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How to Be an Effective Advocate for Elderly Parents

Family caregivers must also understand their loved one’s wishes for care and quality of life. They must also be sure those wishes are respected. Further, it means helping them manage financial and legal matters, and making sure they receive appropriate services and treatments when they need them.

AARP’s recent article entitled “How to Be an Effective Advocate for Aging Parents” says if the thought of being an advocate for others seems overwhelming, take it easy. You probably already have the skills you need to be effective. You may just need to develop and apply them in new ways. AARP gives us the five most important attributes.

  1. Observation. Caregivers can be too busy or tired, to see small changes, but even slightest shifts in a person’s abilities, health, moods, safety needs, or wants may be a sign of a much more serious medical or mental health issue. You should also monitor the services your family member is getting. You can take notes on your observations about your loved one to track any changes over time.
  2. Organization. It’s hard to keep track of every aspect of a caregiving plan, but as an advocate, you must manage your loved one’s caregiving team. This includes creating task lists and organizing the paperwork associated with health, legal, and financial matters. You’ll need to have easy access to all legal documents, like powers of attorney for finances and health care. If needed, you might take an organizing course or work with a professional organizer. There are also many caregiving apps. You should also, make digital copies of key documents, such as medication lists, medical history, powers of attorney and living wills, so you can access them from anywhere.
  3. Communication. This may be the most important attribute. You need communication for building relationships with other caregivers, family members, attorneys and healthcare professionals. Be prepared for meetings with lawyers, medical professionals and other providers.
  4. Probing. Caregivers need to gather information, so don’t be shy about it. Educate yourself about your loved one’s health conditions, finances and legal affairs. Create a list of questions for conversations with doctors and other professionals.
  5. Tenacity. Facing a dysfunctional and frustrating health care system can be discouraging. You must be tenacious. Here are a few suggestions on how to do that:
  • Set clear goals and focus on the end result you want.
  • Keep company with positive and encouraging people.
  • Heed the advice of experienced caregivers’ stories, so you understand the triumphs and the challenges.
  • Be positive and be resilient.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 24, 2020) “How to Be an Effective Advocate for Aging Parents”

The Difference between Power of Attorney and Guardianship for Elderly Parents

The primary difference between guardianship and power of attorney is in the level of decision-making power, although there are many intricacies specific to each appointment, explains Presswire’s recent article entitled “Power of Attorney and Guardianship of an Elderly Parent.”

The interactions with adult protective services, the probate court, elder law attorneys and healthcare providers can create a huge task for an agent under a power of attorney or court-appointed guardian. Children acting as agents or guardians are surprised about the degree of interference by family members who disagree with decisions.

Doctors and healthcare providers don’t always recognize the decision-making power of an agent or guardian. Guardians or agents may find themselves fighting the healthcare system because of the difference between legal capacity and medical or clinical capacity.

A family caregiver accepts a legal appointment to provide or oversee care. An agent under power of attorney isn’t appointed to do what he or she wishes. The agent must fulfill the wishes of the principal. In addition, court-appointed guardians are required to deliver regular reports to the court detailing the activities they have completed for elderly parents. Both roles must work in the best interest of the parent.

Some popular misperceptions about power of attorney and guardianship of a parent include:

  • An agent under power of attorney can make decisions that go against the wishes of the principal
  • An agent can’t be removed or fired by the principal for abuse
  • Adult protective services assumes control of family matters and gives power to the government; and
  • Guardians have a responsibility to save money for care, so family members can receive an inheritance.

Those who have a financial interest in inheritance can be upset when an agent under a power of attorney or a court-appointed guardian is appointed. Agents and guardians must make sure of the proper care for an elderly parent. A potential inheritance may be totally spent over time on care.

In truth, the objective isn’t to conserve money for family inheritances, if saving money means that a parent’s care will be in jeopardy.

Adult protective services workers will also look into cases to make certain that vulnerable elderly persons are protected—including being protected from irresponsible family members. In addition, a family member serving as an agent or family court-appointed guardian can be removed, if actions are harmful.

