What Does an Elder Law Attorney Do? Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Seniors are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. They can fall victim to a range of scams, abuse and misconduct. Seniors may also lack the ability to speak out and be heard. As a result, the combination of these factors can lead to tragic outcomes.

With a law firm that specializes in elder care law at your side, you can provide seniors with the advocacy they need to ensure that their rights are protected.

Seasons’ recent article entitled “Finding an elder care lawyer” reports that according to the WHO, one in six people over the age of 60 saw some type of abuse from 2021 to 2022. Two-thirds of staff members at nursing homes and long-term-care facilities admitted they committed abuse during that same period. Unfortunately, these issues are only getting worse with time, and elder abuse only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Connecting with qualified, experienced elder law attorneys can be simple if you understand how they can help.

Elder law encompasses all aspects of legal representation and advocacy that involve the elderly and include the following:

  • Estate planning
  • Medicaid planning
  • Disability
  • Social Security benefits
  • Guardianship and Conservatorship
  • Elder abuse
  • Fraud
  • Neglect
  • Consumer protection
  • End-of-life planning
  • Retirement planning
  • Long-term-care planning
  • Discrimination
  • Nursing homes
  • Landlord/tenant disputes
  • Powers of attorney
  • Medical care option directives; and
  • Tax issues.

Elder care law deals with legal issues concerning a senior’s well-being in nursing homes and long-term-care facilities. These are areas where neglect, abuse and misconduct are quite common. Therefore, it might be a good idea to contact an elder care attorney as soon as you suspect abuse is occurring.

Contact us to review your estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Seasons (Aug. 30, 2022) “Finding an elder care lawyer”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What to Ask a Prospective Elder Law Attorney – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Seasons recent article entitled “Finding an elder care lawyer” provides some sample questions to ask yourself as you consider an elder care lawyer, including:

  • Is my senior capable of speaking out for themselves, or do they need an advocate to represent their voice?
  • Is my senior the type of person to accept abuse without complaining?
  • Have there been any other instances of abuse at my senior’s nursing home?
  • Is my senior more vulnerable to scams and frauds?
  • What services do elder care lawyers provide?

If your senior has suffered legitimate abuse at the hands of their caregivers, you have the right to file a lawsuit against the guilty party. Your elder law lawyer can help to assess whether a lawsuit is possible during a consultation. That is an initial meeting with a lawyer. During this meeting, you can discuss your unique situation and your concerns. Based on this information, your lawyer can recommend various paths of action. If a lawsuit is possible, they will guide you forward and help you initiate this legal process.

A lawsuit may be filed against a nursing home, a long-term-care facility, or any other organization responsible for caring for your senior. Once you’ve initiated the action, you’ll have the chance to negotiate with the at-fault party for a settlement. However, if a settlement can’t be reached, your elder law attorney will likely represent your senior in court and fight for their rights in front of a judge and jury. The court will then decide on the penalties and financial awards.

It’s a good idea to ask a few questions during your initial consultation. These questions can help you get a better idea of your lawyer’s personality, their overall philosophy toward elder law and whether they can develop a working relationship with you.

Here are some examples:

  • How much experience do you have with elder law?
  • How long has your practice been in operation?
  • Where did you attend law school?
  • Have you taken any additional courses from the bar association or NAELA specific to elder law?
  • What is your philosophy toward elder law?
  • Have you won any settlements for elder victims in the past?
  • How much do you charge?

Contact us to review your estate plan with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Seasons (Aug. 30, 2022) “Finding an elder care lawyer”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How Does Estate Planning Work for Caregiving Children? Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

This situation requires considered estate planning to protect the arrangement, both for the parent and child, in the event of the parent’s incapacity and what may happen, if and when the parent needs to move to a care facility and/or passes away.

If the child is caring for the parent at the parent’s home, the parent’s estate planning often gives the child the ability to remain at the parent’s residence. It may also allow the child to access the parent’s bank accounts, if the parent becomes mentally incapacitated. A recent article from Lake County Record-Bee, “Estate planning for parents with caregiver children,” says if the planning is not done correctly, a series of unintended problems may arise, including disagreements with other family members and allegations of elder abuse, especially financial abuse.

Agreed-upon terms of any living arrangement should be included in the parent’s estate planning documents. If the parent has a living trust, the trust may allow the child to remain in the family home, so the document must clearly state the terms of the living arrangement. If the parents live in a rental property, the POA may be used to authorize the child’s continued occupancy and use of the parent’s money to pay household expenses. The rental agreement would need to include the child as a tenant.

What if the parent lives in the child’s home? The child’s estate plan would need to reflect on what terms the parent may remain in the child’s house, if the child were to become incapacitated or die unexpectedly. Consideration would also need to be given to how the parents receive care.

