Appointing a Power of Attorney to Manage Your Affairs

A power of attorney comes in different forms and is an important tool when planning for when you may become incapacitated and require a trusted agent to manage your affairs. These legal documents can grant broad authority to one or more power of attorney agents to transact business or make medical decisions based on your behalf.

What are the different forms of a Power of Attorney?

A “power of attorney” and “limited power of attorney” may manage your affairs until you are legally considered incapacitated or incompetent. The word “limited” narrows a power of attorney’s authority to transact business only to a specific property or with an agent’s limited access to funds. A “durable power of attorney” remains in effect until the principal revokes the document or upon their death. A “springing” durable power of attorney will not go into effect until a doctor certifies the principal incapacitated, allowing you to keep control over your affairs until you are unable. A “medical power of attorney” is always durable and permits healthcare decisions on behalf of the principal. The document includes sections similar to a living will, guiding the agent and doctors’ medical decisions to the principal’s wishes.

Like your will, durable power of attorney documents requires drafting according to the state laws you live in and some forethought of your selection of agents. Every state has laws governing the creation and use of valid power of attorney documents. Does your state abide by The Uniform Power of Attorney Act of 2006? This Act intends to standardize the approach, provide safeguards for the principal, and eliminate differences between state laws. As of 2019, twenty-six US states abide by The Uniform Power of Attorney Act. Residents of multiple states and snowbirds who routinely travel and transact business in other states may benefit from creating a valid durable power of attorney documents in both states.

Take note that if your spouse is your power of attorney, this designation does not automatically end when you finalize a divorce between you unless you live in these twelve states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin.

What to Consider when Appointing a Power of Attorney

When appointing a power of attorney, the agent you select is a personal decision. There are things to consider, such as if your adult children are trustworthy and mature in handling finances and medical decisions on your behalf. Some adult children move away or lose touch and are not necessarily suitable candidates simply because they are your children. You may select a contemporary friend who becomes disabled themselves or pre-deceases you, so you must have a backup agent in the documentation. Always make the decisions regarding your power of attorney selection while you are in good mental and physical health.

What Role Does Your Financial Power of Attorney Play?

A financial power of attorney can have the authority to perform some or all of these tasks:

  • Pay everyday expenses for you and your family with your assets
  • Maintain, pay taxes on, sell, buy, and mortgage real estate and other property
  • Collect government benefits including Medicare, Social Security, Disability, and more
  • Invest your money in mutual funds, stocks, and bonds
  • Transact with banks and other financial institutions
  • Buy and sell annuities and insurance policies on your behalf
  • File and pay your taxes
  • Operate your small business
  • Claim inheritance or other property to which you are entitled
  • Transfer property to a trust you created
  • Hire someone to represent you in court
  • Manage your retirement accounts

There may be other actions necessary to perform; however, the above list constitutes significant duties. Your agent must act in your best interest, keeping accurate records and avoiding conflicts of interest.

What Role Does Your Medical Power of Attorney Play?

Your medical power of attorney is one type of health care directive that outlines your healthcare preferences if you are too ill or injured to do so. The agent you select must be trustworthy and mature in overseeing your medical care and healthcare decision-making. Your healthcare agent will coordinate with doctors and other healthcare providers, ensuring you receive the medical care you prefer. To make these preferences clear, you may choose to use the second type of healthcare directive known as a “living will” or “healthcare declaration.” In this document, you can make clear your healthcare preferences. In some states, medical power of attorney and healthcare declaration combine into one form known as an “advance health care directive.” With this information, your agent is legally bound to comply with your treatment preferences to ensure they are made aware in the documentation.

Choosing your agent well, appointing backup agents, and tailoring your documents to your needs and specifications can take away a lot of worry about your future care and well-being. Having valid power of attorney documents avoids guardianship issues, which are time-consuming, expensive, and limit freedoms. Contact our Ruston, LA office at (318) 255-1760 to address any questions or concerns you may have about establishing power of attorney documents for your particular needs.

Becoming a Legal Guardian for an Aging Parent

Legal guardianship of an aging parent means accepting significant responsibility to act and advocate for their care. The duties include a parent’s daily care, medical care, and possibly financial decisions made on their behalf. Many guardians are family members who were previously caregivers, now cast into a formal legal role. At the same time, some are professional guardians appointed to circumvent well-established family conflict and disagreement problems. Becoming a guardian requires a court hearing and medical provider confirmation of incapacity of the proposed ward. In legal terms, a ward is either a minor or an incapacitated adult under the protection of a legal guardian. Incapacity can include cognitive decline, dementia, brain injuries, prescription drug impairment, inability to perform daily living activities, or other severe health conditions.