Agents under a medical power of attorney and court-appointed guardians have a duty to go beyond normal efforts in caring for an elderly parent or adult. They must understand the aspects of the health conditions and daily needs of the parent, as well as learning advocacy and other skills to ensure that the care provided is appropriate.

Ask an experienced elder law attorney about your family’s situation and your need for power of attorney documents with a provision for guardianship.

Reference: Presswire (Jan. 14, 2021) “Power of Attorney and Guardianship of an Elderly Parent”

Can Mom Live in the Backyard?

When one Georgia senior thought about moving closer to her daughter in an Atlanta suburb, she realized she couldn’t afford to buy a home.

Therefore, her daughter researched building a cottage in her own backyard. This fall, they made a deposit on a Craftsman-style design by a local architect who will manage the project from permits to completion. The 429-square-foot home will have one bedroom and bathroom, a galley kitchen and living area and a covered porch.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “A Retirement Home Is a Tiny House in the Kids’ Backyard” reports that driven by an aging population and a scarcity of affordable housing, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are a new trend in multigenerational living. These units are also known as in-law suites, garage apartments, carriage houses, casitas and “granny flats.” Freddie Mac found the share of for-sale listings with an ADU rose 8.6% year-over-year since 2009.

Homes such as these can be created by finishing a basement or attic, converting a garage, reconfiguring unused space, adding on, custom-building a detached unit, or installing a prefab. This unit can also be a source of rental income. A homeowner could also use it to house a parent, child or caregiver; downsize into it themselves to rent the main house; or make it into an office or guest quarters.

Converting existing space is less expensive than building a detached unit. A prefab ADU is cheaper and quicker to install than one built on site. However, a custom project allows you to include aging-in-place features, like a step-free entry, wider doorways and a handicapped accessible shower.

An ADU also allows seniors some privacy, so they’ll feel at home, rather than a visitor or intruder. You might add a private entrance and soundproofing to the shared walls of an in-law suite. Sitting areas indoors and outdoors will let you or a parent enjoy solitude, entertain friends without asking for permission and avoid feeling locked in.

Prior to using your nest egg to create an ADU on a child’s property, think about the way in which you’ll pay for the care you will inevitably need someday. You can’t sell the ADU to raise funds and renting it out after you’ve moved elsewhere is unlikely to cover the cost of your care.

In addition, note that if a parent gives a child money to build an ADU within the look-back period when applying for Medicaid, they may be penalized with delayed coverage.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 31, 2020) “A Retirement Home Is a Tiny House in the Kids’ Backyard”

How will an Apple Watch Help Study Dementia?

AI’s recent article entitled “Biogen will use Apple Watch to study symptoms of dementia,” says that this study will last for multiple years, and will launch later this year. People from a wide gamut of ages and cognitive performance levels will be asked to take part by Biogen.

They hope to find out if wearable devices like the Apple Watch could be used for long-term cognitive performance monitoring.

The ultimate objective is to develop digital biomarkers for cognitive performance monitoring over time, which may help identify early signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

There are now serious delays in recognizing declines in cognitive health. This impacts about 15 to 20% of adults over the age of 65. The subtle onset of symptoms, including being easily distracted and memory loss, may take months or even years before it is observed as a cognitive decline by healthcare providers.

“The successful development of digital biomarkers in brain health would help address the significant need to accelerate patient diagnoses and empower physicians and individuals to take timely action,” said Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos. “For healthcare systems, such advancements in cognitive biomarkers from large-scale studies could contribute significantly to prevention and better population-based health outcomes, and lower costs to health systems.”

Apple believes that this study “can help the medical community better understand a person’s cognitive performance, by simply having them engage with their Apple Watch and iPhone,” said Apple COO Jeff Williams. “We’re looking forward to learning about the impact our technology can have in delivering better health outcomes through improved detection of declining cognitive health,” he said.

