Evaluating Elderly Parents During the Holidays

A hallmark of the holiday season is the opportunity to connect with family and loved ones from near and far, many of whom we may not have visited recently due to busy schedules or the miles between us. This extra time together presents an opportunity for evaluating elderly parents during the holidays, which may allow you to spot changes in an aging relative or parent’s condition that requires attention.

Evaluating Elderly Parents During The Holidays

Many changes can be subtle, yet still cause concern. Even if your family gathering takes place elsewhere, make an effort to pop into your elder’s living space. What exactly should you keep an eye out for?  Here’s a brief list of red flags:

  1. Poor personal appearance. Neglect of personal appearance, such as ripped or dirty clothes, or not keeping up with basic hygiene, such as bathing and tooth-brushing, can indicate dementia, depression or other physical impairments.
  2. Weight loss. Losing weight without trying can be related to many things, including difficulty buying groceries; malnutrition; difficulty cooking; loss of taste or smell or other underlying physical conditions.
  3. Personality changes. Consider what has been normal in the past and look for variations. A typically even-keeled person who starts having frequent meltdowns or a normally cheerful person who seems withdrawn and sad can be an early sign of dementia. Loss of interest in hobbies and activities or becoming socially isolated can also indicate a physical and mental decline.
  4. Cognitive changes. Everyone has a memory lapse now and then, but certain types of memory loss disrupt daily life and make it hard to function, such as the inability to follow instructions and answer simple questions, getting lost in familiar places and becoming confused about time, people and places.
  5. Condition of their home. If there is garbage piling up, an abundance of spoiled food or piles of dirty laundry, it could signify a change in the ability of your loved one to keep up their living environment, which in turn can create fall and fire hazards.
  6. Financial mismanagement. As people age and become more vulnerable, they can often unwittingly be the target of fraud. A decline in cognitive abilities may also result in a stack of unpaid or overdue bills.
  7. Disregard for healthcare needs. Is medication be taken as prescribed?  Are they able to explain their medication schedule?   Are doctor’s appointments being scheduled regularly and attended?  As age progresses, keeping on top of medical conditions can fall to the wayside.

After evaluating elderly parents, if you do spot changes that indicate there could be a problem when, it’s important to address the situation as soon as possible. Don’t wait too long to get involved. Start by having a heart-to-heart talk with your loved one. Some won’t admit the need for help, while other don’t realize they need it. Make sure they understand your concerns and options for moving forward. Remind them that you care about them and want to ensure their well-being for years to come. Make basic, gradual changes at first, such as assistance with bill paying, and work your way up to more extensive changes, such as revocation of driving privileges. A top priority is to schedule a consult with a trusted elder law attorney to create a plan for quality of life and preserving and protecting assets, ideally before there is a crisis.

An elder law attorney can help you in evaluating elderly parents, and can suggest solutions to ensure a smooth transition to what lies ahead, working with you and your loved one to prepare documents that will enable you to step in and assist your parent as necessary. Some of the most important estate planning documents are:

  • Durable financial power of attorney will legally empower you to handle financial transactions on behalf of your parent, such as paying bills, filing taxes and handling social security issues.
  • Healthcare power of attorney and living will work in tandem to set forth medical preferences and also enables your parent to appoint agents to manage this care in the event that he or she is unable to personally do so. If these forms are not timely prepared prior to a mental decline, it may be necessary to petition the court to appoint a guardian to protect your parent’s interests, a process which can be lengthy and expensive.

An elder law attorney will also work with you and your parent to evaluate existing financial circumstances and suggest preparation methods, whether it be a will, a revocable trust or even irrevocable asset protection trusts. Having an estate plan in place avoids a stressful probate process and minimizes taxes and legal expenses.

An elder law attorney can also help your parent that is a wartime veteran or surviving spouse qualify for VA Aid and Attendance Pension, which can provide up to $27,000 per year in tax-free benefits to help them pay for in-home, assisted living, or nursing home care.

