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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.

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Is Now the Time for an Elder Law Attorney?

If you’re like most people, you never thought about hiring an elder law attorney before a situation made you wonder if you needed one. You might not know exactly what this type of lawyer can do to help as your parents or loved ones age. If you, yourself, are aging, you might be concerned that not having all of your end-of-life responsibilities accounted for will be a burden to your family. So the questions you might ask are, “Do I need an elder law attorney?” and “Is it too soon to seek professional guidance on these issues?”

What Does An Elder Law Attorney Do?

Understanding some of the many things that an elder law attorney can help you arrange will help you determine whether or not it’s time to seek guidance. This type of lawyer often works with estate planning and issues, such as power of attorney, for those who are unable to make their own medical and financial decisions. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to wait until the very end of life to hire one. In fact, it’s much better if you have all of your planning done in advance of any great medical catastrophe. Here are some of the things and elder attorney can help you arrange:

  • Estate Planning There may be a number of variables in play when determining how to best organize your estate. An elder attorney can counsel you on the specifics of the law, help determine the best trustees and power of attorney, and help create a last will so that family members won’t need to worry about transferring funds or property to the proper party.
  • Power of Attorney There are different types of power of attorney which can be essential for medical and financial decisions in the event you or a loved one can no longer communicate your wishes.
  • Living Wills An elder attorney can help draft a living will so that a person’s medical wishes are met in the event they can no longer answer for themselves.
  • Financial Planning An elder attorney can assist your family with financial planning to help your loved one live out their remaining days with peace of mind.

Do You Need an Elder Attorney?

If you’re asking the questions, it’s not too early to seek a consultation. Organizing your final affairs is often easy and affordable. Even if the planning you’ve put in place won’t be needed for many years, you can rest assured that your family will be taken care of in any event.

Contact us to arrange a free consultation with Attorney Adam J. Tobin,

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.

 

A Massachusetts Elder Law Attorney Can Explain Social Security

social-security-elder-lawBefore we dive deep into the exact things that you need to know about social security, it’s important for you to realize that acquiring services from a Massachusetts elder law attorney is often beneficial. If you or your loved one is living in a nursing home, or soon to be living in one, it’s also advantageous to acquire services from a Massachusetts nursing home attorney.

Know the age requirements

First of all, it’s important to know that social security age requirements differ from one person to the next, and they are based on the year you were born in. Reaching full retirement means that you must be at least 66 years of age, and for some people, the age requirement is 67 years of age.

You can start accessing social security at 62 years of age

If you choose to, you can start accessing your social security benefits several years before you reach the age of full retirement. As any professional Massachusetts elder law attorney will tell you, though, that in doing this, you will significantly reduce the overall amount of benefits that you can access. In fact, if you do this, your social security benefits may be reduced by as much as 25 percent.

You must have 40 credits to earn social security

You can earn up to four credits a year toward social security, meaning if you make enough money, after 10 years you could have enough credits (40) to retire; however, keep in mind that you can’t access your benefits until you are at least 62 years of age. As of the year 2014, to earn one credit, you must make at least $1,200 a year. You would have to make at least $4,800 a year to earn the full four credits.

If you have any further questions relating to social security, elder law or estate planning, please don’t hesitate to contact a professional Massachusetts attorney. For those of you who have questions relating to estate planning, make sure to contact a Massachusetts estate planning lawyer.

Determining if a Loved One Requires Home Care

It’s a difficult thought, wondering if your loved one might not be able to fully take care of them selves anymore. Countless Americans go through it all the time, dealing with the decision of whether or not they should put their loved one in a home. And even senior citizens are often reluctant to admit that they need help. It’s not easy for a person who’s lived a full life and provided for themselves and their families to come to terms with their predicament for fear of losing their independence or just out of embarrassment. Even those of us who are closest to loved ones have a hard time admitting the fact because we have seen them throughout our entire lives as able bodied and fully capable. But it is a fact of life. People age and the older they get, the harder life can be.

It’s important for us to be aware of the situation and keep a look out for the early signs that a loved one needs home care. Sometimes these signs aren’t easy to spot and can “suddenly sneak” up on you if you’re not paying attention. Here is a list of warning signs that you will want watch for if you concerned that your loved one may need home care:

  • Your loved one neglects personal grooming.
  • Your loved one ignores household tasks.
  • Your loved one doesn’t eat well.
  • Your loved one has fallen or has a fear of falling.
  • Your loved one has difficulty administering medications.
  • Your loved one shows signs of inactivity or isolation.
  • Your loved one neglects mail and has overdue bills.
  • Your loved one has been scammed or a victim of fraud.
  • Your loved one caring needs have become increasingly difficult.
  • Your loved one often gets confused or disoriented.

If one or more of the described symptoms above have been noticed or experienced by your loved one, a home care solution might be the right decision.