If the parent dies or moves into a nursing home or when the child moves out, the arrangement ends. What happens next? It depends on the situation. The parent may leave the residence to the adult care giver child. The following also to be addressed: how are expenses, including the mortgage, to be paid and is there an expressed transition period before the child moves out?

If the parent intends to leave the family home to the adult care giver, the estate planning documents need to gift the residence to the adult caregiver. This may include lifetime gifting, or it may entail renting the residence to provide income for the parent’s needs.

If there are siblings, or a spouse from a second marriage, the estate planning documents need to say whether and how other family members participate in the residence. The parents may want to gift the residence to all children, subject to an exclusive life estate for the care giver to live in the family home. When the care giver child becomes incapacitated or dies, the family home is usually sold, and the sale proceeds divided between the parent’s living descendants.

Something to be careful about: if the caregiver child is treated more favorably than siblings. While the parents are entitled to make their own decisions about how to distribute assets, a disgruntled sibling may object to how assets are distributed. An estate planning attorney will be able to formally document the parent’s wishes and prepare the estate for any challenges.

Finally, if no advance planning is done, it is possible the parent may end up needing a guardian and conservator to care for their finances and their well-being, respectively, if they become incapacitated. This becomes an expensive situation, and the result of court-supervised administrators may not agree with how the parent wished their affairs to be handled.

Contact us to review your estate plans with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: Lake County Record-Bee (Feb. 4, 2023) “Estate planning for parents with caregiver children”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Estate Plans Can Protect against Exploitation – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Financial exploitation is far more common than most people think, especially of the elderly. There are several types of individuals more at risk for exploitation, according to a recent article from mondaq titled “How An Estate Plan Can Protect Against Financial Exploitation.” These include someone with a cognitive impairment, in poor physical health, who is isolated or has a learning disability.

Exploiters share common characteristics as well. They are often people with mental health illness, substance abusers or those who are financially dependent on the person they are exploiting.

There are warning signs of financial abuse, including:

  • Changes in patterns of spending, transfers, or withdrawals from accounts
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Unexplainable financial activity
  • An inability to pay for routine bills and expenses
  • Sudden changes to estate planning documents, beneficiary designations, or the addition of joint owners to accounts or property titles

One way to avoid financial exploitation is with an estate plan prepared in advance with an eye to protection. Instead of relying on a durable power of attorney, a funded revocable trust may provide more robust protection. A revocable trust-based plan includes safeguards like co-trustees and a requirement for independent party consent to any trustee change or amendment.

A support system is also important to protect a person if someone is attempting to exploit them. Estate planning attorneys team up with financial advisors, CPAs and other professionals to create a plan to avoid or end elder abuse. Other steps to be taken include:

  • Consolidating accounts with a trusted financial advisor, so all assets are easily observed
  • Have a family member or trusted person receive copies of account statements
  • Consider a credit freeze to avoid any possibility of being coerced into opening new credit card accounts or taking out loans.
  • Establishing a budget and sharing information with advisors and a trusted person, so any spending anomalies are easy flagged.

Elder financial abuse is an all-too common occurrence but taking proactive steps to safeguard the vulnerable family member is a good strategy to deter or thwart anyone intent on taking advantage of a loved one.

Reference: mondaq (Sep. 23, 2022) “How An Estate Plan Can Protect Against Financial Exploitation.”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How to Manage Aging Parent’s Finances – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A day will come when age begins to catch up with your parents and they will need help with their finances. Even if your parents don’t want to feel dependent, when you think they need your assistance, you can approach the issue with sensitivity and extend your support for the management of their finances, says Real Daily’s recent article entitled “5 Tips to Manage an Aging Parent’s Finances.” Here are some tips:

  1. Start the conversation early. Your parents may not need your help with the handling of their financial matters right away. However, it is smart to begin the conversation early. Approach the issue of who will manage the financial responsibilities when they’re no longer able to do it. Parents should select a trusted family member by providing their advance written consent. This will let you to talk about your parents’ financial issues with financial advisors, doctors and Medicare representatives and carry out timely financial planning.
  2. Create a list of all pertinent legal and financial documents. Prepare a list of your parents’ important contacts, bank account details and locations of any stored documents, like wills, property deeds, insurance policies and birth certificates. Make certain all information and documentation is accurate and up to date. If information needs to be modified because of a change of circumstances, this is time to apprise them of it and help them do what’s needed.
  3. Consider executing a power of attorney. A competent adult can sign a power of attorney to authorize another person to make decisions on their behalf. A power of attorney for a specific purpose may cover medical, financial, or other decisions, and it may be designed to give limited or more sweeping powers. When your parents sign a power of attorney with you named as their attorney in fact, it will legally empower you to make key decisions when they can’t. An elder law attorney can help you draft an appropriate power of attorney according to your situation.
  4. Document your actions and keep others in the know. Transparent communication will help you avoid misunderstandings or controversy within your family. Keep your parents, siblings and any other loved ones involved with your family informed about your actions. No matter how noble your intentions may be, if others are kept in the dark, it can raise questions about your motives. Managing the finances of aging parents is a lot of work, and you can ask for the support of family members or at least keep the lines of communication open.
  5. Don’t comingle your finances with your parents’ plans. While it may look to be a convenient or cost-effective thing to do, it’s never a good idea to combine your parents’ finances with your own. Keep them separate. Using your parents’ money for your purposes or your own money to help them out is usually a slippery slope that should be avoided. Don’t forget about your own financial goals and retirement savings while you focus on helping your parents.

