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What Signs of Elder Abuse Should You Watch For?

Elder abuse is a crime that no one thinks will happen to their loved ones, but unfortunately it happens all too frequently. In the United States alone, research tells us that more than half a million elder abuse cases are reported each year and millions more go unreported. Elder abuse often originates with someone that the senior knows well and trusts, which can include family members and caregivers.

Seniors deserves to live in safety. Unfortunately, as we age we can become physically, emotionally and mentally more vulnerable. It is critical to find ways to support the seniors in your life with strategies to prevent abuse, even when they live far away.

What steps can you take to be proactive when it comes to protecting your senior loved ones? First, be prepared and learn more about the many forms of elder abuse. Elder abuse can include physical, emotional, or sexual harm as well as financial exploitation or neglect. While these signs can be hard to notice at first, let us share a few characteristics to be on the lookout for with your senior loved ones.

1. Unexplained signs of injury on your loved one.

Not all injuries are abuse but they should raise a warning flag. For example, there are illnesses and medications that cause seniors to bruise or bleed. If your loved one does not have a condition or does not take a medication that could cause this issue, any unexplained signs of injury could suggest elder abuse. Be on the lookout for bruises, welts and scars. In addition, broken bones and dislocations, reports of drug overdose or failure to take medicine, broken eyeglasses and signs of being restrained could also be signs of elder abuse. Further, any injury that is unexplained should always be a red-flag.

2. The caregiver refuses to allow you to see the elder alone.

This is suspicious behavior. There are very few valid reasons why you should be prevented from seeing your senior loved one. This may suggest the caregiver does not want you to take a good, uninterrupted look at the elder. If he or she continuously distracts you and does not want you to get too close to the elder, the caregiver may be trying to distract you from visible signs of abuse or neglect. Insist on seeing your loved one alone.

3. The elder begins to behave as if he or she has dementia.

While this may seem strange, dementia-centric behavior in a senior who does not have this illness can be a sign of abuse. These signs can include, but not limited to, rocking, sucking on a thumb or mumbling to themselves. Unexpected changes in behavior patterns like this can suggest the senior is being emotionally abused by the caregiver and is trying to cope under the circumstances.

4. Suspicious changes to finances or estate planning documents.

If there are significant withdrawals from the elder’s bank accounts, sudden changes in his or her financial condition, or suspicious changes to a last will and testament or power of attorney, financial exploitation may be at play. If you suspect this is an issue, you will want to speak candidly with your senior loved one to determine what is the cause of this behavior. Unfortunately, the caregiver may be taking advantage of the elder’s resources. Be sure to plan ahead and work together with your loved one to monitor all financial activity closely.

5. Lack of proper hygiene.

If you notice your elderly loved one is dirty, unbathed or is living in unsanitary conditions, there is a tremendous potential for neglect. Be aware that neglect, in this instance, can be self-inflicted and may signify a cognitive decline has arised. If, however, a family member or a caregiver is responsible for keeping the elder hygienic and providing suitable living conditions it may be time to step in.

Unfortunately, elder abuse continues to impact seniors across Florida. If you are a loved one of an elder being taken care of by another person, be sure to keep a watchful eye for any potential issues. Check-in frequently and establish daily communication. If you need more information about elder abuse or any elder law issue, do not wait to contact us today.

Choosing the Right Trustee for a Special Needs Trust is Critical

A Special Needs Trust, sometimes called a “third party” special needs trust, is a legal arrangement designed to benefit a disabled individual with special needs. This trust can be used to protect the assets of a child who faces a disability such as autism. Through this planning vehicle monies can be preserved for your child but are not actually owned by the child.

 

The purpose is to provide financial support and a plan for individualized care over the course of your child’s lifetime. Perhaps the most important decision regarding a Special Needs Trust, is determining who will be its trustee.

 

A trustee can be a parent or family member, an independent professional, or even an institution like a bank or a trust company. There’s plenty of legal latitude in this decision. But whoever the trustee, he or she will have near complete discretion about how to make payments and distributions from the trust on behalf of your child.

