The Difference between Power of Attorney and Guardianship for Elderly Parents – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The primary difference between guardianship and power of attorney is in the level of decision-making power, although there are many intricacies specific to each appointment, explains Presswire’s recent article entitled “Power of Attorney and Guardianship of an Elderly Parent.”

The interactions with adult protective services, the probate court, elder law attorneys and healthcare providers can create a huge task for an agent under a power of attorney or court-appointed guardian. Children acting as agents or guardians are surprised about the degree of interference by family members who disagree with decisions.

Doctors and healthcare providers do not always recognize the decision-making power of an agent or guardian. Guardians or agents may find themselves fighting the healthcare system because of the difference between legal capacity and medical or clinical capacity.

A family caregiver accepts a legal appointment to provide or oversee care. An agent under power of attorney is not appointed to do what he or she wishes. The agent must fulfill the wishes of the principal. In addition, court-appointed guardians are required to deliver regular reports to the court detailing the activities they have completed for elderly parents. Both roles must work in the best interest of the parent.

Some popular misperceptions about power of attorney and guardianship of a parent include:

  • An agent under power of attorney can make decisions that go against the wishes of the principal
  • An agent cannot be removed or fired by the principal for abuse
  • Adult protective services assumes control of family matters and gives power to the government; and
  • Guardians have a responsibility to save money for care, so family members can receive an inheritance.

Those who have a financial interest in inheritance can be upset when an agent under a power of attorney or a court-appointed guardian is appointed. Agents and guardians must make sure of the proper care for an elderly parent. A potential inheritance may be totally spent over time on care.

In truth, the objective is not to conserve money for family inheritances, if saving money means that a parent’s care will be in jeopardy.

Adult protective services workers will also look into cases to make certain that vulnerable elderly persons are protected—including being protected from irresponsible family members. In addition, a family member serving as an agent or family court-appointed guardian can be removed, if actions are harmful.

Agents under a medical power of attorney and court-appointed guardians have a duty to go beyond normal efforts in caring for an elderly parent or adult. They must understand the aspects of the health conditions and daily needs of the parent, as well as learning advocacy and other skills to ensure that the care provided is appropriate.

Ask an experienced elder law attorney about your family’s situation and your need for power of attorney documents with a provision for guardianship.

Reference: Presswire (Jan. 14, 2021) “Power of Attorney and Guardianship of an Elderly Parent”

 

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How to Be an Effective Advocate for Elderly Parents – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Family caregivers must also understand their loved one’s wishes for care and quality of life. They must also be sure those wishes are respected. Further, it means helping them manage financial and legal matters, and making sure they receive appropriate services and treatments when they need them.

AARP’s recent article entitled “How to Be an Effective Advocate for Aging Parents” says if the thought of being an advocate for others seems overwhelming, take it easy. You probably already have the skills you need to be effective. You may just need to develop and apply them in new ways. AARP gives us the five most important attributes.

  1. Observation. Caregivers can be too busy or tired, to see small changes, but even slightest shifts in a person’s abilities, health, moods, safety needs, or wants may be a sign of a much more serious medical or mental health issue. You should also monitor the services your family member is getting. You can take notes on your observations about your loved one to track any changes over time.
  2. Organization. It is hard to keep track of every aspect of a caregiving plan, but as an advocate, you must manage your loved one’s caregiving team. This includes creating task lists and organizing the paperwork associated with health, legal, and financial matters. You will need to have easy access to all legal documents, like powers of attorney for finances and health care. If needed, you might take an organizing course or work with a professional organizer. There are also many caregiving apps. You should also, make digital copies of key documents, such as medication lists, medical history, powers of attorney and living wills, so you can access them from anywhere.
  3. Communication. This may be the most important attribute. You need communication for building relationships with other caregivers, family members, attorneys and healthcare professionals. Be prepared for meetings with lawyers, medical professionals and other providers.
  4. Probing. Caregivers need to gather information, so do not be shy about it. Educate yourself about your loved one’s health conditions, finances and legal affairs. Create a list of questions for conversations with doctors and other professionals.
  5. Tenacity. Facing a dysfunctional and frustrating health care system can be discouraging. You must be tenacious. Here are a few suggestions on how to do that:
  • Set clear goals and focus on the end result you want.
  • Keep company with positive and encouraging people.
  • Heed the advice of experienced caregivers’ stories, so you understand the triumphs and the challenges.
  • Be positive and be resilient.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 24, 2020) “How to Be an Effective Advocate for Aging Parents”