For more information and guidance on this difficult dilemma, contact your Massachusetts elder law lawyer at the offices of Adam Tobin. We would be glad to help you with the process and answer any questions you need.

Your Trustee Duties, Explained

If you have been appointed to the position of trustee of a trust, congratulations – clearly you are thought of as someone of great judgment, patience, and honesty. A trust (a legal arrangement in which one person, a trustee, holds the legal title of an entity for another, a beneficiary,) however, is a great responsibility. Here are a few duties of the position:

1. Fiduciary Responsibility – Your actions as trustee must be held to a very high standard.  As a fiduciary (someone who holds assets in trust for a beneficiary) you must pay acute attention to the investments and disbursements of the trust.

2. Knowledge of the Trust – You must follow the directions and rules of the trust emphatically. Make sure to read the trust in detail; it is also beneficial to reference the trust when any questions come to light.

3. Standards of Investment – The investments you execute must be prudent and logical; you cannot use money for risky investments. These investments must also take into account the interests not only of current beneficiaries, but future as well. You must consider the future financial needs of the beneficiary.

4.  Distribution – Often the most important role of a trustee is the ability to set limits of the use of trust assets. When making distributions to a beneficiary, you are responsible for evaluating his or her future needs before making a decision.

5. Taxing – You will be responsible for filing tax returns and paying any taxes. You must keep good records and can turn over this responsibility to an accountant to ensure this goes smoothly.

6. Accounting – You are in charge of monitoring all income to, distributions from, and expenditures by the trust. Usually an account of this information is given to beneficiaries annually. It is important to report on income and principal separately.

7. Delegation – All above functions can be delegated. You are allowed to hire financial advisors, accountants, and lawyers to ease the burden of responsibility. You cannot, however, delegate your responsibility to the trust; you still must communicate with those that you hire as well as make any discretionary decisions.

8. Delegation. While you cannot delegate your responsibility as trustee, you can delegate all of the functions described above. You can hire financial advisors to make investments, accountants to handle taxes and bookkeeping for the trust, and lawyers to advise you on questions of interpretation. With such professional assistance, the job of trustee need not be difficult. However, you still need to communicate with those you hire and make any discretionary decisions, such as when to make distributions of principal from the trust to one or more beneficiaries.

Acting as a trustee is an opportunity to enhance the lives of the trust’s beneficiaries, and also a great responsibility. You don’t have to do it alone! Get professional advice to make sure you are correctly fulfilling your role. Adam Tobin is an experienced living trust attorney and can help you carry out these responsibilities. Contact him today for a free consultation.

What Are the Levels of Nursing Home Requirements for Staff?

“The expectations of nursing homes are to provide sufficient staff and services to attain or maintain the highest possible level of physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident.”

An elder law attorney understands the issues with nursing homes today, both legally and personally. As a general rule, nursing homes are reputably understaffed. It’s no surprise that studies have reflected that the more staff available is equivalent to better care for nursing home inhabitants, but with the work intensive hours that correspond with this high-demand job often lead to overworked individuals and a high turnover rate. So, if you are in the process of choosing a nursing home for your loved one, a critical factor in your decision making should be the patient-staff ratio – but what are the legal ratio requirements?

Medicaid and Medicare-certified nursing homes are required by Federal law to have a nursing-homeregistered nurse on duty at least 8 hours / week, 7 days / week: and a licensed nurse should be on duty the remaining time. But nurse’s aides do not have a minimum staffing requirement, and these individuals in fact provide most daily care. These aides are trained for a minimum of 75 hours.

In order to improve this quality of care, the amount of nurse time for each patient must be adjusted. Currently, if a nursing home in fact meets the federal nurse staffing requirements as stated above, a resident receives only 20 minutes of allotted nurse time per day. The 2000 report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, illustrates that these same residents need three to four hours of staff time per day: this further breaks down to an hour of licensed nurse time, and two hours of nursing assistant time, optimally three.

Appropriate allocated time for nursing hours varies from state to state. If you have a loved one currently in a nursing home, know your rights. A nursing home attorney understands the requirements the law demands, and will provide you with valuable information and advice in regards to your legal situation. Adam Tobin specializes as a Massachusetts nursing home lawyer, so contact him today to see how he can help you.

Source article: Read more here.

Health Concerns for the Elderly, including Medicare, Medicaid, and Nursing Homes.

Information on nursing home elder care.Elder law deals with the legal, financial, and health needs of senior citizens.  The country’s average age is advancing all the time, and now even baby-boomers are dealing with health issues and legal concerns they had not anticipated. In addition to estate planning, elder law attorneys also help with preparing for long-term healthcare needs, applying for government programs, addressing financial fraud, combating physical abuse, and establishing guardianships and conservatorships.

