Boost Your Aging Parents’ Independence By Making Their Home Safer

As aging parents grow older, they can face increasing challenges related to activities of daily living. For instance, driving may have been a second-nature activity for their entire adult lives, but with advanced age it may no longer be feasible. Other routine activities such as taking medication or preparing food may also need to be curtailed.

Understandably, the loss of independence can be devastating for an aging parent. One way adult children can boost a continued sense of autonomy despite elder challenges, is to help their aging parents live independently in their homes for as long as reasonably possible.

The most important consideration, however, is to make sure they can do so safely.

Identifying and eliminating potential safety hazards will be key. As physical challenges increase due to diminished balance and strength, elderly persons become more prone to falling. So those nice throw rugs may need to be thrown out, for example.

Here are additional points to consider:

  • Clear hallways, stairways, and doorways of any clutter.
  • Put additional lighting throughout the home. Plug-in nightlights are also helpful.
  • Tidy-up or get rid of messy electric cords.
  • Repair loose carpeting and raised flooring.
  • Switch-out door knobs for lever-handles.
  • Remove locks from bedroom and bathroom doors.

Taking extra care in securing bathrooms is also highly recommended. With narrow spaces and slippery surfaces, it’s a good idea to install shower and toilet grab bars. Adhesive friction pads on the shower floor, a medically approved bathing chair, and a lowered hot water thermostat temperature are also excellent ways to further protect against falls and scalding burns.

Other important safety measures can include installing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, removing small and low furniture, eliminating throw rugs, and applying non-slip wax to floors. Making kitchen modifications may also be in order. For example, stoves and ovens with automatic turn-off features are ideal. Hanging an accessible, easy to use fire extinguisher is also a good idea, as is configuring refrigerator shelving to prominently display frequently used food and beverage items.

When contacting businesses for home repair services, make sure to seek referrals from credible individuals or elder care organizations. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous individuals who may try to take advantage of vulnerable seniors, so make sure to stay involved. Don’t let your aging parent sign any contracts without your help, and monitor all repair work.

Do you have questions on these issues or other issues your aging parent may be facing right now? Do not wait to contact us with your questions. We are here to help you with your elder law concerns.

What Do I Need to Know About Florida Powers of Attorney?

Having an estate plan in place is one of the most essential and effective ways to ensure your loved ones will be protected no matter the circumstances that arise. Have you ever thought about what would happen if you unexpectedly lose the ability to take care of yourself or make your own decisions? If you have not, it is time to start thinking about these questions and establishing a plan that fits your unique needs.

Creating a durable power of attorney is one way to accomplish this. A durable power of attorney is a critical part of your Florida estate planning. Let us share some common questions many of our clients ask us about durable power of attorneys so you can make an informed decision about the right estate plan for you.

1. What is a durable power of attorney?

In general, through a power of attorney you appoint a close friend or family member as an agent with wide-ranging authority over your decisions, usually for your real property and finances. You have the power to decide whether the durable power of attorney provides broad or limited authority over your affairs. This document is typically set up at the same time as a last will and testament, but does not have to be.

2. Why should the power of attorney be “durable”?

If you wish for the power of attorney to remain in effect in the event you become incapacitated, either temporarily or permanently, it must be designated as “durable”. If it is not, your power of attorney may not be effective.

3. Do I need a durable power of attorney for long-term care reasons?

Yes. A durable power of attorney can provide a high level of asset protection if the document is drafted correctly by an elder law attorney. In particular, if you should need to become a resident at a nursing home, your property may be subject to payment for those services. Taking the necessary steps to ensure your assets are protected and your agent has the authority to act for you in a crisis should help prevent this potential issue from ever arising.

4. How do I make sure I choose the right agent?

For many of our clients, having the option to choose his or her own agent is very important. If you do not decide who to appoint while you still have the capacity to do so, you will not be able to do so should you lack capacity. When you fail to plan, a guardianship may become necessary and in those instances a judge could make the decision on your behalf. Designating someone you trust implicitly, whether it be a close friend or family member, can give you peace of mind that your affairs will be well-taken care of.

Once you create your Florida durable power of attorney and appoint someone as your agent, that person can begin making decisions on your behalf as early or as late as you wish. Knowing you have someone who can watch out for your financial needs and act in your best interest can be comforting.