 

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How to Tell If Mom or Dad Need Caregiving Help – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A 2016 AARP article entitled, “5 Signs Your Loved One May Need Caregiving Support,” provides some great tips on what to look for when determining if an elderly loved one needs caregiving.

  1. Fall hazards. Does your parent have stairs without railings or poor lighting and other clutter that has caused a fall? You need to evaluate fall hazards in the home. A certified aging in place specialist (CAPS), an aging life care specialist, or a physical or occupational therapist can assist you in evaluating your parent’s needs, abilities and the home environment. They can also make recommendations for home modifications or exercises for balance and strength.
  2. Unfinished business. Piles of unopened mail and unpaid bills and financial and legal documents that have not been addressed can be a sign that your loved one may be cognitively, physically, or emotionally unable to deal with them. Examine the extent of the problem and whether it is temporary or ongoing. One solution may be to just help your parent sort and prioritize the mail. You can also offer to help with complicated matters and help him or her open another checking account that can be used for cash and basic needs. This lets the adult child pay bills from the primary account. You should also make certain that your loved one has her advanced directives and other legal documents in place, so you will be able to help manage his or her affairs in an emergency.
  3. Motor vehicle accidents and tickets. If you see that your parent has had multiple accidents—even fender benders or several warnings or citations, scrapes or dents on the car—you should discuss your parent’s continued driving. You can ride along with your parent and observe. You might suggest that he or she refresh his or her driving skills by taking a driver safety course. However, if it is time to hang up the keys, offer other viable transportation options, so they do not feel that they are giving up their independence.
  4. Isolation and disconnection. If your loved one appears to be disconnected from friends, family and the community, their support system may be deteriorating, and their physical and mental health are at risk. See if he or she is lonely and look for potential activities they would enjoy. Regular phone or video calls can also help them connect, as well as using social media. You should also check for health issues, such as untreated hearing impairment, which can hinder communication.
  5. A change in appearance. A weight change, wearing the same clothes every day or dirty clothes, or issues with personal hygiene are signs that something is off. You can suggest a thorough medical and psychological evaluation to see what’s normal for your parent because there may be several causes for these changes, such as depression or anxiety. You may find that changes in vision, sense of smell, or mobility are restricting the ability to care for himself or herself.

Start these discussions with love, concern and a supportive attitude. Emphasize that you are not trying to take over your parent’s life, but rather to help them be as independent as possible for as long as possible.

Reference: AARP (Dec. 12, 2016) “5 Signs Your Loved One May Need Caregiving Support”

 

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What Is a ‘Caregiver’ Agreement? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The idea that a family member or trusted friend may be paid to take care of an aging parent or sibling is a welcome one. However, most family members do not understand the legal complexity involved in privately paying for care, says the recent article “Paying a family member for care” from The Times Herald. Payments made to a family caregiver or a private caregiver can lead to a world of trouble from Medicaid and the IRS.

This is why attorneys create caregiver agreements for clients. The concept is that the care and services provided by a relative or friend would otherwise be performed by an outside person at whatever the going rates are within the person’s community. The payment should be considered a fully compensated transfer for Medicaid eligibility purposes and should not result in any penalty being imposed if it is done correctly.

This is more likely to be avoided with a formal written caregiver agreement. In some states, like Pennsylvania, a caregiver agreement is required to be sure that the payments made to the caregiver are not deemed to be a gift under Medicare rules.

