Category Archives: Estate Planning

aging in place

Planning Ahead to Age in Place

As you approach retirement age, it’s time to start considering the next big steps in your life. This might include traveling, taking classes, and all sorts of activities that you didn’t have time for while you were raising a family and working full-time. It also includes considerations for how you’d like to live as you age. The perfect time to start planning is as soon as possible. This way, you’ll never have to worry that loved ones will need to make decisions for you.

As you age, living arrangements will become an issue. If you’re in good health when you retire, this might seem like a far-off future you don’t want to consider. But if you’d like to age in your own home, or have ideas about where you’d like to live out the last years of your life, planning ahead can make this transition much easier for yourself and your family.

Planning for your needs as you age will help you make sure that you’re as comfortable and content as possible throughout your life. Now is the perfect time to sit down and assess the type of lifestyle you might like in coming years. Here’s a checklist to get you started:

Get Legal Documents in Order

An elder law attorney can counsel you on the type of legal documents that would be beneficial for your life and situation. Some considerations might include creating a will, creating a trust, and consolidating your beneficiaries on insurance policies. You might also want to name an executor to handle financial matters and arrange for a health care proxy. Often illness is unexpected and it’s better to have these things set up properly as a safety precaution.

Make Renovations to Stay in Your Own Home

If you have a home you love and would like to remain there for your lifetime, it’s important to assess the house for your needs as you age. While you may be in good health now, consider that you may not always be able to climb stairs or may need modifications for certain areas of the home. Often these can be accomplished easily, such as installing chair lifts or ramps for steps and adding handrails to bathrooms. Another idea is to remodel your home to add a master bedroom on the first floor.

Think About Downsizing

The pre-retirement years are the right time to consider downsizing to a smaller home. Don’t just think about the size of the house, however. Pre-retirement homeowners consider many factors when making the decision to downsize. These include location, access to mass transit, walkability, and lot size and maintenance needs. Make a list of criteria and prioritize them to suit your living needs and preferences. Update the list from time to time. When you’re ready to start house hunting, you’ll have a ready-made strategy to help you find the right home.

For example, if you don’t want to have to drive everywhere, mow a large expanse of lawn, and walk upstairs to turn in for the night, your home search will focus on neighborhoods with access to public transit, homes with smaller lots, and homes with a first-floor master bedroom.

Be sure to make one of your criteria universal design features. These are home design features that make a home suitable for all ages and mobility levels. Doorways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or handicap rails in all bathrooms are just two examples. It’s important that you find a home that  would be comfortable for you if you were limited in mobility.

Many retirees start making plans to age in place well before they need them. This gives you ample opportunity to prepare ahead of time and let your family know what your wishes are. If you or a loved one needs help in estate planning or has questions about elder law, contact us today for more information.

adam-tobin-law-cta

 

Social Security Changes for 2017 You Need to Know About

Social Security changes

Social Security benefits are critical to many Americans’ retirement plans, so it’s important to know exactly how they work. As your respected Massachusetts elder law attorney, here are the four most important Social Security changes for 2017.

1. Cost of Living

In 2017, you will see a slight raise in your benefits. All Americans receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income will receive a 0.3 percent cost-of-living increase. As this started on December 30, 2016, you should have already noticed a slight bump in payments.

2. Full Retirement Age

If you’ve been working with your Massachusetts estate planning lawyer to plan your retirement at age 65, unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a little longer. For people born January 2, 1955 through January 1, 1956, the new age of retirement is 66 years and 2 months old. This will gradually increase until it hits 67 years old for anyone born in 1960 or later.

3. Early Retirement Penalty

In addition to an increase in retirement age, there’s also a stronger penalty for anyone who decides to claim their benefits early. If you claim benefits as early as you can (at the age of 62), you’ll be penalized by a full 25%. Keep in mind that this penalty is for life.

