Preventing Financial Abuse of the Elderly

[NAELA colleague Jim Zeigler of Jackson, Tennessee has graciously allowed republication of this timely article on the rise of financial exploitation of elders.  Caregivers, relatives and friends of Seniors in every State should take note of the checklist offered in this article and be on the lookout for instances of financial elder abuse like those depicted here.  The Rhode Island Department of Elderly Affairs maintains a hotline for reporting elder abuse: 401-462-0555].

Jackson, TN (ZeiglerSeniorNews.com) – Reports of seniors being scammed are on the increase, and the sophistication of the scams is also increasing.

Now, a checklist of warning signs is available for families, caregivers and others in the aging network – signs that indicate a need to check the senior’s finances, looking for the possibility of exploitation.

The scam checklist was birthed online. An e-mail “list serve” is run by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Every weekday, elder law attorneys post dozens of e-mails about developments impacting seniors. One of those posts in January asked if a checklist exists of warning signs that a senior could be suffering financial exploitation.

Attorney Bruce P. Bower is Deputy Director of Texas Legal Services Center in Austin. His e-mail post said, “If any attorney on this list uses a checklist to determine if an elderly person has been financially exploited, either by a family member or in a consumer transaction, we’d be interested in receiving your checklist.”

Bower used an example: “A recent potential scam was reported in Dallas concerning a home ‘repairer’ whose family was part of what was referred to as ‘Travelers.'”

He asked the online elder lawyers: “Aside from ‘Travelers’ and the ever-present trust mills, what other forms of financial exploitation against the elderly are being seen?”

The result was an explosion of e-mail responses from across the elder law nation.

Attorney Pam Wright of Jackson, Tennessee e-mailed a list of scam warning signs. Wright is a veteran staff attorney with Tennessee Legal Services. With her permission, ZeiglerSeniorNews.com publishes the list as “Senior ScamWatch.” We will add to and improve Senior ScamWatch as feedback continues from our readers and elder lawyers. Here is the first draft of Senior ScamWatch:

  1. Enrollee’s personal belongings, papers, or credit cards are missing; or there are signs of a break-in or vandalism on the premises.
  2. Signatures on checks or legal documents that do not resemble enrollee’s signature.
  3. Frequent checks made out to “cash”.
  4. Enrollee appears truly fearful when questioned about another person’s handling of the enrollee’s finances.
  5. Notice of eviction or foreclosure.
  6. Notice to cut-off utilities or property tax past due.
  7. Large number of credit cards to manage.
  8. Numerous unpaid bills.
  9. Purchase of home improvements that are more costly than appropriate for the home’s value or enrollee’s budget.
  10. Enrollee owns home but no longer gets tax notice and doesn’t know why.
  11. Enrollee has signed blank legal or financial document “to be filled in later”.
  12. Problems with income taxes.
  13. Enrollee has a trustee, conservator or representative payee AND enrollee’s basic needs are not being met.
  14. Enrollee signs on loan for another person.
  15. Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers that the enrollee cannot explain.
  16. Unusual activity in the enrollee’s bank accounts; such as large withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts.
  17. Explanations given about the enrollee ‘s finances don’t make sense.
  18. Enrollee has no documentation about financial arrangements.
  19. The enrollee does not understand or know about financial arrangements that have been made for him or her.
  20. Bank statements and canceled checks no longer come to the home, and enrollee does not know why.
  21. Banking activities at new accounts at banks with which the enrollee has no prior connection.
  22. A new person’s name is added to a bank account and enrollee does not know why.
  23. Frequent phone calls from charities or telemarketers.
  24. Enrollee is spending money on sweepstakes, gambling games, psychics and other scams.
  25. Relatives or caregivers, who were never involved before, suddenly appear and want to be very involved.
  26. Enrollee is repeatedly solicited for un-prescribed “health services.”
  27. Telephone bill is unusually high.
  28. Someone else controls the money and refuses to spend it on the enrollee.
  29. Frequent or expensive gifts to a caregiver, friend, family or provider.
  30. Someone else expresses too much interest in how much money is spent on the enrollee’s care.
  31. Enrollee is unaware of monthly income or recurring bills.
  32. Legal documents suddenly appear, which the enrollee doesn’t understand.
  33. Enrollee or caregiver state that a contract exists for enrollee to pay for caregiver’s services, especially if payment is a gift of the home.
  34. Multiple visits by door-to-door salesmen.
  35. New “best friends,” or suspicious “sweetheart” including an improperly chummy or flirtatious provider.
  36. Enrollee unaware of reason for upcoming appointment with banker or attorney.