Facing the reality of a loved one’s mental or physical decline is never easy, but having open and honest discussions, being proactive, and working with an elder law attorney can make a big difference for your loved one’s future and your own peace of mind.

Golowin Legal often prepares estate plans for up to three generations of family members. Call us today at (614) 453-5208 to schedule a meeting to develop an estate plan for you or an aging parent. Visit the Golowin Legal estate planning page for more information.

2020 VA Aid and Attendance Pension Rates

What are the 2020 VA Aid and Attendance Pension Rates?

As indicated below, the maximum monthly pension payable to a married veteran in need of Aid and Attendance is now $2,266 per month. The maximum monthly payment to a surviving spouse is now $1,229.

These monthly payments are tax-free money to be used by the veteran or surviving spouse as they see fit, though it is most often used to help pay for in-home, assisted living, or nursing home costs.

Qualifying for this VA Pension can make a dramatic difference in the veteran or surviving spouse’s ability to pay for the daily support they need to stay safe and out of the nursing home.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - 2020 VA Pension Rates

If you know a wartime veteran or a surviving spouse of a wartime veteran, make sure they know about this program by sending them a link to the Golowin Legal VA Aid and Attendance page.

Here is a table showing the 2020 VA Aid and Attendance Pension Rates:

 Maximum Allowable Pension Rate (MAPR)Approx. Monthly Benefit
Veteran (Basic Pension with no dependent)$13,752$1,146
Veteran (Basic Pension with one dependent)$18,008$1,501
Veteran (Housebound with no dependent)$16,805$1,400
Veteran (Housebound with one dependent)$21,063$1,755
Veteran (Aid and Attendance with no dependent)$22,939$1,912
Veteran (Aid and Attendance with one dependent)$27,195$2,266
Each additional child$2,351$196

Surviving Spouse (Basic Pension with no dependent)$9,224$769
Surviving Spouse (Housebound with no dependent)$10,273$856
Surviving Spouse (Aid and Attendance with no dependent)$14,742$1,229
Surviving child$2,351$196

Veteran Married to Veteran (Both Aid and Attendance)$36,387$3,032

Click here if you need to order military discharge papers because the original has been lost. Then, I suggest you record the certified copy with the County Recorder’s Office, which is free in Ohio.

To get help determining if you are or can become eligible for VA Aid and Attendance Pension, or if you need assistance filing a claim, please contact VA Accredited Attorney Russell Golowin at (614) 453-5208 today.

Estate Planning Myths to Avoid

Many people talk themselves out of implementing a solid estate plan because they’ve heard of some of these common estate planning myths. Don’t let this happen to you!

Estate Planning Myths

Myth #1: Only the Rich Need Estate Planning

When we hear about estate planning on the news or read about it on the internet, it is usually in regards to a wealthy businessman or celebrity (such as Prince) who made some error, did no planning, or has family members who are angry about the planning that was actually done. The topic catches people’s attention: Rich people have so much that surely they need planning and can afford to have the planning done correctly. By comparison, when the average person thinks about their own property and planning needs, they assume that it is not necessary because they do not  have anything close to Bill Gates’ billions.

This is not true. Estate planning is about more than just the money. While proper planning allows you to determine who gets your money and property upon your death, the planning process also addresses what happens if you become incapacitated and someone has to make decisions on your behalf, which is a far more likely scenario.

If you haven’t done any planning, the court will have to appoint someone to make your medical and financial decisions for you. This can be very time consuming, expensive, and public. It can also wreak havoc on a family if they disagree about who should be appointed and how decisions should be made.

Even for those of modest means, who gets your hard-earned savings when you die is an important consideration. Without any planning, state law will decide who gets what—and many times, what the government’s best guess as to what you would want is contrary to what you actually want. But, because you did not take the opportunity to formalize your wishes in an estate plan, the state has to step in and do it for you.

