Monday, November 26, 2012
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ – Taking Care of Your Kids While Taking Care of Your Parents
The ‘Sandwich Generation’ – Taking Care of Your Kids While Taking Care of Your Parents
“The sandwich generation” is the term given to adults who are raising children and simultaneously caring for elderly or infirm parents. Your children are one piece of “bread,” your parents are the other piece of “bread,” and you are “sandwiched” into the middle.
Caring for parents at the same time as you care for your children, your spouse and your job is exhausting and will stretch every resource you have. And what about caring for yourself? Not surprisingly, most sandwich generation caregivers let self-care fall to the bottom of the priorities list which may impair your ability to care for others.
Following are several tips for sandwich generation caregivers.
Hold an all-family meeting regarding your parents. Involve your parents, your parents’ siblings, and your own siblings in a detailed conversation about the present and future. If you can, make joint decisions about issues like who can physically care for your parents, who can contribute financially and how much, and who should have legal authority over your parents’ finances and health care decisions if they become unable to make decisions for themselves. Your parents need to share all their financial and health care information with you in order for the family to make informed decisions. Once you have that information, you can make a long-term financial plan.
Hold another all-family meeting with your children and your parents. If you are physically or financially taking care of your parents, talk about this honestly with your children. Involve your parents in the conversation as well. Talk – in an age-appropriate way – about the changes that your children will experience, both positive and challenging.
Prioritize privacy. With multiple family members living under one roof, privacy – for children, parents, and grandparents – is a must. If it is not be feasible for every family member to have his or her own room, then find other ways to give everyone some guaranteed privacy. “The living room is just for Grandma and Grandpa after dinner.” “Our teenage daughter gets the downstairs bathroom for as long as she needs in the mornings.”
Make family plans. There are joys associated with having three generations under one roof. Make the effort to get everyone together for outings and meals. Perhaps each generation can choose an outing once a month.
Make a financial plan, and don’t forget yourself. Are your children headed to college? Are you hoping to move your parents into an assisted living facility? How does your retirement fund look? If you are caring for your parents, your financial plan will almost certainly have to be revised. Don’t leave yourself and your spouse out of the equation. Make sure to set aside some funds for your own retirement while saving for college and elder health care.
Revise your estate plan documents as necessary. If you had named your parents guardians of your children in case of your death, you may need to find other guardians. You may need to set up trusts for your parents as well as for your children. If your parent was your power of attorney, you may have to designate a different person to act on your behalf.
Seek out and accept help. Help for the elderly is well organized in the United States. Here are a few governmental and nonprofit resources:
www.benefitscheckup.org – Hosted by the National Council on Aging, this website is a one-stop shop for determining which federal, state and local benefits your parents may qualify for
www.eldercare.gov – Sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging
www.caremanager.org -- National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
www.nadsa.org – National Adult Day Services Association
Monday, September 17, 2012
Making your home senior-proof
A Minnesota Elder Law Attorney Discusses Ways to Make Your Home Safe When Caring for an Aging Parent
Let’s face it – it’s tough getting old. The aches, pains, and pills often associated with aging are things that many members of the baby-boomer generation know all too well by now. Though you might not be able to turn back time, you can help an aging loved one enjoy their golden years by giving them a safe, affordable place to call home. If an aging parent is moving in with you and your family, there are many quick fixes for the home that will create a safe environment for seniors.
Start by taking a good look at your floor plan. Are all the bedrooms upstairs? You may want to think about turning a living area on the main floor into a bedroom. Stairs grow difficult with age, especially for seniors with canes or walkers. Try to have everything they need accessible on one floor, including a bed, full bathroom, and kitchen. If the one-floor plan isn’t possible, make sure you have railings installed on both sides of staircases for support. A chair lift is another option for seniors who require walkers or wheelchairs.
Be sure to remove all hazards in hallways and on floors. Get rid of throw rugs – they can pose a serious tripping hazard. Make sure all child or pet toys are kept off the floor. Add nightlights to dark hallways for easy movement during the night when necessary. Also install handrails for support near doorframes and most importantly, in bathrooms.
Handlebars next to toilets and in showers are essential for senior safety. Use traction strips in the shower, which should also be equipped with a seat and removable showerhead. To avoid accidental scalding, set your hot water heater so that temperatures can’t reach boiling. You may also want to consider a raised seat with armrests to place over your toilet, to make sitting and standing easier.
