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.

Learn the Signs of Caregiver Burnout

The role of the family caregiver can be an extremely difficult responsibility. Your days are filled with multiple responsibilities including, but not limited to,  constant care, both physical and emotional, medication management and doctor appointments. On top of the responsibilities that come from caregiving, you have your own emotions and daily responsibilities to handle as well.

While being a family caregiver may not be a typical “job,” it is a job. The complexities of this job can compound over time and we know how easy it is to feel burnt out. No matter how much you love the person you are caring for, caregiver burnout can lead to depression or anxiety. Are you or a family caregiver you love at risk of burnout? Let us share a few signs of caregiver burnout you need to be on the lookout for.

1. Drastic change in mood.

Many times, when someone takes on the role of a family caregiver, he or she is eager to take on this task. When this person is experiencing caregiver burnout, however, his or her outlook on the situation may shift to negativity. This can be expressed as sudden lack of compassion, annoyance or disinterest in routine responsibilities. The caregiver may even completely regret taking on the responsibility.

2. Loss of sense of duty.

While not a qualification of the role, many family caregivers feel guilty leaving his or her family member or taking a brief respite for him or herself. The caregiver understands how important his or her role is in the family member’s life. A sign of caregiver burnout can be when the original sense of duty slowly slips away and is replaced with irritability. Rather than feeling an obligation, a burnt-out family caregiver will feel irritable about any caregiving responsibilities.

3. Feelings of wanting to harm the loved one.

Even though the role can be frustrating at times, most caregivers still feel an overwhelming sense of love towards their loved one. When the frustration becomes too much to handle, a burnt-out caregiver may have feelings of wanting to harm his or her family member. These feelings may be minuscule or more severe, such as wanting to shake him or her out of frustration. No matter the severity level, feelings of wanting to harm a loved one is a sure sign of caregiver burnout.

4. Feelings of wanting to harm oneself.

If the stress and responsibility has increased to the level that the caregiver wants to harm him or herself, a caregiver is definitely burnt out. Although this is an important role, it is important to take care of oneself as well. Please seek immediate help and talk through your feelings with someone.

5. Loss of interest in what was once enjoyable.

Caregivers must try and balance caregiving responsibilities with their personal life. It is important to continue to socialize with friends and family and take part in enjoyable activities. If a caregiver has lost interest in doing what was once enjoyable because they are too consumed by the responsibilities, they are most likely beginning to show signs of burnout.

Being a caregiver can be a stressful responsibility and it is important to maintain balance. If you or someone you know has taken on the role of a family caregiver, work together to ensure the caregiver has the support he or she needs. If a caregiver is experiencing any of these signs, do not wait to ask for help! If you need advice on this or any other elder law matter, do not wait to contact us!

How To Update Your Estate Planning After a Divorce

In life, divorce is an extremely difficult event that, unfortunately, many couples may go through. According to the American Psychological Association, at least 40-50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce. What many do not realize is “Gray Divorce” or the divorce of Americans over the age of 60, continues to steadily increase. While divorce is hard enough, the last thing you need is for your estate planning to fail when you need it most.

In many states, estate planning changes after you and your spouse get a divorce and your spouse may even be considered “dead” after your divorce. Florida is no exception. This leads to a possible scenario where no one is left to make serious decisions for you if the time were to come before you updated your planning. The key to success in this scenario is to know how to update your estate planning following a divorce.

Many couples choose their spouse as the agent under the durable power of attorney. This gives your spouse the ability to make decisions for you if you were to become incapacitated or unconscious. Once all of the boxes have been checked and your divorce is finalized, your spouse can no longer make decisions on your behalf. This may be a good thing for some, but, if you do not designate someone else to this position, it can become a sticky situation. This is why you need to name someone else as your agent under your durable power of attorney once your divorce is settled.  You do not have to wait! If you are currently going through a divorce and no longer want your spouse as your agent, then you need to meet with your estate planning attorney to terminate this position and choose a new person to serve in this capacity as soon as possible.

Again, changing your Florida advance directives is the first step when going through a divorce.  The next step of your estate planning that you need to consider is your revocable trust agreement. If you were planning on leaving part or all of your estate to your spouse before you decided to go through with a divorce, then there are major changes that you need to make as soon as possible.

Divorce is painful, and you will need to make many changes in your life.  One of the most important changes will be to your estate planning documents.  Make an appointment with your estate planning attorney to update your estate planning documents as soon as possible. Do not hesitate on this matter, there could be unwanted consequences! If you need advice on this issue, or any other, do not hesitate to contact our law firm.

Do You Have Right Decision Maker Named in Your Florida Estate Planning?

Choosing someone to make the right decisions for you should you become incapacitated is not always easy.  While this person must know you and have a trustworthy character, those qualities are only the tip of the iceberg.  Your decision maker needs to know how you would want your decisions made in a crisis. Your decision maker also needs to be able to remain impartial and focused on your wishes, which can be increasingly difficult under stressful and emotional circumstances.

