It’s Important to Choose Special Needs Advocates on All Fronts

One of the most valuable services to secure for children and adults with special needs are those of an advocate. Advocates can be special needs attorneys or non-lawyer professionals who are supervised by attorneys. They can also be parents or family members of someone with special needs who self-advocates on their behalf. While levels of […]

How Does Medicare Advantage Enrollment Work?

Right now, the Medicare Open Enrollment Period is underway. This is the annual time, from October 15th through December 7th, when eligible seniors can sign-up for Medicare for the first time, and current participants who want to make changes to their existing coverage can do so.

There are different types of Medicare. Medicare Part A (hospital coverage) and Medicare Part B (medical services coverage) are together known as Original Medicare. This is because it’s what was originally offered when the government health insurance program was created in 1965.

Fast forward to 1997, and the government newly allowed Medicare enrollees to go beyond Original Medicare by enrolling in Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage, also known as Medicare Part C, is an alternative to Original Medicare. Consequently, its enrollment features are different from Original Medicare.

Medicare Advantage allows for program enrollees to receive their Medicare benefits through a private health insurance plan, and for private health insurance carriers to receive payments from the Medicare program to cover their beneficiaries’ medical costs. The main benefit is that Medicare Advantage plans offer more coverage options than traditional Part A and B coverage.

That said, a Part C participant still has to carry Part A and B to qualify, and they have to live in an area where their desired plan is offered. This can be not only a more expensive approach, as every Medicare Advantage plan comes with premium costs and potentially high out-of-pocket deductibles, but in many cases no such plans are even available, particularly in rural areas.

Enrollment dates and conditions can also be something to contend with. As mentioned above, enrollment in Part A and B are mandatory. This can be done during a senior’s initial seven-month enrollment period beginning three months prior to their 65th birthday month, or during Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment Period. Keep in mind that in 2019, Medicare Advantage may introduce a new Open Enrollment Period which you can learn more about by clicking this link.

Medicare allows for program participants to switch from Original Medicare to Medicare Advantage, and vice versa, during open enrollment, but there’s an important one-year deadline that applies when switching back to Original Medicare from a Medicare Advantage plan. Again, the main draw of Part C plans are that they offer additional coverage. Original Medicare participants, however, can always enroll in Part D prescription drug coverage and they have the option of purchasing supplemental coverage, known as Medigap, to pay for costs that Part A and B don’t cover.

Medigap is not available for Medicare Advantage enrollees, and after one year there’s no requirement that it will be available for Medicare Advantage participants who want to switch over to Original Medicare. If Medigap is offered at all, it could be extremely expensive, particularly for seniors with health conditions.

We know that you and your loved ones may have more Medicare questions. Don’t wait to ask us! You can also learn more on the Medicare website, including using the Medicare tool to research plan benefits, let us share four upcoming program changes to be aware of.

Certain Prescription Drugs May Be Shown to Increase Risks of Dementia

Multiple studies in recent years have revealed a disconcerting connection between certain common prescription drugs and dementia.

While there’s still much research to be done, and the studies stop short of saying that the drugs in question cause dementia, the findings are nevertheless quite serious. In fact, according to the results of scientific studies published in internationally respected peer-reviewed medical journals, like BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) and JAMA Neurology, a category of drugs known as “anticholinergics” have been linked to elevated risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in aging adults.

In one study, seniors who used anticholinergic drugs over periods as short as three months were found to have elevated risks of dementia ranging from 11-34 percent. The variances mainly depended on which drugs they were taking, how long they were taking them, and in what dosage.

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, which is a general term for memory loss and cognitive deterioration. Alzheimer’s consists of nearly 80 percent of all known cases of dementia, and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Sadly, there is currently no known cure, and Alzheimer’s patients live an average of four to eight years after first being diagnosed with the disease.

Dementia, in all its forms, is a brain disease. It is reported that anticholinergic drugs may affect the brain by suppressing a neurotransmitter chemical, called acetylcholine, which would normally deliver brain signals to muscles throughout the body. Anticholinergic drugs have proven successful in treating ailments ranging from depression, to incontinence, to Parkinson’s disease. In fact, they’ve been so successful that it’s now estimated that up to half of all elder adults in the United States are currently taking one or more of these medicines.

The problem may lie in the fact that acetylcholine is involved in memory and learning. It’s long been observed in the scientific research community that people with Alzheimer’s Disease have lower than normal levels of acetylcholine.