 

Choose wisely, because there’s a lot of responsibility you will ultimately be giving to this person.

 

Ideally, a special needs trustee would have meaningful experience in responsibly managing wealth. This could include managing a trust, including making secure investments, keeping up with different accounts, organizing and preparing tax items, and paying bills.

 

A trustee should also be knowledgeable about how each distribution might affect an autistic child’s public assistance eligibility. One of the main benefits of a Special Needs Trust is that it shields special needs beneficiaries from income thresholds used to determine whether a person qualifies for government programs and funding.

 

Even small direct payments to an autistic trust beneficiary, or a meager expenditure on a disallowed item, could disqualify the child from critical public assistance programs designed exactly for them.

 

Staying abreast of all the legal changes is a tremendous responsibility. You want the trustee you select to work alongside an experienced elder law and special needs planning attorney. Your attorney will be able to help the trustee navigate this changing landscape. Understanding the ins-and-outs of complicated and ever-changing health care, educational, and other important programs is no small task. Such expertise is not common knowledge, and a trustee should be both familiar with these areas and open to working with an attorney who has the knowledge necessary.  

 

Other things to consider is whether a trustee candidate is reasonably competent to protect special needs trust assets from predators and creditors; if they’re capable of managing financial matters – such as the addition of new assets and income generating investments; and, most importantly, if they understand that their big-picture role is to provide for continuous stability once a special needs child’s primary caregivers are no longer able to take care for them. Discuss with your attorney if you should create the added protection of appointing a trust “protector,” who could have oversight of your selected trustee.

 

We know how important this decision is for you. Planning for a loved one with special needs is not only a critical task but an emotional one. Let us help answer your questions and share with you the planning you need in Florida. Do not wait to contact our office to schedule an appointment to discuss your special needs planning goals.

 

Help Seniors Prevent Scams This Elder Law Month

May is National Elder Law Month. This month, and every month, our goal is to ensure that seniors have the support they need to live healthy, full, and safe lives. This includes not only planning for their future with Florida estate planning and long-term care planning solutions, but ensuring they are safe from any potential threats.

 

Right now, research shows us that seniors or “Older Americans”, continue to be one of the most targeted groups by criminals. “Older Americans” are those people who are over the age of 60 living in America. As a generation, this group is more targeted by scammers because they are perceived to be less aware and more easily taken advantage of.

 

One of our goals this month is to ensure that Older Americans are aware of scammers who are trying to take advantage of them. We want to share with you several of the scams that are on the rise and continue to target Florida seniors month after month.

 

1. Mail scams. As a generation, Older Americans are one of the last remaining groups to still read every piece of mail they receive. Seniors are considered more trusting of mail. This is why scammers will send incentives, threats, and overt promises to seniors in the mail. As a senior, you need to be extremely discerning of the mail that you read. Do not provide financial information through the mail and avoid providing your private information to anyone you do not have a personal connection to.

 

2. Utility Bill Scams. The utility bill scam continues to be on the rise. In the utility bill scam, the scammer calls the senior or sends a letter telling him or her that unless money is paid immediately, the senior will lose his or her utilities. This can be a terrifying prospect for a senior. Should you receive any type of communication like this, do not interact. Instead, contact your utility company independently to ask questions. Do not use the number or address provided by the potential scammer.

 

3. Hurricane insurance scams. In Florida specifically, hurricane insurance scams are on the rise. Through this type of scam a fraudulent insurance company pretends to be able to provide additional support and security to Older Americans. You may receive a phone call or a piece of mail promising complete coverage in the event of a storm in exchange for information and money right now. While there are valid types of hurricane insurance, do not trust a phone call or a piece of mail. Instead, talk to a licensed insurance provider before taking a step forward.

 

4. identity theft scams. Today, there are more and more identity theft scams targeting seniors. The goal is for the senior to give up valuable, private information that will enable the scammer to take his or her identity and access all assets. Only provide information online in limited circumstances where you know it is safe to interact. In addition, consider investing in a security protection service that will monitor your identity and ensure it is not taken by a predator.