Our clients, friends and neighbors often ask us how to choose the right decision maker for them in their Florida estate planning. While this is a deeply personal choice, let us share a few ideas to consider when you are selecting the right person for you based on your own unique needs.

1. You should completely trust your decision maker. While this may sound obvious, having a trustworthy decision maker is crucial. Your decision maker will be in the position to make life altering decisions for you and your family. Therefore, you must have full confidence in him or her and ensure he or she understands what you want done in specific situations.

2. Your decision maker should understand your values. When choosing someone to make all of your decisions for you in your time of need, this person needs to understand the values you hold. You want to know that this person will make the right decisions for you, and not for his, hers or anyone else’s best interest. By taking the time to discuss your values, this person will better understand what you would want to happen.

3. Your decision maker should be decisive, yet researched. Making life-altering decisions for another person is a significant responsibility. It is one that should not be taken lightly or made quickly. You should choose a decision maker who is able to make sound decisions after reviewing all alternative options and outcomes.

4. Your decision maker should be present in the future. Do not choose a decision maker who is not consistently present in your life now and will not be in your foreseeable future. This person, whether a friend, family member or spouse, should be someone you know will always be in your life. Sometimes, when you choose a decision maker, these decisions will not be made for another ten or more years. Is this person accessible? Will he or she make this process a priority?

Much of estate planning and elder planning is about making decisions early. It is about creating the plan you need to make sure you and your family are protected from uncertainty. Should you become incapacitated, it is crucial for you to have by your side an agent with the legal authority to make the right decisions for you.  Do not wait to contact a member of our legal team to get started!

Way to Manage Your Multi-Age Caregiver Schedule

Caring for people of multiple ages can pose a  challenge for even the most savvy caregiver. The simple reason why is that children and seniors require different types of care from their caregiver. If you are a caregiver member of The Sandwich Generation, then you know that juggling the various, much needed, responsibilities can be stressful.

We know our clients and their senior loved ones face these challenges each day. From balancing everyone’s schedule and attending appointments to providing emotional support and medication management, often the job can seem overwhelming. Let us share our five tips for managing a multi-age caregiver schedule.

1. Create a calendar and stick to it. One of the easiest ways to fall behind on responsibilities or miss important appointments is to not keep track of your schedule. Keep either a digital calendar that syncs with all of your devices or utilize a handwritten calendar you can take with you. Color coordinate by either level of importance or age group so you can easily see the responsibilities and priorities for each day and the week as a whole. Be sure to stick to your calendar and update it regularly! If you fall behind with adding in appointments or activities, your days will feel unorganized and jumbled.

2. Don’t procrastinate. While this may seem nearly impossible for many, try not to procrastinate. Procrastination makes tasks more complicated and rushed than they should be. This is not to say you should not take breaks. Giving yourself a little time to yourself each day is important as well.

3. Think of every “What-If?” scenario – and plan ahead. Life never works out exactly how you’ve planned. Don’t let unplanned situations derail your progress or get in your way. If something does not go as planned, make sure you always have a backup plan ready. For example, what if your car breaks down and you cannot get to your child’s soccer practice? Or what if your mom forgets to take her medicine at the proper time? Having a contingency plan for any situation is important to keep stress levels at a minimum when something goes awry.

4. Ask for help. Do not avoid asking for help and never feel bad when reaching out for assistance. Even the strongest and most organized of caregivers need support every once and awhile. Arrange a carpool for drop-offs and pick-ups from school. Ask a neighbor or friend to check on your parent while you run some errands. They say it takes a village…so use your village.

5. Take time for yourself. You will not be able to give full attention to multiple age groups if you have not given yourself some attention first. Whether you take a few extra minutes in the morning to get ready, join a gym or take time for lunch once a week, it is important to take a moment to live your life.

While it is a labor of unpaid love for the majority of family caregivers today, it is a much needed service. Do you need assistance right now? Do not wait to contact our firm so we can assist you and your family.

Should you sell the family home if your parents go into nursing home care?

If your parents go into a nursing home, deciding what to do with the family home can be complicated at best. You don’t want an empty house sitting around, and perhaps you don’t want to deal with renters. What’s more, you may believe your folks need the income from the house sale to help pay for their nursing home care in the long-term.

The problem is, only the person who owns the house can transfer the house to a buyer. If a parent has become incapacitated, he or she needs to have identified – through a power of attorney – someone who can act on their behalf, for the sale to take place. If the caregiver has no legal authority, then the caregiver has absolutely no right to sell the home.

Before your parents are in need of nursing home care, it’s best to have a durable power of attorney in place. In the state of Florida, a power of attorney is a legal document in which you designate someone to act on your behalf, or when you are given power of attorney to act on someone else’s behalf.  In Florida, a power of attorney must be signed before two witnesses and a notary public to be considered legally recognized under state law.

