Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Alexa, How Can You Help Seniors

Amazon’s new programs run through Alexa Smart Properties, which allows organizations to control a centralized Alexa system, according to MSN’s recent article “Amazon announces Alexa program for hospitals and senior care.”

“Early on in the pandemic, hospitals and senior living communities reached out to us and asked us to help them set up Alexa and voice in their communities,” Liron Torres, global leader for Alexa Smart Properties, said in an interview with The Verge.

“Hospitals wanted ways to interact with patients without using protective equipment, and senior living communities wanted to connect residents with family members and staff,” Torres says.

The program allows senior living facilities to employ Amazon Echo devices to send announcements or other messages to residents’ rooms. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many facilities relied on printed out sheets of paper slipped under resident doors to communicate changes in protocols, like around meals or quarantines. However, the Alexa program now lets them send messages immediately into patient rooms.

“Staff can be more available for other tasks,” Torres says.

Senior facility residents can also place calls through Alexa to family members or friends, without having to rely on a staff member. Approved contacts would also be able to call in through Alexa. The facility could enable calling for a list of contacts approved by the resident and family members when they arrive.

Two networks of senior living communities, Atria (which is nationwide) and Eskaton (based in California), are adding Alexa to some facilities, Amazon announced.

In hospitals, the Alexa Smart Properties program allows nurses to speak with patients through the calling and intercom-type drop-in features without having to enter patient rooms. Patients could ask questions, or nurses could see how a patient is feeling with this feature.

“This enables hospitals to increase productivity and be able to save on medical supplies,” Torres says.

Hospitals can also send information and announcements to patients through Alexa.

Reference: MSN (Oct. 25, 2021) “Amazon announces Alexa program for hospitals and senior care”

What are Latest Trends in Senior Care Facility Design?

iAdvance Senior Care’s recent article entitled “The Newest Trends in Senior Care Facility Design” interviewed Christine Cook, NCARB, principal with the Dallas-based design boutique three. She explained that she’s seeing several new trends that are shaping the industry.

“Owners and operators are working to connect through lifestyle choices, in combination with a healthcare amenity, to reach the target pool of prospective residents. ‘Active aging’ and ‘purposeful lifestyles’ resonate favorably with both residents and their families. This shifts the perception away from residency as need-based or compelled to a feeling of joining the community by choice,” she remarked.

Other design trends include more tailored residential apartments and cottages. There is also an increased demand for amenities, both on-site and within walking distance.

“Also, it is foundational to ensure consistency of the design aesthetic and quality of materials across the continuum-of-care, from independent living to assisted living and memory care,” says Cook.

Cook also said that many existing communities are decreasing their skilled nursing offerings. They’re customizing assisted living and memory care environments, tailoring them to the residents’ needs. “Most new communities are not incorporating skilled nursing at all.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also prompted an increased focus on cleanliness and practical material selection. “Escalating cleaning protocols are demanding increased attention to the selection of finishes,” says Cook.

“Materials must be durable and resilient, otherwise replacing them when they wear out will have to be cost-effective — think modular cabinetry or tile flooring. We have also had to address plans for processional arrival sequences at entryways, modifying and limiting them to ensure there will be no security breaches with respect to disease migration.”

She’s also seen an uptick in requests for no-touch access controls for resident and staff-only areas. Cook notes that there’s also a market preference for larger balconies and full-height windows to allow for more natural daylight. Designs that reinforce healthy connections to nature, like balconies doubling as outdoor great rooms, can prompt residents to be more inspired and engaged.

However, Cook says that owner-operators frequently describe two common challenges: Keeping occupancy rates high and attracting and retaining high-quality, mission-focused staff.

Cook thinks that several trends will continue to define the senior care market in the future. These include increased demand for pocket-park communities, which usually consist of 10 to 12 cottages that are organized around or near an activity center. These communities are often developed in association with a larger senior care community or health provider.

Reference: iAdvance Senior Care (Oct. 12, 2021) “The Newest Trends in Senior Care Facility Design”

How Do I Hire an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law attorneys are lawyers who assist the elderly and their family members, and caregivers with legal questions and planning related to aging.

These attorneys frequently are called upon to assist with tax planning, disability planning, probate and the administration of an estate, nursing home placement, as well as a host of other legal issues, says Forbes’ recent article entitled “Hiring An Elder Law Attorney.”