 

We know how challenging facing any of these scams can be. If you have questions or know of a scam you feel we should be aware of, do not wait to contact our office. We are here to support you and your family and make sure you do not fall victim to any of these crimes.

Essential Tips Every Caregiver Needs to Know

Providing care for aging loved ones is a tremendous act of kindness. It’s also not without its challenges. We see our clients face new situations they were not prepared when they take on this new responsibility. Let us share with you several tips every caregiver needs to know.

 

1. Start the conversation now. Nobody wants to sit down and talk to aging family members about getting older, much less about potential illnesses. Heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s aren’t anyone’s idea of fun chit-chat. But it’s critical to breach the subject of gaining now in order to be prepared later.

 

2. Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s health.  Like the old adage: Knowledge is power. Understanding current or likely health scenarios can provide the basis for making the best possible decisions.

 

3. Go to the doctor with your loved one. If you really want to know what’s going on, you have to be in the room. Medical diagnoses can be difficult for anybody. Why take the chance on missing something important?

 

4. Keep safety a top priority. One in three adults over age 65 report falling. Removing wheels from chairs, adding lights to staircases, grab bars to bathrooms, and rearranging furniture are simple ways to decrease accidents. Worn monitors and alerts can also be extremely helpful in the event of an emergency.

 

5. Older adults don’t just hand over their car keys. Unfortunately, there’s a point when driving is no longer a good idea. The same is true for paying bills and managing financial affairs. Caregivers should understand that these are difficult losses of independence, and should approach the subject with compassion.

 

6. Practice communicating and develop behavior management skills. It can be draining, even frustrating, to provide care for an elderly person. There are numerous classes, books and online trainings devoted to developing these skill sets.

 

7. Look into home-based services. Home-based caregiving services are available in most areas. Veterans Affairs or community-based organizations offer an array of services, such as music and speech therapy.

 

8. Do your homework when hiring paid-caregivers. Paying others to provide care is a great option, even if only part-time. But not all paid-caregivers are the same. Make sure to research reputable agencies and regularly monitor the situation.

 

We know this is can be an overwhelming time. Do not wait to contact our office to schedule a meeting and address your elder law needs.

5 Signs of Caregiver Burnout

The role of the family caregiver is one of the most underrated and stressful jobs there is. Most caregivers selflessly take on the responsibility of caring for a family member who is physically injured, mentally ill, diagnosed with an illness or has become too frail to take care of him or herself. Constant hands-on care, doctor appointments and administering medicine are just a few of the serious duties that a caregiver will manage on a daily basis.

This responsibility can weigh heavily on caregivers. It is not uncommon for caregivers to feel burnt out. The physical, financial and emotional stress can easily compound over time. As a result of this stress, the caregiver’s mood can quickly switch from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.

If you or someone you love is a caregiver, you need to watch out for burnout. Let us share a few signs of caregiver burnout that we see in our practice.

1. Withdrawal from friends and family.

This may seem subtle at first. The caregiver may claim he or she is “too busy” or “too tired” to join in plans and socialize. If the caregiver continues to withdrawal from friends and family over an extended period of time, however, he or she may be experiencing burnout. Further, the caregiver may want to spend time alone but feel guilty when not present with ill or elderly loved ones.

2. Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.

A sense of helplessness can accompany caregiving, especially if the caregiver’s loved one is extremely frail or ill. Sometimes, a form of depression accompanies the sense of helplessness. Caregivers also may lose interest in previously enjoyed activities or may feel guilty taking part in activities when their loved one cannot.

3. Feelings of wanting to hurt the person being cared for.

A sense of frustration may occur when a caregiver is burnt out. This can arise for a number of reasons including, but not limited to, when the person being cared for does not follow directions, cannot understand what is being said or the caregiver is unable to leave the home. A feeling of wanting to hurt the person being cared for is a common sign of caregiver burnout. Frustrations with these responsibilities, however, should never turn physical. When feelings towards the person become negative, it’s time to take a step back and remember this person is family.

4. Feeling increasingly irritable.

Caregiving is a difficult and stressful job, but it should not affect someone’s mood for the long term. Long-lasting irritability and a short temper are common signs of caregiver burnout. This includes taking frustrations out on other people, finding it difficult to see positivity and happiness, and feeling negative even when nothing wrong has happened.