4. Beneficiaries Who Work Thresholds

If you work while receiving benefits, your benefits can be reduced if you earn over a certain threshold. Luckily, these thresholds are being raised:

  • Reach full retirement age after 2017, you may earn $16,920 this year without a reduction.
  • Reach full retirement age during 2017, you may earn $44,880 this year without a reduction.

If you need help planning your retirement or simply need some legal advice, make sure to reach out to us as your trusted Massachusetts nursing home attorney team!

MEDCottage Offers New Elder Housing Option

medcottage

If you’re one of the more than 34 million Americans who’ve been caring for aging adults, you know how difficult this family dynamic can be. There are issues you might need a living trust attorney or elder law attorney to help you navigate, such as your parents’ financial health. You may also find yourself in a situation where your parent is independent but can no longer live completely independently.

If you’re not comfortable with the option of a nursing home but don’t have the room to move parents into your own home, this can be an exceptionally stressful situation. Even if they live nearby, aging relatives may not be able to manage on their own, especially if they are coping with medical conditions. One newer solution is the MEDCottage, sometimes referred to as the Granny Pod.

What is a MEDCottage?

The MEDCottage is today’s answer to the guest house or in-law apartment of the past. In many homes generations ago, families created an in-law apartment for older parents. Or, if they had enough property, they might have had a guest house that elder family members lived in. Many families today might not have those options, but a MEDCottage can offer a great solution.

Also known as a Granny Pod, a MEDCottage is a prefabricated small house that you can install on your own property. The MEDCottage can be decorated to suit the elder who will reside there and it offers instant access to your loved one while still offering privacy to both the elderly relative and the family in the main home. Self-described as “an affordable alternative to nursing homes,” a MEDCottage is designed to be a hospital room combined with a living area complete with a kitchenette.

Benefits to the MEDCottage

  • Proximity to Elderly Relative. Because the Granny Pod can be installed right on your property, you’re never in a situation where your relative is too far away to visit or check in on.
  • Medically Equipped. These structures are equipped with the safety and medical features to meet your loved one’s needs.
  • Maintained Independence. For relatives who can no longer live completely on their own but who value their privacy, the Granny Pod can provide the best alternative to a nursing home or moving into an adult child’s home.

If you’re currently struggling with ways to best meet your elderly parent’s needs without relying on a care facility, a MEDCottage might be worth investigating as a housing option.

Three Reasons to Have a Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy is a legal document that gives another person the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to make or state your own decisions and wishes. It allows medical professionals to follow the instructions of a third party even if the law would not otherwise allow it.

Sometimes a health care proxy is called a durable medical power of attorney. It is not the same document as a power of attorney. A power of attorney is a legal document that gives another person authority to manage your financial affairs.

We advise including both documents in your estate plan. Let’s take a look at the reasons why you should have a health care proxy.

Ease the Burden for Family or Friends

In advance of a serious injury or illness, you may assume that your family or friends understand your wishes about medical treatment, life support, feeding tubes, and other major procedures. In many instances, however, a person’s wishes may not be known, putting loved ones in the often difficult position of making such decisions for you—or having debates about what you would want. Further, even if they do understand your wishes, your treating doctors may not legally be allowed to follow their instructions. Setting up a health care proxy can eliminate these concerns.

 Give Legal Authority

Spouses or next of kin can generally make medical decisions without a health care proxy, but a more distant family member, friend, or unmarried partner wouldn’t be able to. Under the law, the person named in your health care proxy becomes the medical agent for you, the principal.

Be Prepared in Case of an Emergency

A health care proxy can cover what should happen in a medical crisis such as a sudden illness, car accident, or incapacitating injury. Surgery or other procedures that require anesthesia carry an element of risk. Having a health care proxy in place gives your loved ones a plan to follow in case decisions have to be made in case of an emergency.

Health care proxies are also essential legal documents for the elderly or those suffering long-term illnesses who may be losing mental capacity.

An elder law attorney can help you set up a health care proxy and make it part of your estate planning documents. Contact us today to get started.