Reference: Real Daily (Sep. 9, 2022) “5 Tips to Manage an Aging Parent’s Finances”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What Can Happen When You are Asked to Sign a Nursing Home Agreement? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The services provided by a skilled nursing facility are very important. They are also very expensive. The person who arrives at an elder law office with a bill from a nursing home for $19,400—$646.66 per day—is often the same person who signed an electronic version of an admissions form without knowing what would happen.

This is one of many ways people are held responsible for loved ones’ nursing home bills, according to the recent article “Should you sign a nursing home admission agreement?” from The Bristol Press. The stress of having a loved one admitted to a nursing home is an overwhelming experience, usually taking place at the same time you’re managing all the details, just when someone from the nursing home very politely and usually firmly tells you “these papers” must be signed immediately.

It’s important not to rush in this situation, because the agreement could contain illegal or misleading provisions. Try not to sign the agreement until after the resident has moved into the facility, when you may have more leverage. However, even if you have to sign the agreement before the resident moves in, have the agreement reviewed by an experienced elder law attorney and request that any illegal or unfair terms be deleted. Don’t take the nursing home’s word that they cannot do so.

Two terms to pay close attention to:

Responsible Party. The nursing home may try to get you to sign the agreement as the “responsible party.” Don’t do it. Nursing homes are legally prohibited from requiring third parties to guarantee payment of nursing home bills. However, there are some who try to get family members to voluntarily agree.

If at all possible, the resident should sign the agreement themselves. If the resident is incapacitated, you may sign but must be clear you are signing as the resident’s agent. Read carefully for terms like “guarantor,” “financial agent,” or “responsible party.” Before signing, you can cross out any terms indicating you are responsible for payment and clearly indicate you are only agreeing to use the resident’s income and resources to pay and not your own.

Arbitration Provisions: Many nursing home agreements contain provisions stating that all disputes regarding the resident’s care will be decided through arbitration and remove the ability to take the nursing home to court. This is not an illegal provision, although many feel it should be. Most people do not know they cannot be required to sign an arbitration provision. Cross out any language regarding arbitration before signing the agreement.

Private Pay Requirement. It is illegal for the nursing home to require a Medicare or Medicaid recipient to pay the private rate for a period of time, nor may the nursing home require a resident to affirm whether they are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.

Eviction Procedures: It is illegal for a nursing home to evict a resident for any reason other than the facility cannot meet the resident’s needs, the resident’s health has improved, the resident is endangering other residents, the resident has not paid, or the nursing home is closing.

Speak with an elder law attorney before facing the complexity of a nursing home admission agreement. The patient and their loved ones have rights to be protected.

Reference: The Bristol Press (Aug. 15, 2022) “Should you sign a nursing home admission agreement?”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Planning for Long Term Care Is Important – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Elder law attorneys have far too many stories of people who fail to plan, plan incorrectly or incompletely, or plan to fail by doing nothing at all, as described in the article “Elder Care: People in a pickle” from The Sentinel. Here’s a sad story.

A woman calls the elder law office because her husband fell at home—a common occurrence among the elderly. He was hospitalized and is now receiving rehabilitation in a nursing home. The treating physician recommends that the husband remain in the nursing home because he has significant limitations and his wife, who has her own medical issues, isn’t physically able to care for him.

The wife agrees. However, she has a host of challenges to overcome that were never addressed. The husband took care of all of the finances, for decades telling his wife not to worry. Now, she has no idea what their resources are. Can they afford to pay for his nursing home care? She doesn’t know. Nor does she have the authority to access their accounts, because there are accounts in her husband’s name only and she does not have access to them.

Her husband’s insistence of being the only one in control of their finances has put her in a terrible predicament. Without the estate planning documents to give her access to everything, including his own accounts, she can’t act. Can he now sign a Power of Attorney? Maybe—but maybe not, if it can be shown he lacks capacity.

