ask your estate planning attorney about other asset protection strategies you can employ.
Aging is hard enough without having to end a happy marriage (and feel like you’re abandoning a beloved spouse) to ensure your own financial future. Please call our office to find out what your options are.
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.