5. Feelings of self-harm.

One of the most severe signs of caregiver burnout is feelings of self-harm. When the pressure has reached its peak and the stress and responsibility adds up, a caregiver may become so depressed, stressed and anxious that self-harm may seem like the only option. Know that these feelings are temporary, and it is important to speak with someone about self-harm.

Caregiving for a family member is a stressful job. If you or someone you know is a family caregiver, be sure to look out for these common signs of caregiver burnout. For more information, do not wait to contact a member of our legal team today!

How Do I Know If My Aging Parent Can Live Safely at Home?

When you are the child of an aging parent, there may be a point in the future when you have to determine whether or not your parent can safely live alone. Ask yourself the following questions? Does my mother need additional help each day? Is my father comfortable living on his own? Does my mother need me to help her drive to appointments or take her grocery shopping? Has my father had any recent medical diagnoses that concern him or me with regard to his independence?

It is not always obvious when a parent needs daily help. This can be further complicated when you do not live in the same town as your parent. How do you learn that your parent may be having trouble? Do you have a relationship with your parent that allows you to ask questions regarding his or her wellbeing and know that you will receive an honest answer. How can you begin to identify if your parent may not be able to live independently anymore? Below are a few behavior patterns that you can be on the lookout for.

1. Your parent has become extremely forgetful.

We all forget things once and awhile. For instance, if your mom forgets where she placed keys, there may be no reason to worry. On the other hand, if your dad gets lost driving home there may be a real cause for concern. Other signs for concern may be if your parent consistently forgets to eat or maintain proper medication management. Keep an eye out for forgetfulness in your parent and know it is better to bring in a companion, or seek alternative living situations, too early rather than too late.

2. Your parent begins to neglect personal care.

If your parent is not showering daily or changing his or her clothes every day, it may not be a sign of laziness. In fact, it may be a sign of depreciating strength and continuous weakness. Personal care takes time and energy, and if your parent cannot complete these daily tasks it may mean he or she is too weak to care for him or herself.

3 Your parent has lost a significant amount of weight.

Similar to a lack of personal care, this may signify a decrease in strength that can highlight an underlying issue. It also may may suggest that your parent is too forgetful to eat or go to the grocery store. Ask your parent what has happened. Do not wait to go with him or her to the doctor to learn more or bring in assistance to help your parent with meals.

4. Your parent calls for help more frequently.

In the past, your parent may have called you to help pick up the yard after a storm or clean the gutters. When he or she begins to ask for help for easier tasks, such as getting the mail or reaching a specific shelf, it may be a sign that he or she is too tired to do it alone. Minute tasks can become quite difficult as we age, so keep an eye out for these instances and get help when it is needed if you cannot do it yourself.

We know it can be hard for both of you to accept that it is becoming harder for your parent to live independently. Most of us would prefer not to think about the long-term care challenges we could face in the future. If you have these questions, or any others, please do not hesitate to schedule a meeting.

What To Do When a Disability Throws Your Estate Plan Into Chaos

As poet Robert Burns mused centuries ago, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Despite thoughtful effort and a concerted strategy, you cannot prepare for every emergency. A car accident, sudden illness, workplace injury or chronic medical condition can force you to re-evaluate the core assumptions you used to plan your future and set up your legacy.

A 2015 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered this sobering assessment: “In 2013, approximately one in five U.S. adults reported any disability, with state-level prevalence of any disability ranging from 16.4% in Minnesota to 31.5% in Alabama.” The CDC also reported that “annual disability-associated health care expenditures were estimated at nearly $400 billion in 2006, with over half attributable to costs related to nonindependent living (e.g., institutional care, personal care services).”

Frustratingly, you can’t turn back the clock. However, you can take meaningful actions to protect your legacy and estate in the wake of your newfound limitations. Here are some insights to that end:

Work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure that:

  • There’s an authorized person to make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you
    become mentally or physically unable to do so yourself.
  • There’s also an authorized person to manage your property, pay your bills, file your
    taxes and handle similar business if you’re unable to do these tasks.
  • Your wishes about health care decisions, such as end of life care and do-not-resuscitate
    instructions, have been communicated in a legally valid and binding manner.

