Monday, August 24, 2015
A Minneapolis Estate Planning Lawyer Dispels 13 Myths About Planning for Your Twilight Years
Misconception #1: Most seniors move into nursing homes as a result of minor physical ailments that make it hard for them to get around. Wrong! A large number of admissions to nursing homes are actually due to serious health, behavior, and safety issues caused by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Read more . . .
Monday, December 2, 2013
A Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate Lawyer Discusses Estate Planning Issues Specific to Seniors
Misconception #1: Most seniors move into nursing homes as a result of minor physical ailments that make it hard for them to get around. Wrong! A large percentage of admissions to nursing homes is because of serious health, behavior, and safety issues caused by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Misconception #2: Nursing home costs in Minnesota average $1,500 to $2,500 per month per person. Hardly. Current nursing home charges for one resident typically run $6,000 per month, or $72,000 per year, which does not include prescription drugs -- and those costs continue to rise.
Misconception #3: Children can care for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease at home, without the need for nursing home care. Not true! Many patients with Alzheimer’s disease end up in nursing homes because children are simply unable to provide the level of care their parent needs. In most cases, the children want to care for their parents. But, as a practical matter, they simply can’t. Moving a parent into a nursing home is an intensely personal issue and should not be labeled as a right or wrong decision. In many cases, it’s the only realistic option. The rare exception is when the family has enough money to pay for skilled nursing care at home.
Misconception #4: Standard legal forms are all you need for a good estate plan. Not true. A competent estate plan begins with clearly defined goals, supported by well-drafted legal documents, and the repositioning of assets, as needed, to protect your estate from taxes, probate costs, and catastrophic nursing home costs. But you MUST PLAN EARLY.
Misconception #5: Your child will never move you into a nursing home. Wrong. Most children consider all options before moving a parent into a nursing home. But, sadly, children usually find they have no other alternative. As a result, parents who never expected to live in a nursing home soon discover that a nursing home is the only place with the staff and equipment to provide the care they need.
Misconception #6: As payment for nursing home care, the government will take your family home. Not true, if you plan ahead. Many people fear that the government will take their home in exchange for nursing home care, but you can avoid this with proper planning. You’ll be glad to know there are some ways you can protect your home so it won’t be taken.
Misconception #7: You will never end up in a nursing home. That’s hard to predict. Your odds are roughly 50/50. Of Americans reaching age 65 in any year, nearly half will spend some time in a nursing home. And a surprising number will require care for longer than one year. That means every year, tens of thousands of seniors will face costs of $48,000 or more ($60,000 in Minnesota), which does not include the cost of prescription drugs.
Misconception #8: If your spouse enters a nursing home, all of your joint savings will have to be spent on his or her care. No. With proper planning you can keep half of your combined “countable” assets up to approximately $103,000 (increasing each year). In some circumstances, you may be able to protect nearly all of your life savings. In fact, it is often possible to protect much more than the $103,000 maximum. “Countable” assets are those assets such as cash, checking accounts, savings, CDs, stocks, and bonds that the government considers available to be spent on the cost of nursing home care.
Misconception #9: Legally, you can give away only $14,000 to each of your children each year. Not true. You can give away any amount, but you have to report to the IRS gifts in excess of $14,000 per recipient per year ($28,000 if both husband and wife make a gift). However, there is no requirement that you pay any gift tax unless you have exhausted your lifetime exclusion amount, which is currently set at $2,000,000 for an individual. But, there is a "look back" period so you must work with a qualified attorney before gifting away any assets as you age.
Misconception #10: You can wait to do long-term planning until your spouse or you get sick. Yes, to some degree. However, you and your spouse will be much better off if you have taken important planning steps in advance, before a crisis occurs. What stops most people from being able to effectively plan when they are in the middle of a crisis is that the ill person is unable to make decisions and sign the necessary legal documents.