Sometimes an aging parent may disagree that they need a guardian, leading to contested guardianship hearings. There may also be disagreement as to the proposed guardian. A variety of concerns are often expressed during a contested hearing where family members may not agree due to longstanding relationship issues. A contested hearing can become costly, with family members opposing guardianship becoming responsible for their legal expenses. In such cases, a professional guardian is preferable to settling issues between a family where conflict is the norm. Before guardianship is granted, documentation of cognitive impairment like dementia or physical incapacity precluding a parent from making good decisions about their care must be presented to the court. This documentation substantiates the degree of parental impairment as evidence for the guardianship petition. A medical assessment, including a neuropsychological evaluation, provides additional proof for the need for guardianship.

Understanding the Role of a Conservator

In most cases, when a guardian is appointed, so is a conservator. The conservator’s responsibility is to manage property and money. Some family members act as a guardian and conservators, but this is disallowed when a professional is appointed as professional oversight requires a system of checks and balances. A court-appointed family member guardian and conservator is assumed to act in the best interest of their family member. If there are enough funds available, a guardian can hire caregiving help, provide different therapies, or utilize adult daycare. A conservator’s responsibility to manage funds in the best interest of the aging parent should dovetail with the guardian’s goals, and in no way should these funds be conserved to guarantee adult children an inheritance. Guardianships differ from state to state, including the terminology used for guardians and conservators. Some states have an office of public guardianship that accepts cases from low-income individuals and some private clients. Just as in estate planning, probate attorneys, and elder law, it is crucial to retain an attorney specializing in the area of guardianship and conservatorship.

Understanding the Process of Guardianship

The process can be long and complex, particularly in the case of an aging parent, as they will lose fundamental rights having their care entrusted to another person. A general discussion between the aging parent or older person and their relatives as to why guardianship is the best way forward is a good place to begin. The legal process starts with filing a petition for the appointment of guardian or conservator form. This form includes information about the proposed ward and their relatives, the person submitting the request, the reason guardianship is necessary, and an explanation for why alternatives to guardianship are either not available or appropriate. A court investigation commences determining if there is a need for guardianship. If warranted, a court hearing is scheduled where the judge reviews the petition, listens to statements and determines whether or not to grant the guardianship petition. Every court-appointed guardian is entitled to reasonable compensation for their services. Often when a guardian is a spouse, family member, or close friend, they will waive any payment. In the case of a private or public guardian, the individual is paid directly from the ward’s estate.

An aging parent’s ability to accept the idea of guardianship on their behalf is an admission that they cannot maintain their independence. It is best to be very clear about the process and not mislead them or create unnecessary stress by not fully understanding all involved. Retaining an attorney specializing in guardianship and conservatorship can protect the process from missteps and make it a smoother transition for all parties involved. For assistance,  contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

Options to Afford Long-Term Care

According to findings, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that approximately seventy percent of retirees in America will need long-term care (LTC), with median annual costs for these services ranging from $53,768 to $105,850 in 2020, according to research from Genworth. HHS also reports that those who receive Medicaid-financed nursing home care will spend more time in residence than those who self-finance their care or have private long-term care insurance. These long-term care services and supports (LTSS) are becoming more critical as retirees live longer lives and worry about outspending their assets.

The Dilemma of Affording for Long-term Care

Paying for long-term care planning remains a significant challenge for most older Americans and preparing for service payments can be tricky. LTC insurance may cover a portion of services or all of them, and premiums depend on a person’s age, gender, health, location, and other criteria. The American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance lists 2021 average premiums for initial benefits of $165,000 (with a 1 to 5 percent annual growth rate) for a healthy fifty-five-year-old male to be between $1,375 to $3,685 per year. For the same coverage type, a healthy fifty-five-year-old woman can expect to pay between $2,150 to $6,400. Premium hikes tend to be costly because metrics used years ago in the insurance industry were faulty and did not accurately project the real LTSS costs.

What is Hybrid Long-term Care Coverage?

