“By Failing to Prepare, you Prepare to Fail” - Benjamin Franklin

May is both National Older Americans Month and National Elder Law Month. These annual events honor seniors and offer plenty of resources to assist them with a variety of needs. It also reminds our elder law community just how important the needs of these generations are and helps us focus on developing new ways to support them, despite what we are facing as a state and a nation.

In fact, there are as many avenues of support from elder law attorneys as there are areas of senior-related concern. For example, seniors may need assistance drafting or reviewing an estate plan. They may be eligible for veterans benefits but require a skilled V.A. advocate. They may even need emergency assistance to assert their rights in an elder abuse situation. In each case, elder law attorneys stand ready to assist them.

Raising awareness, securing access to resources and obtaining effective assistance is what May is all about. Other areas of interest may include:

The U.S. Administration for Community Living leads the annual observance of Older Americans Month. The theme for 2020 is “Make Your Mark.” This is meant to encourage and celebrate the contributions that older adults make every day across the country.

National Elder Law Month dates back to a presidential proclamation in 1963. Elder law attorneys embraced the annual tradition and remain dedicated to helping seniors better understand their rights, concerns and legal options. Accordingly, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, where our very own attorney, Matt Rheingans, as president of the Florida Chapter last year, has public seminars, Elder Law clinics and many other activities this month to bring seniors, their families and their legal communities together all for the purpose of serving elder adults.

Elder Law attorneys represent, counsel and assist seniors, including those who are younger with disabilities, and their families with a wide range of legal issues. Many government and nonprofit senior advocacy organizations also offer assistance, such as the National Council on Aging, the National Center on Elder Abuse and the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care.

If you or someone you know would like more information or specific guidance on legal matters, we encourage you to contact our law practice. We are here for you during this important month, and throughout the year.

Did you know charitable remainder trusts are gaining notoriety as an alternative to harsh new changes impacting retirement accounts like 401ks and IRAs? Many people with these “tax-advantaged” accounts have planned on leaving them to their loved ones as an inheritance, but that may not be the best idea as of January 1, 2020.

Last year, Congress passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019, or the SECURE Act, as a way of addressing the stunningly lack of retirement savings for working Americans. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 51 percent of working adults participate in a workplace retirement plan, and those who do are alarmingly behind where they need to be to support themselves in elder age. Thus, lawmakers expanded access to 401ks and IRAs, among other items, but they also made a change that virtually destroyed the longstanding practice of “stretch” payments.

Prior to the SECURE Act, non-spousal beneficiaries who inherited tax-qualified retirement accounts could stretch-out their required minimum distribution (RMD) payments over their lifetimes. That meant continued tax-deferred growth of the account and smaller annual income tax obligations. Now, beneficiaries must liquidate applicable inherited accounts within 10 years or face a hefty tax on the full balance of the account. Conversely, tax-deferred growth of the account is stunted, and annual tax bills are larger. 

A charitable remainder trust, however, can deliver similar pre-SECURE Act benefits while also encouraging philanthropy. Let us provide some information on how it works. For example, instead of bequeathing an IRA directly to a family member, the account holder would make the charitable trust the beneficiary. The account holder would then select an individual to receive annual income payments from the trust that would be administered for a specified period of time, including the adult child’s lifetime. After the specified period of time or the death of the individual, remaining assets in the trust would be donated to a designated charity. 

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers for you, as well as the fact it may impact your pre-2020 Florida estate planning. If you or someone you know would like more information about charitable remainder trusts and how they might help protect your retirement accounts, do not wait to contact our law firm to speak with a Florida estate planning attorney today. 

An estate plan is not just a last will and testament. It is a way to ensure your financial and personal needs are provided for in retirement and beyond. Knowing this can give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing your wishes will be respected, even if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

You may be asking, when should I review my estate plan? While there is no “set” time, if your estate plan is more than three years old it may be time to reevaluate. Even in that short space of time, circumstances in your life might change so much that what you had initially intended is no longer a viable approach. 

