A Power of Attorney Protects Your Right to Vote

Your right to vote is a fundamental lynchpin of what it means to be a citizen – yet you could lose your right if you become a ward in a guardianship. Having a strong power of attorney is essential to avoid that drastic, but little-known, consequence.

A power of attorney gives a trusted person the authority to act on your behalf. Support like that is especially important if there is any question that you might have become unable to make decisions for yourself. Sometimes, however, that situation is far from clear. Elderly people can be dragged into unnecessary guardianship proceedings not of their choice.

This can happen, for example, if you are temporarily hospitalized and a not-so-friendly person – maybe related to you by a second marriage – sees an opportunity to seize control of your finances. Any adult person can file a petition seeking a guardianship. If you had designated your trusted agent before hospitalization, your agent could defend against that kind of predatory danger.

The danger is real. You could lose not only your money and your independence, but also your right to vote. For example, until relatively recently a provision in the Arkansas Constitution stated that “no idiot or insane person shall be entitled to the privileges of an elector.” That provision had the force of law until 2009. And again in Arkansas, once a person is placed in a guardianship, court approval is required before the ward is permitted to vote. Laws like these are by no means exceptional. Many states disqualify from voting persons who have been adjudicated incompetent, incapacitated, or of “unsound mind.”

But the standard to decide whose mind is “unsound” is far from clear. For example, a diagnosis of dementia can encompass a wildly variable population, depending on the point of view of the evaluating professional. And judges usually have no specialized education of their own in psychology.

Whether a person can handle their finances, or retains the ability to drive, are far different questions from whether a person retains enough sense to vote. A citizen who votes for any winning candidate joins the majority of the electorate. Determining, in advance, that one vote of all those is irrational discriminates against that particular voter – when many uninformed voters, who might choose candidates based on the brilliance of their smile, say, would not be subjected to that kind of scrutiny.

How much better it would be, then, to avoid that battle in the first place. With the help of an elder law attorney, you can create an effective power of attorney that will do just this. Give us a call – we would be happy to help!

How to Own Your Real Estate

Real estate encompasses not only one’s primary residence but also other real estate such as a vacation home or a rental property. The ideal form of ownership varies depending on the type of real estate you own. Below, we take a look at the different types of real estate and offer advice about the best form of ownership for each.

Primary Residence

Because your primary residence receives special tax treatment, you should carefully consider how your home is owned. In some states, tenancy by the entirety offers married couples creditor protection from the creditors of one of the spouses (with a possible exception for federal tax liens) while still preserving relevant tax benefits. It also allows automatic transfer of ownership to the surviving spouse upon the death of the first spouse without court involvement. Transferring ownership of the primary residence to a joint revocable trust may also be an option if you live in a state that allows the tenancy of the entirety protection to transfer to the joint revocable trust. Ownership by the trust also means that the real estate will not go through the lengthy, expensive, and public probate process but will instead be handled according to your wishes as specified in the trust document.

If you are single, owning the property in your name allows you to take advantage of tax benefits for primary residences. Transferring ownership to a revocable living trust may also allow you to retain the applicable tax benefits with the added benefit of avoiding the probate process. If asset protection is a major concern during your lifetime, certain types of irrevocable trusts are best suited for your needs but may require you to give up some control of the property.

The bankruptcy code may provide additional protections for a primary residence (e.g., your state may have a homestead exemption). However, in some states, transferring your primary residence to a trust may eliminate the homestead exemption because the trust rather than you (the debtor) will be deemed to be the owner of the residence. If this situation could apply to you, it is important that you meet with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney before transferring your primary residence to a trust.

Vacation Home

For some families, their vacation home has not only high monetary value but also significant emotional value. Ownership of a vacation home by a trust or limited liability company (LLC) can be advantageous because it addresses two main priorities: ease of transfer to the next generation and asset protection.

With a trust or LLC, you are able to establish rules for how the property is to be used and maintained, as well as designate what is to happen to the vacation home once you pass away. This can be a great solution if you want to ensure that the vacation home stays in the family for generations with minimal family conflicts.

An additional benefit of having an LLC own your vacation home is that it provides limited liability from outside claims. If a judgment is entered against the LLC, the creditor is limited to the accounts or property owned by the LLC to satisfy the creditor’s claims and cannot look to your personal accounts or property or those of the other members. Also, if a judgment is entered against you or another member for a claim unrelated to the LLC, it will be harder for a creditor to force a sale of the vacation home. This can be incredibly helpful if you wish to pass the vacation home on to the next generation without worrying about the individual financial situation of each new member.