Myth #2: I Don’t Have to Plan Because My Spouse Will Get Everything

For many married couples, it is common to own property or bank accounts jointly. If these assets are owned jointly or as tenants by the entirety, when one spouse dies, then the surviving spouse automatically becomes the sole owner. In most cases, this is the desired outcome for married individuals.

However, this approach can be dangerous. While it is convenient for assets to pass automatically to the surviving spouse, this outright distribution offers no protection. What happens if, after your spouse dies, you get into a car accident and are sued? If the assets you owned jointly automatically became yours alone, this money and property are available to satisfy any judgment that could be entered against you resulting from a lawsuit.

Additionally, what if, after you die, your spouse gets remarried? If the brokerage account you owned jointly becomes your spouse’s only, your spouse is now able to spend it all in any way he or she wants without any consideration for your wishes or the next generation. Your spouse’s new spouse could go out and buy a sports car with the money you intended to pass to your children. With blended families being common today, this is a real concern for many people.

Estate planning does not mean that you have to disinherit your spouse. Rather, it means the two of you can sit down and plan out what happens to your joint property and accounts upon either of your deaths, ensuring that the survivor is provided for and that any remaining money and property are gifted in a way that is agreeable to both of you.

Myth #3: A Will Avoids Probate

One of the most widely believed estate planning myths is that many people believe once they have created a will—whether drafted by an experienced attorney, or using a DIY solution or online form— they have avoided probate. Unfortunately, they are wrong.

While a will is a great way to designate a person to wind up your affairs once you have passed, determine who will get your hard earned savings and property, and, if necessary, appoint a guardian to care for your minor children, this document has to be submitted to the probate court to begin the process of distributing your money and property. The level of involvement by the probate court can vary depending on the circumstances, but this process is not private, as the will becomes a matter of public record.

Release from Administration: In Ohio, if the value of your estate (i.e., what you own at your death) is below a certain monetary threshold, then anyone who is entitled to inherit from the decedent can file a petition and have the property distributed outside of the traditional probate proceedings. The filing requires court filings and formal legal notice to anyone who might be interested before allowing your property to be distributed.

Probate: With this type of proceeding, the probate judge oversees every step of the administration process and has to approve of the Personal Representative’s actions. During a supervised probate, all pleadings and required documents have to be filed with the probate court and then served on interested persons or parties. This can be a very time consuming and expensive process. Each time the Personal Representative has to take an action, a legal pleading has to be filed and served on the interested party, which, in contentious situations, opens up the possibility for disagreements and attorneys’ fees.

We are here to help answer any questions you may have about estate planning, the estate planning process, or probate. Together, we can craft a one-of-a-kind plan to ensure that you and your family are properly protected.

Avoid the estate planning myths! Schedule an estate planning consultation with Golowin Legal at (614) 453-5208.

Estate Planning Awareness Week

Estate Planning Awareness Week

In 2008, Congress designated the third week of October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week to promote the need for the public to understand the importance and benefits of estate planning.

Unfortunately, a 2019 survey by Caring.com determined 57% of adults in the United States have not prepared any estate planning documents like a will or trust even though 76% of adults viewed them as important. Many of the respondents said this was due to procrastination, but many others mistakenly believed that it was not necessary because they did not have many assets.

Why should you have an estate plan?

An estate plan provides significant peace of mind by ensuring your assets are protected, plans are in place in the event you become ill, and your property is passed down according to your wishes.

What are some of the critical pieces of a good estate plan?

1. Last Will and Testament and/or a Revocable Living Trust

  • If you don’t have these important documents, state law will determine who will inherit your property, which means the wrong people may receive your assets.
  • To make things worse, because you didn’t leave instructions in your will or trust, the probate court will appoint the person that will be in charge of caring for any minor children or pets.
  • Spelling out your wishes in a will or trust will also prevent unnecessary confusion, anxiety, and expense for other family members when you are gone.