Significant life changes can call for a reevaluation of your estate plan. For example, say you had appointed a good friend as the agent under your Florida durable power of attorney. If something should happen to that person or if he or she became too ill to make decisions on your behalf, you need to replace your friend with someone who is prepared and able to take on the responsibility. 

Another possibility is that your personal situation has changed, either through marriage, divorce, or death. If you marry, separate, or get divorced, you should review your beneficiary allocation and decision makers as soon as possible. What you wanted when you first established your plan might not align with your current desires. Conversely, if you have experienced a death in the family and that individual is named in your estate plan, you may want to change his or her name on your planning tools with the help of your estate planning attorney.

Today’s taxation landscape changes often and usually without much fanfare. Knowing where your estate stands concerning taxes can help you plan accordingly and ensure your loved ones are not left with a lot of tax headaches once you are gone.  Further, moving into or out of state is another reason to review your estate plan. Every state has its own estate and probate tax structure. If you move, your estate could be subject to those laws, so whether the changes are beneficial to you or otherwise, it is always a good idea to know what to expect.

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. If you have not updated or reviewed your estate plan in three years or more, make an appointment with an attorney in our office today. We look forward to speaking with you.

Did you know romance scams, sometimes called “lonely heart” scams, often occur when scammers and bad actors attempt to financially exploit vulnerable people? This can be done in many ways, including online, by earning the trust of the vulnerable person through romantic manipulation and outright emotional deceit. Unfortunately, seniors tend to be targets of many kinds of scams, and they are especially vulnerable to lonely heart frauds due to higher incidence of loneliness and social isolation. 

Valentine’s Day provides a heightened opportunity for online criminals to take advantage of vulnerable Florida seniors. Let us take a minute to be proactive and share a few tips on how older adults can protect themselves.

First, remember, as the saying goes, if it’s too good to be true it probably is. Romance scammers typically present fake images of themselves and pretend to be someone they are not in reality. They often profess a strong attraction or deep seated love shortly after meeting the victim online, and then attempt to exploit the situation. These criminals are watching for vulnerable Florida seniors. Do not fall for it!

Once scammers feel they have moved past a person’s emotional defenses, they often move quickly to convince their victims to communicate in private forums, like email, messenger apps, or even by phone. This makes it easier to isolate their victims from others.

Criminals might allude to romantic vacations or a passionate future together if they could only afford it. This is aimed to tug at the heartstrings of vulnerable Florida seniors. They might say they have never felt this way about someone before. Be aware that this is not how real life relationships work and always use common sense.

Be careful of subtle manipulations. Little by little, giving into unusual requests can lead you down a path of providing personal and financial information that you would never offer at the beginning of a conversation.

When you start to suspect something may be wrong, look for telltale signs that something is amiss. If someone says they know you from your hometown, for example, and they are wrong about things they should know, then it could be a scam. Perhaps the scammer looked at your Facebook friends and developed a fraudulent online identity to get past your defenses. Another red-flag is if a seemingly familiar person refuses to meet in real life.

Hard luck stories from a previously unknown love interest are also common internet scams techniques. Before moving on to asking for money, the person may hint at financial troubles, such as a broken-down car or a sick relative. This is something all seniors, not simply vulnerable Florida seniors, need to be on the lookout for. The “grandparent” scam, or when a person pretends to be a grandchild who is in trouble, is something all seniors should always be on guard against.

For all of us, if you are unsure about someone online, cut off all communication. You do not have to do anything they say or take action. Finally, if you or someone you know has been the victim of an online financial crime, do not wait to contact the authorities for help. Further, you can contact an experienced attorney to learn more about your rights and appropriate courses of action. Remember, elder law attorneys have special training to help you navigate this and any potential elder care issues you may face. Do not wait to contact our law practice to learn more today.

Do you or your aging loved ones in Florida have your advanced directives completed? Your advance directives can be created as a part of your estate plan, or on their own, and can include health care advance directives, living wills and HIPAA authorizations, and a durable power of attorney. These documents can ensure that, in a crisis, you will have chosen a decision maker who has the legal authority to act as you would for financial and health care decisions.