A different payment option is hybrid long-term care coverage. These policies are part annuity or life insurance and part long-term care coverage. You may purchase a policy upfront eliminating any future risk of premium increases, and your heirs may receive a death benefit if you do not need long-term care. This option is an arbitrage approach hoping that you will not require LTSS and that your heirs may benefit. Hybrid policy price comparisons are more difficult to ascertain than a standalone long-term care coverage policy.

How to Utilize a Health Savings Account to Pay for Long-term Care

A third option is for those retirees with sizable health savings accounts to use pre-tax funds to cover long-term care expenses or premiums. Currently, those itemizing deductions can write off long-term care expenses above 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income on their taxes. Finally, those low-income retirees with assets below a certain threshold may qualify for Medicaid LTSS. Applicants must pass a five-year “look back” period to assure they did not gift or spend down assets to qualify. If you think you may qualify, take this Medicaid eligibility test.

Typically, family members play an important caregiver role in their loved ones who need help regarding activities of daily living. This statement is particularly true in the earlier stages of requiring care, where someone may need help with just one activity of daily living. In-home assistance, community programs, and residential facilities can help your loved one stay as active as possible, accomplishing everyday tasks. The family-style approach constitutes most living arrangements for those who receive long-term care.

HHS

Many available resources help older adults continue to reside in-home and participate in their communities. The stay-at-home option in the earlier stages of a significant long-term need, or if projected care requirements may be a matter of two to three months, may be the most viable and cost-effective solution. Pivoting to in-home service provision is the most likely scenario for most American retirees. Nursing home residential space is expensive, and Medicaid can only supply so much aid. While most LTSS stays remain paid care and have relatively short durations, the lifetime risk for expensive out-of-pocket costs runs high.

Unfortunately, receiving paid LTSS care is not equally distributed among the US population. Generally, people with limited education and less financial resources are the most likely to experience severe LTSS needs. Over a lifetime, however, the more well-educated population with different socioeconomic advantages tend to live longer and can outlive their assets. Family is an integral part of the solution for long-term care while the federal government responds to the growing need to make this care more available and affordable. For your best outcome, be proactive in your planning. Most Americans will need LTSS, but few will have taken steps to plan for it. Please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 or schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help with your long-term care needs.

 

The Mechanics of a Will

A complete estate plan should include a will, which is a legal document that disperses your property upon death. If you die without one (intestate), the state will distribute your assets and property via state law and quite possibly at odds with your wishes.  Having a will allows you to appoint a legal representative or executor to carry out your bequests and name a guardian for your children. There is no doubting the importance of having a will; however, there are some limitations you should be aware of.

Although a will can be the primary mechanism to transfer property on death, it does not cover all property situations. Some classes of property you are unable to distribute through a will are:

  • Property held in trust – A trust will have named beneficiaries who will receive the trust’s property according to the trust terms and not based on what is in your will (unless specifically stated in the trust).
  • Pay on death accounts – Informally known as PODs, the original account owner names a beneficiary(s) to whom the assets in the account pass automatically upon the owner’s death.
  • Life Insurance – Life insurance benefits pass to your named beneficiary(s) in the life insurance policy and are not affected by your will.
  • Retirement plans – In a similar manner to life insurance, money in an IRA or 401(k) passes to the named beneficiary(s). According to federal law, a surviving spouse is generally the automatic beneficiary of a 401(k); however, there are some exceptions. An IRA permits you to name a beneficiary(s).
  • Investments in transfer on death accounts – Some accounts holding stocks and bonds will transfer on death to the named beneficiary(s). Like POD accounts, transfer on death accounts bypass probate and go directly to the beneficiary(s).

A will does not allow you to avoid probate. Under most circumstances, a will must go through the probate process in order to allow beneficiaries to inherit property. It can take months to get through probate, and it involves expenses like an attorney, executor, and court fees. Also, under most circumstances, your will and everything associated with it (property you own, who your beneficiaries are, etc.) become part of the public record that anyone can access.

Keep funeral instructions outside of your will. The reality is your funeral may have already taken place before someone finds and reads your will, which can take days, even weeks. If your funeral or memorial service is important to you, the best way to help your family is to pre-plan, making arrangements with a funeral home. You can leave written instructions with the family as to your plans.

Your pets cannot inherit through your will. An animal is legally unable to inherit money or property from you. If you want your pets to be cared for after you die, leave money to a person willing to take care of your animals. The person you select can inherit your pets since a pet is considered property. You can also set up a pet trust or a pet protection agreement, either of which provides for your pet’s care.