This applies to all other chairs in the house as well. Big, puffy chairs and couches can make it very difficult for seniors to sit and stand. Have living and dining room chairs with stable armrests, and consider an electronic recliner for easy relaxation.
To keep everyone comfortable and help avoid accidents, store all frequently used items in easily accessible places. Keep heavy kitchen items between waist and chest height.
Even with appropriate precautions, not all accidents can be avoided. Purchasing a personal alarm system like Life Alert can be the most important preparation you make for a senior family member. If they are ever left alone, Life Alert provides instant medical attention with the push of a button that they wear at all times.
Amidst all the safety preparations, remember that it’s important to keep the brain healthy, too. Have puzzles, cards, large-print books and magazines, computer games, and simple exercises available to keep seniors of healthy body and mind.
These simple preparations can not only help extend the life of your loved one, but help to make sure their remaining years are happy and healthy.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Minnesota Asks Federal Government for Medicaid Waiver in Attempt to Save Millions m
Gov. Mark Dayton is seeking a waiver from the Federal Government that will allow Minnesota to put into place its own bipartisan plan that should make it easier to connect people to services, steering them out of institutions and into home-based care. In seeking the wavier, the state asserts that instead of paying the astronomical cost of institutional care, the ability to go into a Medicaid recipient's home and install ramps, or bring in home-care workers who could allow the person to stay at home comfortably and will provide services at a more affordable price for the state. Rather than waiting until a worker loses a job because of a disability, the reforms would allow the state to reach out to employers and craft a plan to keep them working.
The Governor feels that this reform could save the state $151 million over the next five years. Minnesota estimates it could save another $9.2 million over the next five years by giving families more options for home-based care, and $15 million by expanding counseling and other support to people faced with a choice between expensive nursing home care and more affordable home care. At the center of the waiver request is the state's plan to offer incentives to health care providers that make preventive care available to Minnesotans on Medicaid.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will respond to the state's proposal after a 30-day public comment period. If approved, the reforms would go into effect in 2014.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples
A Minneapolis Estate Planning Attorney Examines the Importance of Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples
Estate planning is important for everyone. We simply don’t know when something tragic could happen such as sudden death or an accident that could leave us incapacitated. With proper planning, families who are dealing with the unexpected experience fewer headaches and less expense associated with managing affairs after incapacity or administering an estate after death.
If a person fails to do any planning and becomes involved in a debilitating accident or passes away, each state has laws that govern who will inherit assets, become guardians of minor children, make medical decisions for an incapacitated person, dispose of a person’s remains, visit the person in the hospital, and more. In some states, the spouse and any children are given top priority for inheritance rights. In the case of incapacity, spouses are normally granted guardianship over incapacitated spouse, though this requires a lengthy and expensive guardianship proceeding.
In today’s world, increasing numbers of couples are choosing to spend their lives together but aren’t getting married, either because they aren’t allowed to under the laws of their state, such as in the case of gay and lesbian couples, or simply because they choose not to. However, most states don’t recognize unmarried partners as spouses. In order to be given legal rights that married couples receive automatically, unmarried couples need to do special planning in order to protect each other.
In general, unmarried individuals need three basic documents to ensure their rights are protected:
A Will – A will tells who should inherit your property when you pass away, who you want your executor to be, and who will become guardians of any minor children. These issues are all especially important for unmarried individuals. In most states, an unmarried partner does not have inheritance rights, so any property owned by his or her deceased partner would go to other family members. Also, in the case of many gay and lesbian couples, the living partner is not necessarily the biological or adoptive parent of any minor children, which could lead to custody disputes in an already very difficult time. Therefore, it’s critical to nominate guardians for minor children.
A power of attorney – A power of attorney (for financial matters) dictates who is authorized to manage your financial affairs in the event you become incapacitated. Otherwise, it can be very difficult or impossible for the non-disabled partner to manage the disabled partner’s affairs without going through a lengthy guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.
Advance healthcare directives – A power of attorney for healthcare, informs caregivers as to who is responsible for making healthcare decisions for someone in the event that a person cannot make them for himself, such as in the event of a serious accident or a condition like dementia. Another related document is a HIPAA waiver, which allows the persons named to discuss your care with a doctor BUT not to make decisions.