Note: In some states, a single-member LLC (an LLC in which you are the only member) does not enjoy the same protection from your personal creditors. The rationale of these laws is that your creditors should be able to seek relief through your LLC interests to satisfy their claims because there are no other members that will be negatively impacted by seizure of money and property owned by the LLC.

If the vacation home has been in the family for many years, it is important to consult with us and your tax advisor to make sure that transferring your vacation home to a trust or LLC will not cause an increase in your property taxes or other unintended consequences.

Rental Property

Because rental property is an income stream rather than a residence, asset protection is usually the primary concern. As a landlord and owner of rental property, you face a higher probability of lawsuits arising in connection with the property because the occupants can change over time. Transferring ownership of the rental property to an LLC is a great option. If a renter gets injured on the property, sues the LLC that owns the property, and obtains a judgment that exceeds any property insurance you have, the renter can seek satisfaction of any claims only from the accounts and property owned by the LLC, not from your personal accounts and property or those of any other owners of the LLC.

In addition, ownership by the LLC may protect the rental property from your personal creditors. However, if you are forming a single-member LLC, it is important to have us check state law to make sure creditor protection is available.

Give Us a Call Today!

Whether you are concerned about your primary residence, family cabin, or rental property, we are here to assist you in protecting your valuable property. Given the various considerations for selecting a form of ownership, it is important to have the right advisors helping you along the way. Give us a call so we can discuss your current and future real estate ventures and the best way to protect them for generations to come.

A simple blood test can check for Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms emerge

Alzheimer’s disease is becoming more prevalent among aging Americans, and there are more aging Americans than ever before. Alzheimer’s disease has three typical biomarkers: plaques of beta-amyloid protein, tangles of tau protein, and loss of connections in the synapses that communicate information between brain cells. Now a simple blood test may be able to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s years before any symptoms, like memory and thinking decline, become apparent. The test involves the identification of changes in levels of NfL a neurofilament light chain protein found in the brain. This protein is part of the internal skeleton and resides inside neurons and brain cells, but when damaged or dying NfL leaks into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), it becomes circulated into the bloodstream.  CSF provides essential mechanical and immunological protection to the brain inside of the skull.

Prior testing to determine elevated levels of NfL in the cerebrospinal fluid involved a lumbar puncture or a spinal tap which is a procedure many people are reluctant to undergo. Still, this raised level of NfL is a reliable indicator that brain damage has occurred and that the person is at an elevated risk of Alzheimer’s presymptomatic stages. Testing of NfL “…could be,” says co-first study author Stephanie A. Schultz, who is a graduate student at Washington University, “a good preclinical biomarker to identify those who will go on to develop clinical symptoms.”

Recent data from the National Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s disease fact sheet estimates Alzheimer’s may rank as the third leading cause of death for older people following heart disease and cancer. It is also the most common form of dementia among seniors aged 65 or more. A simple blood test can detect the future state of you and Alzheimer’s but do you want to know? Currently, there is no cure for the disease, and depending on the levels of optimism an individual displays, knowing their NfL status could be a blessing or a curse.

The blood test gives pre-diagnosis years ahead of the onset of symptoms. There is a percentage of seniors who would find this information disheartening and feel burdensome and full of worry for what is about to come. These individuals can receive protection from knowing at their request if the information would make them fearful and angst-ridden. Other seniors might want to have a pre-diagnosis to relish the time that they have left with full faculties. They may want to get their affairs in order, handling day to day living choices and extension of life choices when they are no longer mentally competent to do so. Many components divide the two camps of thought; wanting or not wanting to know. Family structure, faith, financial independence, education level, and general health and well being typically play a factor in the decision.

What of the family who may want or may need to know of the future advent of Alzheimer’s to plan for the care of their spouse or parent? As a spouse and as a child, it is crucial that medical directives be in place for when their loved one can no longer make a sound decision but can be comforted by the fact that they participated in the planning years before. A spouse must prepare when their loved one enters a full-time care facility they may no longer recall their marriage and their spouse and unknowingly, may strike up a “relationship” with another resident. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor encountered this with her husband and famously became involved in raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. Subsequently, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018 and retired from public life.

