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The Estate Planning Process

The Estate Planning Process

An estate planning process is a multifaceted process that involves several documents spelling out a person’s wishes. During the process, you can name people to make financial decisions on your behalf when you are unable. You can designate beneficiaries for your assets. You can also express your wishes for what type of medical care you want if you are severely ill or injured and unable to communicate.

Since each person’s situation is unique, every estate plan is different. Here are the basic steps in the estate planning process to get you started. Working with an estate planning attorney will help you create and implement a plan that works for your specific needs.

Inventory Your Assets

We often don’t realize how many tangible and intangible assets we have until we start counting them. Before meeting with an estate planning attorney, create an inventory of everything you own that has significant monetary or family value.

Your tangible assets may include:

  • Real estate, both residential and commercial (unless owned by your company)
  • Vehicles, such as cars, motorcycles, or boats
  • Collectible items, such as artwork, antiques, coins, stamps, or trading cards
  • Jewelry and other valuable items

Your intangible assets may include:

  • Checking and savings accounts
  • Investments, such as mutual funds, stocks, bonds, or certificates of deposit
  • Retirement plans, such as a 401(k) or an IRA
  • Life insurance policies or health savings accounts
  • Ownership shares in a business

After you have created an inventory of your assets, determine each asset’s value. If you are unable to attach a dollar amount to an asset, you can determine its worth by how much your heirs will value it or have it appraised. By giving each asset a value, you will be able to evenly divide your assets among your heirs.

Determine Your Family’s Needs

One important aspect of estate planning is making sure your dependents’ needs will be met after you’re gone. Life insurance can be a good way to ensure the necessary funds to support your loved ones. Work with a financial advisor to be certain you have enough life insurance to cover your dependents’ needs.

If you have minor children, name a guardian and a backup guardian who can take care of your children if you and your spouse are both unable to care for them. In addition to naming guardians for your children, it is a good idea to express what’s most important to you. For example, you can share your values related to education, religion, and general child rearing.

Put It All in Writing

For your estate plan to be official, you need to put your desires into legal documents and sign them in the presence of a notary public and one or two witnesses. The requirements for a valid will vary from state to state. Here are some estate planning documents that may be part of your estate plan.

  • Will: A will is an estate planning document that everyone should have. You can use your will to name the person you want to manage your estate after you have passed away. You can also designate which beneficiaries should get which assets, appoint guardians for your minor children, and explain funeral and burial arrangements.
  • Trust: During the estate planning process, you may determine that you need a trust to manage some of your assets. Trusts are useful estate planning tools that can offer various asset protection benefits. An estate planning attorney can let you know if a trust can help you achieve your estate planning goals.
  • Durable Financial Power of Attorney: This document allows you to appoint a person you trust to manage your financial affairs if you are unable to manage them.
  • Advance Health Care Directive: With this document, you can express your wishes for end-of-life care and name a person you trust to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.
  • HIPAA form: This form is usually only about three pages long and includes a list of people whom health care providers may share your medical information with.

Review and Update Your Estate Plan

Too many people think that once they have signed their estate plans, they are through with the process. However, since changes in our lives are inevitable, changes to our estate plans are often necessary. You should review your estate plan every few years and consult with your estate planning attorney when you need to make changes.

 

This article offers a summary of aspects of estate planning law. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

 

A Comparison of Elder Law and Estate Planning

A Comparison of Elder Law and Estate Planning

You might wonder what estate planning and elder law are and how they differ as you plan for the future. Both financially and in terms of health care. Estate planning and elder law also have some similarities. A comparison of elder law and estate planning will be addressed below.

Even though these two types of law are for different stages in life, they are often handled at the same time. This is because many people wait till later in life to start their estate planning process. When an older person creates an estate plan, they may also need some elder law counseling. To better understand the two areas of the legal field, we will look at the solutions they provide. As well as the questions they answer, and how they can work together.

