Category: Dementia

How the Guardianship Process Works

How the Guardianship Process Works

For family members of the estimated 6.5 million dementia patients in the U.S., it is crucial to understand whether guardianship may be an option for their loved one. A recent article from Next Avenue titled “Thinking of Becoming a Guardian?” explains how the guardianship process works and what factors go into the decision-making process.

Guardianship is the position of being responsible for someone else. State courts usually appoint a guardian to make decisions for a person, if the court finds that person to be incapacitated or unable to make safe and reasonable decisions for themselves. People who are placed under guardianship, known as “wards,” often lose their independence in making financial, legal and health care decisions.

If full guardianship is awarded, the person cannot make decisions about whether they may vote, marry, where they live, or make their own end-of-life decisions.

Two tasks that are evaluated when considering guardianship are a person’s ability to manage personal finances and to take medications as prescribed.

The court may call on a geriatrician or psychiatrist to evaluate the person’s functional behavior, cognitive function, disabling conditions and ability to meet their essential needs.

There are benefits to guardianship for someone who is not able to care for themselves. It ideally creates a safety net for a person who cannot make informed decisions for themselves.

this, of course, assumes that the guardian is honest and accountable, which is not always the case. The inconsistencies plaguing the guardianship system include minimum standards for guardians, lack of regular independent reviews of the need for guardianship and lack of educational requirements for guardians.

Once guardianship is assigned, there is a tendency for the person to become lost when no follow-up is done. The very same person who lacks capacity to care for themselves is not going to be able to advocate for themselves, contact an attorney or access funds for court proceedings.

There is also a tendency to assign full guardianship for a person, rather than less restrictive alternatives.

There are alternatives, but they require planning and discussion. More than 40% of Americans have not discussed their wishes for end-of-life care with their loved ones, according to an article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Families should have a conversation at the first sign of memory loss or when preparing for retirement regarding wishes for end-of-life care and write them down as part of an Advanced Directive—also known as a Living Will and Health Care Power of Attorney—when preparing their estate plan.

Another important document, although not legally binding, is a “Value History,” where you share your values and beliefs as they may impact care choices.

Designate a Power of Attorney and list two or even three back-up candidates. This person will be responsible for financial, legal and personal matters, avoiding the need for guardianship.

Appointing a family member or friend as a guardian is the ideal solution. However, there are instances when the best person to be a guardian is not a family member, but a court-appointed outsider. This relieves the family of being the ones who need to inform a person suffering from dementia with the news of having to move into a nursing home facility or sifting through financial records to learn that the family home is in foreclosure. The family can focus on being supportive and loving, while the guardian deals with the sometimes harsh realities of the person’s life.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to learn about how the guardianship process works, and whether it may be the right move for your family. If you would like to learn more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Next Avenue (Dec. 23, 2022) “Thinking of Becoming a Guardian?”

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A Durable Power of Attorney is Essential

A Durable Power of Attorney is Essential

A durable power of attorney is essential to a comprehensive estate plan. A power of attorney is a legal document in which you authorize another person (called an agent) or financial institution to act on your behalf to execute certain financial transactions in the event that you’re unable to do so. Transaction might include paying bills, handling insurance claims, selling real estate and filing a tax return.

WMUR’s recent article entitled “Reasons you may need a durable power of attorney” reminds us that this is a cumbersome, time-consuming and potentially expensive process at a time of immediate needs and emotional stress.

Your spouse can probably do the basic bill paying. However, many financial transactions—like the sale of an investment or home—require both spouses’ signatures. You may have some assets in only your name. That means your spouse would have no access to those assets should they be needed to pay the medical expenses due to the disability that’s preventing you from handling your own finances.

Some types of powers of attorney are simply convenience documents that are used for specific transactions or to manage finances for a limited time while a person is out of town. However, there’s also a durable power of attorney for medical care. With this document, you name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf should you be incapacitated. It’s a separate document.

Most commonly, a “durable” financial power of attorney goes into effect upon signing and remains in effect through any incapacity and until your death unless you revoke it. This power of attorney typically allows the agent to perform a broad range of financial transactions on behalf of the person.

A durable power of attorney is essential to a comprehensive estate plan. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to draft the power of attorney, because to be effective, it needs to meet state law. These laws vary from state to state.

In addition to granting broad powers, the POA must be specific about certain rights granted to the agent. For example, the grantor may give an agent the right to make gifts on behalf of the grantor, the right to complete and sign your tax returns, exercise stock options, or sue a third party.