Provisions for a child on government benefits are best in a trust. It is best to create a special needs trust to provide for a child with special needs or a child who is receiving government benefits. The trust can hold money for your child’s care without affecting those benefits.

There are ways to circumvent the limitations of a will by creating trusts, setting up pay-on-death accounts, and ensuring a beneficiary is named on all accounts that permit them. Your will is an important component of a comprehensive estate plan, but it can’t do everything.

We would be happy to discuss the pros and cons of having a will and other options available to you as part of your overall estate plan. Please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 or schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help with your long-term care needs.

Factors to Consider When Deciding on a Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust

The federal estate tax exemption allowance seems to be at risk of being reduced, and so it may be a good idea to reevaluate your estate plan. Senate Democrats are proposing to lower the current estate tax exemption from $11.7 million to $3.5 million for individuals and $23.4 million to $7 million for couples. Whether this particular Congressional bill will pass into law is unknown; however, change is likely coming to estate tax exemptions. Even without action by Congress, in 2026, the current rate will sunset and essentially be cut in half to about $6 million per individual.

To address additional inheritance taxation, many look to an irrevocable life insurance trust as a mechanism to reduce estate tax and pay your heir’s part or all of the amount your estate will be taxed. The asset of the trust will be one or more life insurance policies. However, beware, as once an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is created, it cannot be rescinded, modified, or amended. There are several important requirements to create and maintain an ILIT properly, and each requirement helps to explain the nature of such a trust.

  • If you are the trust grantor, you cannot also serve as a trustee because a trustee controls the trust, leading to the trust being considered a part of your estate. It is crucial to name a trusted person or financial institution to act as a responsible trustee.
  • The trust itself must be the owner of the life insurance policy. If you transfer an existing policy to the trust and die within three years of the transfer, the policy is part of your estate due to a look-back rule. The trust can directly purchase a policy to avoid this risk.
  • The trust must pay the policy premiums, and you must transfer funds to the trust for such a purpose. This situation can create an issue with gift taxes as a transfer to a trust is not usually afforded the yearly gift tax exclusion of $15,000. To qualify as a gift for a tax exclusion, the recipient must have a “present interest” in the money. To accommodate this requirement, you can use what is known as “Crummey” power, giving beneficiaries the ability to withdraw funds transferred to the trust for up to thirty days. Sending a Crummey letter to the beneficiaries of an ILIT informs that a gift has been made to the trust, and there is an immediate and unrestricted right to withdraw those assets for up to thirty days. After thirty days, the trustee can pay the annual insurance premium with the funds. Although you run the risk that the beneficiaries will withdraw these funds, if you make it clear the financial benefit is greater in the future, it should not present a problem.
  • Generally, the beneficiary of the life insurance policy is the trust. After the funds are deposited into the trust, the trustee can distribute the assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the trust. If your beneficiaries are still minors, you can instruct the trustee to wait until they reach a certain age. Leaving the assets in the trust can also protect them from beneficiaries’ creditors.

ILIT’s can own both individual and second to die life insurance policies. All premium payments should come from a bank account owned by the ILIT. The downside to an ILIT is that it is irrevocable. However, your ILIT is a powerful tool that can minimize your estate taxes, avoid gift taxes, protect assets and government benefits, select the timeline of distribution to beneficiaries, and more. If you would like to discuss whether an ILIT may be right for you, give us a call. We would be happy to schedule a confidential meeting to discuss your needs. Please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 or schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help with your long-term care needs.

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A Major Problem: Age Discrimination

Since the 1960’s, lawmakers have continued to tackle age discrimination in the workplace. According to study.com, age discrimination is defined as “the practice of letting a person’s age unfairly become a factor when deciding who receives a new job, promotion, or other job benefits. Decisions about terminating employees also cannot be solely based on their age.” Age discrimination is illegal and there are laws to protect people from it.

The Law

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is the federal law that protects job applicants and workers over the age of 40 from age discrimination. There are a few exceptions of groups that are not included in the ADEA. These include elected officials, military personnel, and independent contractors. The law applies to employers with at least 20 employees or labor organizations with at least 25 members. It also applies to employment agencies, the federal government, and state and local government. Along with the ADEA, all states have laws that protect workers against age discrimination and in most cases these laws are more stringent than the federal law.