A fourth document to consider is the use of a revocable living trust. A trust document is nothing more than a set of instructions you leave to instruct your trustee on how, when and to whom to distribute your assets. There are numerous advantages to a trust that are especially appliable to unmarried couples:
It's private unlike a will at probate
You can determine where any remaining assets may go at your partner's death
Avoids court intervention if you're incapacitated
Beyond these documents, it is also critical that you check your beneficiary designations to ensure that the proceeds of your life insurance, retirement accounds, CDs, moneymarket or bank accounts go to your loved one. While your partner may still be able to inherit even without those designations, it will take time and effort to prove to a court that he/she is entitled to the benefits.
Estate planning is undoubtedly more important for unmarried couples than those who are married, since there aren’t built-in protections in the law to protect them and their loved ones. It’s imperative that unmarried couples establish proper planning to avoid undue hardship, expense and aggravation.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Minnesota Sees Increase in Number of Those Needing Medicaid
An article in the Star Tribune reported today that the number of Minnesotans on Medicaid - called Medical Assistance in Minnesota - shot up at nearly twice the national rate over the past two years, while state costs increased by 40 percent. The total number of Minnesotans enrolled in the state-federal health insurance program increased by 125,000 in the last to years to reach a total of about 733,000.
The National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers issued a report this week stating that the growing Medicaid budget - approximately $450 billion this year - will place a large burden on sates trying to climb out of the most recent recession.
A large part of the rise in Minnesota's portion of the cost -- from $2.9 billion in 2011 to an estimated $4.05 billion this year -- is due to two things: 1) enrollees who transferred into Medicaid and out of programs that were funded solely by the state; and 2) the end of the federal government's economic stimulus package, which for a time raised the federal Medicaid match from about 50 percent to 60 percent.
Medicaid was set up by Congress in 1965 to provide health care to low-income adults and children, including some people with disabilities; it also covers about two-thirds of people in nursing homes who have outlived their savings. While low-income families represent the majority of people on Medicaid, most of its outlays go to long-term care for the elderly and disabled.
Minnesota's program is expected to add another 60,000 people by the end of 2014 with further expansion of the federal Affordable Care Act, if the law's expansion of Medicaid rolls survives the recent Supreme Court challenge.
In 2014, Minnesota's Medicaid costs are expected to rise by about 10 percent, surpassing $4.4 billion, while the federal share is forecast to soar 23 percent to $5.1 billion with the program's expansion.
In many states, Medicaid is the largest single portion of state spending, at nearly a quarter of state budgets, and some states are struggling to control costs by cutting provider payments, drug costs and other benefits, the report said,
With all this uncertainty, people should think about the possible long-term care needs not just for themselves but for parents or even grandparents. We can't rely on government programs to be there 2, 5 or 10 years from now. I meet people weekly who are having to make decisions on what to do for Dad or Mom - in some cases a spouse - when they can no longer care for themselves and neither can the family. Please plan now.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
What is a Conservatorship?
The Basics of Conservatorships
Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. A tragic accident. A sudden, devastating illness. Have you ever wondered what would happen if a loved one became incapacitated and unable to take care of himself? While many associate incapacity with a comatose state, an individual, while technically functioning, may be considered incapacitated if he cannot communicate through speech or gestures and is unable sign a document, even with a mark. In some cases, an individual may have no trouble communicating, but may not be able to fully appreciate the consequences of their decisions and hence may be deemed to lack capacity. With proper incapacity planning which includes important legal documents such as a durable power of attorney, healthcare proxy and living will, the individuals named in such documents are empowered to make necessary financial and medial decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person without obtaining additional legal authorization. Without proper incapacity planning documents, even a spouse or adult child cannot make financial and healthcare decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual. In such cases, a conservatorship (or guardianship) proceeding is necessary so that loved ones are able to provide for their financial and medical healthcare needs.
A conservatorship is a court proceeding where a judge appoints a responsible individual to take care of the adult in question and manage his or her finances and make medical decisions. The court appointed conservator will take over the care of the conservatee (disabled adult). When appropriate, the court may designate an individual “conservator of the estate” to handle the disabled person’s financial needs and another person “conservator of the person” to manage his healthcare needs. One person can also serve as both. If you are planning to serve as someone’s financial conservator, be prepared to possibly post a bond that serves as a safeguard for the conservatee’s estate. Individual states have their own guidelines for conservators, so check your local rules for more information.