What happens when you do not create them? If you need a decision maker in the event of your incapacity and have not planned forward, your loved ones may need to go to court to be able to care for you. A Florida guardianship occurs when a circuit judge determines that a person lacks the capacity to manage his or her property, or attend to at least some of his or her essential health and safety requirements.

What does this mean to you? Let us share more information here. For example, a person cannot manage his or her property if he or she is unable to take the necessary actions to obtain, administer, and dispose of his or her real and personal property. It also may be necessary when a person cannot meet the essential requirements for health or safety. This means he or she cannot take the necessary actions to provide for his or her health care, food, shelter, clothing, personal hygiene, or other care needs without possibly causing serious and immediate physical injury or illness to occur.

When a petition for incapacity is filed on a person who may need guardianship, the circuit judge must first appoint an examining committee consisting of three members. One member must be a psychiatrist or other physician. The remaining members consist of a psychologist, another physician, a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, a licensed social worker or other persons who by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education advise the court in the form of an expert opinion. If the examining committee decides that the person is not incapacitated in any respect, the circuit judge must dismiss the petition for incapacity. If the examining committee decides that the person is incapacitated in any respect, a hearing will be held by a circuit judge.

The person assumed to be incapacitated must be present at the hearing, unless this right is waived by the alleged incapacitated person or his or her attorney. Attendance may also be waived if good cause can be shown for the alleged incapacitated person’s absence. In each legal proceeding in which a guardian is appointed, the circuit judge must first determine whether the ward, prior to his or her incapacity, signed valid advance directives.

In addition to the information we shared above, advanced directives must be witnessed, written documents in which instructions are given by the proposed ward in which his or her desires are expressed concerning any aspect of his or her health care. If any advance directive exists, the court shall specify in its order of guardianship what authority, if any, the guardian shall exercise over, or instead of, the agent named in the advance directive.

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. Our goal for each of our clients is that guardianship will never be necessary. Together, we can take proactive steps to ensure that you have the representation you need to plan forward with Florida estate planning. We encourage you not to wait to schedule a meeting with our firm on this, or any estate planning or elder law issue.

Did you know the first week in December is always Older Driver Safety Awareness Week? While the annual awareness campaign has already passed, many of this year’s topics are year-round concerns. For example, short of an accident, how do you know when an older loved one’s driving is unsafe? What can be done about it? 

While there is no set age when seniors should stop driving, there are warning signs to heed. Let us share with you four areas that family members and friends of older drivers should consider together. 

1. Vision. It is no secret that eyesight diminishes with age. The question is, how much? Updated glasses prescriptions and corrective lenses are critically important when driving, especially if a senior adult has experienced glaucoma, cataracts or macular degeneration. Cutting back on driving at night and in bad weather are two easy ways to reduce vision-related risks. 

2. Hearing. Hearing loss is another normal part of the elder aging process. As hearing declines, however, so does the ability to listen for car horns, sirens, and even noises coming from the senior’s own car. Regular hearing check-ups are strongly recommended, and senior drivers should always wear hearing aids, when applicable, while eliminating unnecessary noise from inside their vehicle.

3. Joint and Muscle Dexterity. With age, joints can stiffen and muscles weaken. Arthritis, for instance, is common among Older Americans and can adversely impact driving whether it is the ability to view a rear blindspot, turn the steering wheel, or brake suddenly. Building strength and flexibility through physical activity is useful, as are certain vehicle modifications such as adding large mirrors and installing low-exertion hand controls for both the gas and brake pedals.

4. Reaction Time and Reflexes. A combination of factors along with normal aging can contribute to delayed reaction times and slower reflexes. Sometimes they are the result of medical conditions like Parkinson’s Disease or a stroke. In any case, the dangers are self-evident when getting behind the wheel. If driving is not entirely ruled out, consider taking steps to limit as many risks as possible, such as planning routes, staying close to home and avoiding traffic.

We know this can be a difficult conversation to have with your senior loved ones, and an even more difficult conversation to have with yourself. Despite the uncomfortableness of the topic, however, it is critical that you start the conversation early. If you need help on this, or any elder care issue, we encourage you not to wait to contact our law firm. Let us help you navigate these challenges as your trusted advocate now, or any time in the future.  