Previous research also suggests that anticholinergic drugs contribute to brain inflammation, which is another potential contributing factor to dementia. Another recent discovery shows that patients using anticholinergic drugs have less brain volume and larger ventricles, or cavities inside the brain.

Taken together, all these findings may be consistent in measurably showing that anticholinergic drugs are tied to diminished short-term memory, verbal reasoning, planning and problem solving, which can all be overlapping symptoms of dementia.

We know this article may raise more questions than it solves. When it comes to elder law planning you can never start planning early enough. We encourage you to ask us your questions. You may schedule a meeting with our office at any time.

Florida Estate Planning You Need When You Have Minor Children

We know that it can be challenging to think about who will care for your children in the event of your death. Although this challenge may start with identifying who would care for them in a crisis, have you thought about how difficult it would be for your children and this person if you do not outline your wishes in advance?

One way to ensure your children are not left to the court to decide these unanswered questions is for you to set up a comprehensive estate plan. This important set of documents we want to discuss with you right now provides you with flexibility to detail legal specifics, such as who has access to your finances and who is responsible for making important decisions. By planning early, you can choose the guardian who will watch over your children.

Our goal is to share tips for you to consider about creating an estate plan so you can establish the right authority for your children and address your unique planning needs.

Tip 1. Regularly check-in with your chosen guardian to ensure he or she is the best person for the job.

There may come a time when you no longer think the person you initially chose to take care of your children is still the best person to undertake that role. By being proactive and checking in with your chosen guardian occasionally, you can ensure you are on the same page about your children’s care. Consider whether the guardian shares similar ideals to you. Does he or she respect your religious beliefs? Does he or she understand your goals for your children’s future? Does he or she know what motivates your children? It is important to reflect on these questions from time-to-time so you can remain comfortable with the choice you made.

Tip 2. Ensure your chosen guardian is prepared to take on the additional financial responsibility.

There is no doubt about it, raising children is costly. That is why it is important for you to financially prepare for your children’s future through an estate plan. One of the benefits of creating an estate plan is that you can set up trusts for your children and determine at what age they receive the funds within them. Although it is ideal that your chosen guardian will be financially responsible, you may wish to consider whether you would like to assist with the guardian’s personal finances such as a house or car payment while he or she is still caring for your children. This can all be identified and discussed with your estate planning attorney, and then outlined in your estate plan.

Tip 3. Discuss your decision with both your spouse and an estate planning attorney.

Above all, it is crucial to see eye-to-eye with your spouse on who to appoint as your children’s guardian. While you both may have different goals or requirements, it is imperative that you agree on who will take on this fundamental role in your children’s lives. An effective way to sort through this is to discuss your decision with an estate planning attorney. He or she can present all of the planning options available to fit your unique needs and help answer any and all questions you may have.

Did this article raise questions for you? Do not wait to contact our local legal team. We are the estate planning attorneys here to support you.

A Personal Care Agreement Can Eliminate Elder-Care Family Conflicts

The transition from matriarch or patriarch to dependent senior can be tough. Even the most functional and well-meaning families can be reduced to ugly conflicts when it comes to deciding the best course of action regarding caregiving services for an elder parent. In many situations, a parent declines caregiving services initially provided by family members. Usually a particular adult child of the elder parent becomes the default caregiver.

In reality, women comprise about seventy-five percent of all elder caregivers both inside and outside of families. This can be stressful, exhausting, and emotionally difficult, not to mention financially burdensome as out-of-pocket costs mount over time.

Opportunities for income generating activities such as work and personal commitments are also sacrificed in exchange for time spent with the aging, dependent parent. It is indeed a labor of love, but not one without quantifiable costs that may well deserve reimbursement and compensation.

One way to protect the adult caregiver, while at the same time protecting the elder parent and alleviating conflict with other family members, is to formally agree on the terms of a caregiving arrangement. In Florida, such contracts are known as Personal Care Agreements, or family caregiver contracts.

Personal Care Agreements are legally binding and offer the family caregiver a sense of security in that he or she will not be taken advantage of by incurring undue financial burdens. After all, they’re the ones showing up for the family’s elder parent. Why should they be effectively punished for it? Further, the benefit of a Personal Care Agreement for the elder parent is that the parent has someone who can afford to be close to them around the clock and who they can trust for help with daily activities. They’re family caregiver can also function as their advocate regarding important financial, legal and health care matters.