It’s different from a regular power of attorney. A regular power of attorney ends if the person it represents becomes incapacitated. That’s when a special kind of power of attorney, known as a durable power of attorney, is better. A durable power of attorney, unlike a power of attorney, is “durable,” even if a person suffers mental incapacity in the future.

A durable power of attorney is the most important estate planning document a person can have. Adult children of elderly parents need to tell their parents to include a durable power of attorney in their estate plan. A durable power of attorney can, in additional to handling all financial decisions, authorize medical care. That includes consent to proceed with or terminate all medical and surgical procedures on your behalf, including an agreement that falls under the Life-Prolonging Procedures Act of Florida.

In 2011, Florida lawmakers changed the state’s durable power of attorney law. The changes gave a durable power of attorney immediate power. Under the revised law, the durable power of attorney is signed and goes into effect immediately. There is no waiting period, including waiting until the person or loved one suffers incapacitation and cannot make financial and healthcare decisions on their own.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

One of the biggest elder scams has claimed unlikely victims

This is a topic that has been visited before, but it’s so important: Protecting yourself or a loved one from being swindled or worse. With the online dating industry toppling $2 billion annually, it’s important for older men and women to understand the risks and learn how to safeguard their finances, as well as ensure their personal safety.

Online dating can bring people together who otherwise might never meet. Today, it seems, going online for love is as common as shopping at Amazon. But as with online shopping, dating in the tech age means predators are lurking in some cases, ready to pounce when the time and victim are right. People have lost their entire nest eggs to con artists.

The statistics give an even bigger picture. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reports that as people have lost as much as $82 million from so-called “romance scams” online. The majority were women. Authorities said women were more likely to report the crimes, while men feel embarrassed and ashamed.

“Older people are more vulnerable and targeted more for frauds and scams. They may be more isolated and may have more financial means, so we do know scammers target older Americans,” Amy Nofziger, an expert with the AARP Fraud Watch Network, told U.S. News and World Report. One AARP member contacted the Fraud Watch Network last year after losing $300,000 from a romance-related scam.

U.S. News offered safety tips for baby boomers looking for love. Share these with your relatives before they try dating in 2017. It’s likely much different than when they tried it the first time.

  1. Watch for emails with poor spelling and grammar. If you are messaging with someone who says he or she is an American who lives in your city, but whose English appears broken, it likely because they are using an online translation service and really trying to scam you from another country.
  2. Be wary of someone who is too busy to meet in person. For thieves prowling for victims, the aim is not physical contact at all, but a virtual relationship that eventually leads to a cash transfer. If the person says he is too busy to meet up but will “someday” then it’s a sign he might not have romantic intentions.
  3. Love is wonderful, but don’t trust it if the person professes it right away. Criminals claim to be in love at a relatively early stage of communication. Women often fall victim to thieves masquerading as older, sophisticated men, while their male counterparts are wooed by younger women. These are all wolves in sheep’s clothing, and really thieves who created false identities. Their photos are never real; they are part of the attempt to take a lonely widow or widower for everything he or she is worth.
  4. If they ask you for money, it’s a scam. Period.

The bottom line is, check out the people you meet online. Be cautious. No matter how young or old you are, believe in love – but use your head.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

What to do if you suspect elder financial abuse

Elder abuse is horrific in every form it takes. Authorities have estimated that financial scams of the elderly are the crime of the future, and caregivers and family members also, unfortunately, take advantage of seniors as well. Older men and women are easy targets, since they have assets, are often incapacitated and are otherwise trusting.

What should you do if you suspect elder financial abuse? AgingCare.com outlines the process, but the bottom line is, report it. Even if you aren’t sure it’s happening, or fear retaliation.

In Florida, you are able to make a report of abuse confidentially. In any report, whether written or verbal, certain essential information must be included in order to permit law enforcement to do its job. You can talk to police confidentially, and you can even call your local Crime Stoppers chapter to ensure you remain anonymous.

According to Aging Care:

“You must name the elder whom you think is being abused, and identify the address where the elder can be found. You must name the suspected abuser, and provide that address if you have it. You are not required to give your name, but it can be helpful for you to answer law enforcement’s questions as an investigation of the suspected abuse begins. If you report abuse, the matter will likely be referred for investigation, and an experienced investigator will contact you. If you are afraid of the suspected abuser, you can remain anonymous. You will need to identify the location of any suspected actions which appear to you to be abuse, whether they are at the elder’s home, or a facility caring for the elder.”

If the person stealing is another relative, it’s painful and overwhelming. But just think about how you are protecting your loved one from financial abuse. Many seniors are incapacitated, because they suffer from dementia or another age-related issue, so they have no idea they are being swindled by someone they love and trust. Some older men and women know what is going on but are either too afraid or embarrassed to report it themselves. And others worry about getting a son, daughter, niece, nephew or friend in trouble so they simply let it go, at the risk of going broke themselves. If you see something, say something today.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.