5 Best Practices for Organizing Legal Documents
for an Elder

Taking care of an elder often begins with a crisis. Perhaps a stroke leaves an elder family member unable to speak or an injury leaves her unable to provide basic self-care. Unexpectedly, you are responsible for making decisions on your loved one’s behalf and you must do so in a hurry. The sudden responsibility may cause a great deal of anxiety and worry on top of the natural concern for someone close to you.

legal documentsFor this reason, it’s essential that you know where to access important legal documents before such a crisis should occur. Organize documents in advance so that when you do need them, you can find them quickly. Here are our best practices for organizing legal documents for an elder family member. Follow them and you’ll be helping your elder loved one as well as every member of the family.

1. Find the Documents

Discovering where documents are placed is often much easier said than done. If possible, ask your parent or another family where documents are stored. If this isn’t feasible, you’ll need to search for them yourself. Common locations include a safety deposit box, filing cabinet, and freezer. Create a checklist of important paperwork needed and either create a written record of where it is located or, preferably, place all of the paperwork in one location. These documents may include:

  • Legal and health care power of attorney
  • Wills
  • Living wills
  • End-of-life directives, such as Do Not Resuscitate orders
  • Tax returns
  • Savings bonds, stock certificates, and brokerage accounts
  • Military records
  • Birth certificates
  • Trusts
  • Divorce papers
  • Marriage certificates
  • Insurance paperwork

2. Determine a Storage Method

There are several effective ways to store important documents. Carefully consider which would allow you the quickest access to necessary papers while also ensuring your family member’s privacy and safety. Some suggestions include:

Safety deposit box

The only times someone can look at the items inside is during banking hours and access is limited to specific people. However, it becomes problematic if you become incapacitated or leave the area due to vacation.

Home safe

This is a good in-between option; it is extremely convenient and accessible, yet lacks the protection of an in-bank box. Be sure to either bolt down the safe or hide it extremely well. A key should be given to anyone who needs access.

Filing cabinet

While a filing cabinet is easily accessible in an emergency, it lacks the security of other options.

Online document storage

Online storage allows access from any computer with a user id and password. It is very secure and convenient.

3. Eliminate the Unnecessary

Set aside time annually to reduce the document load. Shred, throw away, or delete things that have become untimely.

4. Organize Yourself

Caring for someone else requires you to be organized yourself. The more organized you are, the easier it is to help. Create an online calendar that provides text alerts and emails for reoccurring situations, such as prescription refills, medical appointments, and also one-time events. You can also set most calendars up to remind others, including the person you’re helping.

5. File and Sort According to Your Style

Whether you prefer files to be color-coded, alphabetical, or organized according to topic, be sure to file according to your distinct style. It may be tempting to continue the system that someone else implemented, but that will likely hinder the process of retrieving and safely storing documents.

If you find yourself in the position of caring for an elder, or would like more information about legal services and requirements, please contact us for assistance. For those who have an aging loved one, it’s very common to visit a Massachusetts elder law attorney to establish power of attorney. For help doing so, we invite you to a free consultation.

Estate Planning Resource Roundup

According to the American Bar Association, 55 percent of Americans die without a will or estate planning documents in place. Estate planning can be a daunting task, but a qualified estate planning attorney can break down the process into doable steps for you and your family. Whether you’re a parent with young children, newly married and yet to start a family, or a senior with adult children, the time to begin the process of estate planning is now.

resource roundup

Here’s a roundup of some resources that will help you get started. We’re standing by to help you navigate and complete this process. Today is a great day to contact us and we’ll work with you every step of the way.

Getting Your Affairs in Order: Tips to Make Your Estate Planning a Smooth Process

What Is the Difference between Personal Property and Real Property?

The Dangers of a Do-It-Yourself Will

American Bar Association Estate Planning Overview

Kiplinger Estate Planning Special Report

Helping Aging Parents Make the Move

For seniors, relocating to a retirement community or assisted living residence can open the door to increased stress and high emotions. This step often means giving up some part of their independence and certainly means leaving familiar surroundings behind. How can adult children help their parents make the transition? Like an experienced guide on a road you’ve never traveled before, an elder law attorney can help families navigate the process.