November is National Family Caregiver Awareness Month.  In honor of the nearly 44 million Americans who have provided care for a dependent loved one over the past 12 months, it is strongly recommended that family caregivers create a comprehensive file of up-to-date documents to better care for their dependents. This can be kept electronically or in a paper file, but should be easily accessible for administrative purposes or spur of the moment emergencies.

One of the most important features is a dependent loved one’s legal documents. These can serve as the foundation for all consequential financial, health care, and legal decisions made on their behalf. A durable power of attorney, for example, may allow a family caregiver to act as a dependent loved one’s lawful agent if he or she is too sick or incapable of making his or her own decisions. Another example could be a HIPAA release that ensures the caregiver can access the dependent person’s private medical records and forward them to appropriate health care professionals. 

A comprehensive caregiving file should also contain records relating to the dependent person’s medical history, including:

In addition, a medication list should be included and kept current, while a separate section should be devoted to insurance. This could include private medical insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, prescription drug plans, long-term care insurance, and dental and vision insurance. 

Documents pertaining to wills and trusts are also important, especially if they are intertwined with current financial obligations. For instance, a special needs trust can be created in certain circumstances to pay for living expenses without jeopardizing income limits for government benefit programs. Irrevocable trusts can be set up to pay bills, generate income and serve as an estate plan. 

If you or someone you know is a family caregiver in need of more information, do not wait to contact an experienced attorney for guidance. We understand these matters and are your local law firm ready to help you. Do not hesitate to contact us to schedule a meeting.

Did you know Medicare never extends coverage to a patient who needs custodial care only? The custodial care may be provided as part of the Medicare skilled nursing home coverage that is partially provided by Medicare Part A. There are many restrictions, however, that apply to Medicare coverage for skilled nursing facility care. 

What you may not realize is that nursing care requires that the care must be provided by or requires the supervision of skilled nursing personnel or other skilled rehabilitation services. As a practical matter, this can only be provided in a skilled nursing home facility on an inpatient basis. 

For each spell of illness in 2019, Medicare Part A will pay all the costs for a covered skilled nursing home stay for the first 20 days. After that, it will cover all but $170.50 per day for up to an additional 80 days as long as all of the following conditions are met:

1. The individual was a patient in a hospital for three consecutive days, not including the day of discharge. In addition, the patient must be admitted to the skilled nursing facility within 30 days of discharge from the hospital. However, there are a few limited exceptions to the requirement that the admission must occur within 30 days of discharge from the hospital.

2. A doctor must certify that the patient needs skilled nursing home care.

3. The services are provided by or under the supervision of a trained individual.

4. The services are received on a daily basis, which means therapy services at least 5 days per week and/or nursing care 7 days per week.

5. The services are provided by a Medicare-certified skilled nursing facility.

6. The skilled services must be provided on an inpatient basis.

Remember, a Medicare beneficiary is entitled to receive coverage for all the skilled care in a nursing home for 20 days. A Medicare beneficiary is entitled to receive $170.50 of the cost of coverage for the next 20 days of skilled care in a nursing home. The Medicare beneficiary is not entitled to any coverage for skilled care in a nursing home beyond 100 days.

We know this raises questions for you. How will you be able to afford the skilled nursing facility bill? Where do you turn to for help? Should you ask your children to help? We want you to know that we are here to answer these questions. We work with Florida seniors and their loved ones each day as they handle these issues. Do not wait to contact our law office to schedule a meeting and find the answers you need.

One in four Older Americans experience a fall every year, and the consequences are often devastating. Hip fractures, broken bones and head injuries, all common results, contribute  to falls being the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries in adults aged 65 and older. Even without a major injury, falls can cause seniors to become fearful or depressed, and inhibit them from living active, independent lives.