Remember, these are just a few of the questions our clients ask us. We all have unique planning needs, so it is crucial to discuss your options with an estate planning attorney. Do you have additional questions not covered in this article? Do not wait to talk to our office about the estate planning options available to you.

What Should I Know About My Living Will?

We all remember the feeling of invincibility that comes with being young. For some of us, it was not that long ago that planning for serious medical issues, terminal illnesses, and debilitating accidents did not so much as cross our minds. Unfortunately, these events can affect us at any age, no matter what stage in life we are in. That is why it is crucial to establish an estate plan and make your end-of-life care wishes known to your loved ones.

Establishing a living will is just one way to organize your wants and needs. Let us share some commonly asked questions from our clients about living wills so you can determine whether it is the right estate plan to fit your unique planning needs.

What is a living will?

A living will is a legally binding document that details your end-of-life medical care wishes. The will does not take effect until it is determined that you are in a terminal condition, end stage condition, or persistent vegetative state. A crucial component of a living will is choosing how you want important decisions during this time made on your behalf.

How flexible is a living will?

One of the main benefits of establishing a living will is the flexibility it provides you, the creator. After the creation of the document, you may update, add, or remove any provisions in the document with your attorney. As the pass, circumstances change. You are not bound to the same provisions you created ten or twenty years ago.

When is considered too early to create a living will?

It is never too early to start thinking about your estate plan, and this includes your living will. Be proactive while you still have the opportunity to be. Whether you just turned 18 or 80, leaving your loved ones with a detailed set of instructions will allow you all to rest assured a plan is in place in the event of an accident or serious illness.

We understand there are many planning options to consider and we want you to think through your estate planning needs carefully. Remember, we are here to be a resource for you and help guide you in your decisions. These are just a few of the commonly asked questions we receive about living wills. If you have more questions, do not hesitate to call our firm and schedule a meeting.

For Seniors, Knowing Your Community is Vital for Hurricane Preparedness

When it comes to planning for any major event, being informed is perhaps the greatest advantage you can have. “Knowledge is power,” as the saying goes. When considering the tremendous destructive power of hurricanes, a little bit of knowledge can make all the difference, especially when it comes to planning for the seniors in your life.

Seniors are more vulnerable to natural disasters, so being informed takes on extra importance. One of the first ways of safety planning would be for seniors to assess their neighborhoods and communities. This does not have to be done alone. In fact, it can best be done in consultation with a trusted family member, friend or your agent under your Florida power of attorney.

Make a list of how a hurricane might affect you. For example, consider these questions:

  • Do you live in a flood zone?
  • Do you have large tree branches hanging over your house that are susceptible to high winds?
  • What is the quickest path out of your neighborhood?
  • Where is the nearest public shelter in case an evacuation order is issued?
  • How much medicine do you need each week and do you have it on hand?
  • Where is the closest hospital?

These are a few questions aimed at identifying practical items that would need to be accounted for when creating a hurricane prep plan.

Unlike tornadoes, hurricanes are usually known and monitored by weather services and news stations before they impact a given area. But they are also unpredictable in terms of which path they’ll ultimately take and may leave with little time to prepare.

Considering the sheer size and power of these mega-storms, you’ll need to come up with a way of getting timely, accurate and reliable information at the local level – especially if the storm knocks out your power. For seniors who statistically have less access to technology, this may pose even more of an issue.

Public warning systems exist for this purpose. Get to know how your local authorities communicate this information. For example, if emergency information is reported by radio, then find out the exact station.

You may also connect with your local fire department. Stop by, introduce yourself and ask for advice on how you can best prepare for a hurricane as a senior. Ask them what you should know about the layout of your neighborhood and community? Determine if there is a priority evacuation list you may be placed on. Discuss your plan with them and ask for help refining it. Bear in mind, there also may be a priority list with your utility company, especially if you take refrigerated medication.

Finally, connect with your neighbors. Many neighborhoods have safety watch programs, block associations and faith-based groups dedicated to serving those in need. Let them know who you are and where you live so they can check-in on you before, during and after a hurricane.

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers. Having a disaster plan is just the first step. You also need Florida estate planning to ensure that there is a person with legal authority who may act for you in a crisis. Do not wait to contact us with your questions.

