Estate Planning Blog Articles

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What Is Elder Law?

With medical advancements, the average age of both males and females has increased incredibly.  The issue of a growing age population is also deemed to be an issue legally. That is why there are elder law attorneys.

Recently Heard’s recent article entitled “What Are the Major Categories That Make Up Elder Law?” explains that the practice of elder law has three major categories:

  • Estate planning and administration, including tax issues
  • Medicaid, disability, and long-term care issues; and
  • Guardianship, conservatorship, and commitment issues.

Estate Planning and Administration. Estate planning is the process of knowing who gets what. With a will in place, you can make certain that the process is completed smoothly. You can be relieved to know that your estate will be distributed as you intended. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to help with all the legalities, including taxes.

Medicaid, Disability, and Long-Term Care Issues. Elder law evolved as a special area of practice because of the aging population. As people grow older, they have more medically-related issues. Medicaid is a state-funded program that supports those with little or no income. The disability and long-term care issues are plans for those who need around-the-clock care. Elder law attorneys help coordinate all aspects of elder care, such as Medicare eligibility, special trust creation and choosing long-term care options.

Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Commitment Matters. This category is fairly straightforward. When a person ages, a disability or mental impairment may mean that he or she cannot act rationally or make decisions on his or her own. A court may appoint an individual to serve as the guardian over the person or as the conservator the estate, when it determines that it is required. The most common form of disability requiring conservatorship is Alzheimer’s, and a court may appoint an attorney to be the conservator, if there is no appropriate relative available.

Reference: Recently Heard (May 26, 2021) “What Are the Major Categories That Make Up Elder Law?”

Can I Be Paid for Caring for a Loved One?

AARP’s recent article entitled “Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?” says that roughly 53 million Americans provide care without pay to an ailing or aging loved one. They do so for an average of nearly 24 hours per week. The study was done by the “Caregiving in the U.S. 2020” report by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC).

Medicaid. All 50 states and DC have self-directed Medicaid services for long-term care. These programs let states grant waivers that allow qualified people to manage their own long-term home-care services, as an alternative to the traditional model where services are managed by an agency. In some states, that can include hiring a family member to provide care. The benefits, coverage, eligibility, and rules differ from state to state.

Veterans have four plans for which they may qualify:

Veteran Directed Care. This plan lets qualified former service members manage their own long-term services and supports. It is available in 37 states, DC, and Puerto Rico for veterans of all ages who are enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration health care system and need the level of care a nursing facility provides but want to live at home or the home of a loved one.

Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefits. This program supplements a military pension to help cover the cost of a caregiver, who may be a family member. These benefits are available to veterans who qualify for VA pensions and meet certain criteria. In addition, surviving spouses of qualifying veterans may be eligible for this benefit.

Housebound benefits. Vets who get a military pension and are substantially confined to their immediate premises because of permanent disability can apply for a monthly pension supplement.

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. This program gives a monthly stipend to a vet’s family members who serve as caregivers who need assistance with everyday activities because of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

Other caregiver benefits through the program include the following:

  • Access to health insurance and mental health services, including counseling
  • Comprehensive training
  • Lodging and travel expenses incurred when accompanying vets going through care; and
  • Up to 30 days of respite care per year.

Payment by a family member. If the person requiring assistance is mentally sound and has sufficient financial resources, that person can pay a family member for the same services a professional home health care worker would provide.

Reference: AARP (May 15, 2021) “Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?”

Does Bacon Cause Dementia?

A recent study suggests there is a connection between eating 25 grams of processed meat per day and a 44% higher risk of dementia. That’s about a single rasher or strip of bacon.

Medical News Today’s recent article entitled “Dementia: 25 grams of processed meat per day may raise relative risk” reports that this research also found a link between eating unprocessed red meats, like beef, pork, and veal, and reduced risks of all-cause dementia.

A gene variant known as the APOE ε4 allele, which increases a person’s risk of dementia by 3–6 times, didn’t appear to affect the relationship between diet and the condition. Those with dementia have difficulties with their memory, attention, thinking and reasoning that interfere with everyday life. These cognitive difficulties aren’t part of the typical aging process.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014, about five million adults in the U.S. had dementia, but the CDC estimates this number may be close to 14 million by 2060. And the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there are around 50 million dementia cases globally, with around 10 million new cases being diagnosed annually.

This new study from scientists at the University of Leeds in the U.K. suggests there is a relationship between eating processed meat in particular and an increased risk of developing dementia. This includes sausage, bacon, salami and corned beef.

However, the research also showed that red meat may have a protective effect against dementia.

