Family Elder Law Expert Blog
Family Elder Law is pleased to offer the legal blog entitled “The Family Elder Law Expert Blog,” authored by Jason A. Penrod, B.C.S., CELA. Jason is board certified as an Elder Law Expert by the Florida Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation. He is also the founder of Family Elder Law with offices in Lake Wales, Lakeland, and Sebring, Florida. The blog addresses legal issues of particular interest to our readers. In addition, the blog will answer individual questions from the readership on a wide range of topics.
Family systems have a natural habit of stepping in to provide health care to their aging relatives. The love and care many adult children receive growing up become reciprocal, particularly in the case of their aging parents. But with the advent of longer lives, it is not atypical that a senior parent may still be caring for their parents or spouse. More than 16 percent of adult Americans are unpaid caregivers to someone age 50 or more according to Right at Home, a leader in the in-home senior care industry, and the number is projected to increase.
The US Social Security Administrations funding trusts are known as the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. In their 2019 annual report to Congress, the Board of Trustees released some startling detail about projected insolvency for the Social Security Program by the year 2035. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has been dipping into its "trust fund" to meet scheduled benefit payouts. Social Security program costs continue to exceed non-interest income.
There are very few individuals without a digital footprint anymore. From social networks like Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Twitch.tv and Twitter, blogs and licensed domain names, email, music, photos, seller accounts on eBay, Amazon, or Itsy, gaming accounts, even your financial, utility, and medical accounts are all part of your digital footprint. When most of us created these accounts, we blithely accepted the End User License Agreement (EULA) without much thought to when we would no longer be around to manage their content and activity. However, a EULA designates in detail the rights and restrictions that apply when using the software known as terms of service (TOS). Most EULA's are a standard form of contract, a contract of adhesion, which is known to exploit unequal power relationships. A user has no option to negotiate the terms of a EULA if they want to use the software.
Writing a letter of intent (LOI) for your special needs child can help bring them family continuity and comfort after you are gone. As a parent, the most valuable asset your child has is you and your ability to care for them. You, like no other, fully understand the nuances of your child’s coping mechanisms and what can trigger adverse outcomes. A letter of intent is meant to convey these broad personality traits as well as practical details of your child’s life so that in your absence, another family member or caretaker can make sound decisions about your child’s forward care. Don’t think a letter of intent is something to write when you get older. Parents of all ages with special needs children should have a letter of intent, review it annually, and update its contents if appropriate. Accidents and illness that may befall you are as prevalent a need to have a letter of intent as is your eventual death.
Many of us are facing unprecedented challenges during this coronavirus crisis in America, and it has increased anxiety and fear levels in all of us. The reactive part of your brain called the amygdala, a human physiological response when faced with fear, takes control of your actions, and you enter what is known as the fight-flight-freeze response. This stress response induces your body to produce a steroid called cortisol to handle the feelings of fear. Unfortunately, cortisol has another effect on your physiology; it weakens your immune system. This effect makes you more vulnerable at a time when you need strength.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across America and disrupt day to day lives. Those who are age 65 or higher experience a higher virus fatality rate, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to recommend that older adults stay at home as much as possible, especially those with underlying health conditions.
The medically recommended protocols for social distancing and government mandates that restrict large gatherings of Americans to slow the spread of the coronavirus are minimizing our abilities to interact with each other. This isolation holds especially true for those seniors who live alone or in long term health care facilities. Human beings are, by nature, designed for close contact and social interaction. Maintaining human connection, whether it be family or casual acquaintances, can help boost immunity, combat anxiety and stress, and can even lower health risks that are exacerbated by stress like heart attacks and hypertension.
When people marry for the second time (or more), losing assets to pay for their new spouse’s serious illness is probably the last thing on their minds when they say “I do.” But that could happen. Current costs for long-term care facilities can run between $70,000 – $150,000 annually. Studies show that 70% of Americans will need that kind of care, perhaps for three years or longer.
The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was signed into law in December of 2014. The purpose of the Act was to provide individuals and families the ability to finance disability needs tax-free. The savings vehicle provided by the ABLE Act is similar to the 529 education savings plan. The ABLE Act allows families to save up to $100,000 in a special account to pay for disability-related care without risking eligibility for benefits such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because these assets aren’t counted towards the need-based asset thresholds for these programs. To be eligible for an ABLE account, the beneficiary must be someone who had an onset of a disability before age 26, and either receives Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or files a disability certification under IRS rules. (The beneficiary doesn’t have to be under age 26 at the time the ABLE account is set up, but rather have had the disability onset before 26 years of age.)