However, you might want to add some restrictions, such as the conditions in which your assets can be sold. Your attorney may also retain the document for you pending release, if you should become incapacitated. If you would like to learn more about powers of attorney, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: WMUR (May 5, 2022) “Reasons you may need a durable power of attorney”

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Young Professionals Need Estate Planning

Young Professionals Need Estate Planning

Even those whose daily tasks bring them close to death on a daily basis can be reluctant to consider having an estate plan done. However, young professionals, or high-income earners, needs estate planning to protect assets and prepare for incapacity. Estate planning also makes matters easier for loved ones, explains a recent article titled “Physician estate planning guide” from Medical Economics. An estate plan gets your wishes honored, minimizes court expenses and maintains family harmony.

Having an estate plan is needed by anyone, at any age or stage of life. A younger professional may be less inclined to consider estate planning. However, it’s a mistake to put it off.

Start by meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney in your home state. Have a power of attorney drafted to give a trusted person the ability to make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated. Not having this legal relationship leads to big problems. Your family will need to go to court to have a conservatorship or guardianship established to do something as simple as make a mortgage payment. Having a POA is a far better solution.

Next, talk with your estate planning attorney about a last will and testament and any trusts you might need. A will is a simpler method. However, if you have substantial assets, you may benefit from the protection a trust affords.

A will names your executor and expresses your wishes for property distribution. The will doesn’t become effective until after death when it’s reviewed by the court and verified during probate. The executor named in the will is then appointed to act on the directions in the will.

Most states don’t require an executor to be notified in advance. However, people should discuss this role with the person who they want to appoint. It’s not always a welcome surprise, and there’s no requirement for the named person to serve.

A trust is created to own property outside of the estate. It’s created and becomes effective while the person is still living and is often described as “kinder” to beneficiaries, especially if the grantor owns their practice and has complex business arrangements.

Trusts are useful for people who own assets in more than one state. In some cases, deeds to properties can be added into one trust, streamlining and consolidating assets and making it simpler to redirect after death.

Irrevocable trusts are especially useful to any doctor concerned about being sued for malpractice. An irrevocable trust helps protect assets from creditors seeking to recover assets.

Young professionals need estate planning because not being prepared with an estate plan addressing incapacity and death leads to a huge burden for loved ones. Once the plan is created, it should be updated every three to five years. Updating the plan is far easier than the initial creation and reflects changes in one’s life and in the law. If you would like to read more about estate planning for business owners, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Medical Economics (Nov. 30, 2022) “Physician estate planning guide”

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Advance Directives are Critical to your Planning

Advance Directives are Critical to your Planning

Advance directives address the type of healthcare and medical treatment you’d want if you become incapacitated. MarketWatch’s recent article entitled “What happens if you’re incapacitated? How to get your advance directives in order” says if you don’t make these decisions now—and complete the necessary forms to state your wishes—someone else will make the decisions for you down the road. Advance directives are critical to your planning.

Advance directives typically consist of a living will and a power of attorney for healthcare. Each state has its own statutory advance directive form. Because these state forms are legal documents, the wording can be pretty formal. People will sometimes forget they’ve filled out the forms. They also forget where they put them.

After completing the proper forms, you must get them to your medical providers, so they know whether to resuscitate you during a medical emergency or administer artificial feeding or hydration.

Make sure you have a discussion with your physician, family and close friends about your values, goals and fears concerning advance care planning.

You should tell them what forms of medical intervention you’d find acceptable and unacceptable—and what level of life-sustaining treatment you’d like if you’re deemed permanently unconscious. That may include considering these types of situations:

  • If I am unconscious, in a coma, or in a vegetative state and there is little or no chance of recovery
  • If I have permanent, severe brain damage that makes me unable to recognize my family or friends (for example, severe dementia)
  • If I need to use a breathing machine and be in bed for the rest of my life
  • If I have a condition that will make me die very soon, even with life-sustaining treatments
  • If I have pain or other severe symptoms that cause suffering and can’t be relieved
  • If I have a permanent condition where other people must help me with my daily needs (for example, eating, bathing, toileting).

When sharing your end-of-life wishes with your physician, he or she may enter your comments into your electronic health record. That way any other healthcare provider with access to those records (such as a hospital system) can retrieve them. Advance directives are critical to your planning. Work closely with your estate planning attorney, who will have the experience to help you navigate these decisions. If you would like to learn more about advance directives, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: MarketWatch (Oct. 14, 2022) “What happens if you’re incapacitated? How to get your advance directives in order.”

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What Is the Purpose of a Guardian?

What Is the Purpose of a Guardian?

The most frequently asked questions about guardianship concern when it’s needed, how the process works and is there a way to avoid it. The idea of guardianship may feel troubling if you’ve never known anyone who needed a guardian, says a recent article “Guardian process can be lengthy, difficult” from The News-Enterprise. What is the purpose of a guardian, exactly?

Simply put, guardianship is a court proceeding restricting or removing the right of a person to manage their own financial, legal and medical affairs.

Guardianship is not exclusive to elderly individuals, as it is often used to protect adults and older children with disabilities. The purpose of a guardian is mainly when the person is unable to manage their own finances, incapable of understanding the scope and consequences of making their own medical decisions or is at risk of exploitation due to diminished capacity.

The process for obtaining guardianship for another person is complicated and takes at least several months before a guardianship order is entered into the legal record.

The first step is for the person who seeks guardianship for another person to file a petition with the District Court in the county where the impaired person lives. The person who files the petition is known as the petitioner and the person who needs the guardianship is known as the respondent. The petitioner is usually a family member but may also be a concerned person or an institution, like a nursing facility.

The petition is often paired with a request for emergency guardianship pending a trial. If the court doesn’t order the emergency order immediately, a short trial may be needed to get an emergency order. The court then sets a trial date and issues an order for an evaluation.

Different states have different requirements, which is why the help of an experienced estate planning attorney is needed. In some states, reports from three independent team members are needed: a healthcare professional, which is typically the respondent’s primary care physician; a mental health professional and a social worker, often from Adult Protective Services.

Each person from the team must conduct an independent evaluation and submit a separate report to the court with their findings and a recommendation. In some states, the guardianship moves to a trial, while in other states the trial is held in front of a judge.

If the guardianship is granted, by trial or by the judge, a guardian is appointed to make decisions for the person and a conservator is named. The conservator is in charge of the person’s finances. Both the guardian and conservator are required to file reports with the court concerning their actions on behalf of the respondent throughout the duration of their roles.

How can guardianship be avoided? It’s far simpler and less costly for the family to work with an estate planning attorney to have Durable Powers of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney documents created in advance of any incapacity. Paired with fully funded revocable living trusts, the family can have complete control over their loved one without court intervention.

These documents cannot be prepared after a person is incapacitated, so a pro-active approach must be taken long before they are needed. Consult with an experienced estate planning attorney who will help you understand the purpose and expectations of a guardian. If you would like to learn more about guardianship, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Sep. 24, 2022) “Guardian process can be lengthy, difficult”

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A Pet Trust will keep your Animals Safe

A Pet Trust will keep your Animals Safe

For one woman in the middle of preparing for a no-contest divorce, the idea of a pet trust was a novel one. She was estranged from her sister and didn’t want her ex-husband to gain custody of her seven horses, three cats and five dogs if she died or became incapacitated. Who would care for her beloved animals? Creating a pet trust will keep your animals safe.

The solution, as described in the article “Create a Pet Estate Plan for Your Fur Family” from AARP, was to form a pet trust, a legally sanctioned arrangement providing for the care and maintenance of companion animals in the event of a person’s disability or death.

Creating a pet trust and establishing a long-term plan requires state-specific paperwork and funding mechanisms, which are different from leaving property and assets to human family members. An experienced estate planning attorney is needed to ensure that the protections in place will work.

Shelters nationally are seeing a big increase in animals being surrendered because of COVID or people who are simply not able to take care of their pets. Suddenly, a companion pet accustomed to being near its human owner 24/7 is left alone in a shelter cage.

When pet parents have not made plans for their pets, more often than not these pets end up in shelters. However, not all animal shelters are no-kill shelters. In 2021, data from Best Friends Animal Society shows an increase in the number of pets euthanized in shelters for the first time in five years.

For pet owners who can’t identify a caregiver for their companions, the best option may be to find an animal sanctuary or a shelter providing perpetual care.

The woman described above had a pet trust created and funded it with a long-term care and life insurance policy. The trust was designed with a board of three trustees to check and balance one another to determine how the money will be allocated and what will happen to her assets. Her horse property could be sold, or a long-term student or trainer could be brought in to run her barn.

It is not legally possible to leave money directly to an animal, so setting up a trust with one trustee or a board is the best way to ensure that care will be given until the animals themselves pass away.

The stand-alone pet trust (which is a living trust) exists from the moment it is created. A dedicated bank account may be set up in the name of the pet trust or it could be named as the beneficiary of a life insurance or retirement plan.

A pet trust can also be set up within a larger trust, like a drawer within a dresser. The trust won’t kick in until death. These plans prevent the type of delays typical with probate but is problematic if the person becomes incapacitated.

If a trust is created as part of another trust, there can still be delays in accessing the month, if the pet trust is getting money from the larger trust.

With costlier animals likes horses and exotic birds, any delay in funding could be catastrophic.

How long will your pet live? A parrot could live for 80 years, which would need an endowment to invest assets and earn income over decades. A long-living pet also needs a succession of caregivers, as a tortoise with a 150 year lifespan will outlive more than one caregiver. Speak with your estate planning attorney about creating a pet trust that will keep your animals safe. If you would like to learn more about pet trusts, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 14, 2022) “Create a Pet Estate Plan for Your Fur Family”

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How to Manage Aging Parents Finances

How to Manage Aging Parents Finances

A day will come when age begins to catch up with your parents and they will need help with their finances. This begs the question of how to manage your aging parents 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’ 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.