The scientists analyzed data from the UK Biobank, a database of genetic and health information from around half a million volunteers in the U.K. aged 40–69 years. The participants completed a dietary questionnaire and completed 24-hour dietary assessments. This let the researchers estimate the total amount of meat each participant regularly consumed and how much of each type they ate.

The database also let them identify which participants had the gene variant APOE ε4 allele, which is known to increase a person’s risk of dementia. The researchers then used hospital and mortality records to identify subsequent cases of dementia from all causes, Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia during the follow-up period of approximately eight years.

Of the 493,888 participants, 2,896 had all-cause dementia. These included 1,006 cases of Alzheimer’s disease and 490 cases of vascular dementia.

To estimate the role of meat consumption, the researchers had to account for a wide range of other factors that are known to affect a person’s likelihood of having dementia, such as age, gender, ethnicity, education and socioeconomic status. They also considered lifestyle factors, such as smoking, physical activity and consumption of fruits and vegetables, fish, tea, coffee and alcohol. After the adjustments, the scientists at the University of Leeds found that each additional 25g portion of processed meat eaten per day was associated with a 44% increase in the risk of dementia from all causes. This intake was also associated with a 52% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, each additional 50g portion of unprocessed meat eaten per day was linked to a 19% reduction in the risk of all-cause dementia and a 30% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The results for unprocessed poultry and total meat consumption were not statistically significant, the scientists said.

“Worldwide, the prevalence of dementia is increasing, and diet as a modifiable factor could play a role,” says Huifeng Zhang, a Ph.D. student at the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds, who was the lead researcher of the new study.

“Our research adds to the growing body of evidence linking processed meat consumption to increased risk of a range of nontransmissible diseases,” she added.

Reference: Medical News Today (March 29, 2021) “Dementia: 25 grams of processed meat per day may raise relative risk”

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”

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 Did the Supreme Court Say about Medicaid Work Requirements?

The Trump administration had asked the Supreme Court in July to reinstate its historic approvals of state work requirements waivers. It contends that these rules may assist certain beneficiaries in transitioning to private policies and may result in improved health and to help states conserve financial resources to provide coverage to others in need.

MSN’s article entitled “Supreme Court agrees to consider Medicaid work requirements” reports that lower courts have struck down the Department of Health and Human Services’ approvals, holding that Medicaid’s primary purpose is to provide health care coverage.

The National Health Law Program, one of the consumer advocacy groups that brought the original lawsuits, said it thinks it will win at the Supreme Court.

“HHS’s action was properly vacated because Secretary [Alex] Azar failed to account for the significant loss in health coverage that these approvals would produce,” said Jane Perkins, legal director at the National Health Law Program. “Tens of thousands of people would lose their Medicaid coverage and become uninsured.”

The Supreme Court’s decision to take up the cases follows a panel of federal appellate judges that struck down the Trump administration’s approval of work requirements in Arkansas in February. The unanimous decision, written by Judge David Sentelle, a Reagan appointee, affirmed a district court ruling that found the administration had failed to analyze whether these programs would “promote the primary objective of Medicaid — to furnish medical assistance.”

New Hampshire stopped its roll-out of work requirements last year after the same district judge, James Boasberg in DC, set aside the administration’s approval in that state.

In an unprecedented step two years ago, the Trump administration started granting state requests to mandate that certain Medicaid beneficiaries work to receive benefits. Republicans have long wanted to have that requirement with Medicaid, which insures more than 75 million low-income Americans.

There were 12 states that received waivers, although four were set aside in court, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Another seven state requests are awaiting federal approval. Work requirements are not in effect anywhere, after states stopped their efforts because of the legal rulings and the pandemic.

In Arkansas, more than 18,000 people lost coverage in 2018, before the court intervened. Judge Boasberg had also canceled Kentucky’s approval. That move blocked work requirements from being implemented in the state. However, Kentucky withdrew its waiver request after a Democratic governor won election in 2019 and dismissed its appeal.

The judge blocked work requirements in Michigan earlier this year.

Reference: MSN (Dec. 5, 2020) “Supreme Court agrees to consider Medicaid work requirements”

social security changes

What Changes are Happening to Social Security in 2021?

The Social Security program undergoes a number of changes every year. Fox News’s recent article entitled “7 changes to Social Security in 2021” looks at the updates unveiled by the Social Security Administration (SSA) last week.

More money. The SSA recently announced a 1.3% COLA for the upcoming year. That means an extra $20 a month for the average retired worker. It is an estimated monthly payout of $1,543 a month by January 2021. With prices for goods and services dropping between March and May because of the coronavirus pandemic, a 1.3% COLA is a win for the program’s 64.8 million recipients.