The findings from a 10 year study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) have reported a link between hearing loss and health risks. The risks include a 50% greater risk of dementia, a 40% greater risk of developing depression and a nearly 30% higher risk of accidental falls. While hearing loss is becoming more prevalent in younger people due to the use of earbuds and noise pollution, it is the elderly population who are more quickly and significantly affected by adverse health risks because of their hearing loss.
As you have probably heard by now, keeping physical distance between us is crucial to stop this virus. Call or email us to find out how we can help you complete your estate plan without taking a single step outside your safe home.
It is essential that as your parents' age, you have conversations with them about their finances. To broach the topic, you might bring up current events like the coronavirus pandemic, its effect on economic conditions, and how it relates to the security of their financial future. The conversation should come from a calming place of love and concern. Speak to them respectfully about how the coronavirus pandemic has you thinking about the importance of their planning and preparedness.
Receiving your social security benefits at an earlier age will not reduce the overall amount of your benefit over time. Because you will be taking it at a younger age, your monthly payment will be smaller than if you had waited but the aggregate payout overtime will be the same amount. To see how the numbers work out use the Social Security table or Social Security detailed calculator to understand how your monthly benefit payout amount differentiates depending on when you claim your benefits.
Choosing a nursing home for a loved one is an important decision and should be carefully considered. It is important for families to take the time to explore nursing home options and to carefully assess the nursing home facilities in order to choose the best care for the loved one. Below are some steps designed to assist families in choosing a nursing home.
A letter of instruction can be a beneficial piece in estate planning. It is an informal document that will give your loved ones important information about personal and financial matters after your death. Letters of instruction are not legally binding and do not replace your need for a will or a living trust, however it can be a nice complement to those documents. The informal nature allows you to create the letter on your own and change it whenever necessary. It is important to keep the letter up to date, as life circumstances change over time. Let’s look at some of the information that may be included in a letter of instruction.
Now especially, it is crucial to be prepared if you or someone in your family gets so sick they can’t make decisions about health care or finances. Banks, insurance companies, and medical providers will not listen to what another person says about what you need, not without up-to-date legal documents.
There has been an explosion in the numbers of Americans rushing to make their will online. Understandably, the coronavirus pandemic has created the scramble to set up wills and end-of-life-directives. However, online do it yourself (DIY) wills are often deemed invalid as they do not comply with all of the legal requirements of your state. According to Caring.com, the prevalence of will and estate planning has been on the decline since 2017 but this trend is quickly reversing itself with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic. So, who needs a will? Ask yourself if you care who gets your property or money if you die? If you have minor children, do you care who will act as their legal guardian? The answer is anyone married, anyone with children or anyone with assets needs a properly executed will. Wills are governed by state law. Your will should reflect your wishes in the language and format required by the state in which you live for it to be valid.
Alzheimer's disease is becoming more prevalent among aging Americans, and there are more aging Americans than ever before. Alzheimer’s disease has three typical biomarkers: plaques of beta-amyloid protein, tangles of tau protein, and loss of connections in the synapses that communicate information between brain cells. Now a simple blood test may be able to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s years before any symptoms, like memory and thinking decline, become apparent. The test involves the identification of changes in levels of NfL a neurofilament light chain protein found in the brain. This protein is part of the internal skeleton and resides inside neurons and brain cells, but when damaged or dying NfL leaks into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), it becomes circulated into the bloodstream. CSF provides essential mechanical and immunological protection to the brain inside of the skull.
Life Care Planning is an innovative approach to comprehensively address health, legal, and financial issues for Seniors. This approach differs from traditional Elder Law focuses because Elder Law typically manages the legal and financial affairs of Seniors. In other words, Elder Law often has an asset centered approach to planning such as Medicaid planning to qualify for assistance with paying for long-term care. Meanwhile, Life Care Planning combines the traditional Elder Law elements such as protecting a Senior's assets while qualifying for long-term care assistance with the health care challenges that face our Seniors.
For care providers and aging seniors in the information age, the future is now. While still with some challenges, adoption of virtual care as a standard in senior living and aging services has become a fully integrated and accepted practice to overcome obstacles in senior healthcare. This is especially true now as we battle the obstacles of the Corona Virus.