Outside of the emotional realm of not having an Alzheimer’s stricken spouse or parent recognize who you are there is a substantial financial component to caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s. For practical and economic reasons, a family should be able to establish the biomarker for a loved one’s likelihood to develop the disease through this simple blood test. To that end, health information is private and protected by law. To ascertain your spouse or parents’ risk of Alzheimer’s requires conversation, acceptance of the blood test, and careful planning with elder counsel for proper legal documentation.

Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning.

Health and Financial Questions to Understand Before Turning 65

In the United States, turning 65 years of age is a milestone on many levels, but before this birthday, there is a hefty checklist that you need to address to continue aging successfully. Overall the most crucial thing to do before turning 65 is to invest your time wisely crafting the best approach possible for your health and financial security well-being. 

Can you afford to retire? Are you married? Estimate your total annual spending, including a cushion for periodic or unforeseen expenses like home repairs or dental work. Total all of your potential retirement-income sources and understand the tax implications associated with their spending. Run through several scenarios where you change what year you claim social security benefits to see if you should defer collecting it to a later age. Be realistic and start adhering to a modest budget today. Very few Americans can withdraw a lot from personal savings and investments without risking running out of money too soon. As you start to gather your assessments in general about how you view your retirement, find a qualified retirement planning expert that can help you with projections that are based on realistic assumptions.

Familiarize yourself with Medicare and its associated program variations. If you are retiring, you will approach Medicare differently than if you continue to work and have health care available through your employer. If you no longer will have health care through an employer, learn about Medigap supplemental insurance policies as Medicare will not cover all of your health care. Health insurance becomes quite complicated and varies widely depending on your overall health and personal financial situation. The National Council on Aging (NCOA), in partnership with private companies Aon Retiree Health Exchange™ and Via Benefits™, provides a checklist and timeline that can guide you through the process of enrolling in Medicare and assessing how you will cover the cost of prescription medication. If your income is low, you may qualify to enroll in Medicaid, which covers more expenses than Medicare. If you have already begun to take your social security benefits, then you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare. A packet entitled “Welcome to Medicare” will be sent to your address three months before turning 65. There are essential actions to take and deadlines associated with this packet, so read through the material carefully and meet those deadlines.

There are resources available to help you understand what your options are and the best way for you to proceed. As you approach the age of 65 many private insurance companies will lobby for your insurance dollars that will be spent on supplemental insurance. Finding a retirement planning company with insurance brokers that can sell you policies from many different insurance companies is more advantageous than locking into a group that will only sell plans that are associated with their company. A reputable insurance broker should not charge for helping you to assess your situation as they make commissions from the insurance company providing the policy to you. Check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) online where you can plug in the name of an insurance group or retirement counselor and find out how long they have been in business, their accreditation, BBB rating, and customer reviews and complaints.

If you are over the age of 50, you can contribute an extra 1,000 dollars annually to your IRAs and an additional 6,000 dollars to 401(k)s up until the age of 65, according to Kiplinger. If you are still working, this is an excellent way to boost your retirement spending money. Before 65, you need to explore the option of a long-term care insurance policy, which helps to pay for any assisted living care needs you may require in the future. Long-term care policies can be expensive. If you do not enroll in a long-term care plan before the age of 65, the policies will become practically unaffordable.

Before turning 65, you should also come to terms with your will, advance medical directives, trusts, and the difficult conversation with your spouse or children about your end of life wishes and any funeral arrangements. Take heart, turning 65 is far from a death sentence as many Americans are living long and active lives well beyond the age of 65; however, meeting with an elder counsel attorney can save you and your heirs’ plenty of money and heartache. Do not wait until an adverse medical event forces your family or loved on to act on your behalf financially or medically. Decisions made under duress do not provide the best outcomes. Beyond your will, power of attorney and power of medical attorney, consider a dementia directive as well. Projections for the aging US population indicate an ever-increasing number of seniors who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Your elder counsel attorney can guide you through your options. Some states even have working templates for dementia directives. As you age, you can review your legal strategies from time to time and make adjustments as you deem necessary. It isn’t easy to discuss your end of life scenario, but once you have had the discussions and put proper legal documents into place, you can move forward with a sense of relief. It is freeing to make decisions and act on your future behalf, knowing you can always revisit your choices.