3 Advantages to Starting a Special Needs Trust with Your Child’s Settlement

If your child received a settlement for disabling injuries caused by a medical malpractice event or preventable accident, then you may want to seriously consider directing the settlement proceeds to a Special Needs Trust. The same can be true if your child was born with a disability that will have a lifelong impact on him or her. Unfortunately, the cost of care for a disabled person can be considerable. You do not want to fail to create the estate planning tools that can ensure your loved one has the support he or she needs both now and in the future.

Special needs planning involves many financial considerations. This can include, but not be limited to, providing a long-term income stream for the disabled person, meeting tax obligations, ensuring there is insurance coverage, and what to do when the disabled person’s primary caregivers are no longer able to provide care. These are only a few of the considerations that Special Needs Trusts are designed to address and handle for your loved one.

Are you wondering where to start? Do you need to know if this type of trust is right for you and your loved ones? Let us share three advantages that can help steer you in the right direction which we share with our clients as well.

1. Public Benefits.

Put simply, Special Needs Trusts are legal arrangements that benefit disabled persons. One of the biggest advantages of a Special Needs Trust is that it protects against losing public benefits meant to help your child and your family. This is no small perk. It is estimated, for example, that Medicaid health insurance alone can stem into seven-figures over the course of a disabled child’s lifetime.

Other benefit programs include Healthy Kids, KidCare, Supplemental Security Income or “Disability,” Medically Needy Program, housing assistance, state waiver programs, and even nursing home financial aid. There are many public support programs intended to help families shoulder the financial burden of caring for disabled individuals, including those offered at the state and locals levels.

2. An Open Door.

Even if you receive a large financial settlement and have no intention of taking advantage of government programs, it is advisable to keep the door open in case you change your mind or circumstances change in the future. Settlements are almost never enough to last a lifetime, and circumstances may dictate a course correction down the road. Plan early to ensure that you can keep all options open.

3. Financial Management.

A Special Needs Trust can use settlement proceeds to fund income generating investments, and given the right trustee, it can also help protect against short-sighted spending decisions. A settlement is not the lottery. Funds need to be prudently managed to last as long as possible.

If properly managed, Special Needs Trusts present a significant opportunity to generate settlement-funded returns, acquire public assistance for basic needs, and use settlement funds for extra expenses and individualized care.

Let us help you plan for the current and future needs of your loved one with special needs. This article just begins the type of planning we can work on together to make a difference. Do not wait to contact our office to schedule an appointment.

6 Articles to Help People Living with Disabilities (plus a bonus resource)

We recently had someone reach out with a number of interesting articles that are designed to help people living with various disabilities. Thanks, Jennifer McGregor, for putting this list together.

Please consult with your physician prior to implementing any changes recommended in these resources. Be advised that there is no implied endorsement of the information contained therein.

Jennifer is a pre-med student. She and a friend developed PublicHealthLibrary.org for a college class. Her goal is to turn it into a go-to resource for reliable health information on the Web. 

  1. Explaining special needs to your child: 15 great children’s books: Are you at a loss about how to explain special needs to your child? Here are 15 books that you can read to your child or classroom that will help explain special needs to children.
  2. How to Remodel for Accessibility: Not everyone can move when disability hits. Here’s how you can create a handicap accessible home with a remodel.
  3. Developing Your Blind Child’s Sleep Schedule: This is a unique challenge as a blind child’s circadian rhythm is thrown off because they don’t have light cues. There are things you can do to establish a sleep schedule.
  4. How to Exercise if You Have Limited Mobility: You don’t need to have full mobility to experience the health benefits of exercise. While there are challenges that come with having mobility issues, by adopting a creative approach, you can overcome any physical limitations and find enjoyable ways to get active and improve your health and well-being.
  5. Healthy Eating Advice for Wheelchair-bound People: This fact sheet offers general advice for people who are wheelchair-bound. The scale of immobilization and/or paralysis directly affects the function of digestive organs. Here’s a short list of foods you might want to avoid and those you want to include in your diet.
  6. How to Create a Backyard Sanctuary for Kids with Disabilities: Children of all abilities and needs should have room to play and explore their world. Here are some ideas on how you can create a fun outdoor space for children of all needs.
  7. Bonus Resource – A Number to Call When Traveling with Someone Autistic: It can be quite daunting to fly with an autistic person as there’s a lot of extra stimuli that can disturb them. There are resources out there to help, one of which is a phone number that can help ease the security checkpoint process. Call three days before traveling (855) 787-2227.

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 deserve 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.

For a case study of what can happen with this check out an article written by the NY Times.

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.