Estate Planning

The main goal of estate planning is to choose legal documents that will determine what will happen to you and your assets once you have passed away or become incapacitated. An estate planning attorney will help you make important decisions, such as:

  • Who makes medical and financial decisions if you are unable
  • Who is allowed access to your medical records
  • How assets are distributed after you are gone
  • Who cares for minor children if you become incapacitated or die
  • Who manages money for your minor children if you are no longer able
  • How to handle your funeral arrangements and burial

Durable Powers of Attorney

By using a general durable power of attorney document, you can name a person, or persons, to make financial decisions on your behalf either immediately or  if you are no longer able to do so. Expressing your end-of-life wishes requires designating a person to make healthcare decisions for you by completing a health care directive. By completing a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) form, you will give your health care providers permission to share your medical records with the people listed on your HIPAA form.

Wills and Trusts

In your will, you can name the beneficiaries of your estate as well as a guardian to care for any minor children you may have at the time of your death. You can also name a person to manage the money you leave for their benefit. Some people create a trust, or trusts, to hold their assets during their lifetime and after death. They then sign a pour-over will that moves assets into their trust(s) upon death.

Elder Law

Whereas estate planning focuses mostly on what happens after a person dies, the area of elder law focuses on a person’s last years or months. This can include planning for long-term care and applying for government assistance, such as Medicaid, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits, if applicable. Using elder law tools and strategies, an elder law attorney can help you find ways to preserve your assets while preparing to apply for benefits.

Like estate planning, it is best to start the elder law planning process well in advance. To qualify for benefits, such as Medicaid, you may have to sell or transfer ownership of some assets years before applying for benefits. Gifting or transferring assets out of your name must be done according to government requirements, so applying for benefits can be a complicated process. Hiring a skilled attorney can make the difference between receiving benefits quickly or not at all.

Since seniors are at a greater risk for discrimination, neglect, and abuse, elder law attorneys can help seniors and their family members recognize when a senior’s rights are being violated and take legal action to counter and remedy the situation.

Tying Estate Planning and Elder Law Together

It is best to start your estate planning process as soon as possible. The decisions involved could come at any time due to an accident or an illness. Planning for end-of-life care and the benefits associated with it may come later in life, but preparing well in advance lets you legally reduce assets for an extended period to qualify for benefits, like Medicaid.

Even younger families just starting their estate planning process may look at elder law planning at the same time for senior family members’ needs. Some estate planning tools, such as trusts, are often used when helping a parent plan for Medicaid. Even other government benefits for long-term care expenses. An attorney experienced in both estate planning and elder law can advise you in these areas. They will help you navigate complicated processes.

This article offers a summary of aspects of estate planning law. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. However, it is of upmost importance to know the comparison of elder law and estate planning. For legal advice, contact our Ruston, LA office at (318) 255-1760 to speak to one of our experienced estate attorneys.

How to Cover the Cost of In-Home Care

How to Cover the Cost of In-Home Care

We all want to know how to cover the cost of in-home care. It brings up several decisions that need to be made. Including where your home will be. We may ask ourselves, “Am I able to remain in my home independently, or do I need assistance?” If the answer is daily assistance, we have three main options.

  1. Move in with or receive daily assistance from a loved one
  2. Relocate to assisted living or a nursing home
  3. Pay for in-home care services

Of these three options, in-home care is the most desired. However, it comes with a cost, as there are strict Medicare and Medicaid limitations to benefits that cover in-home care services. However, despite the high price and limitations, many people are finding ways to afford this more desirable option.

Don’t completely write off Medicaid.

Medicaid coverage varies greatly depending on the state you live in and may cover long-term in-home care if you qualify for a waiver. There may be a waitlist for benefits, so the sooner you apply, the better.

Use your veteran’s benefits.

An often-overlooked veterans’ benefit is Aid and Attendance, offering help with out-of-pocket expenses. Veterans who have served a minimum of one day during wartime, were on active duty for a minimum of 90 days, and honorably discharged may be eligible for this benefit. If qualified, the veteran receives a tax-free, monthly cash payment to use for care. For veterans and their families, this can help offset the cost of in-home care significantly.