To minimize the incidence of mismanagement or fraud, the court holds the conservator legally responsible for providing it with regular reports, called an accounting. Additionally, the conservator may not be able to make any major life or medical decisions without the court’s approval and consent. For example, if you have been named the conservator for a relative, you may not be able to sell his or her house without the approval of the court.
The best safeguard to avoid going through court to get a conservatorship, however, would be to establish a durable financial power of attorney, a power of attorney for healthcare, each authorizing a family member or trusted individual to act on your behalf in case of incapacity. While your agents have a legal obligation to act in your best interest they won’t have to post an expensive bond either. Make sure the power of attorney clearly states that it will be effective even if the principal becomes incapacitated.
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Guardianships & Conservatorships and How to Avoid Them
Guardianships & Conservatorships and How to Avoid Them
If a person becomes mentally or physically handicapped to a point where they can no longer make rational decisions about their person or their finances, their loved ones may consider a guardianship or a conservatorship whereby a guardian would make decisions concerning the physical person of the disabled individual, and conservators make decisions about the finances.
Typically, a loved one who is seeking a guardianship or a conservatorship will petition the appropriate court to be appointed guardian and/or conservator. The court will most likely require a medical doctor to make an examination of the disabled individual, also referred to as the ward, and appoint an attorney to represent the ward’s interests. The court will then typically hold a hearing to determine whether a guardianship and/or conservatorship should be established. If so, the ward would no longer have the ability to make his or her own medical or financial decisions. The guardian and/or conservator usually must file annual reports on the status of the ward and his finances.
Guardianships and conservatorships can be an expensive legal process, and in many cases they are not necessary or could be avoided with a little advance planning. One way is with a financial power of attorney, and advance directives for healthcare such as living wills and durable powers of attorney for healthcare. With those documents, a mentally competent adult can appoint one or more individuals to handle his or her finances and healthcare decisions in the event that he or she can no longer take care of those things. A living trust is also a good way to allow someone to handle your financial affairs – you can create the trust while you are alive, and if you become incompetent someone else can manage your property on your behalf.
In addition to establishing durable powers of attorney and advanced healthcare directives, it is often beneficial to apply for representative payee status for government benefits. If a person gets VA benefits, Social Security or Supplemental Security Income, the Social Security Administration or the Veterans’ Administration can appoint a representative payee for the benefits without requiring a conservatorship. This can be especially helpful in situations in which the ward owns no assets and the only income is from Social Security or the VA.
When a loved one becomes mentally or physically handicapped to the point of no longer being able to take care of his or her own affairs, it can be tough for loved ones to know what to do. Fortunately, the law provides many options for people in this situation.
Tuesday, January 03, 2012
Joint Bank Accounts and Medicaid Eligibility
Joint Bank Accounts and Medicaid Eligibility
Like most governmental benefit programs, there are many myths surrounding Medicaid (called Medical Assistance in Minnesota) and eligibility for benefits. One of the most common myths is the belief that only 50% of the funds in a jointly-owned bank account will be considered an asset for the purposes of calculating Medicaid eligibility.
Medicaid is a needs-based program that is administered by the state. Therefore, many of its eligibility requirements and procedures vary across state lines. Generally, when an applicant is an owner of a joint bank account the full amount in the account is presumed to belong to the applicant. Regardless of how many other names are listed on the account, 100% of the account balance is typically included when calculating the applicant’s eligibility for Medicaid benefits.
Why would the state do this? Often, these jointly held bank accounts consist solely of funds contributed by the Medicaid applicant, with the second person added to the account for administrative or convenience purposes, such as writing checks or discussing matters with bank representatives. If a joint owner can document that both parties have contributed funds and the account is truly a “joint” account, the state may value the account differently. Absent clear and convincing evidence, however, the full balance of the joint bank account will be deemed to belong to the applicant.
Friday, November 04, 2011
Minnesota Seeks Federal Approval of Medicaid Changes
I have recently been approached by several people seeking assistance on an increasingly common situation: what to do with a parent who suddenly needs living assistance. One thing to note for these clients is that they are not alone. According to the statistics related by the department of human services, 557,000 Minnesota residents received Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s Medicaid program).
In the past Medicaid assistance has meant receving money to put a loved one into institutionalized care. Originally, Medicare would not pay to keep someone out of instituionalized care. But that is changing as people seek to care for loved ones in a more familiar environment. Recognizing this trend, Minnesota’s Human Services Commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, is set to requestapproval from the federal government for large scale changes - a so called "global waiver" - that would allow the state to have increased flexibility in how it can spend federal human-services funds.