Misconception #11: All General Durable Powers of Attorney are created equal. Completely false! A General Durable Power of Attorney is a highly customized legal document -- and NOT a form! Most Durable Powers of Attorney don’t contain even the most basic gifting authority. Without a gifting power, your agent is usually limited to spending your money on your bills and selling your assets to generate cash to pay your bills. Some Durable Powers of Attorney contain a gifting provision, but the Minnesota Statutory Power of Attorney it is limited to $10,000 per year. This is particularly concerning for unmarried couples as the IRS considers ANY exchange of money/assets between them to be a gift. The annual limit of $10,000 is too small for effective asset protection planning, and relates to a completely different type of federal estate and gift tax issue. Unique Estate Law has created an enhanced power of attorney to get around that limit.
Misconception #12: Since you are married, your spouse will be able to manage your property and make financial decisions without a general durable power of attorney. Not true. If you become incapacitated and your spouse needs to sell or mortgage the family home -- or gain access to financial ac-counts that are in your name only -- your spouse will need a general durable power of attorney. Without one, your spouse will have to go to Court and get the judge’s permission to act on your behalf by way of a conservatorship proceeding.
Misconception #13: You can hide your assets while you become eligible for Medicaid (Known as Medical Assistance in Minnesota). False! Intentional misrepresentation in a Medicaid application is a crime and can be costly. The IRS shares any information concerning your income or assets with the local Medicaid eligibility office. You -- or who-ever applied for Medicaid -- may have to repay Medicaid to avoid prosecution.
Misconception #14: Medicaid rules that applied to your neighbor when he went into a nursing home will also apply to you. Maybe not. Medicaid rules change. Don’t assume the law that applied to your neighbor will also apply to you. In addition, there may have been facts about your neighbor’s situation that you just don’t know.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Advance Planning Can Help Relieve the Worries of Alzheimer’s Disease
The “ostrich syndrome” is part of human nature; it’s unpleasant to observe that which frightens us. However, pulling our heads from the sand and making preparations for frightening possibilities can provide significant emotional and psychological relief from fear.
When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, more Americans fear being unable to care for themselves and burdening others with their care than they fear the actual loss of memory. This data comes from an October 2012 study by Home Instead Senior Care, in which 68 percent of 1,200 survey respondents ranked fear of incapacity higher than the fear of lost memories (32 percent).
Advance planning for incapacity is a legal process that can lessen the fear that you may become a burden to your loved ones later in life.
What is advance planning for incapacity?
Under the American legal system, competent adults can make their own legally binding arrangements for future health care and financial decisions. Adults can also take steps to organize their finances to increase their likelihood of eligibility for federal aid programs in the event they become incapacitated due to Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
The individual components of advance incapacity planning interconnect with one another, and most experts recommend seeking advice from a qualified estate planning or elder law attorney.
What are the steps of advance planning for incapacity?
Depending on your unique circumstances, planning for incapacity may include additional steps beyond those listed below. This is one of the reasons experts recommend consulting a knowledgeable elder law lawyer with experience in your state.
Write a health care directive, or living will. Your living will describes your preferences regarding end of life care, resuscitation, and hospice care. After you have written and signed the directive, make sure to file copies with your health care providers.
Write a health care power of attorney. A health care power of attorney form designates another person to make health care decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. You may be able to designate your health care power of attorney in your health care directive document, or you may need to complete a separate form. File copies of this form with your doctors and hospitals, and give a copy to the person or persons whom you have designated.
Write a financial power of attorney. Like a health care power of attorney, a financial power of attorney assigns another person the right to make financial decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity. The power of attorney can be temporary or permanent, depending on your wishes. File copies of this form with all your financial institutions and give copies to the people you designate to act on your behalf.
Plan in advance for Medicaid eligibility. Long-term care payment assistance is among the most important Medicaid benefits. To qualify for Medicaid, you must have limited assets. To reduce the likelihood of ineligibility, you can use certain legal procedures, like trusts, to distribute your assets in a way that they will not interfere with your eligibility. The elder law attorney you consult with regarding Medicaid eligibility planning can also advise you on Medicaid copayment planning and Medicaid estate recovery planning.