Your life insurance policies may help.

Those with life insurance policies may learn that coverage may apply to in-home care. Some life insurance policies have a feature known as “accelerated benefits.” This feature allows the policyholder to use the insurance within the policy before death occurs. Typically, accelerated benefits are for those who have disabilities related to chronic conditions or require ongoing or long-term in-home care. If your dependents are not relying on the money, you may consider using accelerated benefits to cover the cost associated with in-home care.

Consider a reverse mortgage.

Reverse mortgages were created to help seniors live at home for as long as possible. Therefore, if your home is paid off or a significant amount of equity has been accumulated, a reverse mortgage may be an excellent option to cover the cost of in-home care. A reverse mortgage gives seniors the opportunity to take out home equity in the form of payments or as a lump sum.

Reverse mortgage qualifications include the following:

  • You must be 62 years of age or older
  • The home must be owned — either completely paid off or with a minimal balance
  • The issuing bank appraises the house to determine the value based on the senior’s age and payout

Take advantage of annuities.

An annuity combines personal investment with an ongoing insurance plan. It is a custom contract that an insurance company issues, turning an investor’s premium into an income stream that is fixed and guaranteed. After the investment has matured, the policyholder can begin withdrawing.

Many people only see annuities as a way to help seniors grow their money and assist with living expenses. However, the income earned from the annuity can very well be enough to cover the cost of in-home care.

In-home care is an option!

In-home is the most desired option for those who require daily assistance. Not only does it take away the obligation for loved ones to become caretakers, but it also enhances the quality of life for seniors and allows them to live in the most comfortable place- their home.

Despite the high cost associated with in-home care, this option may be more financially feasible than many realize. It may take some creative thinking and proper planning, but it is possible.

Elder law attorneys have the knowledge to combine estate planning with financial planning and offer guidance for long-term care options, including in-home care. We invite you to contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 to speak with one of our professionals today about Medicaid, VA benefits, and long-term care expenses.

Elder Abuse Prevention

Elder Abuse Prevention

In a perfect world we could believe that our elderly loved ones aren’t being intentionally harmed. However, the truth is that senior citizens are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to abuse. The National Council on Aging reports that one in ten American seniors (60+) have fallen victim to elder abuse. It is also estimated that only one of every twenty-four abuse cases is reported. This suggests that as many as five million elders are abused every year.

Elder Abuse Defined

The Centers for Disease Control defines elder abuse as “an intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates risk or harm to an older adult. An older adult is someone age 60 or older.” While abuse can vary greatly, there are five different types of abuse:

  1. Physical abuse is the intentional injury to or harm to another. It can result from kicking, hitting, grabbing, pushing, biting, pinching, or any forceful action.
  2. Neglect occurs when the basic needs of a person are not being met. This includes personal care, medical, nutritional, hygiene, and housing. It can be classified as unintentional or intentional abuse.
  3. Psychological or emotional abuse can be characterized by verbal or nonverbal behavior that caused distress, fear, psychological suffering, or mental anguish. This type of abuse can include manipulation, threatening behavior, humiliation, intimidation, harassment, shaming, criticism, isolation, exploitation, or power dynamics.
  4. Sexual abuse is the act of any forced, non-consensual, or unwanted sexual contact, interaction attention, or exploitation. This abuse can take many forms. For example, it may include non-consensual touching, exposing the elder, intercourse, exposing oneself to the elder, verbal obscenities, and sexual advances.
  5. Financial abuse takes place when someone, usually a caregiver or trusted individual, illegally or improperly takes advantage of a senior’s money, benefits, belongings, property, or assets for the benefit of someone other than the elder. This type of abuse can include identification theft, stealing money from bank accounts, fraud, incorrect billing of services, and selling off assets.