When nursing home care is needed, Medicare is of only marginal
assistance.  Medicare covers the first 20 days and a portion of the next 80 days of care in a nursing home as long as one is receiving treatment and improving.  Long-term healthcare also known as custodial care is not covered by Medicare.  The only government program that will pay for long-term care is Medicaid.  Medicaid is designed to help people with limited assets and income. Medicaid, also known as MassHealth in Massachusetts, will cover the aforementioned long-term care costs.

Unless an individual is impoverished or has adequately planned for his or her future healthcare needs, a nursing home stay or extended medical treatment can completely deplete assets accumulated over a lifetime.  To avoid this, a skillfully crafted plan can redistribute an elderly person’s assets in order to reduce the assets below the amount required to qualify for Medicaid.  This strategy may allow an elderly person to distribute his or her assets to children or other family members, outright or in trust, so that the same elderly person may not be responsible for paying healthcare expenses or nursing home costs.

As an estate planning and elder law attorney, I can work with you to plan ahead for residential care needs while minimizing the financial impact on your estate. Visit our Medicaid Planning section for more information.

(photo credit: http://www.pmhh.com/files/image/other/Nursing%20home.jpg)

Common ways to reduce Estate Taxes

Question: My parents have considerable assets. What can they do now to reduce the potential estate taxes?

Investing towards the future. Elder Law Estate planning in Massachusetts.Many clients may be near or over the estate tax exemption and owe federal estate taxes upon their death (see my post on ways to avoid state taxes to see federal estate tax rates).  Furthermore, individuals must also face a much lower threshold and may also be subject to Massachusetts estate taxes (currently assets over $1,000,000 are subject to the MA estate tax).

Here are some common, somewhat complex examples on how to reduce your estate in order to minimize the ultimate tax owed:

  1. The Credit Shelter Trust (By-Pass Trust) – In 2009, a married couple will be able to transfer $7,000,000 without federal estate tax.  To do so, each spouse must make maximum use of their $3,500,000 applicable exclusion amount.  A credit shelter trust can allow us to take full advantage of the applicable exclusion amounts and still provides for the surviving spouse and children.  Both a credit shelter trust and a marital deduction trust can be included in a Will or a Living Trust.
  2. Family Limited Partnerships (FLP) – One can use a family limited partnership or an LLC to consolidate ownership and management of family assets and potentially shift income or appreciation to the children.  In essence, these entities allow parents to make discounted gifts of limited partnership interests to children and grandchildren without surrendering control of the business or property.  Such gifts make qualify for gift tax discounts on their valuation as they can be discounted as much as 35% due to lack of control and marketability.
  3. Benefits of Lifetime Gifting – If one still expects estate tax liability even after applying the above mentioned options, one may consider gifting strategies.  For example, in 2009 anyone can make a $13,000 gift, income tax free and gift tax free. Lifetime gifts can remove assets and their future appreciation from the estate.  When deciding what to gift, it is best to gift assets that are likely to appreciate after the gift.  Consider a husband and wife with two children, each spouse can give each child $13,000 annually.  This amounts to $52,000 of tax free gifts annually. Also, any medical or education related expenses you pay directly on behalf of a child or grandchild are immediately removed from your estate without any gift tax.

(photo credit: http://michiganelderlaw.info)

Good News for Estate Planning

Declining interest rates may not be good for potential buyers of bank Certificates of Deposit, but they are good news for various estate planning strategies.

Estate planning for Massachusetts elder couples.I will address a few areas and techniques where low interest rates can have a very positive impact on the estate planning process:

  1. Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) – A QPRT is an irrevocable trust to which the donor transfers their personal residence and retains the right to reside in the residence for a specific term of years, 10 years is common.  After the term of years, the residence passes to the children or other beneficiaries.  In periods of low interest rates, the value of the retained interest is high, and the amount of the gift remains low.
  2. Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) – A grantor transfers property to an irrevocable trust and retains an annuity interest for a specific term.  At the expiration of the term interest, the property typically passes to a child.  Gift tax is payable on the present value of the remainder interest.  As interest rates drop, the value of the retained interest increases—thereby decreasing the value of the gift of the remainder interest.  A drop in interest rates is good for GRAT planning.
  3. Private Annuities – In a typical private annuity transaction, a parent transfers property to a child in return for that child’s unsecured promise to pay the parent a fixed income for life.  If the fair market value of the property equals the present value of the annuity under I.R.C. Section 7520 tables (currently at 2.8%), there is no gift tax on the transfer.  A further decrease in the interest rate lowers the annual payment amount that the child has to make to the parent.  Furthermore, if the parent dies during the annuity payments, all payments cease and the child has met their obligations and owns the property outright.

Low interest rates, including the IRS’ Section 7520 rate, can have a significant impact on an individual’s estate planning outcome.  The effectiveness of many estate planning techniques vary with interest rate changes.

If you have any questions about any of these areas and techniques of the estate planning process, feel free to contact me or your estate planning attorney.

(photo credit: www.massenahospital.org/mmhfoundation.php)