If the couple cannot pay the nursing home bill, they have given their children a problem, since they live in Pennsylvania, where the state’s filial support law allows the nursing home to sue one or more of the children for the cost of their parent’s care. (This law varies by state, so check with a local elder lawyer to see if it could impact your family). Even if the wife knew about the family’s finances and could apply for public benefits, in this case his eligibility would be denied, as they had purchased a home for one of their children within five years of his being moved to the nursing home. Medicaid has a five-year look back period, and any large transfers or purchases would make the husband ineligible for five years.

If this sounds like a financial, legal and emotional mess, it’s a fair assessment.

Unexpected events happen, and putting off planning for them, or one spouse insisting “I’ve got this” when truly they don’t, takes a big impact on the future for spouses and family members. All of the decisions we make, or fail to make, can have major impacts on the future for our loved ones.

Other situations familiar to elder lawyers: a parent naming two children as co-agents for power of attorney. When she began showing symptoms of dementia, the two children disagreed on her care and ended up in court.

A father has guardianship for a disabled adult son. He promised the son he’d always be able to live in the family home. The father becomes ill and must move into a nursing home. Neither one is able to manage their own personal finances, and no financial or practical arrangements were made to fulfill the promise to the son.

No one expects to have these problems, but even the most loving families find themselves snarled in legal battles because of poor planning. Careful planning may not reduce the messy events of life, but it can reduce the stress and expenses. By choosing to exert some control over who can help you with decisions and what plans are in place for the future, you can leave a legacy of caring.  Contact us and schedule a time to begin your planning with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.

Reference: The Sentinel (Aug. 19, 2022) “Elder Care: People in a pickle”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

What Should I Know about Guardianships? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Guardianships – also known as conservatorships – are drastic and invasive. They strip away control adults otherwise exercise over their own lives and establish someone else as the decision-maker.  They require a rigorous showing of legal incapacity and approval by a judge. In many jurisdictions, parties must establish a specific need for guardianship and demonstrate that other alternatives considered would not adequately protect the individual.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First” says that guardianships should never be undertaken lightly. Once established, they can be extremely difficult to undo. Therefore, other options should always be considered first.

Guardianships ensure that those who are unable to handle their own affairs are not exploited or injured. There are circumstances when a guardianship may be the best – or only – choice. For example, an elderly gentleman with dementia may have lacked the planning to make adequate provisions in his will or trust for management of his affairs. Without a plan for oversight of his assets, he could end up jeopardizing the estate he intended to pass on to his family. In that case, the heirs may look to have a court-appointed guardian appointed who will ensure that their father or grandfather does not sign away his estate or compromise his physical well-being.

Transparency is important. Before it becomes necessary for a guardian to be appointed to handle your physical or financial decisions, consider whom you would trust to act in that capacity and put it in writing.

It also informs others that, if a guardian is needed, this person is the one you would like to see serve in that capacity.

A one-page directive will make your wishes clear and keep this important decision from a judge who will know nothing about you or your priorities or your specific circumstances.

In addition, you should delegate a second person now to support you in the future. It is preferable that this is someone younger whom you trust. This individual will bring a fresh perspective to the situation. They should also possess a sound understanding of money management.

If you do not consider these things now, the state will make the decision for you after you no longer can make such decisions for yourself.

Talk with an experienced elder law attorney and create the documents now that will save your loved ones from having to seek guardianship for you in the future.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 7, 2022) “Guardianships Should Be a Last Resort – Consider These Less Draconian Options First”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Taking Care of Dying Parent’s Financial Affairs Can Be Challenging – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It is not uncommon for adult children to have to face a parent’s decline and a stay in hospice at the end of their life. The children are tasked with trying to prepare for his passing. This includes how to handle his financial matters.

Seniors Matter’s recent article entitled “How do I handle my father’s financial matters now that he’s in hospice?” says that caring for a sick family member is a challenging and emotional time. Because of this major task, it is easy to put financial considerations on the back burner. Nonetheless, it is important to address a few key issues.

If a family member is terminally ill or admitted to hospice – and you are able to do so – it may be a good idea to start by helping to take inventory of your family member’s assets and liabilities. A clear idea of where their assets are and what they have is a great starting point to help you prepare and be in a better position to manage the estate.

An inventory may include any and all of the following:

  • Real estate
  • Bank accounts
  • Cars, boats and other vehicles
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Life insurance
  • Retirement plans (such as a 401(k), a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA and a SEP IRA);
  • Wages and other income
  • Business interests
  • Intellectual property; and
  • Any debts, liabilities and judgments.

Next, find out what, if any, estate planning documents may be in place. This includes a will, powers of attorney, trusts, a healthcare directive and a living will. You will need to find copies.

This is hard to do while a loved on is dying, but it can make the aftermath easier and less stressful.

Reference: Seniors Matter (Feb. 22, 2022) “How do I handle my father’s financial matters now that he’s in hospice?”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys