Category: Disability

Preparing for Retirement with a Special Needs Child

Preparing for Retirement with a Special Needs Child

For parents of children with disabilities, the challenges of preparing for retirement with a special needs child are far higher than for families with healthy, high-functioning adults. Planning for your own retirement, while needing to secure the stability and basic needs of a child who will be a dependent forever often feels impossible, according to the recent article “Planning for Your Retirement, and for a Child’s Special Needs, All at Once” from The New York Times.

Even under the best of circumstances, where there’s plenty of money available and many hands to help, caring for an adult child with special needs is emotionally and physically challenging. As parents age, they have to address their own needs plus the needs of their adult dependent. Who will care for them, provide safe and comfortable housing and care for them when their parents no longer can?

Understanding the entire picture can be difficult, even for parents with the best of intentions. First, they need to understand how preparing for their retirement will be different than other families without a special needs child. Their investments need to be multi-generational to last not just for their lifetimes, but for their child’s lifetime. They can’t be too conservative because they need long-term growth.

In addition, special needs parents need to keep a certain amount of funds liquid and easily accessible, for times when their child needs a new piece of expensive equipment immediately.

One of the parents will often leave the workforce to provide care or take a lower paying position to be more available for care. This creates a double hit; the household budget is reduced at the same time its strained by costs not covered by benefits or insurance. Paying for gas to drive to therapy appointments and day program, buying supplies not covered by insurance, like adult diapers, waterproof bedding, compression garments to promote circulation, specialized diets, etc. adds up quickly.

Even with public health assistance, finding affordable housing is not easy. One adult may need supervised care in a group home, while others may need in-home care. However, the family home may need to be modified to accommodate their physical disabilities. With wait times lasting several years, many families feel they have no choice but to keep their family member at home.

Another challenge: if the parents wanted to downsize to a smaller house or move to a state where housing costs are lower, they may not be able to do so. Most of the public benefits available to special needs people are administered through Medicaid at the state level. Moving to a state with a lower cost of housing may also mean losing access to the disabled individuals’ benefits or being placed at the end of the waiting list for services in a new state.

For disabled individuals, maintaining eligibility is a key issue. Family members who name a disabled individual as a beneficiary don’t understand how they are jeopardizing their ability to access public benefits. Any money intended for a disabled person must be held in a specialized financial instrument, such as a special needs trust.

The money in a special needs trust (SNT) may be used for quality-of-life enhancements like a cellphone, computer, better food, care providers, rent and utilities among other qualified expenses.

There are two main categories of SNTs: first party trusts, created with assets belonging to the individual. Any money in this trust must go to reimburse the state for the cost of their care. Another is a third-party special needs trust, established and funded by someone else for the benefit of the disabled individual. These are typically funded by parent’s life insurance proceeds and second-to-die life insurance policies. Both parents are covered under it, and the policy pays out after the second spouse dies, providing a more affordable option than insuring both parents separately. Your estate planning attorney can assist you in preparing for retirement with knowledge that your special needs child’s future is secure. If you would like to read more about planning for families with a disabled loved one, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The New York Times (Aug. 27, 2022) “Planning for Your Retirement, and for a Child’s Special Needs, All at Once”

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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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Important to consider Long-Term Care Insurance

Important to consider Long-Term Care Insurance

It becomes especially important to plan for the future when the world around us seems so volatile and unpredictable. We can’t control future health care costs, but we can plan for them, says a recent article titled “Economic instability and the need to plan for long-term care” from The Indiana Lawyer. Failing to plan could mean lost assets and a lost legacy. It is important to consider long-term care insurance as you get older.

According to Genworth’s Cost of Care survey, from 2004 to 2021, the cost of long-term care has outpaced inflation by a large margin. Many of the increases were driven by supply and demand issues. There aren’t enough people to care for the growing population of people needing services, which will continue to be the case for at least the next decade. A total of 10,000 boomers turn 65 every day and 70% will require care and support services in their lifetimes.

How can assets be protected from long-term costs?

One of the most frequently used tools is an asset protection trust or an irrevocable trust. The irrevocable trust cannot be modified, amended, or terminated without permission of the grantor’s beneficiary or beneficiaries. Once the grantor transfers assets into the trust, the grantor no longer has the rights of ownership. The trust can be designed to minimize taxation, maximize access to long-term benefits and protect assets.

The trust must be drafted properly, so trust income and principal, if needed, can be accessed.

The timing is critical. Asset protection trusts must be created when there is no immediate health care crisis, and the grantor has no need for long-term care. The best trust is created when the person is in good health and of sound mind.

Those who are nearing retirement, passed retirement age or who may have health issues in the distant future and expect to need Medicaid in the future are best candidates for an asset protection trust.

Medicaid’s Five Year Look Back Period

Planning needs to be done at least five years in advance, as Medicaid looks at the applicant’s past five year’s finances to see if any assets were sold or gifted for under market value. Transferring assets to an irrevocable trust is treated as a gift and violates the five-year look back, making the person ineligible for Medicaid coverage. Nursing home care will have to be paid out-of-pocket until the person becomes eligible.

Asset protection strategies are available for those who need immediate protection of assets. However, they have to done quickly and correctly with an estate planning elder law attorney. People who have suffered a fall and have significant injuries or who have received a diagnosis of a difficult disease should speak with an elder law attorney in a timely manner. They’ll need to discuss preparing for a Medicaid application, what assets can be protected and steps they need to take. It is important to consider long-term care insurance before you reach a point when it is needed. The earlier the plan is put into place, the better. If you would like to learn more about long-term care insurance, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Indiana Lawyer (Aug. 3, 2022) “Economic instability and the need to plan for long-term care”

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Geriatric Care Managers can make Life Easier

Geriatric Care Managers can make Life Easier

Geriatric care managers (or GCMs) help seniors deal with their burdens in an efficient, organized manner. Geriatric care managers can simply make life easier for both you and your senior, says Seniors Matter’s recent article entitled “What is a geriatric care manager?”

Seniors Matter created a guide to provide seniors with detailed information about geriatric care managers, including what they do and how to locate the most qualified individuals in your area. If you’re not sure about the role of a geriatric care manager, it can be broken down into two parts: First of all, “geriatric care” simply refers to geriatric medicine, which focuses on health care services for elderly individuals. The second part of the phrase is quite straightforward, since a “manager” is simply someone with strong organizational skills who is in charge of making important decisions.

Geriatric care managers are knowledgeable and organized individuals skilled in advocacy and care coordination for seniors. They are specialists in senior care who can guide family caregivers and others in providing the best support for their seniors. In fact, many family caregivers think of senior care managers as unofficial family members.

They’re people you can trust to make the right choices when it comes to eldercare services, and they often develop bonds with the entire family.

Geriatric care managers have strong qualifications. Many of them have professional experience in case management, physical therapy, nursing, social work, or occupational therapy. Some have worked as gerontologists. Note that a GCM doesn’t need to directly provide seniors with all of the medical treatment they need. A significant part of their role involves finding other qualified medical professionals and senior care providers who can offer more specialized assistance.

GCMs are especially helpful in long-distance care situations. They can ensure quick response times in the case of an emergency.

Even if the time commitment of informal caregiving isn’t an issue for you, a geriatric care manager can be a welcome source of advice, guidance, and advocacy.

You can make life easier and feel confident about important decisions when you consult with qualified geriatric care managers.  They can help you with the complex issues associated with proper care coordination. If you would like to learn more about elder care and elder law, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Seniors Matter (July 7, 2022) “What is a geriatric care manager?”

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Supplemental Needs Trust can safeguard Benefits

Supplemental Needs Trust can safeguard Benefits

A Supplemental Needs Trust can safeguard government benefits. Supplemental Needs Trusts allow disabled individuals to retain inheritances or gifts without eliminating or reducing government benefits, like Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There are cases where the individual is vulnerable to exploitation or unable to manage their own finances and using an SNT allows them to receive additional funds to pay for things not covered by their benefits.

Having an experienced estate planning attorney properly create the SNT is critical to preserving the individual’s benefits, according to a recent article titled “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts” from Mondaq.

Disabled individuals who receive SSI must be careful, since the rules about assets from SSI are far more restrictive then if the person only received Medicaid or Social Security Disability and Medicaid.

The trustee of an SNT makes distributions to third parties like personal care items, transportation (including buying a car), entertainment, technology purchases, payment of rent and medical or therapeutic equipment. Payment of rent or even ownership of a home may be paid for by the trustee.

The SNT may not make cash distributions to the beneficiary. Payment for any items or services must be made directly to the service provider, retailers, or other entity, for benefit of the individual. Not following this rule could lead to the SNT becoming invalid.

SNTs may be funded using the disabled person’s own funds or by a third party for their benefit. If the SNT is funded using the person’s own funds, it is called a “Self-Settled SNT.” This is a useful tool if the disabled person inherits money, receives a court settlement or owned assets before becoming disabled.

If someone other than the disabled person funds the SNT, it’s known as a “Third-Party SNT.” These are most commonly created as part of an estate plan to protect a family member and ensure they have supplementary funds as needed and to preserve assets for other family members when the disabled individual dies.

The most important distinction between a Self-Settled SNT and a Third-Party SNT is a Self-Settled SNT must contain a provision to direct the trust to pay back the state’s Medicaid agency for any assistance provided. This is known as a “Payback Provision.”

The Third-Party SNT is not required to contain this provision and any assets remaining in the trust at the time of the disabled person’s death may be passed on to residual beneficiaries.

A Supplemental Needs Trust can safeguard benefits. That is why so many estate planning attorneys use a “standby” SNT as part of their planning, so their loved ones may be protected, in case an unexpected event occurs and a family member becomes disabled. If you would like to learn more about SNTs, please visit our previous posts.

References: Mondaq (May 27, 2022) “Protecting Government Benefits using Supplemental Needs Trusts”

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Mistakes can lead to an Invalid Will

Mistakes can lead to an Invalid Will

One of the many reasons an experienced estate planning attorney is the best resource for creating an estate plan, including a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy, is the confidence of knowing your estate plan has been properly prepared. People who believe they know better than an experienced lawyer, often send their families into a legal, financial, and emotional black hole after they die. Mistakes can lead to an invalid will. The article “Red Flags Indicating a Potentially Invalid Will” from The National Law Journal provides a closer look at why it pays to work with a professional.

When a decedent executes a new Last Will near the end of their life and makes a dramatic change to previous estate plans, there may be trouble ahead. When this is the case, several issues need to be examined to ensure that the document is valid. Strong consideration must be given to whether the person had sufficient capacity to execute the document.

When a person is suffering from an illness or near death, they may be susceptible to the improper influence of people who may cause them to make uncharacteristic changes to their estate plan. Any Last Will drafted within the last few months of a person’s life requires careful review.

If, shortly after a person has handed the reins of their financial life to another, using a Power of Attorney in any of its forms (Durable POA, Springing POA) and a new Last Will is created, a red flag should be raised, especially if the Last Will has been changed to benefit this person.

What if a person’s capacity was hovering near the borderline of capacity and incapacity? If a decedent’s mental capacity was questionable at the time the Last Will was executed, the Last Will may not be valid. A person with legal mental capacity must understand the assets they own and clearly understand to whom they are bequeathing assets. The standard for this issue is low, but if the decedent was suffering from a degenerative mental condition or a sudden onset of incapacity due to an illness or accident, the Last Will may be challenged.

If a layperson creates a Last Will or uses an online service to create it and the Last Will does not comply with the state’s estate laws, the Last Will may have technical issues rendering it invalid. When this occurs, it is as if there were no Last Will at all and the estate is distributed according to the laws of the state.

The biggest red flag is the presence of any large changes from the next to Last Will to the final Last Will, with no known reason for the change having been made. This may be a result of changes to mental capacity or undue influence of a third party. An experienced estate planning attorney is the best resource to create a Last Will. They will be among the first to ask why significant changes from a prior Last Will are being requested. Don’t allow mistakes to jeopardize your wishes and lead to an invalid will. If you would like to learn more about drafting a will, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The National Law Journal (March 30, 2022) “Red Flags Indicating a Potentially Invalid Will”

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Planning for Special Needs Requires Care

Planning for Special Needs Requires Care

Planning for loved ones with special needs requires great care. When a family includes a disabled individual, sometimes referred to as a “person with special needs,” estate planning needs to address the complexities, as described in a recent article titled “Customize estate plan to account for disabled beneficiaries” from The News-Enterprise. Failing to do so can have life-long repercussions for the individual.

This often occurs because the testator, the person creating the estate plan, does not know the implications of failing to take the disabled person’s situation into consideration, or when there is no will.

The most common error is leaving the disabled beneficiary receiving an outright inheritance. With a simple will, or no will, the beneficiary receives the inheritance and becomes ineligible for public benefits they may be receiving. The disruption can impact their medical care, housing, work and social programs. It may also lead to the loss of their inheritance.

If the disabled beneficiary does not currently receive benefits, it does not mean they will never need them. After the death of a parent, for instance, they may become completely reliant on public benefits. An inheritance will put them in jeopardy.

A second common error is naming the caregiver as the beneficiary, rather than the disabled individual. This causes numerous problems. The caregiver has the right to do whatever they want with the assets. If they no longer wish to care for the beneficiary, they are under no legal obligation to do so.

If the caregiver has any liabilities of their own, or when the caregiver becomes incapacitated or dies, the assets intended for the disabled individual will be subject to any estate taxes or creditors of the caregiver. If the caregiver has any children of their own, they will inherit the assets and not the disabled person.

The caregiver does not enjoy any kind of estate tax protection, so the estate may end up paying taxes on assets intended for the beneficiary.

The third major planning mistake is using a will instead of a trust as the primary planning method. A Special Needs Trust is designed to benefit a disabled individual to protect the assets and protect the individual’s public benefits. The trust assets can be used for continuity of care, while maintaining privacy for the individual and the family.

Planning for individuals with special needs requires great care, specifically for the testator and their beneficiaries. Families who appear to be similar on the outside may have very different needs, making a personalized estate plan vital to ensure that beneficiaries have the protection they deserve and need. If you would like to learn more about special needs issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The News-Enterprise (March 15, 2022) “Customize estate plan to account for disabled beneficiaries”

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What Do You Need to Age in Place?

What Do You Need to Age in Place?

Many Americans prefer the idea of living out their gold years at home and “age in place”, rather than relying on family or assisted living. So what do you need to age in place? Home modification is the official term (from the Americans with Disabilities Act) for renovations and remodels aimed for use by the elderly or the impaired. It means physically changing your home, removing potential hazards and making it more accessible, so you can continue living in it independently.

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “The best home modifications for aging in place” reports that home modifications can be pricey—typically ranging from $3,000 to $15,000, with the average national spend being $9,500. However, it can be a worthwhile investment. You can save money by doing the right home modifications. That is because the longer you can safely live in your home, the less you will need to pay for assisted living care.

The best aging-in-place home modifications align with “universal design,” an architectural term for features that are easy for all to use and adaptable, as needs dictate. This includes additions and changes to the exterior and interior of a home. Some of the simplest home modifications include DIY jobs:

  • Adding easy-grip knobs and pulls, swapping knobs for levers
  • Installing adjustable handheld shower heads
  • Rearranging furniture for better movement
  • Removing trip hazards; and
  • Installing mats and non-slip floor coverings.