The Apple Watch has been used for a number of health studies in the past, which are done with the research app. There have been studies to detect heart issues before they become an issue, as well as a hearing study monitoring ambient sound volumes, and activity and movement.

The dementia study is designed to ensure consumer privacy, control and transparency. It will emphasize data security.

The participants must complete a detailed consent from listing the collected data types and how they are used and shared before taking part. They can withdraw at any time.

Reference: AI (Jan. 11, 2021) “Biogen will use Apple Watch to study symptoms of dementia”

What Do I Need to Know as a Caregiver for the Elderly?

Not everyone is cut out for assisting older people because the job requires a unique skillset and, more importantly, empathy.

Big Easy’s recent article entitled “6 Things to Consider as a Caregiver for the Elderly” says it can be hard to understand that a senior has become dependent on others, and being assisted in everyday tasks may even lead to compromises in their privacy. This can put a senior in stressful conditions that lead to anxiety. In that case, hiring a professional caregiver for the elderly may be the best option.

However, no matter your training, caring for an older person can still be challenging. Consider these six things to develop the best possible relationship with the elderly and to provide the best care.

Compassion. Being compassionate helps develop a better connection to the elderly person. This can frequently solve many behavioral problems and can make for a pleasant caregiving environment. Most older people have some physical or mental disability that keeps them from being independent. In some situations, being abandoned by their loved ones creates even more emotional damage. To help, be empathetic and kind to them in these difficult times. This can significantly help to decrease the emotional pain that accompanies old age and illness. Being compassionate is one of the most effective ways of delivering the best care possible in these situations.

Communication. If you have the ability to have natural and comfortable conversations with elderly patients, you can develop a tighter emotional bond with them. Healthy communication and conversations also can distract a senior from things that may be troubling them, which will not only benefit the patient but will also help you carry out your tasks more easily. You may also be called upon to interact with other family members or doctors, so good communication skills are required.

Safety. Safety is vital for the elderly, and the slightest negligence can become a matter of life and death for them. The most common types of injuries for older people are attributed to falls. It is also even more dangerous because their bones are weak and don’t heal quickly. Use extreme care when assisting seniors in slippery areas, like the bathroom. Take precautions, such as de-cluttering the house and eliminating tripping hazards. Most importantly, keep them under constant observation, especially those with mental illnesses.

Hygiene. Maintaining quality hygiene can be a challenge, especially if people are shy or want their privacy. Take bathing as an example: it’s not surprising that the elderly are embarrassed, when caregivers have to bathe them. Even so, you are tasked with maintaining their hygiene. If you don’t, it can lead to more health-related issues.

Medications. Most seniors take medication, some of which produce side effects, such as nausea or dizziness. As a caregiver, you should make certain that they are taking their medicines on time and watch for side-effects in the case of an emergency. Review their medications and administer the prescribed dosage at the right times yourself. This will also help those who forget to take their medicines without prompting.

You may have several challenging times throughout your career as a caregiver for the elderly, but empathy and compassion will help you considerably. You will create a better job experience and help the elderly with a very difficult phase of their life.

Reference: Big Easy (Dec. 10, 2020) “6 Things to Consider as a Caregiver for the Elderly”

What Should I Know, If I Need to Take an Elderly Person to the Doctor?

First, know and understand the rules in the pandemic.

AARP’s August 17 article entitled “4 Things to Know When Taking a Loved One to the Doctor During COVID-19” provides four other things to consider as you plan doctors’ appointments.

Is there an urgent need for the appointment? A caregiver of a senior may be tempted to schedule some appointments. However, doctors are trying to return to normal, and even with precautions in place, they may not want to see your senior for a non-urgent visit. Right now, most doctors don’t advise patients to come into their office for routine follow-ups. See if the visit can be postponed or ask the medical office about a virtual visit on Zoom.

Do you know the office’s visitor policy? If the doctor asks you to bring your loved one to the doctor’s office, look at its visitor policy before you go. With COVID-19, most offices have very strict policies and may only permit scheduled patients in the office. Some will make exceptions for a senior’s caregiver if needed, but they may request that once the patient is checked in, the caregiver wait in the car.