2. Financial Power of Attorney (a.k.a. General Durable Power of Attorney)

  • A financial power of attorney allows you to designate a person to make financial and property decisions for you if you become  unable to handle your own affairs.

3. Health Care Power of Attorney

  • A health care power of attorney enables you to designate a person you trust to make medical decisions for you when you are otherwise unable to speak for yourself.

4. Living Will

  • You may also want to sign a living will, which memorializes your wishes concerning your end of life care, such as whether you would like to receive life support if you are in a permanently unconscious state or terminal condition.
  • People that choose to sign a living will often want to ensure that the pressure of making a decision to remove life support does not fall upon the shoulders of a loved one, and would rather sign a living will with leaves a clear direction that they do want life support (and even fluid and nutrition) removed should they be permanently unconscious or in a terminal condition and unable to communicate.

5. HIPAA Medical Authorization

  • You should also ensure HIPAA medical authorization documents have been signed and provided to your medical professionals to ensure your family members are able to obtain needed information should you become incapacitated and unable to sign a release of information document when you arrive at the hospital.

6. Life Insurance

  • If you become incapacitated or die, it is important for your family or loved ones to have information about your insurance (such as life, health, disability, long-term care, etc.) so that claims can be filed.

7. List of Assets and Accounts

  • Make a list or spreadsheet of all of your accounts and other important information, including bank and investment accounts, titles to vehicles and homes, credit card accounts or loans, digital accounts (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and passwords, Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates, which may be needed to manage your property when you are incapacitated or settle your estate once you are gone.
  • This information should be kept in a safe place and shared only with trusted family members or loved ones.

8. List of Legal, Financial, and Medical Professionals

  • Making a list of the people or companies that have performed services for you is also important. The list should include their contact information so your family can easily reach them in the event their help is needed if you become disabled or die.

How should you encourage your family members to create an estate plan?

Estate Planning Awareness Week is a great opportunity not only to take steps to make sure your own estate plan is in place, but also to talk to your family members, especially elderly parents, about creating an estate plan. Estate planning is often a difficult topic to broach, as it brings the unpleasant topics of aging and death to the forefront of our minds. Here are a few tips to help you start the conversation.

1. Be sensitive to your family members’ feelings

  • Put yourself in their shoes, and keep in mind that few people are eager to dwell on the subject of their own death.
  • One way to begin the conversation is to talk first about the need to plan for an illness and to provide instructions in the event they become too ill to communicate with doctors or handle financial matters for themselves. The conversation can then naturally progress to the importance of having an estate plan that will enable their assets to be transferred in the way that they wish, provide for the care of any dependents or pets, and minimize any taxes, court costs, and legal fees
  • Communicate that you are not trying to control their decisions, but only want to ensure that their own wishes regarding their medical care and their property are known—and that all their instructions are in writing to guarantee they are carried out.

2. Involve other family members in the conversation

  • If you are planning to speak to your parents about the need for an estate plan, it is important to try to include any siblings in the discussion to avoid giving the impression that you are trying to influence or control your parents’ choices. You and your siblings should emphasize to your parents that none of you are asking about what you will inherit, but just want to make sure that their wishes are carried out if they become ill or pass away.

3. Consult an estate planning attorney

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you and your family members create an estate plan tailored to meet each of your unique needs and carry out your wishes—or help you update a pre-existing estate plan.

  • We can provide each family member with guidance and information about the options available to them.
  • We can help each of you put a plan in place that will prevent unnecessary stress, legal expenses and taxes, uneven inheritances, disputes between family members, and delays in passing life savings on to loved ones.
  • In addition, it will provide you and your family members with the peace of mind that comes with knowing there are plans in place for your care if any of you become ill and that your wishes will be honored once you pass away.

Celebrate Estate Planning Awareness Week! Contact Golowin Legal to set up an estate planning consultation at (614) 453-5208.

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