Get a recommendation from your estate planning attorney or your financial advisor, who can help you take additional actions, such as:

  • Ensuring that you have appropriate insurance.
  • Reassessing your investment options and portfolio in light of your new limitations and constraints on your ability to generate income.
  • Making sure that you have a budget that works and that your bills will all get paid on time.

Mind this important distinction:

Be advised that “disability” for legal purposes is different than “disability” for financial planning purposes.

For example, disability for financial purposes might mean you can’t work gainfully anymore because of cancer or a workplace injury. On the other hand, “incapacity” in an estate planning context typically means that a person is no longer capable of making sound decisions, often due to systemic illness or injury.

In other words, you can be “disabled” for financial/insurance purposes and be non-disabled for legal purposes. However, almost anyone who is disabled for legal purposes would also be considered disabled for financial purposes.

Either way, it’s important for us to work together with your financial advisor to make sure you and your family are fully protected.

Take these actions on your own:

  • Pay attention to where your money is going as well as to your long term planning strategy. Your estate planning attorney can help you assess whether your current plans
    are still realistic and, if not, what alternative options you have.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. For instance, cut down on added sugars and refined vegetable oils and be sure to eat enough vegetables, protein, and healthy fats.
  • Get the help you need from trusted professionals. Now is the time to tap your friends and family and network for assistance with the heavy lifting. No single advisor will have
    all the answers. But your team can work in concert to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty and keep you focused on what really matters.

Please reach out to us to assess your long term plans and documents and make sure you are as secure as possible in light of your new challenges.

The content of this article is general and should not be relied upon without review of your specific circumstances by competent legal counsel. Reliance on the information herein is at your own risk, as it expresses no opinion by the firm on your specific circumstances or legal needs. An attorney client relationship is not created through the information provided herein.

Updating Your Revocable Trust: How Many “Tweaks” Are Too Many?

If your life or the law has changed since you signed your trust, it needs to be updated. Updates can be made by way of an amendment – or – a complete restatement. An amendment updates a specific part of the trust; whereas, a restatement, updates the entire trust. You might think that an amendment would cost less than a restatement, but that’s not necessarily true. Let’s chat about which is best for you.

Amendments vs. Restatements: Which Is Better?

Imagine a recipe card you’ve used for years. If one or two provisions have been crossed out and replaced, the card may still be readable. However, if many provisions have been altered, the recipe is likely confusing. If your loved ones can’t read your instructions and determine whether to add a cup of flour or a cup of sugar, your recipe won’t work. You’ve got a 50/50 chance for a great dish – or a complete disaster.

The same can be said about revocable trust. Making one or two amendments is generally acceptable, but when revisions are numerous or comprehensive, your instructions may become confusing and you may be better served with a restatement.

Although amendments are generally used to make smaller changes and restatements are used for larger ones, there’s no bright line rule when it comes to amending or restating a revocable trust. A general guideline to follow is that anytime you’re making more than two changes, restatements are likely better as they:

  • Foster ease of understanding and administration
  • Tend to avoid ambiguity
  • Reduce the amount of paperwork to retain and provide to financial institutions / parties
  • Decrease the risk of misplacement
  • Prevent beneficiaries from discovering prior terms
  • Provide an opportunity to provide other relevant updates, such as changes in the law

In many cases, a restatement may actually be more cost effective than amendments. This is especially true today as computer software allows estate planning attorneys to create and retain documents easily and efficiently. Fortunately, today, you pay for legal counseling, not typing.

Have Questions About Updating Your Trust? We Can Provide Answers

Before deciding whether to amend or restate, it’s important to determine whether previous changes have inadvertently altered your intent or might adversely affect how the trust is administered. We’ll help make your instructions clear.

Have questions? If you do, that’s normal. We can provide you with answers. Whatever your circumstances, rest assured that we can help you to determine the best way to update your trust. Call us today and we’ll help make your instructions are up-to-date and crystal clear.

