Four Conversations You Should Have with Aging Family Members this Holiday Season
Contributed by Caroline Currier
The Holiday season is the perfect time to sit down with aging loved ones and have crucial conversations regarding their loved one’s health and financial wellness. This article identifies and discusses four key topics that family members should address in such a conversation with an aging loved one: Powers of Attorney; Plans for Long Term Care; Personal Finance; and Probate. Our elder law attorneys commonly refer to these topics as the “Four P’s of Elder Law.”
Powers of Attorney
“Power of Attorney” (POA) documents are essential if there ever comes a time when a senior becomes unable to make financial or health-care decisions. When an emergency arises and a senior is without a sufficient POA, banks or other financial institutions, health-care providers, and government agencies, alike, will require that a Guardian be nominated for the senior before an agent may assist the senior with their affairs. Guardianship proceedings are time-consuming and costly for a loved one, as they require both legal fees and court costs. Additionally, they expose your private affairs to the public, and your senior can lose control of their independence and their voice to choose who will be their representative. Accordingly, seniors should always execute a POA while they are mentally and physically healthy. Further, it is essential that their POA documents are well-drafted and detailed enough to be effective in those most important times of life. POAs provided by hospitals, websites and non-elder law attorney offices can be insufficient to ensure proper management of your estate.
Plans for Long Term Care
Seniors tend to procrastinate on long-term care planning due to the unpleasant associations of illness and death. Elder law attorneys can alleviate that discomfort by shifting the focus to the positive benefits of planning and preparedness. Ultimately, seniors who engage in proactive planning with an elder law attorney will typically have more options for long-term care than a senior who has done any such consulting.
One major factor to consider when designing a forward-looking long-term care plan is cost. A nursing facility in Arkansas is typically the most cost-effective choice for round the clock care. Even so, a standard nursing care facility will generate a bill of around $7,000 per month, $84,000 per year. Due to the high costs of long-term care, most seniors today will rely on government programs like Medicaid to pay their long-term care bills at a nursing care facility. However, the Medicaid program imposes strict financial requirements that often result in seniors spending down the bulk of their estate on long-term care month by month until an individual has less than $2,000 in cash assets.
It is essential that every senior and their loved ones understand that this spend down can be avoided with the proper education and preparation. Our elder law attorneys are available to discuss options for long-term care options as well as asset preservation to protect what you have from long-term care expenses.
Our elder law attorneys always gather detailed information on a senior’s estate for two reasons, the first being to save them from spending their entire estate on long-term care. Our attorneys analyze an aging senior’s estate carefully to ensure that they are investing and spending their dollars efficiently, with specific consideration to long-term care rules, regulations and costs. Whether a senior is in good health or in the late stages of a healthcare decline, it is never too late to salvage assets from their estate.
The second reason our attorneys gather such information is to develop a database showing where a senior’s assets are held and what the value of their assets. You should be surprised how many seniors pass away without giving their loved ones any information on what their assets are or where their assets are held. Sharing the relevant information about one’s estate will prevent a senior’s loved ones from having to spend time and money hunting down information in the event of a health crisis or passing.
Many seniors assume that a Will is all that they need to protect their estate. However, Wills must go through probate proceedings which bring added expense and stress to a senior’s loved ones in an already-difficult time. In Arkansas, a probate estate must be open for a minimum of six months before assets can be administered. During this six-month wait, the estate will incur court costs and legal fees.
Loved ones who do not wish to administer a probate estate should encourage their senior parents or family members to get a Trust, which avoids probate. Although many seniors are under the impression that Trusts are only for wealthy individuals, Trusts can be beneficial to just about anyone who wishes to spare their loved ones from the probate process. Further, if set up properly, a Trust can help protect a senior’s assets from being squandered if a senior becomes incapacitated or falls victim to a financial scam.
Ultimately, proactive planning can save seniors and their families from the incredible stresses and expenses of incapacity and long-term care. However, associated fees and concerns regarding declining health can deter seniors from seeking legal advice and services. Therefore, a senior may find it more comfortable to start this discussion at home, surrounded by their loved ones. This article is a great starting point to developing the agenda for this discussion.
If you’d like to learn more about how elder law services can help you or an aging loved one, contact the elder law attorneys at Miller, Butler, Schneider, Pawlik, & Rozzell PLLC, today. Our attorneys serve seniors in Rogers, Bentonville, Fayetteville and Siloam Springs, Arkansas.