The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act

To fight the growing elder abuse epidemic, the Elder Abuse and Prosecution Act was signed into law on October 18, 2017, by President Donald Trump. This act enhances the government’s focus on elder abuse prevention by utilizing a multi-faceted approach to protecting elders by punishing perpetrators.

The goals of the Elder Abuse and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) are as follows.

  • Improve local, state, and federal data collection on elder abuse.
  • Support and improve the prosecution of elder abuse.
  • Improve elder abuse technical assistance and training for law enforcement.
  • Improve provided victim assistance programs and resources.
  • Increase penalties for perpetrators of email and telemarketing scams targeting elders.

Elder Abuse Prevention Components

EAPPA proposes five main changes to protect the elderly from this abuse include:

  1. The Department of Justice is required to designate Elder Justice coordinators. These coordinators are responsible for serving as legal counsel, assisting with the prosecution, and increasing public awareness.
  2. The Attorney General and FBI coordinate elder abuse crime training programs for current and upcoming FBI agents.
  3. It is the Attorney General’s responsibility to coordinate with all law enforcement divisions to establish the best data collection practices. They are also responsible for establishing a group that shares all relevant information for prosecuting and uncovering elder abuse cases.
  4. The Director of the Office for Victims of Crime is required to utilize the data to present an annual report to Congress with an analysis of elder abuse. This will include recommendations on how to improve current services for elder abuse victims.
  5. The federal criminal code expanded to include fraudulent attempts to induce participation in a business opportunity, commitment to a loan, or investment for profit through email or telemarketing.

The elder abuse epidemic is a significant issue in America, and our country was long overdue for help from Congress. However, seeing laws like EAPAA pass over the last few years provides hope that our country will eventually see an end to this epidemic that affects our beloved elders. For more information on elder abuse laws, please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

Respite Care Working Hand in Hand with Caregivers

Respite Care Working with Caregivers

Caregiving is a selfless duty that offers fulfillment and exhaustion all at once. While many find gratification in caring for others, they must tend to their own lives and responsibilities. Because of this, caregivers typically experience some extent of burnout. To avoid burnout, it is critical for all caregivers to remember to take care of themselves. We can have respite care working hand in hand with caregivers.

Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is the emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion from the stressors that coincide with caring for a loved one. It is typically accompanied by feeling under-supported, overwhelmed, and underappreciated.

Burnout is most likely to happen when caregivers are not taking care of themselves. This can eventually affect the caregiver’s ability to provide quality care, which can be harmful to both the caregiver and the individual receiving care. A study conducted by the Journals of Gerontology concluded that caregivers under high levels of strain and responsibility had a significantly higher mortality rate and poorer health outcomes compared to those with less or no caretaking pressures.

Fortunately, burnout can be prevented or minimized by taking precautions such as healthy eating, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, and utilizing respite care to ensure regular breaks are prioritized.

Respite Care Services

Respite care is an essential component of caregiving. It provides support for caregivers by offering temporary relief. This enables the caregiver to take much-needed breaks from the high demands of caring for a sick, disabled, or aging loved one.

Respite care is unique for each situation. It can take place in one’s home, nursing or residential facilities, or adult day care centers. It may only be for a few hours while the caregiver runs errands, or it can be for a few days to weeks, depending on the circumstances. The type of support varies greatly as well and may include:

  • Assistance with household chores, errands, or tasks
  • Transportation to medical appointments
  • Assistance with bathing, dressing, and hygienic needs
  • Basic medical care
  • Companionship

Types of Respite Care

Arrangements for respite care are made ahead of time by the caregiver, and these arrangements can take the form of many types. The most common types of respite care are as follows:

  • Informal care is generally provided by family members or friends. It does not involve a respite professional and is an excellent solution for occasional, short-term breaks.
  • In-home care services come to you and offer temporary relief or can be regularly scheduled. An agency or an individual caregiver can provide in-home care aids or respite services.
  • Day services are an excellent option for adults who enjoy socialization and time out of their homes. These services are provided at various locations, such as senior centers or churches, and allow for supervised socialization under medical care. These services permit caregivers to go to work or complete other daytime tasks.
  • Residential care is much like a temporary nursing home or assisted living facility. It allows for overnight stays and is a good option if a caregiver must travel or needs a longer break.

Being a caregiver is a full-time responsibility. To provide the best care for a loved one, the caregiver must ensure that they are taking care of themselves too. Respite care plays a vital role, as it recharges the caregiver so burnout can be avoided and all have the best outcome. Respite care are working hand in hand with caregivers.

If you are caring for aging parents or someone with a special needs disability, learn more about respite resources available to you. For assistance, please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

Government programs for seniors

Government Programs for Seniors

AdditioNot knowing government programs for seniors and inflationary pressures are leading to financial insecurity for many US seniors. Besides reducing unnecessary expenses, many retirees or near-retirees should consider contacting the government to see if they qualify for assistance. It can reduce the anxiety many Americans feel living on a fixed income.

Government Programs for Seniors

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) works with thousands of national and local partners to provide tools, resources, advocacy, and best practices for every aging American to have health and financial security. Checking out if you qualify for senior benefits through government programs is easy to do with NCOA’s online BenefitsCheckUp tool.

Wasted Benefits

Every year billions of available dollars in US benefits programs are not claimed. Older adults (55 or more) are unsure if they are eligible. And, if so, how to apply. No registration is necessary, and requests for information are minimal. Personal data entered into the website will remain confidential, and accessing the database costs nothing. If you hate filling out forms and get confused by all the questions, estate planning and elder law attorneys go through this process every day. Contact them for help. There is rarely an upfront cost for legal help. You will be in a much better financial position once you begin receiving assistance.

The Online Benefits Check Up

If you complete the benefits check-up online, NCOA will send a confidential report to your mailing address. It will list the help available to you and how to apply for it. Since 2001 this NCOA program has helped millions of older adults receive help. This includes paying for medicine, food, utilities, and more. More than 2,000 benefits programs are in the check-up system, including categories such as:

  • Food and nutrition
  • Health care and medication
  • Housing and utilities
  • Income
  • In-home care and aging in place
  • Disability services
  • Skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care environments
  • Tax help
  • Legal, crisis, and general assistance
  • Veterans’ programs
  • Discounts and activities

The online BenefitsCheckUp site helps older individuals identify the federal and state assistance programs for which they can qualify. This NCOA website is newly revamped and permits error corrections and the addition of information if you feel the need to revise your answers. The resulting online individualized Eligibility Results report can be saved in a PDF format to email to yourself, your lawyer, or a trusted family member.

Providing this eligibility information to your elder law or estate planning attorney is a smart strategy. Suppose you already receive disability benefits through SSDI, SSI, or other programs. In that case, adding other government assistance programs may result in unintended and negative consequences. It may render you ineligible for benefits you already receive. Your lawyer will know the strategies already in place and how additional programs may affect your current planning.

The chart above shows how many older adults struggled to manage basic expenses. This even before the inflationary circumstances of late 2021 – 2022 (and predicted beyond). Participation rates in government assistance programs are at a historic low, with a mere low to mid sixty percent of eligible individuals participating.

Benefit take-up rates are low due to program enrollment barriers. Many older adults lack awareness that these benefits exist. When they do, the application process for many programs can be cumbersome and complex. Additionally, perceived stigma about receiving government assistance and other program misconceptions contribute to lower participation rates.

Ramsey Alwin, NCOA CEO and President, admits, “In today’s economy, inflation is taking a bigger and bigger bite out of people’s incomes.” He adds, “We completely redesigned BenefitsCheckUp to make it even easier … no one should have to choose between paying for medications or food.”

 

In Summary

To worry less and age better with more resources at your disposal, explore the NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp website and learn what is available to you. Before you use the contact information to take the next step to apply consult with your elder law or estate planning attorney. Also, all assistance you receive should not interfere with existing plans and help you age successfully. More than 2,000 government benefit programs are available to help you. It can make the difference between thriving or just surviving. For assistance and information on government programs for seniors please contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760.

The Importance of Hiring an Elder Law Attorney as Soon as Possible

The Importance of Hiring an Elder Law Attorney

Whether your loved ones are older adults, or you are concerned about your future health and financial well-being, an elder law attorney can help. Elder law is a highly specialized area of law focusing on the legal needs of older adults encompassing more significant issues like long-term health care needs, quality of life, and financial well-being. Know the importance of hiring an Elder Law attorney as soon as possible. Planning may include estate planning and administration, asset protection planning, Medicaid planning and applications, wills and trusts, probate, advance directives, special needs planning, and guardianships.

How would you answer the following questions:

  • Do you have a will, and has it been updated in the last five years?
  • Are your assets protected in the event you require home care or nursing home care?
  • Do you have a living will, including a health care proxy and durable power of attorney?
  • Is your home protected, perhaps in a trust?
  • Are you willing to spend half or even all of your assets on the cost of your elder care?

If your answers are no to any of these questions, it is time to consult with an elder law attorney.

The Importance of Medicaid Planning with an Elder Law Attorney

As you age, early planning is the key to enjoy a successful, secure, and less stressful lifestyle. Currently, the look-back period for Medicaid nursing home benefit qualifications is five years, and it is 2.5 years for Medicaid home care benefits. Early planning can protect many of your assets and still secure eligibility for government benefits.

The truth is, regardless of your age or wealth, you should have an estate plan. Your will sets forth instructions regarding which heirs will receive your property upon your death, name a guardian(s) for minor children, and protect assets in a special needs trust benefiting any disabled loved ones.  An estate plan will tackle tax planning, power of attorney, health care proxy, and a living will in the event of unforeseen incapacity.

Engaging in Medicaid planning and asset protection can ensure you or your loved one will receive the care they need and afford it. Medicaid planning can protect a healthy spouse who wishes to remain in your home with the financial resources to do so. Proper planning for Medicaid benefits can protect your assets from Medicaid’s estate recovery program, genuine estate liens.

How an Elder Care Attorney Can Help You or a Loved One?

Hiring an experienced elder care attorney can be the most significant financial safeguard a person can make. For their life or the life of a loved one. Specific services of an elder care attorney include but are not limited to:

  • Planning and managing of long-term care services – Your elder law attorney will compile financial information, insurance, and assets, including medical and housing needs, in addition to evaluating and implementing estate planning. Geriatric care, veterans benefits, financial and tax planning, and preparation are part of the process.
  • Planning and qualifying for Medicaid eligibility – Elder law attorneys understand the differences between Medicare and Medicaid. They can show how income levels and current asset holdings may affect your future benefits.
  • Interdictions (Guardianships) – In this process, a judge will appoint a person to manage another’s financial affairs known as a Curator (guardian). Particularly for those who can no longer care for themselves or have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Elder law attorneys can guide a family through the process of obtaining guardianship for their loved one’s benefit.
  • Administration of the estate, probate and trust(s) – This service benefits the estate holder and the designated trustees or executors. An elder law attorney can outline the rights and responsibilities of those with fiduciary appointments.
  • Estate and disability planning and preparedness – Many seniors have questions regarding the impact of their will on their family. And other tax and legal issues. Your elder law attorney can explain these impacts and help guide choices that ensure your legacy and benefit your heirs.

Getting the Guidance you Need

A well-crafted estate plan is invaluable to you and your beneficiaries. Your elder law attorney will help guide you through the estate plan process. Customizing it to meet your needs, and prepare the legal documents reflecting the laws of your state. Early proactive planning will yield the best results to protect your assets and your well-being. Contact our Ruston, LA office by calling us at (318) 255-1760 to establish or review your existing estate plan.