ADEA Protection

Under the ADEA, employers are prohibited from using age considerations in hiring, firing, layoffs, demotions, or promotions. In addition, there are several things employers cannot do. Employers may not mention specific age requirements or preferences when placing ads for jobs or recruiting employees. Employees may not be forced to retire at a certain age except in certain limited cases. Age limits cannot be set or specified for training programs and employers may not retaliate against employees that file age discrimination charges.

In addition, employers who provide benefits must provide those opportunities for all employees, regardless of age. However, with benefits that increase in cost with age, employers may provide the same amount of cost assistance for all employees regardless of cost or age.

Identifying Age Discrimination

Age discrimination can take many forms. Age-related comments or speaking to older employees in a demeaning manner can become harassment due to age. Harassment based on age is a tactic employers may use in an effort to get older employees to quit rather than firing them when they are deemed too old. When a company has a track record of hiring only younger people, this may be a sign of age discrimination. Getting turned down for a promotion that is then given to a younger, less qualified person or being overlooked for challenging work assignments can be signs of age discrimination. If an employer encourages or forces an employee into retirement, this is age discrimination. Oftentimes age discrimination may come in the form of being left out or isolated. Unfair disciplinary action can also be a tactic used to discriminate against older employees. If an employee suspects that he or she is being discriminated against because of age, these indicators may help in deciding if a claim needs to be filed.

Filing a Claim

Any employee has the right to file a claim if they feel they are being discriminated against because of age. If an employee wishes to pursue a claim, they must first file an administrative claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will then contact the employer and investigate the claim. If the EEOC deems the claim to have merit, they will issue a right-to-sue notice.  Then, the employee is allowed to file suit against the employer. Claims must be filed within 90 days of the EEOC’s notice.  With the various rules and requirements of this process, it is important to have competent and timely legal advice.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact us. Please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 or schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help with your long-term care needs.

Geriatric Managers in High Demand

A professional geriatric care manager tends to a senior’s unique health care situation rather than being responsive to a particular age. The truth is aging is a complex, highly individualized process, and a geriatric care manager (GCM) may be appropriate at age 65 or 105 and any age in between. A geriatric care manager is a highly-skilled advocate for older adults and is specially trained to help identify resources to make managing your loved one’s daily life easier. A GCM is sometimes referred to as “aging life care professional” or “senior care manager,” as some find the term geriatric to be outdated. When is it appropriate to employ a care manager for your aging parent or loved one?

You live far away

Even if you leverage in-home technology and the internet of things to monitor and assess your loved ones well being, it isn’t easy to manage your older adult’s care if you do not live near to them. If you cannot frequently visit, a geriatric care manager can supervise care, alert you to potential or real problems, and work with you to arrive at the best decision for any issues that may prevent themselves.

Your loved one refuses to discuss their health with you

Many seniors, especially parents, do not want to burden their adult children with worries or problems. If you get the feeling your loved one is not telling you the full story about things affecting their health and well-being, hiring a geriatric care manager to check on them is a prudent strategy. Often, a senior is more willing to share their concerns with an expert outside of the family system.

There is a complex behavioral issue to address

Serious behavioral issues can manifest themselves in many ways, such as constant verbal abuse or being physically combative. These issues typically present themselves during the onset of dementia, and the root cause of the problem can be difficult to pinpoint. A geriatric care manager can connect you to an appropriate specialist to diagnose the problem.

You need to solve a problem in the senior living community

You might sense your parent needs more individualized care in their assisted living community, but the community’s administrator will not permit you to hire a private aide. A geriatric care manager understands how these communities work, the relevant state laws that may apply to the situation, and can negotiate on your behalf.  Because a GCM is an industry insider, they are more likely to find a solution in your loved ones’ best interest.

You do not know how best to help your loved one

There comes a time in your older family member’s care where you might feel utterly lost and unsure about what to do. A GCM can help you get unstuck by providing available options, tradeoffs, and costs. An initial assessment by a GCM can help navigate complex funding care options or uncover unknown resources for funding care.