What are the facility’s precautions against COVID-19? In most health care facilities, as well as in imaging centers, doctors’ offices, hospitals with outpatient services, ERs and labs, there’s intense facility cleaning and sanitizing, universal masking, physical distancing and hand sanitizing. Patients are typically met at the door with a thermometer and a COVID-19 questionnaire. Other precautions include removing magazines to protect against the risk of virus transmission and requiring all staff to wear surgical masks.

What preparation is needed for an in-person appointment? Both the caregiver and patient should wear masks and get there punctually. When you make the appointment and it is prep for a scheduled surgery or procedure, ask if the patient needs a COVID-19 test.

You should also bring a list of medications with dosages and frequencies (and the number of refills left.). It is also helpful to have on hand a medical history that includes symptoms, dates and durations. This can be valuable in completing the COVID-19 questionnaire and to get more from the appointment. You should also have a list of questions for the doctor.

When you leave the appointment, be certain: (i) all of the patient’s questions have been answered; (ii) review the instructions for home care provided in the treatment plan; and (iii) schedule the next appointment, if a follow-up is needed.

Reference: AARP (Aug. 17, 2020) “4 Things to Know When Taking a Loved One to the Doctor During COVID-19”

living space design

What Does Research Say about Senior Well-Being and Living Space Design?

Design’s Impact on Seniors’ Perceptions of Wellness from New York-based architecture firm Perkins Eastman, reviewed the responses of 540 older adults living in three West Coast senior living communities to see how they looked at their own physical, social/emotional and intellectual wellness.

McKnight’s Senior Living’s recent article entitled  “90% of senior living residents say design integral to well-being: study” explains that the study started many years before the impact of COVID-19 on the senior living sector. It included responses from residents living in three life plan communities, also known as continuing care retirement communities: MonteCedro in Altadena, CA; Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa, CA; and Rockwood Retirement Communities in Spokane, WA. The three communities were chosen due to their focus on whole-person wellness and specific design strategies to support that objective.

The residents of these communities completed questionnaires between 2015 and 2017 at certain points of pre-construction, post-construction, and occupancy. The study looked at these wellness strategies used by designers:

  • Autonomy, control and choice
  • Design in variety
  • Promotion of use through location and access
  • Patterns of movement
  • Natural connections
  • Touch of serendipity
  • Degrees of privacy
  • Layers of light
  • Sensory experiences; and
  • Feelings of home.

The results showed that more than 90% felt that design strategies used in their communities were essential to their overall well-being. Research showed that residents’ perceptions of wellness positively increased or held steady after they began using new or renovated spaces in their communities. The aspects that exhibited the most improvement in physical wellness in all communities was access to physical wellness resources and exercising regularly.  In addition, social/emotional wellness, access to resources, a strong support system, and a sense of connection and belonging also improved across all three communities.

The residents’ access to intellectual wellness resources were seen as better, and there were more opportunities for residents to expand their knowledge and explore the creative arts.

The authors of the study said the design strategies in the study should be a “starting point” upon which designers and providers can expand, while developing more strategies and approaches to support “whole-person wellness”.

Reference: McKnight’s Senior Living (Sep. 8, 2020) “90% of senior living residents say design integral to well-being: study”

elder care

Does the Netherlands have the Right Idea for Elder Care?

Is the Netherlands getting its money’s worth from its spending, and are they protecting elders from the impoverishing effects of out-of-pocket spending, and their children from the burdens of caregiving?

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Can The Dutch Example Help Us Improve Long-Term Care And Manage Its Costs? Maybe” says that when investigating further, it’s not hard to find articles praising the Dutch approach to eldercare. Its “Dementia Village” has received a lot of press for its patient-friendly approach of creating a secure, “Truman Show”-style community where seniors can spend time at the town square or shopping at the grocery store. They also live in individual homes styled in the manner of their youth.