In addition, there are some elder law attorneys who have the designation of Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA), a certification issued by the National Elder Law Foundation. A Certified Elder Law Attorney must meet licensing and other requirements, including specific experience in elder law matters and continuing education in elder law. However, note that an elder law attorney does not need to have the CELA certification to be an experienced elder law attorney.

There are many elder law attorneys who specialize in Medicaid planning to help protect a senior’s financial assets, if they suffer from dementia or another debilitating illness that may require long-term care. Elder law attorneys also prepare estate documents, such as a durable power of attorney for health and medical needs and a living will. As you age, the legal issues that you, your spouse, and/or your family caregivers must address can also change.

If you are a senior, then you should have durable powers of attorney for financial and health needs, in the event that you or your spouse becomes incapacitated. You might also need an elder law attorney to help you transfer assets if you or your spouse move into a nursing home to avoid spending your life savings on long-term care.

Healthy people over 65 are in the best spot to do more than having estate planning documents prepared. That’s because they have the opportunity to develop a holistic strategy beyond the legal documents. This can give assurances that the family members and professionals they’ve assembled understand the principle of supported decision-making and how it will be implemented.

For example, an elder law attorney may focus on finding the least restrictive residential environment and making other health care and financial choices. An elder law attorney can also protect seniors with diminished capacity, who are being victimized by personal and financial exploitation.

An initial consultation with an elder law attorney will help determine the types of legal services they can offer, and the fees associated with these services.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 4, 2021) “Hiring an Elder Law Attorney”

How Can I Conduct a Family Meeting about Family Wealth Planning?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “It’s Never Too Late for a Family Meeting – Here’s How to Do Them Well” emphasizes that no matter the amount of wealth that a family has, wealth education is crucial to overall financial education, preparing for the future and to becoming a good steward of an inheritance.

Family meetings are a great way of bringing members of a family together with a goal of facilitating communication and education. This allows for sharing family stories, communicating values, setting goals to help ensure transparency and helping members across generations understand their roles around stewardship and wealth.

Here are some ideas on how to have an effective family meeting:

Prepare. The host of the meeting should spend time with each participating family member to help them understand the reason for the meeting and learn more about their expectations. There should be a desire and commitment from the participants to invest time and effort to make family meetings a success.

Plan. Create a clear agenda that defines the purpose and goals of each meeting. Share this agenda with participants before the meeting. Select a neutral location that makes everyone comfortable and encourages participation.

Have time for learning. Include an educational component in the agenda, such as an introduction to investing, estate planning, budgeting and saving, or philanthropy.

Have a “parking lot.” Note any topics raised that might need to be addressed in a future meeting.

Use a facilitator. Perhaps have a trusted adviser facilitate the meeting. This can help with managing the agenda, offering a different perspective, calming emotions and making certain that everyone is heard and understood.

Follow up. Include some to-do’s and schedule the next meeting to set expectations about continuing to bring the family together.

Reference: Kiplinger (Sep. 1, 2021) “It’s Never Too Late for a Family Meeting – Here’s How to Do Them Well”

Will Vets Get a Cost-of-Living Boost?

The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act passed unanimously in the House and without objection in the Senate earlier in the summer. By the time you read this, President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law.

Military Times’ recent article entitled “Veterans benefits could see a big cost-of-living boost later this year” explains that the legislation links the cost-of-living boost for veterans benefits to the planned increase in Social Security benefits. Although the Social Security increase is automatic every year, lawmakers must approve the veterans benefits increase annually.

The amount of the increase for next year is still not certain. The Social Security Administration is expected to announce the COLA rate for 2022 in October, based on economic trends over the last few months. That increase will go into effect for benefits checks sent out starting this December.

The cost-of-living bump hasn’t been above 3.0% since 2011, and has averaged less than 1.3% over the last six years.

However, officials from the Senior Citizens League predicted that next year’s rise could top 6.2%, based on recent inflation and wage data released by federal economists. If so, it would be the largest increase since 1983 for Social Security and VA benefits recipients.

Lawmakers praised the bill passage as needed support for American veterans.

“The cost-of-living adjustment to veterans’ benefits is so much more than a rate adjustment tied to inflation,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., in a statement. “It is a quality-of-life guarantee in the retirement years for veterans suffering with service-connected disabilities and ailments.”

VA officials will announce the plan soon, which includes a review of service records to see if individuals’ eligibility for benefits should be approved.