Monday, August 5, 2013
A Minneapolis Estate Planning Attorney Discusses Minnesota's New Law Allowing Gay Couples to Legally Married
Gay Couples Can Legally Marry in Minnesota
On August 1 Minnesota will become the thirtheenth state to legally recognize same-sex marriages. Gay couples who decide to tie knot here will gain a variety of financial benefits and legal rights.
Some of the changes will be significant. Couples who marry and live in Minnesota will be able to file their state tax returns jointly. Couples who decide to marry will also be first in line to inherit their spouses’ assets, even in the absence of a will. They’ll gain an array of smaller benefits as well, down to the ability to jointly apply for a fishing license.
The Supreme Court Declares DOMA Unconstitutional
Further, the Supreme Court held that the section of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA') withholding federal benefits from legally married same-sex couples was unconstitutional. What does that mean?
This means that same-sex couple who are able to legally marry may not be denied the federal benefits provided to married heterosexual couples.
If you are thinking about getting married in Minnesota, or in one of the other jurisdictions in which gay marriage is legal, you need to think about how your new status as a married couple may affect your family with regard to both obligations and benefits. Further, if you are already legally married in another jurisdiction, that marriage will automatically be recognized here in Minnesota. In other words, if you got married in Canada but live here, that marriage became legally valid in Minnesota at 12:01am on August 1, 2013.
I have a client who was legally married in Canada a few years ago and she said to me, "So, basically I just have to wake up on August 1 and we are legally married, right?"
I think that's a great way to phrase it.
But what does it mean
Many clients have called me to ask about how getting married may affect their estate plans - or other issues related to their day-to-day lives. This is, for our community, unchartered territory and so many people are filled with questions. These new laws affect, in part, the following things:
Responsibility for financial support for a spouse
Responsibility for decisions relating to medical care and treatment
Priority for appointment as conservator, guardian, or personal representative for a spouse
Inheritance rights upon the death of a spouse
The ability to designate a spouse automatically as a beneficiary to retirement
The ability to insure a spouse through most insurance policies (except for those governed by federal law – see next question below)
Survivor benefits under workers compensation laws and state or local government pensions
Presumptions of parentage for children born during the marriage
Marriage also provides for an orderly process for dissolution, spousal maintenance, parenting time, and other protections granted through the divorce process
If you have questions on these, or any other issues, related to the new gay marriage laws, feel free to contact Unique Estate Law to discuss them at your convenience.
Monday, November 26, 2012
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
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
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.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
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
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 4, 2012
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.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Cancer Treatment Often Leads to Bankruptcy
These days, it seems like everything under the sun, and even the sun itself, causes cancer. A recent study shows that cancer may cause yet another hardship for those diagnosed—Bankruptcy. There are a number of reasons for this. A patient may be unable to work during treatment or only able to earn an income during periods of remission. However, the primary cause is the enormous medical expense associated with the treatment of cancer, especially for those who are uninsured or under insured.
The study, “Cancer diagnosis as a risk factor for personal bankruptcy,” published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, examined 231,799 cancer patients, and found that 4,805 of them, or 2.1 percent sought bankruptcy relief under Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 in the years following their cancer diagnoses. This corresponds to about a 700% increase in the incidence bankruptcy filings over that of the general population.
The study also found that certain types of cancer resulted in significantly higher rates of bankruptcy. Patients afflicted with lung, thyroid and leukemia/lymphoma cancers were most likely to seek bankruptcy protection, with 7.7 percent of lung cancer patients filing for bankruptcy within five years of being diagnosed. The study also found that surgery and chemotherapy increased the risk that some cancer patients would file for bankruptcy.
Researchers concluded that medical bills are a primary cause of the connection between cancer and bankruptcy because younger cancer patients sought bankruptcy relief at higher rates than older cancer sufferers. They believed this was due to the fact that older Americans have access to Medicare, and therefore do not bear the same costs for cancer treatment as younger patients.
From within Hennepin County Unique Estate Law represents clients throughout Minnesota, including Minneapolis, Edina, Bloomington, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Wayzata, Maple Grove, St. Paul, and Brooklyn Park.