The caregiver agreement must outline the services that are being provided and the rate of pay, which can be in the form of weekly, monthly or a lump sum payment. This is where it gets sticky: that payment should not be higher than what an outside provider would be paid. An excessively high payment would trigger a red flag for Medicaid and could be viewed as a gift.

Medicaid has a five-year look back period, where the applicant’s finances are examined to see if there were efforts to minimize the person’s financial assets to qualify for Medicaid. If any transfers of property or assets are made that are higher than fair market value, it is possible that it will be viewed as creating a period of ineligibility. That is why it is so important to have a contract or written agreement in place, when a family member or other person is hired to provide those services and is paid privately.

There are also income tax consequences. The caregiver is considered a household employee by the IRS. They are not considered to be an independent contractor and should not be issued a 1099 to reflect their payment. If that is done, it could be considered to be tax evasion.

Speak with an estate planning attorney about crafting a caregiving agreement and how to handle the tax issue, when privately paying for care. They will help avoid putting Medicaid eligibility in jeopardy, as well as avoiding problems with the IRS.

Reference: The Times Herald (Aug. 13, 2020) “Paying a family member for care”

 

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What Should I know about Financial Powers of Attorney? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A financial power of attorney is a document allowing an “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” to act on the principal’s behalf. It usually allows the agent to pay the principal’s bills, access her accounts, pay her taxes and buy and sell investments. This person, in effect, assumes the responsibilities of the principal and can act for the principal in all areas detailed in the document.

Kiplinger’s recent article from April entitled “What Are the Duties for Financial Powers of Attorney?” acknowledges that these responsibilities may sound daunting, and it is only natural to feel a little overwhelmed initially. Here are some facts that will help you understand what you need to do.

Read and do not panic. Review the power of attorney document and know the extent of what the principal has given you power to handle in their stead.

Understand the scope. Make a list of the principal’s assets and liabilities. If the individual for whom you are caring is organized, then that will be simple. Otherwise, you will need to find these items:

  • Brokerage and bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts
  • Mortgage papers
  • Tax bills
  • Utility, phone, cable, and internet bills
  • Insurance premium invoices

Take a look at the principal’s spending patterns to see any recurring expenses. Review their mail for a month to help you to determine where the money comes and goes. If your principal is over age 72 and has granted you the power to manage her retirement plan, do not forget to make any required minimum distributions (RMDs). If your principal manages her finances online, you will need to contact their financial institutions and establish that you have power of attorney, so that you can access these accounts.

Guard the principal’s assets. Make certain that her home is secure. You might make a video inventory of the residence. If it looks like your principal will be incapacitated for a long time, you might stop the phone and newspaper. Watch out for family members taking property and saying that it had been promised to them (or that it belonged to them all along).

Pay bills. Be sure to monitor your principal’s bills and credit card statements for potential fraud. You might temporarily suspend credit cards that you will not be using on the principal’s behalf. Remember that they may have monthly bills paid automatically by credit card.

Pay taxes. Many powers of attorney give the agent the power to pay the principal’s taxes. If so, you will be responsible for filing and paying taxes during the principal’s lifetime. If the principal dies, the executor of the principal’s will is responsible and will prepare the final taxes.

Ask about estate planning. See if there is an estate plan and ask a qualified estate planning attorney for help. If the principal resides in a nursing home paid by Medicaid, talk to an elder law attorney as soon as possible to save the principal’s estate at least some of the costs of their care.

Keep records. Track your expenditures made on your principal’s behalf. This will help you demonstrate that you have upheld your duties and acted in the principal’s best interests, as well as for reimbursement for expenses.

Always act in the principal’s best interest. If you do not precisely know the principal’s expectations, then always act with their best interests in mind. Contact the principal’s attorney who prepared the power of attorney for guidance.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 22, 2020) “What Are the Duties for Financial Powers of Attorney?”