 

It is important that financial exploitation of a senior be spotted and stopped early before the money and the culprit are gone. Prosecuting an accused (assuming you can discover the actual name and address) may be helpful as punishment and deterrence, but it can be too late to recover money or property for the scam victim.

 

Financial Abuse of Elders on the Rise

Financial exploitation of elders can take many forms. It can occur when outside influences attempt to insinuate themselves into an elder’s confidence with the sale of poorly considered investments, such as variable annuities with extended payouts, and the aggressive advertising of Medicaid Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans. These are forms of consumer “scams” and are often distinguished from financial exploitation, as they are usually handled by application of various federal and state consumer protection statutes.

The most frequent form of financial exploitation occurs, however, much closer to home. Roger Demers, head of the Elder Abuse Prosecution Unit (“EAPU”) of the Rhode Island Attorney General, indicates that the systematic theft of an elder’s financial resources by caregivers and even relatives, often benefiting from poorly conceived powers of attorney, is the most common case prosecuted by his office. Rhode Island’s EAPU was established by former Attorney General Patrick Lynch and marks the first time that elder abuse issues have been consolidated in one discrete unit.

Abuse by financial exploitation of elders usually involves breach of some form of fiduciary relationship, whether established under a power of attorney, a guardianship or custodianship, a financial advisor/client relationship, attorney/client relationship, or caregiver/ward relationship.

The easiest type to recognize and deal with is the outright theft of an elder’s material possessions. Of greater difficulty are those matters where the exploitation is more subtle. This can occur in the following examples:

Powers of attorney – the agent uses the self-dealing or “gifting” power to transfer assets to himself

Caregiver contracts – the elder transfers funds to a caregiver under a caregiver contract but fails to deliver the care

Promissory notes – an elder exercises a “reverse half-a-loaf” plan by gifting some resources to a relative and loans the rest under a Medicaid compliant Promissory Note, but the relative/borrower fails to repay the loan

Undue influence – a trusted friend/neighbor/relative subtly coerces the transfer of assets using fear, a siege mentality, overly protective behavior, or over dependence

Financial exploitation incidents are more prevalent than physical abuse incidents involving elders, at least in reported cases (roughly 30% of the abuse incidents involve financial exploitation according to the National Center on Elder Abuse); keep in mind, however, that reported abuse incidents are probably only a fraction of actual incidents.

Elder law attorneys may need to consult with family, friends, advisors and others to help ascertain whether an elder client’s resources have been illicitly wasted, especially where the elder is frail, mentally incompetent or so disorganized that home records are insufficient to ascertain the problem. In some cases, guardianship or custodianship may be required.

Perhaps the most pernicious form of financial elder abuse is the aggressive advertising of Medicare Advantage and Plan D insurance plans. Elders (and their advisors, in fact) are justifiably confused by the plethora of Medicare programs, and nothing frightens an elder more than believing he or she may not be properly covered for health care matters. Accordingly, elders are particularly vulnerable to offers providing Medicare Advantage and Plan D coverage.

Original Medicare is a fee-for-services plan allowing elders to see any provider that accepts Medicare. Supplemental coverage for Original Medicare includes (1) buying so-called MediGap coverage and a standalone Prescription Drug Plan (“PDP”) for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage.

MediGap plans are standardized, guaranteed renewable, and premiums are usually controlled.

Part D prescription drug plans, or PDPs, contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) annually and are not guaranteed renewable. They also vary widely on coverage, deductibles and the famous “doughnut hole”.

The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (“MMA”) provided the impetus for the new Plan D PDPs. After passage, a conference was held in New York in June of 2005 for health care executives. Prophetically, it was called the “Medicare Drug Gold Rush”.

The MMA provides incentives for private companies to offer new plans that provide not only Part D plans, but even overall coverage plans that expand or supplement what Original Medicare can provide; i.e., allow patients to use any provider, even if such providers would not accept Medicare. These plans have been termed Medicare Advantage plans (“Advantage plans”) and replace what had formerly been known as Plan C Medicare coverage.