When it’s no longer possible for aging parents to live independently, a whole host of issues need to be settled with their best interests in mind. Your parents’ home often represents a large portion of their assets. Other financial considerations may include hiring a living trust attorney or finalizing arrangements for parents’ ongoing budgetary needs through the remainder of their lives. There will be decisions to make based on health needs. Aging parents may be moving to a different town or state and or downsizing to a smaller residence.

Steps to Take to Make Your Parents’ Move Easier

Every situation is different, but there are some solid, practical steps that can make the journey easier for the entire family.

Working with an elder law attorney. An attorney who specializes in elder law can aid your parents in making a wide variety of decisions to better meet their needs for the remainder of their lives. Decisions can be made about choosing beneficiaries, making end-of life arrangements, and protecting assets so that the elderly family member can comfortably live on their budget. Other decisions might involve appointing family members to make health and financial decisions.

Deciding to sell or keeping property. In many cases, seniors decide to sell the property so that the money can be used to help with their living costs. In other cases, they might wish to keep the property in the family. An elder law attorney can help families make such estate-planning decisions.

Downsizing possessions. A good way to help elders downsize is to start as early as possible, taking time to go room by room and making sure to defer to their decisions. For many families, this step will need a great deal of patience and time.

Choosing a new home. Your parents’ new home may be chosen for a number of reasons, including health considerations. Involve elders in making a list of criteria that covers what they want and need. Then help them identify and evaluate available options. It’s important that they’re comfortable with the new living situation, which may mean multiple visits as part of the decision-making process.

Easing the stress of moving day. Moving can be stressful for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for people who have lived in their home for decades. The number-one priority should be to make the process as easy and considerate as possible for your aging parents. Make sure as much of the packing and organizing is handled in advance. Hire movers or enlist willing family members to help. Make certain someone spends time with elderly loved ones so that they have a support system if they need one.

It’s important that you realize that this change in lifestyle can be stressful for everyone. While there are many decisions to be made, an elder law attorney can help with the legal and financial aspects so that family members can concentrate on providing the more important emotional support that seniors deserve and need.

Is it time for your parents to downsize into a smaller home or move into a senior living community? Contact us today for more information about how we can help.

Planning for Long-Distance Caregiving

As the Baby Boomer generation enters their twilight years, a large percentage of their children find themselves sandwiched between responsibilities for their own family and their aging parents. For caregivers who live far from their loved one, this dynamic proves particularly difficult. It’s estimated that there are between 5 and 7 million long-distance caregivers (LDCs) in the United States. An elder law attorney can advise both the elderly parent and the LDC about best practices for long-distance care and estate planning.

Often adult children don’t realize that their aging parent needs care or support until some kind of health crisis occurs. Long distances can compound this situation. When elderly parents live more than an hour away, problems may not be noticed immediately. Advance planning is essential. Ideally, the entire family should discuss responsibilities and make decisions in advance, including who will take the lead in care giving and where responsibilities lie.

In this planning stage, family members can determine the best options for care, including moving the parent closer to the caregiver or enlisting the help of in-home care services in the aging parent’s location. Family members should also make decisions about individual LDC roles. Siblings may decide to split responsibilities. One sibling may be better with hiring and monitoring caregivers, while another may choose to coordinate legal planning.

Here are some things to keep in mind as aging parents and long-distance caregivers plan ahead:

  • Respecting the Aging Parent’s Wishes. Many aging parents may need help but want to remain as independent as possible, for as long as possible. It’s imperative that their wishes are taken into consideration with regard to where and how they live.
  • Contacting an Elder Attorney. An elder attorney should be consulted to help with estate planning and to guide the family in legal decisions. It’s important that issues such as the power of attorney for health directives be decided while the parent is able to do so. An elder law attorney can also make sure that the elderly person’s property and financial means are protected, while still providing for their daily needs.
  • Organizing Affairs. It’s important to know where all of the pertinent paperwork is located.
  • Learning About Resources in the Area. Long-distance caregivers should do research to learn about the resources in their elderly relative’s area to find the best in-home care and other services that will benefit them.