An expert on eldercare at Access Health International described her experiences in a visit to the country. She said that the organizations she visited focused on well-being, wellness and lifestyle choices. They focused less on the medical aspects of chronic and long-term care. The groups didn’t consider themselves to be part of the curative branch of the healthcare system—these healthcare professionals only focused on patients’ individual capabilities, freedom, autonomy and wellness.

The article took a look at the FICA-equivalent taxes in the Netherlands with data from the Social Security Programs Throughout the World, at the Social Security website. For old age, disability and survivor’s benefits (the U.S. Social Security-equivalent), the Dutch contribute 20% of their pay, to a max of $37,700. Employers pay 6.27% of pay, up to $60,600. For medical, the system is a hybrid one. The workers buy private insurance. Employers pay 6.90% of covered payroll (with no limit), and the government subsidizes the benefits. As far as long-term care, workers pay 9.65% of earnings up to $37,700.

A World Bank consultant gave a more detailed review of the Dutch system in a 2017 paper entitled, Aging and Long-Term Care Systems: A Review of Finance and Governance Arrangements in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific.

The first social insurance benefit for long-term care, the Exceptional Medical Expenses Act was implemented in 1968. In 2014, 5% of Dutch people received benefits through the program, but the cost of the system had increased. At first, the Dutch government initially tried to control costs with budget caps, until a 1999 ruling outlawed these. As a result, costs grew from EUR 15.9 billion in 2001 to EUR 27.8 in 2014, even though there were cost-control efforts, like increases in copays required from middle- and upper-income families and tightening of eligibility criteria.

In 2015, the Dutch government totally overhauled its system with the Long-term Care Act. This law had a new administrative structure, changes so government pays for more services, more home support instead of nursing homes when possible, and other cuts and freezes in reimbursement rates.

As a consequence, the English-language site Dutch News reported in 2017 that “At least 40% of Dutch nursing homes and home nursing organizations are making a loss and overall profitability across the healthcare sector has more than halved, according to accountancy group EY,” as reimbursement rates drop and (since the less-frail elderly are more often being cared for at home) nursing home residents need more help.

Elder care isn’t free of charge, but the rates are based on income and, at a maximum, are still much lower than American private-pay nursing home or home care costs ($2,500/month). Therefore, copayments by families are 8.7% of total spending. Thus, taxes are higher, but the direct out-of-pocket costs of care in the Netherlands are substantially lower than in the U.S.

The Netherlands’ systematized provision of home care and attempts to provide home-like nursing homes are appealing. However, it’s still not known if the country’s 2015 reform will control costs to ensure its programs are sustainable in the long run. Further, the fact that this reform was required supports the notion that an expansive government program isn’t as simple as its proponents would like it to be.

Reference: Forbes (Sep. 1, 2020) “Can The Dutch Example Help Us Improve Long-Term Care And Manage Its Costs? Maybe.”

granny cams

Can Senior Care Facilities Use ‘Granny Cams’?

A bill in Georgia that would permit residents in assisted living communities and personal care homes to install electronic monitoring equipment in their rooms has been met with resistance. There are some members of the long-term care industry the oppose HB 849, so-called “granny cam” legislation due to privacy issues. The legislation—which also covers nursing homes—was introduced by state representative Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge). Douglas contends that the technology is needed now more than ever.

Several states have similar laws.

McKnight’s Senior Living’s recent article entitled “Georgia Legislature blocks ‘granny cam’ legislation; industry reps raised concerns” reports that Tony Marshall, president and CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association, says he previously spoke with Douglas and other legislators about the granny cam bill and his concerns. He said concerns were also shared by the state ombudsman and various advocacy groups.

“Surveillance cameras observe — they do not protect — and the use of such cameras in a healthcare setting significantly increases the risk of violating HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act], federal and state privacy regulations,” Marshall told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We also have concerns related to several other technical aspects of the bill.”