Personal Care Agreements have three main parts: They must be in writing, they can only be forward-looking, as opposed to requiring payment for past care services, and any express compensation must be comparable to market caregiving labor costs. With the reality that one day the parent may need more long-term care assistance and need to qualify for a program such as Medicaid, it is crucial for these contracts to be prepared for the family by an elder law attorney.

Additional features of these type of agreements can include:

  • Detailed descriptions of services to be provided
  • A reasonable hourly, weekly or biweekly price for services provided
  • A beginning date and an end date
  • A statement of mutual agreement when modifying the contract
  • Signatures of those involved

We know you may have more questions about Personal Care Agreements and whether or not they are a good fit for your family. Do not wait to contact us to ask us your questions on this or any other elder law issue.

Can Your Florida Power of Attorney Do What You Need It To?

As much as you can try to plan for every situation that may arise throughout your life, inevitably some unexpected circumstances can come up. While an estate plan cannot prevent accidents or illnesses from occurring, it can provide you and your loved ones with peace of mind.

Estate planning is more than just creating a last will and testament or setting up a trust agreement. There are many different planning options available, each one designed to help you meet your planning goals. One such plan, a durable power of attorney, ensures that your affairs are handled by someone you trust if you become incapacitated and unable to make important decisions for yourself.

We want to share with you some of the commonly asked questions we receive from our clients about the Florida durable power of attorney so that you are able to make an informed decision about the right estate plan to help you reach your goals.

1. What is a power of attorney and why should it be “durable”?

Generally, a power of attorney is a legal document that designates a close friend, family member, or trusted advisor as your agent. That individual will be responsible for making important decisions on your behalf, such as accessing all of your accounts, applying for Medicaid for you, or even creating an emergency estate plan. “Durable” means that the provisions within the document stay in effect if you become unable to handle your own matters, or otherwise incapacitated.

2. How do I choose an agent?

Perhaps the most important decision when establishing a Florida durable power of attorney is who you appoint as your agent. It is crucial to designate someone you trust completely, as you should feel comfortable with that person making important decisions for you. Remember, if you do not appoint an agent yourself, you may lose the ability to do so if you become incapacitated.

3. Can I create this document without a Florida estate planning attorney?

A durable power of attorney is too important to establish without the help and guidance from your Florida estate planning attorney. He or she will be able to be a resource for you throughout the planning process, ensuring your documents are executed in accordance with Florida law. It is crucial to complete estate planning while you are competent to do so. If your durable power of attorney document leaves any responsibilities unassigned, your loved ones may be forced to seek court-approved guardianship of you. This proceeding is lengthy and costly, and typically results in the court appointing a person to handle your affairs. Avoid this unnecessary proceeding by discussing your options with your trusted estate planning attorney.

These are just a few of the questions our clients ask us. Do you have additional questions about durable power of attorney or other estate planning options? Do not wait to talk to our office about the legal planning that you need.

Providing Care Through the Three Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is a disease marked by confusion and uncertainty – and not just for those living with it, but also for their family members and loved ones. One of the best ways to gain clarity for everyone involved is to try to understand the disease and its three stages.

Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms typically develop slowly and progress over time to disrupt daily life, and culminate in the inability to take care of oneself.

The first phase of the disease is known as early-stage Alzheimer’s. This is a period when those living with Alzheimer’s can still function somewhat normally. Social engagements, volunteer work and even driving can continue without a hitch – for a time. As a caregiver, an important focus of this stage is to begin noticing where past independence starts to give way to the need for support. It can be a very emotional time, but finding a new relationship balance and communicating about how to best work together will only draw you closer.

The middle-stage of Alzheimer’s is usually the longest and can last for many years. A greater level of care will be required than before, and it’s important that you, as the caregiver, get the support you need. As Alzheimer’s progresses during the middle-stage, thoughts and emotions can become difficult to express. Jumbled words, trouble getting dressed and unexpected behavior can be routinely exhibited. This will require patience and flexibility.

It is recommended that at no later than this phase of the disease you work with your loved one and his or her attorney to create estate and long-term care planning. This type of planning requires capacity and if your loved one is no longer able to make decisions then these planning options will no longer be available. Also at this time, it is critical to work on developing strategies and coping skills as a caregiver that can serve you well through this difficult period. Some tips are to use a calm voice when responding to repeated questions, and to respond to the emotion underneath the words. Many times, the person may just be looking for reassurance amid the confusion.