Becoming the caregiver for an elderly parent is challenging. In cases where the caregiver lives a significant distance from the parent, the situation can be even more of a challenge. An elder law attorney is an essential element in a long-distance caregiving plan. Contact us today for more information about how we can help you put together a long-distance caregiving plan for your loved one.

 

Top 5 Reasons to Hire an Elder Law Attorney

What’s the difference between an attorney and an elder law attorney? An elder law attorney can help seniors and their family members plan wills, living trusts and estates, and handle other legal matters. General practice attorneys can handle these matters, too. But there are distinct differences in working with an attorney who has specialized training, knowledge, and expertise in elder law issues. These differences present significant advantages when you choose to work with an elder law attorney. These top 5 reasons to hire an elder law attorney are important to consider as you plan for future needs.

1. Elder attorneys specialize in handling legal matters for senior citizens. While general practice attorneys can also provide these services, they do not focus on a specific age group or population. Hiring an elder attorney means that seniors and their loved ones receive legal assistance that focuses on their particular needs.

2. Seniors often have specific needs that differ from other age groups or physical or mental conditions that can cause difficulties or complexities. Elder attorneys have critical skills and experience to ensure that these factors are taken into consideration in order to provide seniors and their loved ones with the legal help they need. These attorneys can determine a client’s competency in making decisions based on physical or mental conditions, such as dementia or a terminal illness.

3. An elder attorney is familiar with misconceptions about the elderly and their ability to make important decisions. These attorneys are careful to dismiss these misconceptions in order to treat senior clients with respect and avoid making assumptions about their competence. This helps ensure that seniors’ wishes are respected in regards to their will, living trust or estate.

4. An elder attorney for estate planning or other legal services does more than handle these matters. Attorneys who practice elder law are knowledgeable about other key issues that seniors deal with, such as long-term care, housing issues, and finances. These issues can have an effect on legal matters, making it important for them to be factored into legal decisions. Elder lawyers ensure that legal services take these factors into account.

5. Elder law attorneys can usually provide additional assistance to seniors and their loved ones by recommending other types of elder care professionals that might be needed, such as psychologists or social workers. An estate planning attorney or living trust attorney who specializes in working with senior clients typically interacts with other elder care professionals while taking care of legal matters.

Seniors and their loved ones should note that elder law covers a wide range of legal services, including estates planning, probate administration, elder abuse, Medicaid, retirement issues, and conservatorships. It is important to find an elder attorney who offers the specific legal services needed. Contact us today for a free consultation.

What is the Difference between Personal Property and Real Property

When you’re setting up your estate for your children or other heirs to inherit, what you don’t know about property can cost the people you care about a lot of money. One of the key areas of confusion when looking at your assets is the difference between real property and personal property. Each of these categories should be handled differently to maximize the amount of value that’s transferred to your heirs at your death and to minimize the state and federal taxes on your estate. A good estate planning attorney can help you make these plans, but it’s a good idea to understand the basics.

What is real property and what is personal property?

Real property (aka realty or real estate) is anything that is attached to land. This includes homes, out buildings and commercial property as well as the land itself. Plants and trees are considered real property if they don’t require cultivation. (So, an apple orchard is real property, while a field of grain is not.)

Personal property, as used by an elder law attorney in Massachusetts, is everything that is NOT real property. This includes everything from your clothes to your furniture to your car to your bank account. This category is often further divided into chattels and intangibles. Chattels are physical things, such as your watch or your television set, whereas intangibles are paper assets, such as your bank account, your 401k account and any stocks or bonds you may own.

Each of these categories of property requires special handling to maximize the value of your estate. To learn more about planning your estate, contact one of our elder law attorneys today.