Marshall also noted that the Georgia Health Care Association supports “transparency and measures to ensure that the highest quality of care is being provided to elderly Georgians,” while also “valuing a home-like setting and honoring each resident’s dignity and right to privacy.”

He said his association believes that true quality improvement happens by collaborative efforts with legislators and other players to bolster the ability of nursing centers to recruit and retain a skilled, competent workforce. This also will “further programs designed to educate healthcare professionals, consumers and communities-at-large on abuse prevention and identification,” Marshall said.

The bill allows electronic monitoring equipment to be put in a resident’s rooms in assisted living communities, personal care homes, skilled nursing facilities and intermediate care homes. The resident would be required to provide written consent from any roommate and notify the facility before installing a device. A sign must also to be posted to let visitors and staff members know about the granny cam. The facility also wouldn’t be permitted to access any video or audio recording from the resident’s device.

Douglas said the pandemic has shown the need for cameras and noted that other states have adopted similar measures, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The state legislator remarked that he introduced the legislation after being contacted during the lockdown by family members, who said they weren’t told about outbreaks or immediately told when an elderly family member died.

There are six states—Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah—that have laws requiring assisted living communities to accommodate resident requests to install electronic monitoring equipment in their rooms.

New Jersey also has a “Safe Care Cam” program that loans such equipment to healthcare consumers, including families of assisted living and nursing home residents.

Reference: McKnight’s Senior Living (Sep. 15, 2020) “Georgia Legislature blocks ‘granny cam’ legislation; industry reps raised concerns”

healthcare information

How to Keep Track of Mom’s Healthcare Information if She Gets Sick or Injured

It’s common for seniors to have several chronic medical conditions that must be closely monitored and for which they take any number of prescription medications. Family caregivers usually are given a crash course in nursing and managing medical care, when they start helping an aging loved one. The greatest lesson is that organization is key, which is especially true when a senior requires urgent medical care.

Physicians encounter countless patients and families who struggle to convey important medical details to health care staff, according to The (Battle Ground, WA ) Reflector’s recent article titled “The emergency medical file every caregiver should create.”

A great solution is to create a packet that contains information that caregivers should have. Here’s what should be in this emergency file:

Medications. Make a list of all your senior’s prescription and over-the-counter medications, with dosages and how frequently they’re taken.

Allergies. Note if your loved one is allergic to any medications, additives, preservatives, or materials, like latex or adhesives. You should also note the severity of their reaction to each of these.

Physicians. Put down the name and contact info for the patient’s primary care physician, as well as any regularly seen specialists, like a cardiologist or a neurologist.

Medical Conditions. Provide the basics about your senior’s serious physical and mental conditions, along with their medical history. This can include diabetes, a pacemaker, dementia, falls and any heart attacks or strokes. You should also list pertinent dates.

Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order. If a senior doesn’t want to receive CPR or intubation if they go into cardiac or respiratory arrest, include a copy of their state-sponsored and physician-signed DNR order or Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form.

Medical Power of Attorney. Keep a copy of a medical power of attorney (POA) in the packet. This is important for communicating with medical staff and making health care decisions. You should also check that the contact information is included on or with the form.

Recent Lab Results. Include copies of your senior’s most recent lab tests, which can be very helpful for physicians who are trying to make a diagnosis and decide on a course of treatment without a complete medical history. This can include the most recent EKGs, complete blood counts and kidney function and liver function tests.

Insurance Info. Provide copies of both sides of all current insurance cards. Include the Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) and Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D) cards (if applicable). This will help ensure that the billing is done correctly.

Photo ID. Emergency rooms must treat patients, even if they don’t have identification or insurance information However, many urgent care centers require a picture ID to see patients. You should also include a copy of their driver’s license in the folder.

Once you have all the records, assemble the folder and put it in an easily accessible location. Give the packet to paramedics responding to 911 calls. It should also be brought to any visits at an urgent care clinic.

Reference: The (Battle Ground, WA ) Reflector (Sep. 14, 2020) “The emergency medical file every caregiver should create”