Late-stage Alzheimer’s is when the disease has progressed to require around-the-clock care. Additional assistance may be needed, with quality of life and dignity being the highest priorities. Play their favorite music, rub lotion on their hands and sit next to them outside. Try to make sure your loved one is comfortable.

Remember, you’re not alone.

At our firm we work with families through crises just like this each day. Do not wait to contact us with your elder law and estate planning questions. Further, organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association offer educational workshops and resources to help family members and Alzheimer’s caregivers get the support they need to help their loved ones, and themselves.

Learn the Signs of Elder Abuse to Protect Florida Seniors

Research tells us that elder abuse continues to be on the rise across America. Elder abuse is described by the National Council on Aging as “physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, and abandonment.” It specifically refers to the abuse that occurs on the population of Older Americans. “Older Americans” is a generational term that describes citizens who are sixty years of age and older. As a generation, predators believe this group is more vulnerable to attack, easy to target, and less likely to report harm.

Elder abuse takes many forms. These forms can include, but not be limited to, physical neglect, physical abuse and emotional harm, but perhaps the most prevalent is the crime of elder exploitation and financial theft. Research tells us that one out of every ten Older Americans will be abused in their lifetime. Further, many of these crimes will be perpetrated by caregivers or family members.

As World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is celebrated this week, we all need to take time to appreciate and understand the attacks on our senior loved ones. Let us share a few signs to watch out for together with ideas to ensure that you may be better prepared to help protect the seniors in your life.

1. Watch out for large cash withdrawals. Large cash withdrawals should be suspect. Although there may be a good reason, it also can be an indicator of financial exploitation. Work together with your senior loved one to help monitor existing bank accounts to make sure the senior is not pressured to remove cash for a third party or that a third party does not gain access to use the card without permission.

2. Learn more about unexplained, new payments. Especially for isolated seniors who are reliant on caregivers or family members, pressure can arise to make payments to a third party. This could be someone who is providing services to the senior or the senior may have fallen victim to a scam. Ask your senior loved one about the company, person, or entity that he or she has started to make payments to.

3. Establish a pattern for daily communication. Predators target seniors who they believe do not have a support network. They are specifically looking for seniors who may be isolated and do not have anyone to rely on. Make sure you stay in regular, daily communication with your senior loved one. Establish a check in call time for you and your loved one so that you are able to remain as current as possible on what is going on on a daily basis.

4. Introduce the seniors in your life to technology. Chat messaging, video calls, and text messaging, are all relatively easy ways to stay connected with your senior loved ones. Although it may seem like a simple solution, video can be one of the easiest ways to determine if your senior loved one has been harmed.  There is so much you can learn from a video from a video call when you’re looking at your senior loved one face-to-face as opposed to only over the phone. Although it may take some time initially, help your senior loved one learn how to use this technology.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Remember that elder abuse can happen at any time and be perpetrated by anyone. Do not wait to act. Contact local authorities and support the senior to ensure that he or she will be safe during this critical time. If you have questions on this or any elder law issue do you not wait to contact our firm and let us know.

Is a Testamentary Trust Right for Your Family?

Many of our clients tell us that estate planning, at first, can be a challenging task. This is understandable. Effective estate planning requires you to carefully consider what will happen to your assets when you’re no longer here.

We want you to think through your estate planning needs very carefully and evaluate all of the available planning alternatives with our support. Our goal is for you to rest assured that your assets will be protected and your loved ones well taken care of in the event of your death.

Let us share with you some commonly asked questions about establishing a testamentary trust, so you can make an informative decision on whether it may the right estate plan for you and your family.

What is a testamentary trust?

A testamentary trust, or will trust, is one that is provided for in a last will and testament. The will sets forth instructions to the personal representative of the estate to create a trust. Although the will is drafted while the grantor is still living, the trust itself does not exist until the will is probated upon the creator’s death. The grantor appoints a trustee to manage the assets and funds in the trust until a designated beneficiary takes over.

How does a testamentary trust differ from a revocable trust?