Geriatric care managers can provide many services, including:

  • Evaluating, arranging for, and monitoring in-home care needs and the personnel that provide it
  • Coordinating medical appointments and arranging transportation to them
  • Identifying available programs and social services that can help your loved one
  • Making referrals to medical, legal, or financial professionals and suggesting ways to avert problems
  • Explaining difficult or complex topics to family members or care recipients
  • Creating short and long-term care plans that may include changes in living arrangements
  • Acting as a liaison to families who live far away from their loved one
  • Addressing and answering questions and emotional concerns of caregivers and their loved ones
  • Arranging for respite care providing relief to stressed-out caregivers

Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for a geriatric care manager’s services, so count on paying out of pocket. The initial assessment cost may range from 300 dollars in more rural settings to 800 dollars or more in larger urban areas based on a survey from 2017. After an initial assessment, a GCM bills by the hour and sometimes on a case-by-case basis. A reputable, certified GCM will have required degrees in one or more health care fields as well as several years of hands-on experience caring for the elderly. They will help assess, plan, coordinate and monitor your loved one’s insurance and entitlements, financial and legal matters, medical issues, involvement in activities, and family communication.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA), through the US Department of Health & Human Services, provides links on its webpage to locate geriatric care managers, as do many other organizations specializing in senior care like AgingLifeCare, and caring.com. You can also learn what to ask a potential GCM at caregiversamerica.com and other websites that provide senior information.

There is much to consider about your aging family member’s health and welfare, whether aging in place or an assisted living community. An experienced geriatric care manager, along with trusted legal counsel, can provide the best overall planning for a loved one. If you have questions or would like to discuss further how a GCM may help you or a loved one, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 or schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help with your long-term care needs.

 

Prepare For the Care of Your Aging Parent

It is essential to prepare for providing care for an aging parent to be successful. Whether you need basic information about eldercare resources and services, are looking for a local agency to provide those services, or have worries about legal documents or how to finance your parents’ care needs now or in the future, the time to begin planning is today.

The American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and television program distributor provides an online handbook, Caring for Your Parents, that offers good preparedness strategies. These planning strategies, links, and tools are also transferable for spousal care, other elderly relatives, or caring for a loved one who is chronically or critically ill with significant ongoing needs. The PBS handbook, designed by WGBH Educational Foundation and the MIT Workplace Center, addresses a wide variety of situations and is even appropriate when considering your own needs as you age.

In terms of an aging parent, it all begins with an open and honest conversation. You might be fortunate and know your parents are well prepared for their future, but most Americans will face situations where loved ones will require additional help and resources. If your parents have a solid aging plan with proper legal documents and financial backing, know that you can access that paperwork and account information.

If there is no plan in place, talk with your parents about future changes with appropriate family members. Take small steps to prevent overwhelming your parents, listen carefully, and be prepared for some denial. Discuss living at-home safety, bringing in outside services and caregivers into their home. Also, broach assisted living or nursing homes and if your parents’ have a valid will and health care proxy. Define their healthcare and living needs for the present and the future.

When locating services remember all eldercare is ultimately local, and services vary widely among states and regions. If you care for your elder parent but do not live nearby, look for resources in the state and neighborhood where your loved one lives. Be persistent; no one resource has all the answers. You may receive advice that something cannot happen when in fact, it can. Request an “Information and Referral” (I&R) specialist. These specialists have the proper training to answer a wide range of questions and connect you to services.

Much of your search will be on the internet. Your search can be overwhelming as there is so much information about eldercare, so be sure to use trustable sites for data. The PBS Caring for Your Parents Handbook’s links can specifically help navigate eldercare services and information complexities, whether the needs be moderate or significant.

Aside from identifying and using eldercare services, the Handbook contains information about finances, legal issues, insurance, home care, housing and transportation, health care, activities, and strategies for caregiver wellness. You can cross-reference data you uncover using the AARP online forums, where people share experiences, ask and answer questions, and learn from each other. Or use the AARP search tool entering phrases like “caring for your aging parent” for articles, books, and guides that you can compare with the PBS Handbook.

When establishing a care plan for your aging parents, realize that good intentions can quickly derail without legal documents in place permitting you to make decisions on their behalf. The quality of life and end-of-life care your parents receive is inextricably linked to proper legal documentation. When making plans and acquiring eldercare services, be certain to speak with an elder law attorney who can provide an overview of the aging process from a legal perspective and identify your parents’ specific needs. Health care proxies and living wills will enable you to make decisions based on your parents’ beliefs, values, and wishes when they are no longer able to decide for themselves.

As elder law attorneys, we consult with families on both care and legal needs of family members as the two are closely related and should be considered together. If you would like to discuss your particular needs, we would be honored to speak with you. Please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 or schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help with your long-term care needs.