Some of the types of Advantage plans are:

Preferred Provider Organizations (“PPOs”) which allow enrollees to use out-of-network providers, for a higher cost sharing

Special Needs Plans (“SNPs”) for “special needs” individuals, including those that are institutionalized

Private Fee-for-Service Plans (“PFFS”) allowing enrollees to see any provider accepting that plan’s terms

Medical Savings Accounts (“MSAs”) combining a higher-deductible health plan with an independent bank account used by a member, into which Medicare makes an annual deposit

Sales of Advantage plans, which may also include a Part D PDP element, are often effected by independent insurance brokers who may be on a commission basis and with minimal regulatory oversight. Further, as a result of federal time limits imposed on enrollees for moving from one plan to another (generally between November 15 and December 31 of each year) the potential for abusive tactics to add potential customers is high.

Providers offering Advantage plans must register with CMS. CMS has sole regulatory responsibility for Advantage plans. As a result of this federal pre-emption, the insurance division of the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation has no authority over these Advantage plan providers. Indeed, the only regulatory scheme is CMS’s Marketing Guidelines.

Those Guidelines provide, amazingly, that if the Advantage plan provider also happens to carry other, non-health related products, it is perfectly acceptable for them to offer such products to the customer, so long as their literature shows that such products are not part of the Advantage plan. Thus, for example, if a salesman (and that is what they are) is in an elder’s home expounding on the advisability of purchasing an Advantage plan, he can also offer to sell an annuity, a burial contract, long term care insurance, and even a reverse mortgage, if his principal happens to offer those products.

It staggers the imagination.

The Secret to Marital Bliss

A recent article by Robert Warner caught my attention. Mr. Warner is the Managing Director of Cleary Gull, an investment banking firm, and his article was titled, “Are Couples on the Same Financial Page?”. He posited that, to keep happiness and harmony in any marriage, recent or long-standing, communication and shared goals are necessary, especially as they relate to money and finances.

How true that is, and I speak from personal experience. If you want peace and harmony in the marriage, don’t think that one of you alone should be the “keeper of the financial secrets”. If you do, and don’t share that information with your loving partner, dire consequences can follow, including threats of dismemberment, loss of cooking and other important privileges and, most severe of all, loss of control over the TV remote. As I say, I’ve been there, and it isn’t pretty.

In his article, Mr. Warner noted that arguments over money proved to be the leading source of conflict between spouses. It’s a known genetic thing that we men are informed by DNA to need control over the aforementioned TV remote, the driver’s seat in any vehicle we share with our spouse and, of course, the purse strings, even if half (or more) of the income is derived from our wife’s employment.

Fidelity Investments in its 2015 Couples Retirement Study, revealed several telling statistics:

♦  43% of those surveyed could not correctly identify their partner’s salary, and those who guessed were off by as much as 25%.

♦   36% disagreed of the amount of the household’s investable assets.

♦  48% had “no idea” how much they would need in retirement to maintain their current lifestyle, and 47% disagreed about the amount.

♦  60% of couples overall and 49% of Baby Boomers have no idea how much Social Security they would receive in retirement, even though they have access to that information on www.ssa.gov.

♦  1 in every 3 couples had extreme differences on what they thought their expected lifestyle would be in retirement.

I wouldn’t have believed these statistics myself if my own spouse hadn’t threatened to take a meat cleaver to me if we didn’t sit down and have “the talk” (no, not the one about sex or even what to do about aging parents; I’m talking the “financial talk”). Also, I’m kidding about the meat cleaver, though I admit I never turn my back on my wife now when we’re in the kitchen together. (Again, just kidding. Really.)

Thankfully (especially for us Neanderthals), Robert Warner proposed a strategy that helpfully leads us back to the glory days of marriage. You remember them, I’m sure. Newly married, no cares, no one else existing in our own sweet universe, no kids?

Here’s some of what he suggests:

♥  Start the conversation. Begin slowly and move from the Big Picture and move toward the details. Each spouse should “define their dreams, discuss priorities and set the table”. Some advisors go so far as to suggest writing down a combined “mission statement” but that reminds me too much of basic training and I don’t ever want to go back there.