On the most basic level, a revocable trust differs from a testamentary trust in its formation. A revocable trust is set up while the grantor is still alive, while a testamentary trust is established upon the death of the creator. Further, families seeking to avoid the probate process may opt to create a revocable trust, as a testamentary trust guarantees judicial probate. However, to take advantage of this benefit, the grantor must work with his or her attorney to continue to place assets and money into the trust during his or her lifetime, which may pose a challenge for some.

What are the main benefits of a testamentary trust?

Asset protection

One of the most appealing benefits of establishing a testamentary trust is asset protection, particularly for families with significant assets and funds. For example, if a beneficiary owes money to creditors and receives an inheritance via the trust, the distribution will be protected from said creditors. The assets belong to the trust, not the individuals.

Control of assets

Another main benefit of a testamentary trust is that this type of trust allows the grantor to “control”, to a certain degree, how the trust assets and funds will be used. In the case of a beneficiary with poor spending habits, for example, the grantor can set forth certain provisions within the trust to prevent the beneficiary from squandering away his or her distribution.

Simplicity of creation

Creating a testamentary trust is relatively simple. The trust can be incorporated into your will during the will’s creation or later as a separate addition. Costs and fees for establishing the trust can be taken out of your assets at death, limiting the amount of upfront costs you may be responsible for.

While a testamentary trust can be a useful tool for distributing your life savings per your personal desires, it is just one planning option to consider. For many of our clients, the desire to maintain privacy and avoid the probate process entirely, vastly outweighs the potential convenience of a testamentary trust.

If you are ready to discuss your estate planning further, do not hesitate to schedule a meeting with our firm. Let our experienced attorneys guide you through each step of this important process.

How Will You Protect Seniors from Scams?

Older Americans Month is in full swing. Older Americans are seniors over the age of 60 years old in America. This May, and every month of the year, how do you plan to care for the seniors in your life and ensure that they are protected?

Start by ensuring they have the right Florida estate planning in place. For Older Americans, estate planning is more than just basic documents. To protect the Florida senior, he or she needs estate planning that contemplates a future in which he or she may need long-term care assistance outside the home. Time is of the essence for creating this type of planning and ensuring that the future of both the senior and his or her family is protected.

Long-term care challenges and issues that arise from the aging process, are just part of what elders today need to be protected from. At the forefront of these issues, there is also the concern of exploitation against Older Americans.

Unfortunately, as a demographic, seniors are viewed by scammers and predators as easy targets in comparison to other generations. This is one of the main reasons why many scams are focused on this age group. Let us share a few of the most frequent scams out there so you can protect yourself and the seniors you love.

1. Mail scams. As a demographic, Older Americans continue to be one of the most targeted groups for scammers when it comes to mail scams. The criminals send enticing offers through the United States postal office designed to manipulate the senior to take action. By acting through this type of scam, the senior is at risk of losing income, assets, and valuable private information. It is important to remain discerning whenever anything is received through the mail system.

2. Hurricane Insurance Scams. This is a scam found specifically in states where hurricanes are present. Similar to the hurricane contractor scam, the scammer is intent on preying on the fears of a senior. The scam promises 100% coverage in the event of a possible, future natural disaster although there is no intent to ever pay on the premium that is required up front. Although hurricane insurance can be a good choice for a senior, be sure to research companies and use only reputable providers.

3. The Grandparent Scam. This scam is one that is designed to target seniors through emotional manipulation. Through this scam, the senior receives a phone call from a distraught loved one, usually someone claiming to be a grandchild. The perpetrator calls at a time designed to catch the senior unaware, usually very early in the morning or late at night. Although this type of emotional manipulation can be difficult to withstand, do not provide financial information or wire money. Instead, take down your “grandchild’s” information and contact a parent to assist them.

4. The IRS Scam. It is important for seniors to know that the IRS will never call you on the phone. The IRS prefers to communicate in writing and will never spontaneously request payment be made over the telephone. Scammers frequently use this scam to scare others with the threat of liens on the home, property, or checking account. None of these actions can be taken by the scammer although it is threatened. Take down the caller’s information, if he or she is willing to give it, and then contact the IRS directly or your accountant. Do not provide this person with any of your bank account information.

We know how difficult it can be as a senior to avoid scams. These criminals are intelligent and have designed a system specifically designed to prey on you. Do not hesitate to let us know what questions you have or if you have more scams that you would like us to be made aware of. We are here to help you now and in the event of a crisis.