The good news is that most falls are preventable. Aging parents, grandparents, and other elder loved ones can benefit on many levels when adult family members and friends help them alleviate falling risks. In our blog, we want to share five ways to help avoid senior falls this National Falls Prevention Month

  1. Explore their current health condition.

Talk to an aging parents or senior loved ones about their health. Are they experiencing any problems? With compassion, explore any concerns and consider notifying their doctor. One telltale warning sign can be when their health begins to affect the ability to manage daily activities.

  1. Vision check-up.

It’s no secret that eyesight declines with age. Poor vision, however, is also a major contributing factor to falling. Make sure an elder parent has had a recent eye exam and is wearing their appropriate prescription. 

  1. Perform a home-safety assessment.

There are many ways to make a senior adult’s home safer. Removing throw rugs and clutter, increasing lighting, and installing safety devices such as bathroom grab bars are all effective safeguards. Overall, home-safety precautions can be performed informally, or in consultation with an occupational therapist. 

  1. Discuss medications.

Talk about whether an aging parent is managing his or her prescription medicines as required, and if he or she is experiencing any adverse side effects. Dizziness, dehydration and drowsiness are common reactions that can contribute to falling. Do not wait to talk to a doctor or pharmacist about possible alternatives.

  1. Staying vigilant.

It’s critical for adult children to remain vigilant. If an aging parent is bumping into furniture or displaying imbalance, then they may need family support to pursue advice from a doctor and explore solutions.

These are just five tips to help aging loved ones avoid falling. If you need additional advice or are ready to begin planning to protect those you love, do not hesitate to contact our office.

Did you know medical alert systems are critical safety net technologies used by millions of senior adults? With the press of a button on a wearable device, a senior user can alert an emergency operator for help. In a health care crisis for an Older American, every second counts.

This National Medical Alert System Month, we want to help you evaluate whether you need to add this adaptive technology to your lifestyle. Let us share with you ten things to consider when purchasing a medical alert system for yourself or a senior loved one. 

  1. Comfort. It may seem secondary, but comfort and appearance will go a long way towards ensuring a senior loved one wears his or her emergency device as much as possible. There are many options today for them to try on and test to ensure it fits the senior’s lifestyle.
  1. Response Time. How long will it take for an alert company to respond to an emergency signal? Every second counts in a senior adult health crisis. Ask for information from the company and be sure to investigate independent reviews as well. 
  1. Call Center Quality. Medical alert companies will either have in-house emergency operators, or they will outsource the function to a third-party call center. In any case, an alert responder is your senior loved one’s lifeline. The Monitoring Association’s Five Diamond Program is a gold standard certification for properly trained emergency operators. It can be a good litmus test when partnering with an alert company.
  1. Wireless Range. Home-based systems require wearable alert devices to connect remotely to a plug-in central unit. Be sure to determine how far a senior user can go before connectivity issues occur. Are there areas of poor service in the senior’s home? It may be worth exploring on a free trial basis.
  1. Other Locations. If a senior frequently travels or is planning to move to a different location, will the medical alert system continue to work? Some systems may require new equipment, which may also incur more costs.
  1. Installation. Medical alert systems are most effective when they are senior-friendly. Some systems can be self-installed, while others may require a technician and installation fees.
  1. Pricing. Alert systems generally cost between $30 and $90 a month, depending on the type and add-on features. Keep in mind that cheaper is not necessarily better when it comes to the health and well-being of a senior loved one.
  1. Power Backup. A charged backup battery or built-in backup power source for the wearable device and home-base unit are critical, especially for seniors who may forget to charge them or live in areas where electric power outages are common. 
  1. Options. Learn as much as you can about the included options and add-ins. With the rise in technology, alert systems have incorporated wide-ranging add-on options, such as GPS tracking, fall motion sensors, wall buttons, wandering alerts and more. 
  1. Repair and Replacement. Whether purchasing alert equipment or renting it from a service provider, it is best to familiarize yourself with repair and replacement policies and associated costs ahead of time. 

These are just a number of things to consider when choosing the best medical alert system for your loved one. If you have any questions regarding this topic or about the best resources available to you, don’t hesitate to reach out to our office. We are here for you and your family.

We understand that planning for the end of life, a disability or aging can be complicated and emotional. We are here to help you.

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