Take the time to sit down with your parents and their estate planning attorney to have an understanding of their existing planning and how to manage your aging parents finances. If you are interested in learning more about managing the finances or care of your elderly parents, please visit our previous posts. 

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

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How are a Living Will and Advance Directive Different?

How are a Living Will and Advance Directive Different?

A comprehensive estate plan contains far more than a last will and testament. It also contains a number of documents to communicate wishes for decisions to be made during life. These include a living will, an advance directive and a healthcare power of attorney, as explained in the article “What Is a Living Will and Do I Need One?” from healthline. It is a common mistake to think that a living will and an advance directive are the same. They are not. How are a living will and an advance directive different?

What is a living will? A living will is a document providing instructions for medical care, or in some circumstances, for the termination of medical support. They indicate wishes for the use or discontinuation of life-sustaining medical treatments. The living will is used if the individual becomes incapacitated and cannot communicate normally. Incapacitation is determined and certified by a medical professional. Living wills address such treatments as resuscitation, hydration, a feeding tube and pain management.

Each state has its own rules for creating a legally valid living will. The information required in most states is:

  • Legal name and any aliases or nicknames.
  • The current day, month and year.
  • A statement attesting to being of sound mind and body.
  • Healthcare instructions for events with no reasonable expectation for recovery or quality of life, which may include CPR, DNR (do not resuscitate) and do not intubate (DNI).
  • The name of your healthcare proxy, the person who you want to communicate and state your wishes and the name of an alternate healthcare proxy, if you have one.
  • Witness statements indicating you willingly and rationally signed this document (the number of witnesses varies by state).
  • Your legal signature.

An advance directive is not the same thing but can include a living will. The advance directive has two parts: the living will and the healthcare power of attorney. These documents don’t address finances, property distribution, guardianship of children or any non-medical matters. For those, you need a last will and testament.

The healthcare power of attorney is a document identifying the person named to make healthcare decisions for you. It’s sometimes called a durable medical power of attorney. The person you name to make decisions is called your healthcare proxy, healthcare agent, or healthcare surrogate. This document does not address end-of-life care, but instead grants legal permission to the person to make decisions for you.

The living will, advance directive and healthcare power of attorney work together to allow someone else to represent you during a medical crisis. These documents should be created by an experienced estate planning attorney and shared with the people you choose, so they may act on your behalf. Unfortunately, we never know when a medical crisis or accident will occur, so these documents are needed at any age and stage of life. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you better understand how a living will and an advance directive are different. If you would like to learn more about drafting a comprehensive estate plan, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: healthline (Sep. 1, 2022) “What Is a Living Will and Do I Need One?”

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The Estate of The Union Season 2 Episode 3 is out now!

The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 3 – Mis-Titled Assets Can Wreck Your Planning is out now!

Almost everyone thinks that once they have a Will or Living trust in place, they are set when the unthinkable happens.  Unfortunately, that ain’t always so!

The way in which you take title to assets can affect your estate, taxes and perhaps the disposition of the asset if a couple divorces. In our latest edition of our Podcast, The Estate of the Union, Brad Wiewel explores what MUST happen behind the scenes to make the estate plan happen! It’s not just the documents, it’s aligning your assets with the plan – which is called “Funding.” And if this part gets screwed-up, it’s a train wreck that may happen the minute someone passes away or becomes incapacitated.

We’ve got sixteen other episodes posted and more to come. We hope you will enjoy them enough to share it with others. These are available on Apple, Spotify and other podcast outlets.

In each episode of The Estate of The Union podcast, host and lawyer Brad Wiewel will give valuable insights into the confusing world of estate planning, making an often daunting subject easier to understand. It is Estate Planning Made Simple! The Estate of The Union Season 2, Episode 3  – Mis-Titled Assets Can Wreck Your Planning can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or anywhere you get your podcasts. If you would prefer to watch the video version, please visit our YouTube page. Please click on the link below to listen to the new installment of The Estate of The Union podcast. We hope you enjoy it.

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Texas Trust Law focuses its practice exclusively in the area of wills, probate, estate planning, asset protection, and special needs planning. Brad Wiewel is Board Certified in Estate Planning and Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. We provide estate planning services, asset protection planning, business planning, and retirement exit strategies.

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Planning for Long Term Care Is Important

Planning for Long Term Care Is Important

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. Planning for long term care is important. 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 for long term care is important. It 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. If you would like to learn more about long term care issues, please visit our previous posts. 

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

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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