Now for the fun stuff; get excited about the senior discount. While it is true that there are discounts available as early as 55 and 62, nothing beats the senior discount at age 65. You can check off that bucket list of yours with deals on restaurant meals and travel excursions, clubs, retail stores, hotels, cinemas, smartphone plans, AARP membership discounts, and more. If you do not see an offering for a 65 senior discount posted, by all means, ask.

Beyond Medicare eligibility, you can get a onetime free physical exam if you have Medicare Part B insurance coverage. Gyms and community programs offer discounted or free physical fitness programs so that you can keep yourself moving and as healthy as possible. If you have Medicare, check out your eligibility for SilverSneakers for a 65+ fitness program. Your local senior center can keep you socially active and connected to people your age. Making friends and enjoying the simple act of conversation is known to have many benefits for your cognition and staves off isolation and depression issues.

If you retire from your job at 65, you can finally begin to collect on your pension plan or 401(k). That in itself is worth a celebration after many decades of hard work. You might also opt to collect your social security benefits, but it is generally advisable to wait until you reach full retirement age.

Homestead benefits and property tax exemptions are a considerable benefit for those who already own or plan to own a home or property. Benefits vary by state, so you will need to see what you can qualify for where you live. Your local comptrollers’ office can provide information about offers regarding homestead benefits. For property tax exemptions, you must contact your local comptroller or tax assessor’s office for exemption information.

There is a lot to discover, learn, and know about how to proceed in life at age 65 and beyond. With Social Security benefit determinations, health insurance policies, and legal documents in order, you can begin to enjoy being 65. Start your education about being 65 or more today. Stay vibrant and healthy and enjoy those things you dreamed of doing when you were your younger self.

Holding a Family Caregiving Meeting

A family caregiving meeting is an essential tool when dealing with the care of an aging loved one. These meetings are beneficial for helping to keep all family members abreast of decisions that need to be made, changes in diagnosis or prognosis, and helps to ensure that all family members feel that they have a voice. Family meetings can also help to keep caregiving responsibilities from falling solely on the shoulders of one family member. In addition, family caregiving meetings can foster cooperation among family members and lessen the stress associated with caring for an aging loved one.

Who should attend a family caregiving meeting?

There are a number of people who should be included in a family caregiving meeting. First and foremost, it is important to include the aging loved one in the meeting whenever possible. This helps the aging loved one to feel that they are being heard and that their opinions and thoughts are being considered. If a spouse is living, the spouse should be included, as well as any children and possibly siblings of the aging person. Some families may choose to include other family members, but this really varies from one family to another. Anyone else involved in care for the person should also be there. This could include paid caregivers, family friends, or neighbors. Depending on family dynamics, a facilitator can be helpful in running the meeting.

When should a family have a caregiving meeting?

First it is important to note that family caregiving meetings are not a one and done event. They must occur on a regular basis. The first family meeting can occur before an aging loved one actually needs care. This can give the person who may eventually need care more say in their future care, but often times this does not occur. Most families find that the initial meeting needs to occur when an aging loved when begins to show signs of needing care or when a diagnosis is given that determines care will soon be needed. In addition, meetings should be scheduled regular to discuss changes in diagnosis, prognosis, or general needs of the loved one or the caregivers.

How can a family hold a successful caregiving meeting?

The key to having a successful caregiving meeting is cooperation. This doesn’t mean that family members will agree on everything, but it is important that all family members are respectfully heard and considered. Families must be willing to compromise and seek the best plan for their aging loved one. Additionally, a smoothly run meeting should have an agenda and families should try to stay focused on the items included on the agenda. When holding a meeting, always put things in writing and be sure that all those involved get a copy of the important information and everyone’s responsibilities.

What challenges do families face in caregiving meetings?

One of the biggest challenges to family caregiving meetings is the family’s history. All families have their own dynamics that can cause problems in a caregiving meeting. There may be members of the family who are at odds with one another. This can become an obstacle to having a successful caregiving meeting. The role that each family member plays can be a challenge. Some members may be overbearing and demand control, while others are peacemakers and do not feel free to share their thoughts. Another challenge is that some family members may be in denial of the severity of an aging loved one’s needs. This may make it difficult to get a consensus for care.

Family caregiving meetings are beneficial and necessary when an aging loved one can no longer care for themselves. These meetings can help to divide the responsibilities of caregiving and reduce stress placed on the family members. It is important that families remember that the meetings are for the care of their loved one and cooperate with one another to help the process to run more smoothly and successfully.

If you have any questions about something you have read or would like additional information, please feel free to contact us.