♥  Ask questions to identify differences or concerns. Once the basic “dream plan” is considered, each spouse should critically examine it in light of their habits (some save while other spend, and even where both save, they may do so differently and for different reasons). Questioning the dream plan often reveals areas of worry that one or the other spouse may not have thought of, and this back and forth can help identify how the plan can be adjusted.

♥  Determine your respective risk tolerances. Fidelity learned, in its 2013 Couples Retirement Study (Fidelity does these studies every two years, always in an odd year – probably so that frenetic – and this time, crazy – national elections won’t unduly skew the results), and found that when asked whether they would be willing to invest a significant amount of money to achieve higher returns if they could lose some or all of their initial investment, only 4% of women would take that risk, whereas 15% of men would do so. Just goes to show, men can be more stupid than women, but I’m keeping THAT thought to myself!

Identify important goals and priorities. Establishing mutual goals makes planning smoother, especially where economic downturns require adjustments to the dream plan. Determine what each spouse expects from a retirement lifestyle, whether they anticipate staying in the same home or “downsizing” at a specific point in the future, whether they plan on assisting kids or grandkids with their education, how philanthropic they intend to be, and so on. Guys may have to pare down their Bucket List by eliminating such things as getting a seat on the next Shuttle to the Moon, skydiving, and riding that bucking bronco, and instead add a trip to a warm place in Winter and, though dreaded by most of us, joining a health club and obtaining a Museum membership.

♥  Two portfolios but one couple. IRA and other retirement accounts owned by each spouse won’t be merged (at least until death of the first spouse) but planning how to utilize the benefits of those retirement accounts for the couple’s dream plan should be considered. Also, even though each spouse may have separate accounts for their “mad money”, ultimately financial simplification by consolidating accounts where possible will make it easier if one spouse becomes disabled, especially cognitively.

Test the plan. Once developed, consider what would happen to your plan in worst-case scenarios, such as serious illness, unexpected medical or household bills, death of a spouse, or a move out of home because of a need for long-term care. Ahem, just an aside – most elder law attorneys can help you understand how these events will affect your dream plan, as well as provide you with advice on how to deal with them. Just sayin’.

♥  Plan the estate. Whether you devise your dream plan yourselves, or do so with professional advice from financial advisors, elder law attorneys or other life care planners, make sure you create or modify your estate planning documents to fit your plan. Whether it’s a simple Will, revocable living trust, or more sophisticated irrevocable trust planning, don’t let your dream plan shatter because you failed to properly consider how your wealth – and everyone has wealth, not just to proverbial “1%” – will be utilized, both to fund your dream plan during your life, and to distribute it after your death.

♥  Keep each other informed. The Big Talk on Finances doesn’t stop after your dream plan is created. Even if the couple agree on one person to “handle the paperwork”, the couple should meet at least quarterly to have a “plan review”. The review should not only be about the couple’s financial status at a particular point in time, but whether anything has changed significantly enough to warrant adjustment of the plan. Whoever “handles the paperwork” should make sure the other has access to account information, including passwords and how and where to access financial information. If the information handler dies first, make sure the other has the tools he or she needs to carry on seamlessly (or, believe me, she’ll find a way to get to you with that meat cleaver).

So there you have it. To maintain that marital bliss (or re-establish it if you lost it along the way), be sure to have the Big Talk on Finances and keep the conversation going. Once you formulate your dream plan, or at least get the conversation started, don’t hesitate to contact your local, friendly elder law attorney to create the document framework that will guide your plan along the journey of life. We’re ready to work with you!

Home for the Holidays

The tree is gone, the decorations packed away and you have a moment to consider what just happened.  Your siblings and their children came home to spend Christmas with Mom and you were disturbed by what they noticed.  You’ve been visiting her almost daily, taking her shopping for food, getting her prescriptions, helping her around her house, empty now that Dad has passed away.

Of course you noticed Mom’s occasional forgetfulness but she’s always been that way, hasn’t she?  Now your siblings expressed their concern, especially since it has been several months since they last saw her.  They noticed she refuses to use her walker even though she moves from place to place clutching chairs, tables and even the walls so she won’t fall.  She stares at them for several moments before her eyes reflect that she now recognizes them.  Her prescriptions have increased in number and they have no idea why she takes them.