Committee ranking member Mike Bost, R-Ill., said the increase is critical for veterans and families who rely on disability benefits as a primary source of income.

“Many veterans rely on disability compensation payments to make ends meet; this was especially true during the pandemic,” he said in a statement. “For millions of veterans and their families, this adjustment is more important now than ever before.”

The VA COLA increase applies to payouts for disability compensation, clothing allowance, dependency and indemnity benefits and other VA assistance programs.

Reference: Military Times (Sep. 21, 2021) “Veterans benefits could see a big cost-of-living boost later this year”

How Does a Conservatorship Work?

Kiplinger’s recent article titled “Britney Spears’ Sad Song … Warning: This Could Happen to You” says that conservatorship is a topic that’s been in the news lately with Britney’s recent court battle.

In Britney’s case, while there has not been any evidence alleged of actual fraud or financial abuse in her conservatorship, she lost nearly all control over her finances, her business affairs and the most personal aspects of her life.

She also doesn’t want her father to be the person to hold that much power or control over her life.

A judge can take charge of an individual’s personal and financial decisions and appoint a third party to make decisions almost on an unlimited basis. These proceedings can exact a significant emotional toll and be tremendously expensive and time-consuming.

Conservatorship can happen to anyone, if and when you’re too disabled (due to an accident or illness) or too incompetent (due to infirmity of mind, old age or dementia, or a similar condition) to handle your own affairs.

If your estate plan addresses this with a chain of command to act on your behalf, no formal court proceedings would be required. Your wishes can be honored, and all the drama like that which Britney Spears has endured can be avoided.

If you are under age 60, there is a four to five times greater likelihood that you’ll become disabled, due to an accident or illness, for a period of more than one year, than your chances of dying. This is because modern medicine can often prevent death but not cure the illness or condition causing the disability. If you’re over age 60, there’s a 70% chance that, during your remaining lifetime, you’ll be too disabled or incompetent to act for yourself, for a period of at least two to 2½ years.

However, Britney Spears’ battle to end her court-ordered conservatorship took an unexpected turn recently, when her father and the conservator of her estate, Jamie Spears, filed a petition to end the arrangement. Mr. Spears cited his daughter’s pleas at two separate court hearings over the summer in his request to terminate the 13-year conservatorship.

“Recent events related to this conservatorship have called into question whether circumstances have changed to such an extent that grounds for establishment of a conservatorship may no longer exist,” the filing states.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 14, 2021) “Britney Spears’ Sad Song … Warning: This Could Happen to You”

What Is a Power of Attorney?

Any responsible adult can act as your agent. South Florida Reporter’s recent article entitled “Everything You Should Know About Power of Attorney” says this is an important decision that shouldn’t be handled lightly.

A power of attorney or “POA” is a legal document that authorizes a trusted person (the “agent” or “attorney-in-fact”) to make decisions on your behalf (the “donor” or “grantor”).

The authority can be broad, or it can be narrow for only specific actions.

There are two basic types of powers of attorney: one for finances and another for medical decisions.

A financial POA provides your agent with the authority to make financial and property decisions on your behalf. This may include handling your bank or building society accounts, collecting a pension or benefits, paying bills, or selling your house. Once registered, you can use it right away or keep it till you lose your mental capacity.

A medical POA lets your agent make decisions about your medical care and placement in a care facility, including life-sustaining medical care. It should only be used if you’re incapable of making your own decisions, and you must agree to it while you are still capable of doing so.

These specifics may vary, but the following are general guidelines that typically apply:

  • Write it down
  • Determine the parties
  • Delegate the authority
  • Define the term “durability”; and
  • Get the POA notarized.

Appoint a person as your representative who’s both trustworthy and capable.

Reference: South Florida Reporter (July 18, 2021) “Everything You Should Know About Power of Attorney”

What Happens to My Home If I Leave It to a Medicaid Recipient in My Will?

When a beneficiary is on Medicaid and she’s set to get a bequest of the grantor’s home in her last will, the question may arise about the impact on her Medicaid benefits.

The answer will depend on the Medicaid program and what the daughter decides to do with the house, says nj.com’s recent article entitled “What happens to my daughter’s Medicaid if I leave her my home?”

Medicaid provides health coverage for some low-income people, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

In some states the program covers all low-income adults below a certain income level.

Medicaid programs are required to follow federal guidelines, but coverage and costs may be different from state to state.