Next, are some more complex home modifications. These probably would need a professional contractor, especially if you want them up to code standards:

  • Installing handrails
  • Adding automatic outdoor lighting
  • Installing automatic push-button doors
  • Leveling flooring; and
  • Installing doorway ramps

There are also home modifications that can be done by room:

  • In the bathroom, installing grab bars and railing, a roll- or walk-in shower/tub, or a shower bench
  • In the kitchen: adding higher countertops, lever or touchless faucets and cabinet pull-out shelves
  • For the bedroom, use a less-high bed, non-slip floor, walk-in closets and motion-activated lights
  • Outside, you can add ramps, a porch or stair lifts, and automatic push button doors.

Finally, throughout the house, keep things well-lit and widen hallways and doorways; add a first-level master suite, elevators or chair lifts, “smart” window shades/thermostats/lighting and simpler windows.

Note that some home modifications may qualify as medical expenses. As a result, they are eligible for an itemized deduction on your income tax return. A home modification may be tax-deductible as a medical expense, if it has made to accommodate the disabilities (preferably documented by a physician or other health care provider) of someone who lives in the home, according to the IRS. Home modifications may not be the only thing you need to age in place. Speak with an experienced elder law attorney who will be familiar with many of the types of assistance available to keep you in your home. If you would like to learn more about elder care, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Bankrate (March 30, 2022) “The best home modifications for aging in place”

 

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Advance Care Planning a Benefit to Seniors

Advance Care Planning a Benefit to Seniors

Advance care planning (ACP) is an ongoing discussion that involves shared decision-making to clarify and document an individual’s wishes, preferences and goals regarding their medical care. This is extremely important to making certain that they get the medical care they want, if they become incapacitated and unable to make their own decisions. Advance care planning is a major benefit to seniors. Despite the importance of ACP, most Americans don’t have their medical wishes documented, according to Medical Life Sciences News’ recent article entitled “Comprehensive approach may promote Advance Care Planning for elderly adults.”

In the pandemic, too many families exhausted themselves attempting to address this issue, agonizing over what their loved one might have chosen for their care if they had been given the chance.

Dr. Angelo Volandes, MD, MPH, physician and researcher, Division of General Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues started the Advance Care Planning: Communicating with Outpatients for Vital Informed Decisions (ACP-COVID) pragmatic trial. This experiment was designed to see if ACP participation during the pandemic would increase following implementation of video decision aids and clinician communication skills training. They also looked at how these interventions would affect ACP documentation among patients from ethnic and racial minority groups, specifically African Americans and Hispanics.

The trial included a large, diverse patient population aged 65+ from 22 outpatient clinics at Northwell Health, the largest healthcare system in New York State. ACP documentation from three six-month time periods was compared:

  1. Pre-COVID-19
  2. The first wave of COVID-19; and
  3. An intervention period.

The findings showed that ACP documentation was significantly greater among all groups during the intervention period, with African American and Hispanic patients showing the most significant increases.

“The stark disparity in COVID-related outcomes for African American and Hispanic patients highlights a reality already known by many: our healthcare system routinely fails to meet the needs of minority patients. No one intervention or initiative is going to correct all those failings though advance care planning, through engaging and empowering patients, is one of the most effective, immediate ways to address disparities in care,” adds Volandes, who is also an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“Fundamentally, advance care planning aims to empower patients. The results of our study demonstrate the importance of meeting patients where they are,” adds Volandes. “Whether that means providing information in their native language or sharing educational material via text rather than a patient portal, if advance care planning is to be about the patient and we need to find ways to ensure that they feel they have the knowledge and ability to make decisions alongside their clinicians when they deem the time is right. COVID-19 has made ACP more important than ever, and especially in communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.” The bottom line is that advance care planning can be a huge benefit to seniors and their caregivers. Work closely with an elder law attorney to begin the planning process. If you would like to learn more about long-term care and nursing home planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Medical Life Sciences News (Feb. 28, 2022) “Comprehensive approach may promote Advance Care Planning for elderly adults”

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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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