The Holiday Season often elicits reactions like this when family returns to visit a parent.  No one wants to believe their mother, father, aunt or uncle is not the same vibrant person they always knew and never worried about.  But now it’s different.  Now it’s time to have “the conversation”.  No, I’m not talking about the birds and the bees.  Your parents gave YOU that talk (though you probably didn’t need it anyway).  I’m talking about the conversation you need to have with your elderly relative regarding plans they have made for their future care.  Are they healthy enough to live safely in their present home environment?  Do they need help with the everyday activities of daily living?  Are they financially capable of handling medical emergencies, living arrangements, and transition to assisted living or, in the worst case, to a nursing home?

Do they have an advance health care directive or living Will?  What about a durable financial power of attorney?  Do they have long term care insurance?

Ideally, your parents will already have initiated the “talk”.  However, all too often they procrastinate until they are overtaken by events, such as a sudden illness or death.  Then you are called upon to take matters into your own hands with no assistance from them.  You are now called upon to nurture and give back some of what your parents gave you.

So how to do this?  How to have the talk with your parents about health and financial issues?  Here are some keys to having a successful discussion:

AN ATTITUDE OF RESPECT.  You may feel that Mom’s present circumstances allow you to treat her like a child.  After all, today’s culture all too often treats elders as obsolete, in the way, or simply as problems to be resolved so we can move on with our own lives.  If that is your mindset as you enter this conversation, you are doomed to failure and frustration.  Whether you are talking to Mom about health or financial issues, keep in mind that she and your Dad have a long history of caring for themselves.  For many decades they have handled their health and financial issues.  They knew when to seek assistance and, essentially, “ran the family business”.  They worked, took home a salary, spent and saved money, paid the bills, hopefully accumulated some retirement savings and raised you and your siblings.  They may resent you if you appear to be taking over their decision making.

You need to enter the conversation with respect for your parents’ history and the legacy they hope to leave behind.  This should not be a conversation where you are the parent and Mom is the child.  This should be a conversation where you treat each other as equals.  It should be a conversation that begins positively with a comment such as “I want to be sure I do the right thing for you” and not negatively with a comment such as “You’re disorganized and you need to do better”.

You, as part of the sandwich generation, are not only dealing with Mom, but also continue to have the pressures of your job, dealing with your own household issues and concerns for your children.  Mom is basically still grieving the loss of her partner and is beginning to let go of many of her prior responsibilities.  Mom knows she is unable to do many of the things that assured her prior independence and she may be distraught that you are unable to see how disruptive change is to her.  From your perspective Mom’s inability to move around her house, keep it clean and cook her own meals is sufficient evidence that she should move to assisted living.  From Mom’s perspective the idea of leaving the home where so many of her memories and life events occurred is frightening.  Keep this in mind when you approach delicate subjects like changing residence, giving up driving, or seeking help to control her finances.  Perhaps the best way to do this is to:

LISTEN AS WELL AS SUGGEST SOLUTIONS.  Before having the “talk” you should have researched possible solutions to the problems Mom faces.  Determine what alternatives actually exist to help Mom.  Discover the resources available in the community for assistance.   Make a list of things you actually know about Mom’s health issues (what medical problems she has, the prescriptions she takes, the name of her doctors) and her financial issues (does she have a mortgage, bank accounts, an IRA or other retirement account) and then make a separate list of things you really need to know to fill in the gaps.

Knowing in advance what these resources might be is extremely important if you are going to be in a position to suggest logical solutions for Mom.  But equally important to being ready to make suggestions is your responsibility to LISTEN to Mom.  Encourage her to talk about her health issues, how she feels, how her illnesses affect her ability to perform the activities of daily living, whether she is overwhelmed by the bills or has trouble keeping up the checkbook.  Ask her what she thinks she needs in the way of help.  Take notes to convince her you are taking her seriously.

TRUST, TRANSPARENCY AND SUPPORT.  Elderly parents can occasionally become nervous and even suspicious if you want to talk to them about money.  If you have siblings, make sure they are aware that you are going to have this conversation with Mom.  You should decide whether it is better to have the talk with or without the siblings present.  Mom might be more receptive to a one-on-one (where she is treated as an equal) rather than feeling she is being ganged up on if all the children attend.  Tell your siblings that whatever information you learn or whatever decisions Mom makes will be shared with them.  Tell Mom that you have told your siblings that you are having this conversation with her and that they support your efforts.