Here, if the daughter receives Medicaid because she also receives SSI or has ABD Medicaid, the house will not be counted as a disqualifying asset if the house is the daughter’s principal place of residence.

If the daughter sells the house, the sale proceeds would be countable.

If she is getting expanded Medicaid through Obamacare, her eligibility would be based on income. So, if the daughter rented the house or sold the house, the income that would be generated could disqualify her from continuing to receive benefits, depending on the amount of income she gets.

If the daughter is disabled, consider leaving the daughter the house in a special needs trust. With a special needs trust, there’s a legal arrangement and fiduciary relationship that allows a physically or mentally disabled or chronically ill person to enjoy trust assets without jeopardizing their eligibility for Medicaid.

A Medicaid Asset Protection Trust is an irrevocable trust, and assets placed in the trust are considered completed gifts to the beneficiaries, protecting the assets from Medicaid (after the look-back period).

With a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust, even if the house is sold, the sale proceeds wouldn’t disqualify the daughter from receiving Medicaid.

Ask an experienced elder law attorney for help with this situation.

The laws regarding Medicaid and Medicaid eligibility are extremely complex and vary from state to state. Accordingly, nothing in this article should be considered legal advice.

Reference: nj.com (July 30, 2021) “What happens to my daughter’s Medicaid if I leave her my home?”

Does My Social Security Increase If I Work Past 70?

Many seniors choose to work later in life. It will have an effect on their Social Security benefits, says nj.com’s recent article entitled, “If I work past age 70, can my Social Security benefits increase?”

You must pay FICA (Federal Insurance Contribution Act) taxes, commonly called Social Security and Medicare taxes, if you have income that’s covered by Social Security.

The tax is imposed on your earnings up to a maximum amount. For 2021, that maximum amount is $142,800.

Your Social Security benefit at full retirement age (FRA) is determined by taking your highest 35 years of earnings on which Social Security tax has been levied, indexed for inflation.

The maximum amount of your benefit is capped because of the maximum amount of income on which Social Security tax is levied.

If you continue to work while collecting Social Security at any age, your benefit could increase, if your earnings are one of the 35 highest years you have earned.

The increased benefit is automatically calculated by the Social Security Administration and is paid to you in the December of the next year.

However, working while collecting Social Security benefits has other complexities you should consider.

If you’re younger than full retirement age (FRA) and you earn more than a certain amount, your benefit will be reduced.

For example, for 2021, if you’re below YOUR FRA for the whole year, your benefit will be reduced $1 for every $2 you earn over $18,960.

However, the benefit isn’t actually lost. That’s because when you reach your full retirement age, your benefit will increase to reflect the amount withheld.

If you have substantial income — any and all income that must be reported on your tax return — other than your Social Security income, up to 85% of your Social Security income will be taxable.

Reference: nj.com (July 26, 2021) “If I work past age 70, can my Social Security benefits increase?”

Can a Retired Police Officer Qualify for Medicaid?

An 84-year-old retired police officer recently took a fall in his home and injured his spinal cord. He retired from the police force more than 20 years ago and received a lump sum.

Currently, he gets more than $2,000 per month from his pension and Social Security.

How does this retired police officer spend down to qualify for Medicaid, since he is now a paraplegic?

State programs provide health care services in the community and in long-term care facilities. The most common, Medicaid, provides health coverage to millions of Americans, including eligible elderly adults and people with disabilities.

Medicaid is administered by states, according to federal requirements. The program is funded jointly by states and the federal government.

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “How can this retired police officer qualify for Medicaid?” advises that long-term services and supports are available to those who are determined to be clinically and financially eligible.

A person is clinically eligible, if he or she needs assistance with three or more activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, eating, personal hygiene and walking.

Financial eligibility means that the Medicaid applicant has fewer than $2,000 in countable assets and a gross monthly income of less than $2,382 per month in 2021.

The applicant’s principal place of residence and a vehicle generally do not count as assets in the calculation.

If an applicant’s gross monthly income exceeds $2,382 per month, he or she can create and fund a Qualified Income Trust with the excess income that is over the limit.

The options for spending down assets to qualify for Medicaid are based to a larger extent on the applicant’s current and future living needs and the amount that has to be spent down.

Consult with an elder law attorney or Medicaid planning lawyer to determine the best way to spend down, in light of an applicant’s specific situation.

Reference: nj.com (July 19, 2021) “How can this retired police officer qualify for Medicaid?”