 

What Are the Effects of Stimulus Payments on Medicaid?

The federal government has issued stimulus payments to most Americans as part of the coronavirus pandemic recovery effort. This money is paid to ease the pain of the Covid pandemic and to jump-start the economy.

The stimulus money should have arrived in the same way that Social Security payments or tax refunds are made, either direct-deposited into a bank account or mailed as a paper check. If the money has not arrived, or for guidance in general, consult the IRS website:

https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payment-information-center#more. Other options are to call 800-919-9835 or 800-829-1040, or you can visit your local Taxpayer Assistance Center.

Those who are receiving means-tied government assistance, like SSI, VA benefits, or Medicaid to pay for long-term care, need not worry that stimulus money will be counted against them for eligibility. As long as recipients spend the money within twelve months, the money will not push them over the maximum amount they are permitted before they are penalized.

Recipients may use the money to buy new clothing, cell phones or televisions, toiletries, snacks, dental treatment, or improved quality of medical supplies. They may buy an irrevocable funeral trust, to avoid future expense to family members.  The money might pay for updating estate-planning documents, or for consulting a geriatric care manager. (Some commentators believe that you could give the money away to family or charities. While this may be OK under federal law, it’s probably best not to take chances with how the states may interpret it. Spend the money, don’t donate it.)

Provided that the money is not spent on what could be called an asset or an investment – like, for example, rare coins or stocks or bonds – the money will not be counted against the asset limit for Medicaid eligibility. And, again, the money must be spent within twelve months. It must not be forgotten-about or left unnoticed in a bank account.

It also must not be misappropriated by nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. If this has happened to you or your loved one, inform the facility manager that the money must be refunded to the resident. Cite the law that carves out the payment from being counted toward federally assisted programs like Medicaid: 26 U.S.C. § 6409.  Or, show them a handout downloadable from the Congressional Research Service.

If the facility will not refund the money, contact your state’s attorney general. Then lodge a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Recipients of assistance, like anyone else, are free to spend their stimulus money. The money is theirs. It is tax-free. It is intended to be spent, and it should be spent, in any way the recipient would like (subject to the conditions above).

This is one time when spending is unquestionably a good thing – for buyers and sellers.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your situation in a confidential setting, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 or schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help with your long-term care needs.

 

Opportunities for Wartime Veterans

In the past, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released eligibility rules for the VA pension program. VA pension, a tax-free monthly cash benefit, is available to wartime Veterans who served at least 90 days of active duty service with 1 day during a declared period of war. Surviving spouses of wartime Veterans may also qualify for a monthly cash payment. Veterans or surviving spouses who need care on a regular basis are eligible for a higher payment (often referred to as “Aid and Attendance,” payments of which can be over $2,000 per month, depending on marital status and care needs.

With any pension claim, there are financial and medical requirements. The medical requirements are straightforward – a Veteran or surviving spouse must be 65 or older or permanently disabled to receive the lowest pension amount. If the Veteran or surviving spouse is blind or nearly so, a patient in a nursing home, or requires assistance with activities of daily living on a regular basis as prescribed by a physician then it is possible to qualify for the highest amount – pension with an aid and attendance allowance. The money paid by the VA goes straight to the Veteran or surviving spouse to help pay for care. The VA doesn’t choose who provides the care – the Veteran or surviving spouse does. And often times, it’s a family member who can be paid.

The financial requirements are a little more complex. Prior to October 18, 2018, there was no clear rule about how much a wartime Veteran or surviving spouse could have before qualifying for VA pension. That is no longer the case! Now, a wartime Veteran or a surviving spouse can have about $130,000 (increased annually), a home, car, and other personal effects and still qualify for a monthly cash payment.  Even if you have more than that there are legal ways to reduce total assets in order to qualify. However, if you give money away after October 18, 2018, you may have to wait months or years to qualify, so make sure you have solid legal advice before doing so.

There are also income limitations, however income can be reduced by recurring out-of-pocket medical expenses. There are certain requirements that must be met before a medical expense can be deducted from income, but most expenses directly related to care will qualify.

The VA pension program can be a huge financial benefit to wartime Veterans or surviving spouses of wartime Veterans. We help families determine whether a claim is possible, and advise how a veteran can qualify. Give us a call today so we can start helping you or a loved one. Please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 or schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help with your long-term care needs.