Elders can be secretive about their finances (simply telling you “not to worry, I’m okay”).  They fear losing control and that is understandable.  You should be empathetic and tell Mom you would be at a loss as to how to help if you don’t have some idea how she is fixed financially.  You should be firm but compassionate.  Mom should know that you worry – perhaps unnecessarily – how Mom’s possible financial difficulties might affect your own family obligations if you have to help her financially.  Tell Mom she could alleviate that stress if she was forthcoming about her finances.  After all, you would suggest, maybe she is fine but perhaps with some financial review could be in even better condition and wouldn’t she prefer to know – as would you – that she is financially able to meet her future obligations?

In some cases, especially where Mom is showing signs of dementia or is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you should consider whether to utilize the services of a geriatric care manager (“GCM”).  A GCM is licensed as a nurse and or social worker, specializing in working with geriatric patients.  They work closely with elder law attorneys and families to help determine the capabilities of elders with reference to activities of daily living, can suggest the best ways for the elder to adapt to independent living with assistance and can also make informed suggestions as to alternative living arrangements if continuation in the home is unsafe.

MAKE SURE PROPER DOCUMENTS EXIST.  Your parents should have up-to-date health care directives and/or Living Wills as well as properly executed financial powers of attorney.  In the context of what we have discussed above – Respect, Listening and Transparency – you might suggest that you are also working toward such documents for yourself and you want to be sure Mom has taken similar steps.  If she has documents that are more than five years old, suggest she have them reviewed by an elder law attorney.  If she has no documents at all, suggest she make an appointment to establish her planning as soon as possible.  The absence of such documentation can be catastrophic to an elder, especially if he or she has become legally incapable of signing new documents as a result of cognitive disabilities.

Finally, keep in mind that Mom and Dad have the right to make their own life choices and you need to be prepared to accept them, even if you might disagree with the choices they make.  Don’t become confrontational as that will only make continuation of the discussion (and it usually takes more than one occasion) very difficult if not impossible.  If you believe your parent is making a bad choice because of dementia or Alzheimer’s then you may have a more difficult choice to make.

If an elder displays unsound judgment regarding health, residence or financial issues, intervention of a court to establish a guardianship may be necessary and is a step you will have to consider.  This is where a geriatric care manager and your parent’s primary care physician will be helpful.  Intervention by guardianship requires the physician to complete a Decision Making Assessment Tool which the Court will rely on in deciding whether guardianship is appropriate.  That discussion, however, will be the subject of another blog post coming soon.

Here’s Looking at You, Me Bucko!

I have been able to trace some of my maternal ancestors back to County Armagh in Northern Ireland.  They were salt of the earth Irish, with my Great-Great-Great Grandmother, Margaret Boyle, employed as a hedgerow teacher and my Great-Great Grandfather, Patrick Lennon, working as a flax dresser.  Other relatives in that Northern Irish family worked seasonally in Scotland in various distilleries (having, I’m sure, wee tastes now and again).

All of the above explains why I found the following story reported by Katherine Pearson of the Penn State Dickinson School of Law so fascinating.  Catherine “Kitty” Haughey died in 2004 living for the last two years of her life with her godson, Francis Tiernan, in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, my ancestors’ old stomping grounds.  Kitty was a childless widow but she accumulated some interesting assets including a property known as “Annie’s Cottage” and Larkin’s, an Irish family pub.  She also left a substantial amount of cash.

Two weeks before her death she executed a Will leaving the bulk of her estate to her godson, even though a prior Will had only left him 1,000 pounds.  Though Professor Pearson doesn’t explain quite how it was discovered, it turns out that the latest Will was forged by the godson and witnessed by a surveyor and a local doctor, both of whom later pled guilty to assisting in the forgery.

Godson Francis attempted to escape justice by fleeing to Southern Ireland and fighting extradition.  Even at trial he argued that his forgery may have been the wrong way to go about it, but he was only “carrying out the Old Lady’s true dyin’ wishes, don’t ya know”. He was convicted of forgery and sentenced to three years.

He should probably consider himself lucky, though, as an autopsy undertaken after Kitty’s body was exhumed proved she did in fact die of natural causes, else he might have had to face much more serious charges.   Oh the lengths one would go to gain control of an Irish Pub!