Full retirement age going up. There’s an increase in the full retirement age (FRA), which is the age when they can receive 100% of their monthly payout, as determined by their birth year. In 2021, the full retirement age is going to go up by two months, to 66 years and 10 months for people born in 1959 (i.e., beneficiaries who can become newly eligible next year). Remember that claiming benefits at any age before your FRA results in your taking a permanent reduction to your monthly payout. The Social Security FRA will peak at age 67 in 2022 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

High earners will pay more taxes. A big change next year is an increase in the payroll tax earnings cap. The payroll tax generated $944.5 billion of the $1.06 trillion collected by Social Security. In 2021, all earned income up to $142,800 will be taxable, representing an increase of $5,100. For the roughly 6% of workers who are expected to hit this cap, it’s an increase in payroll tax of up to $632.40 next year.

Wealthy can get a larger monthly benefit. After the SSA capped monthly retirement benefits at $3,011 for persons of full retirement age in 2020, the maximum payout at full retirement age is going up to $3,148 a month in 2021. That’s an extra $1,644 a year for wealthy workers.

The disability income thresholds increase. About 9.7 million beneficiaries are receiving a monthly payout from the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust. In 2021, the income thresholds where benefits cease to disabled beneficiaries will be higher.

Withholding thresholds for early filers gets a bump. Social Security has a number of ways it penalizes early filers, one of which is the retirement earnings test. This lets the SSA withhold some or all of an early-filer’s benefit, if they earn more than a preset income threshold. In 2021, these income thresholds will be higher. Early filers who will reach full retirement age in 2021 will also see a bump in the withholding threshold. Next year, early filers who attain FRA at some point during the year will be allowed to earn up to $50,520 ($4,210 a month) before $1 in benefits is withheld for every $3 in earnings above this threshold. That’s an increase of $160 a month from this year’s levels. (The retirement earnings test isn’t applicable when you hit your full retirement age, no matter when you claimed benefits, and withheld benefits are returned as higher monthly payouts after hitting full retirement age.)

Must earn more to qualify for a retirement benefit. To qualify for a retirement benefit, you’ll need to have earned 40 lifetime work credits, of which a maximum of four credits can be earned each year. These credits are awarded according to an individual’s income in a given year. (Workers received one lifetime work credit in 2020 with $1,410 in earned income, so if a worker nets at least $5,640 in earned income or $1,410 X 4 this year, they’ll get the max of four credits). Next year, it’ll take $1,470 in earned income to earn one lifetime work credit, or $5,880 for the full year to maximize your Social Security work credits.

Reference: Fox News (Oct. 19, 2020) “7 changes to Social Security in 2021”

caregiver for family member

Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member Who’s a Vet?

AARP’s recent article entitled “Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?” says that you may be able to get paid to be a family caregiver, if you’re caring for a veteran. Veterans have four plans for which they may qualify.

Veteran Directed Care. Similar to Medicaid’s self-directed care program, this plan lets qualified former service members manage their own long-term services and supports. Veteran Directed Care is available in 37 states, DC, and Puerto Rico for veterans of all ages, who are enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration health care system and require the level of care a nursing facility provides but want to live at home or the home of a loved one. A flexible budget (about $2,200 a month) lets vets choose the goods and services they find most useful, including a caregiver to assist with activities of daily living. The vet chooses the caregiver and may select any physically and mentally capable family member, including a child, grandchild, sibling, or spouse.

Aid and Attendance (A&A) Benefits. This program supplements a military pension to help with the expense of a caregiver, and this can be a family member. A&A benefits are available to veterans who qualify for VA pensions and meet at least one of the following criteria. The veteran:

  • Requires help from another to perform everyday personal functions, such as bathing, dressing, and eating
  • Is confined to bed because of disability
  • Is in a nursing home because of physical or mental incapacity; or
  • Has very limited eyesight, less than 5/200 acuity in both eyes, even with corrective lenses or a significantly contracted visual field.

Surviving spouses of qualifying veterans may also be eligible for this benefit.

Housebound Benefits. Veterans who get a military pension and are substantially confined to their immediate premises because of permanent disability are able to apply for a monthly pension supplement. It’s the same application process as for A&A benefits, but you can’t get both housebound and A&A benefits simultaneously.

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. This program gives a monthly stipend to family members, who serve as caregivers for vets who require help with everyday activities because of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The vet must be enrolled in VA health services and require either personal care related to everyday activities or supervision or protection, because of conditions sustained after 9/11. The caretaker must be an adult child, parent, spouse, stepfamily member, extended family member or full-time housemate of the veteran.

Reference: AARP (May 15, 2020) “Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?”