In a recent interview, Ms. Jesson stated that the waiver would allow Minnesota to use Medicaid funds to pay for home and community-based services first. She believes that people would rather stay in their homes and communities than go to a facility. While there is currently a system of exceptions that allow members of certain populations to remain in their homes or communities, it is very difficult to determine which programs cover what population. Ms. Jesson feels that, if given the chance, Minnesota could design a better system.
The hope is that under a new program, the Minnesota Medical Assistance program would have the ability to serve people at their level of need by offering more services overall. For instance, offering Meals on Wheels or personal care attendants to seniors instead of requiring that the person needing such services be institutionalized. Ms. Jesson predicts that these changes would, ultimately, save Minnesota money as it costs 3 times more to have someone in a nursing home than to care for that person in his or her home.
The DHS plans to have its proposal ready to submit to the federal government in early 2012. If this is of interest to you, please note that there will be a public comment period later this fall.
Monday, October 10, 2011
UPDATE: Obama Offers Relief for Same-Sex Couples Who Need Medicaid Benefits
I recently attended a conference with David Godfrey the Medical Assistance (Medicaid) Director for Minnesota. I asked him if there were plans to implement the policy advocated by the HHS allowing the well partner of a gay couple the same ability to protect assets as married straight couples have under current law. Specifically, under current law, in cases where an ill spouse receives Medical Assistance to pay for an assisted living facility, the well (community) spouse may remain in the couples' home. Gay couples have no such protection as gay marriage is not allowed in Minnesota.
Mr. Godfrey responded to my inquiry by stating that he is "in discussions with the Commissioner" on this topic and they would like to find a way to offer to gay couples some asset protection where one partner is on Medical Assistance and the other is well. But, so far, they haven't made any progress and are unsure how to proceed with the issue given the current legislative session.
According to the Williams Institute, not one state has taken the HHS up on its offer to protect gay seniors by allowing a well partner to remain in the couple's home if the other one becomes ill and requires assistance.
Once again the state of Minnesota will not take care of you and your loved ones in sickness or death, so you must take control to protect yourself and your family.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under White House direction, issued new guidelines to state directors of Medicaid programs regarding how Medicaid benefits may be administered for same-sex couples. The guidelines state, in part, that medicaid agencies are within their jurisdiction to help ensure same-sex partners can remain together in shared housing.
Medicaid care for long-term care is only available after an individual has run out of money to pay for his or her own care. In return for providing assistance, the state can take possession of the person’s house as a lien. But, federal law prohibits imposing this lien if beneficiaries are married to someone of the opposite-sex who’s still living in their home. The new guidance clarifies that states can offer this protection to the healthy partner of a Medicaid recipient in a same-sex relationship.
The new rules allow states to extend the same protection to remain in the home to a same-sex partner. While it doesn’t require state agencies to provide this relief – keep in mind that DOMA is still the law of the land - it’s still a step forward in aiding more accepting states to grant relief to same-sex partners. Further, it shows that the Department of Health & Human Services continues to examine ways to offer more protections to same-sex couples while DOMA remains federal law. One step forward is better than none, right?
Monday, June 06, 2011
What's in a Name, Part 2: Introducing Unique Estate Law
You may have noticed a slight change in my firm name. Unique Family Law is now known as Unique Estate Law.
I have always focused on unique families and continue that passion. My new firm name better explains what I do for your unique family. I focus on estate planning, probate and adoption – building and protecting families.
I am proud to specialize in this important and ever-changing area and my new name reflects that focus.
I want to be sure that you, my clients, know where my expertise lies.
Welcome to Unique Estate Law.
From within Hennepin County Unique Estate Law represents estate planning and elder law clients throughout Minnesota, including Minneapolis, Edina, Bloomington, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Wayzata, Maple Grove, St. Paul, and Brooklyn Park. The Minnesota law firm of Unique Estate Law focuses on all aspects of estate planning, including specialized wills, trusts, powers of attorney and medical directives for married couples, young families, blended families, single parents, gay families and those going through a divorce. Unique Estate Law also handles probate administration, asset protection, Medical Assistance planning, elder law, business succession planning, adoptions and cabin planning.