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What Is So Important About Powers Of Attorney? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Powers of attorney can provide significant authority to another person, if you are unable to do so. These powers can include the right to access your bank accounts and to make decisions for you. AARP’s article from last October entitled, “Powers of Attorney: Crucial Documents for Caregiving,” describes the different types of powers of attorney.

Just like it sounds, a specific power of attorney restricts your agent to taking care of only certain tasks, such as paying bills or selling a house. This power is typically only on a temporary basis.

A general power of attorney provides your agent with sweeping authority. The agent has the authority to step into your shoes and handle all of your legal and financial affairs.

The authority of these powers of attorney can stop at the time you become incapacitated. Durable powers of attorney may be specific or general. However, the “durable” part means your agent retains the authority, even if you become physically or mentally incapacitated. In effect, your family probably will not need to petition a court to intervene, if you have a medical crisis or have severe cognitive decline like late stage dementia.

In some instances, medical decision-making is part of a durable power of attorney for health care. This can also be addressed in a separate document that is just for health care, like a health care surrogate designation.

There are a few states that recognize “springing” durable powers of attorney. With these, the agent can begin using his or her authority, only after you become incapacitated. Other states do not have these, which means your agent can use the document the day you sign the durable power of attorney.

A well-drafted power of attorney helps your agent help you, because he or she can keep the details of your life addressed, if you cannot. That can be things like applying for financial assistance or a public benefit, such as Medicaid, or verifying that your utilities stay on and your taxes get paid. Attempting to take care of any of these things without the proper document can be almost impossible.

In the absence of proper incapacity legal planning, your loved ones will need to initiate a court procedure known as a guardianship or conservatorship. However, these hearings can be expensive, time-consuming and contested by family members who do not agree with moving forward.

Do not wait to do this. Every person who is at least age 18 should have a power of attorney in place. If you do have a power of attorney, be sure that it is up to date. Ask an experienced elder law or estate planning attorney to help you create these documents.

Reference: AARP (October 31, 2019) “Powers of Attorney: Crucial Documents for Caregiving”

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Planning for Long-Term Care Before It’s Too Late – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Starting to plan for elder care should happen when you are in your 50s or 60s. By the time you are 70, it may be too late. With the national median annual cost of a private room in a nursing facility coming in at more than $100,000, not having a plan can become one of the most expensive mistakes of your financial life. The article “Four steps you can take to safeguard your retirement savings from this risk” from CNBC says that even if care is provided in your own home, the annual median national cost of in-home skilled nursing is $87.50 per visit.

There are fewer and fewer insurance companies that offer long-term care insurance policies, and even with a policy, there are many out-of-pocket costs that also have to be paid. People often fail to prepare for the indirect cost of caregiving, which primarily impacts women who are taking care of older, infirm male spouses and aging parents.

More than 34 million Americans provided unpaid care to older adults in 2015, with an economic value of $522 billion per year.

That is not including the stress of caring for loved ones, watching them decline and needing increasingly more help from other sources.

The best time to start planning for the later years is around age 60. That is when most people have experienced their parent’s aging and understand that planning and conversations with loved ones need to take place.

Living Transitions. Do you want to remain at home as long as is practicable, or would you rather move to a continuing care retirement community? If you are planning on aging in place in your home, what changes will need to be made to your home to ensure that you can live there safely? How will you protect yourself from loneliness, if you plan on staying at home?

Driving Transitions. Knowing when to turn in your car keys is a big issue for seniors. How will you get around, if and when you are no longer able to drive safely? What transportation alternatives are there in your community?

Financial Caretaking. Cognitive decline can start as early as age 53, leading people to make mistakes that cost them dearly. Forgetting to pay bills, paying some bills twice, or forgetting accounts, are signs that you may need some help with your financial affairs. Simplify things by having one checking, one savings account and three credit cards: one for public use, one for automatic bill-paying and a third for online purchases.

Healthcare Transitions. If you do not already have an advance directive, you need to have one created, as part of your overall estate plan. This provides an opportunity for you to state how you want to receive care, if you are not able to communicate your wishes. Not having this document may mean that you are kept alive on a respirator, when your preference is to be allowed to die naturally. You will also need a Health Care Power of Attorney, a person you name to make medical decisions on your behalf when you cannot do so. This person does not have to be a spouse or an adult child—sometimes it is best to have a trusted friend who you will be sure will follow your directions. Make sure this person is willing to serve, even when your documented wishes may be challenged.

Reference: CNBC (Jan. 31, 2020) “Four steps you can take to safeguard your retirement savings from this risk”

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How is a Guardianship Determined? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Because the courts call guardianship “a massive curtailment of liberty,” it is important that guardianship be used only when necessary.

The Pauls Valley Democrat’s recent article asks, “Guardianship – What is sufficient incapacity?” As the article explains, courts must be certain that an individual is truly “incapacitated.”

For example, Oklahoma law defines an incapacitated person as a person 18 years or older, who is impaired by reason of:

  1. Mental illness;
  2. Intellectual or developmental disability;
  3. Physical illness or disability; or
  4. Drug or alcohol dependency.

In addition, an incapacitated person’s ability to receive and evaluate information or to communicate decisions is impaired to such a level that the person (i) lacks capacity to maintain health and safety; or (ii) is unable to manage financial resources.

A person who is requesting to be appointed guardian by the court must show evidence to prove the person’s incapacity. This evidence is typically presented with the professional opinion of medical, psychological, or administrative bodies.

In some instances, a court may initiate its own investigation with known medical experts. In these cases, the type of professional chosen to provide an opinion should match the needs of the person (the “ward”), who will be subject to guardianship.

The court will receive this evidence and if it is acceptable, in many cases, require that the experts provide a plan for the care and administration of the ward and his assets. This plan will become a control measure, as well as guidance for the guardian who is appointed.

These controls will include regular monitoring and reports of performance back to the court.

Reference: Pauls Valley Democrat (Jan. 23, 2020) “Guardianship – What is sufficient incapacity?”

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How to Spot Problems at Nursing Homes – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The best time to shop for a nursing home, is when you do not need one. If you wait until you can no longer safely or comfortably live on your own, you probably will not be in a position to do a lot of legwork to investigate facilities. Do your research well ahead of time, so you know the nursing homes in your area that provide high-quality care and, more importantly, the ones that have significant problems.

As you evaluate and compare facilities, you need to know how to spot problems at nursing homes. The marketing brochure, website and lobby might be lovely, but you should base your decision about a long-term care facility on much more data than those things. Here are some tips on how to dig for possible problems at nursing homes:

  • Online search. Check out the nursing home’s website to get an overview of the services it offers and the industry affiliations or certifications it has. Look at the daily menus to see if the meals are nutritious and have enough variety. Most people would not enjoy eating the same main course two or three times a week. Look at the activities calendar to see if you would be happy with the planned social events. On some websites, you can view the floor plans of the resident rooms.
  • Ask your primary care doctor to name a few facilities he would recommend for his parents, and those where he would not want them to live.
  • Local Office on Aging location. Every state has an Office on Aging. Contact them to get as much information as you can about safety records, injuries, deaths, regulation violations and complaints about local nursing homes.
  • Your state’s Long-term Care Ombudsman (LCO). Every state also has an Ombudsman who investigates allegations against nursing homes and advocates for the residents. Your state LCO should have a wealth of information about the facilities in your area.
  • State Online Database or Reporting System. Some states have online databases or collect reports about nursing homes.
  • Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website. Medicare maintains an online tool, Nursing Home Compare, that provides detailed information on nursing homes. Every nursing home that gets any funding from Medicare or Medicaid is in this database. You can enter the name of a specific nursing home or search for all the facilities in a city or zip code. The tool includes information about abuse at long-term care facilities. On the webpage, you can explore the Special Focus Facility section to find nursing homes with a history of problems.
  • Word of mouth. Ask your friends, relatives and neighbors to recommend a quality nursing home. Personal experience can be extremely valuable.
  • Make a short list of the top candidates. After you collect as much information as you reasonably can, narrow your options down to four or five facilities that best meet your needs and preferences.
  • Visit your top choices. There is no substitute for going to a nursing home and checking it out in person. Pay attention to the cleanliness of the place throughout, not just in the lobby. Give the facility the “sniff” test. Determine whether they use products to mask unpleasant odors, instead of cleaning thoroughly. See whether the residents are well-groomed and wearing fresh, clean clothes. Observe the interaction of the staff with the residents. Notice whether people who need assistance at mealtime, get the help they need without having to wait.
  • Take online reviews with a grain of salt. Fake reviews are all over the internet. If you see a nursing home with only a few reviews, and they are all five stars, be skeptical.

Once you gather this information, you will be ready in the event you need to stay in a nursing home for a short recuperation from surgery or longer term.

References:

AARP. “Finding a Nursing Home: Don’t Wait Until You Need One to Do the Research.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2019/finding-a-nursing-home.html

CMS. “Find a nursing home.” (accessed December 5, 2019) https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html

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Alternatives to Medicaid – A Short Primer on Long-Term Care Insurance – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Medicaid is a state-run program that caters to those surviving on less than 125% of the official poverty level. Many elderly individuals forego purchasing long-term care insurance, in favor of relying on Medicaid to cover their expenses. Unfortunately, after bankrupting themselves to qualify for Medicaid nursing home coverage, many of these same individuals find themselves dismayed at the lack of choice and care options.

Qualifying for Medicaid Long-Term Care

To obtain long-term care benefits through Medicaid, you must meet the income and asset requirements. In addition, you must be unable to perform at least two of the following six activities of daily living:

  • Feeding
  • Bathing
  • Walking
  • Transferring
  • Toilet Use
  • Dressing

If you qualify, you may be able to get all or most of your care covered, but you don’t have as many options when it comes to choice of facility. Medicaid also doesn’t typically cover adult daycare, assisted living, respite care, or in-home care.

Alternatives for Medicaid Long-Term Care – Not Medicare

With Medicare covering about 1/5th of nursing home care in the U.S., elderly individuals are forced to look at alternative means to cover skilled nursing and other long-term care needs. As it stands, Medicare Part A covers up to 100 days of skilled nursing care. Requirements to qualify are stringent, and few people have the time or understanding to correctly navigate the Medicare system.

Long-Term Care Insurance

If you’re insurable and can afford the premiums, long-term care insurance may be the best option for your long-term care needs. Coverage will vary based on your insurance company and plan options. Be sure to get coverage for all you anticipate you’ll need.

In 2019, the average cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home was $7,513 per month. Private rooms average over $8,000 per month. Even if you don’t anticipate needing that level of care, you should be aware that a one-bedroom apartment in an assisted-living facility costs over $4,000 a month. With inflation, this will likely increase. You don’t want to come up short on coverage.

If long-term care insurance is an option for you, be sure to start planning early. Insurance companies are known to reject more applicants, the older they get. Review your plans each year to ensure your policy still meets your anticipated needs. Make changes if necessary, and never stop paying your premiums, unless you want your insurance to lapse.

Resources:

ElderLawAnswers. “Alternatives to Medicaid: A Long-Term Care Insurance Primer” (Accessed November 28, 2019)  https://www.elderlawanswers.com/elder-law-guides/5/a-long-term-care-insurance-primer

Investopedia. “Medicaid vs. Long-Term Care Insurance: What to Know” (Accessed November 28, 2019)  https://www.investopedia.com/articles/05/031005.asp

Investopedia. “Strategies to Help Pay for Eldercare” (Accessed November 28, 2019)  https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/102014/top-5-elder-care-strategies.asp

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