Many of my clients wonder why it’s necessary to probate a Will and wonder what the odds are of anyone coming forth to challenge a Will in the first place.  Well, now you know.  In many families there may be unscrupulous relatives like Godson Francis willing to take a chance that they can fool the rest of us and gain an inheritance by such nefarious means.  I know – it doesn’t happen often, but isn’t once enough?   And do you want to take a chance that your Irish Pub (or it’s equivalent) ends up in the wrong hands?

Financial Health of Aging Seniors

With our current economic challenges, those of us looking forward to retirement need to be well-informed about our financial needs in coming years. And not only pre-retirees, but individuals already in retirement need to be wise to the changing economic environment. The good news is there are trained professionals who keep abreast of changes in the current economy, changes in laws and changes in government programs for the elderly. Professionals in this field are equipped to handle everything from help with retirement savings accounts, investment advice, guidance on government programs, estate planning or even new funding options such as reverse mortgages. A little planning prior to retirement will allow you to maintain your current lifestyle; whereas, a lack of planning may require you to live on an extremely tight budget. For those already retired, taking time right now to deal with financial problems instead of waiting for a crisis to happen is well advised.

A large number of retired individuals feel that they have planned well for the future only to find that rising medical costs, damage done to investment portfolios (by the current economy) and many other factors have caused them to go into debt. According to an article in “USA Today” seniors are racking up debt like never before. Elderly individuals who are in debt live with a constant burden over their heads. Most of these people are on fixed incomes and have no way of paying off credit cards and home equity loans that continue to mount to cover household budget deficits. In order to meet ongoing payments, seniors often forego purchasing medications and skimp on food budgets. They live like hermits — never going out and pinching every penny — in order to pay their obligations.

Most of these people worked hard their entire lives and managed their debt. They never anticipated the rising costs of prescriptions, expensive medical care or depletion of savings by living too long. The good news is there is help for these individuals. Here are just a few examples of some relief options that could be available. There are many more besides these.

Reverse mortgages – A Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs), also known as a reverse mortgage, is a risk-free way of tapping into home equity without creating monthly payments and without requiring the money to be paid back during a person’s lifetime. Instead of making payments the cash flow is reversed and the senior receives payments from the bank. Thus the title “reverse mortgage”. For those seniors who are less fortunate financially but own a home, a reverse mortgage can allow them to remain in the home by creating extra income.

Life settlements — A life settlement enables older individuals, businesses and other organizations to sell life insurance policies they currently own – but no longer want or need – for an amount greater than the cash surrender value. In some cases the value can be 2-3 times the cash surrender value. Even some term life insurance policies with a conversion option to permanent coverage can qualify for a life settlement.

Government Programs — Some government programs such as food stamps provide temporary financial help for food. Other programs provide subsidized housing, help with medical expenses and provide tax credits. For veterans there is free health care, inexpensive prescriptions and disability income. Area agencies on aging offer individual counseling, legal help and advice with Medicare costs. (National Care Planning Council)

For some, living on a fixed income and dealing with debt can be an overwhelming burden. There are knowledgeable professionals and debt relief strategies that can assist in easing this burden. The National Care Planning Council keeps a list of financial advisers and attorneys who specialize in this area of planning at www.longtermcarelink.net.

Planning for Your Special Child – 3rd Party Trusts

In April of 2009 Hartford Life Insurance Company carried out a survey on after-death planning for special needs children. The Hartford first noted that there were about 2.6 million special needs children in the United States costing their parents an average of $500 per month for their care, and that fully 62% of the parents of those children had no financial plan to cover the cost of caring for their child when they are no longer able to do so. Continue reading

Who Has The Power?

That’s a question every senior needs to ask.  I don’t mean the power to get up in the morning, or the remote you use to power of your new HDTV or even the power of persuasion.  I’m talking about a Power of Attorney, specifically a durable power of attorney (I’ll call them “POAs” or “POA” for short). Continue reading

When Should We Die?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to dying. Not myself; at least not for a long time. In my capacity as an elder law attorney I often draft Health Care Directives and Living Wills. Indeed, only recently I was forced to act as an agent for a very ill Uncle who recently passed. What was previously a rather routine exercise came home to roost, so to speak. I actually had to consider the responsibilities and powers I had over my Uncle’s well being. I had the power, essentially, to decide whether he lived or died. Continue reading