The content of this article is general and should not be relied upon without review of your specific circumstances by competent legal counsel. Reliance on the information herein is at your own risk, as it expresses no opinion by the firm on your specific circumstances or legal needs. An attorney client relationship is not created through the information provided herein.

5 Tragic Mistakes People Make When Leaving Assets to Their Pets

A pet trust is an excellent way to make sure your beloved pet will receive proper care after you pass on. The problem, of course, is that you won’t actually be there to see that your wishes are carried out. It’s critical to set up a pet trust correctly to ensure there are no loopholes or unforeseen situations that could make your plans go awry. Here are 5 tragic mistakes people often make when leaving their assets to their pets.

1. Appropriating more than the pet could ever need.

The gossip stories about such-and-such celebrity who left his or her entire fortune to a pet are the exception rather than the rule. Leaving millions of dollars, houses, and cars to your pet is not only unreasonable, but it’s more likely to be contested in court by family members who might feel neglected. To avoid this pitfall, leave a reasonable sum of money that will give your pet the same quality of life that she enjoys now.

2. Providing vague or unenforceable instructions.

Too many pets don’t receive the care their owners intended because they weren’t specific enough in their instructions or because they did not use a trust to make the instructions legally binding. Luckily, a pet trust can clarify your instructions and make them legally valid.

If you leave money to a caretaker without a pet trust in place, hoping it will be used for the pet’s care for example, nothing stops the caretaker from living very well on the pet’s money. But when you use a pet trust to designate how much the caretaker receives and how much goes for the pet’s care, you’ve provided a legal structure to protect your furry family member. You can be as specific about your wishes as you’d like, from how much is to be spent on food, veterinary care, and grooming. You can even include detailed care instructions, such as how often the dog should be walked.

3. Failing to keep information updated.

Bill sets up a pet trust for his dog Sadie, but what happens if Sadie passes away? If Bill gets a new dog and names her Gypsy, but he doesn’t update this information before he dies, Gypsy could easily wind up in a shelter or euthanized because she’s not mentioned in the trust. This is a common yet tragic mistake that can be easily avoided by performing regular reviews with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan works for your entire family.

4. Not having a contingency plan.

You might have a trusted friend or loved one designated as a caretaker in your pet trust, but what happens if that person is unable or unwilling to take that role when the time comes? If you haven’t named a contingent caretaker, your pet might not receive the care you intended. Always have a “Plan B” in place, and spell it out in the trust.

5. Not engaging a professional to help.

Too many people make the mistake of trying to set up a pet trust themselves, assuming that a form downloaded from a do-it-yourself legal website will automatically work in their circumstances. Only an experienced estate planning attorney should help you set it up to help ensure that everything works exactly the way you want.

When attempting to leave assets to your pet, the good news is that with professional help, all these mistakes are preventable. Talk with us today about your options for setting up a new pet trust or adding a pet trust to your current estate plan. We’re here to help.

 

The content of this article is general and should not be relied upon without review of your specific circumstances by competent legal counsel. Reliance on the information herein is at your own risk, as it expresses no opinion by the firm on your specific circumstances or legal needs. An attorney client relationship is not created through the information provided herein.

What is a Revocable Living Trust and How can it Work for Me?

A revocable living trust, also called a living trust, is a legal entity created to hold ownership of an individual’s assets. The person who forms the trust is called the grantor, and also serves as the trustee in most cases, controlling and managing the assets.

But you may be wondering if this type of trust will work for you.

“A revocable living trust is designed that you are still in control of all of your assets. You as the grantor, settler of the trust creates this document and funds the assets into that trust, which means you title the assets that you own into this trust. You serve as the trustee of that trust.” says Anne Desormier Cartwright of Elder & Estate Planning Attorneys PA.

As the grantor of the trust you still maintain all control of those assets. You can change the trust, you can transfer assets out, you can add assets to that trust. So you maintain the control of your assets in a revocable trust.

Elder and Estate Planning Attorneys PA is a law office small enough to provide personal service but large enough to handle all of your estate and planning needs.