Friday, February 10, 2012

Wishing Does Not Make It So!

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho


My 69-year-old Cousin in Seattle called on Sunday to update me with his bad news.  His mother died on Thursday, his daughter was engaged to an unemployed plumber who has 2 young children, and my Cousin was diagnosed with diabetes.  I asked if he had paperwork in effect to help address some of these issues and, like most people, he said “No.”   He did tell me he is “thinking about” doing something. 

Are you over 65 with no plan for your future? 

Do you want to be in charge of your life for the rest of your life? 

Wishing does not make it so.  Put a plan in place to make that happen.

What “parts” does your plan need to take the mystery out of tomorrow and replace it with confidence and security?   Everyone needs to start with the basics.  First, decide and sign papers that set out who will handle your health decisions and finances if you are unable to help yourself.   Most of us do not plan to die tomorrow, but it is a guarantee it will happen some day and you get to elect who gets all your things, from a ring to a bank account.  At a minimum, you need a Last Will and Testament to fully accomplish your plan of who inherits from you when you are gone.

Get started on your plan now.  How?

Contact your Certified Elder Law Attorney to discuss where you are, what you want to accomplish with the rest of your life, and discover the best strategy to get where you want to go.

Stop wishing, and do something NOW!  Take the steps to help yourself have a more secure future.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Want Advice From Those in the Last 1/3 of Their Lives?


By:  Susan M Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho 83702

Cornell University (my alma mater) created a Legacy Project to find out from those in the last third of their lives, what life experiences, both positive and negative, have taught them about living effectively.  There is a new book called "30 Lessons for Living", Hudson Street Press, by Dr. Karl Pillemer which gathers advice from more than 1,000 elders.1

Here are some highlights:

1.  Marriage:  "A satisfying marriage that lasts a lifetime is more likely to result when partners are fundamentally similar and share the same basic values and goals."

2.  Careers:  Be involved in work that you absolutely love and look forward to doing every day.

3.  Parenting:  Spend more time with your kids.  Share in their interests and activities.

4.  Aging:  "Embrace it.  Don't fight it."  Most of the 1,000 people found old age had more opportunity than they thought.  If you are worrying about dying, then plan for it.  "Get things organized, let others know your wishes, tidy up to minimize the burden on your heirs."

5.  Regrets:  Take advantage of opportunities.  Say "yes" more.  Fill out your Bucket List and start checking off items once they are done.

6.  Happiness:  Happiness is a choice, not what life deals you.

"Even if their lives were nine decades long, the elders saw life as too short to waste on pessimism, boredom and disillusionment."

If you want to share your own wisdom and need help in getting started, on the web go to "New York Times."  Type in "Questions for Your Own Circle of Experts."  I bet your family and friends would be delighted to hear from you.


1"Advice From Life's Graying Edge on Finishing with No Regrets" by Jane E. Brody, The New York Times, January 10, 2012, page D7.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Amazing Role Models - Shame on You


By:  Susan M. Graham, Attorney at Law, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

Congress has done two things that are amazing.

1.  They voted to waive "insider trading" restrictions for themselves.  That means they can learn news about a   company before we do, and then buy or sell stocks to make a bundle of money.  For everyone else, including Martha Stewart who spent months in jail, this type of trading is illegal.  Congress plays by privileged rules.

2.  For the last six months, we have had a new law in the country that put in place a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  For it to work, that agency needs a director to exercise its full powers.  Congress will not approve the names submitted.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created to regulate consumer products and practices at banks and non-banks, including pay-day lenders, mortgage brokers and student loan providers.  What could be better than having a protector for consumers?  The system we had before failed to provide the protection needed to avoid the huge financial mess we are in today.  Now that the President has appointed a Director, members of Congress are threatening to set aside the appointment.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Want to Protect Your Children’s Inheritance?

By Susan M. Graham, Attorney at Law, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

         Margaret Barkley, a retired first grade teacher, has been married for 45 years to Al, a machinist.  They lived in town and have one son, Lee, also a machinist who is married to Sally.  Lee and Sally have three children, Joe, Pete and Victoria. 

         Margaret and Al have been frugal all their lives and made a habit of putting money aside every paycheck.  Now they are in their seventies and plan to leave everything they have to their son Lee, when they both die.  They have not told Lee, but they never liked his wife.  The Barkleys want to make certain that Sally does not end up with Lee’s inheritance

         Margaret and Al have another worry--their grandson, Pete.  Pete is 17, spends all his free time fishing in the Boise River and rather than study, he is with his girlfriend.  His grades are so bad that he may not graduate from high school.  His grandparents are concerned that unless Pete changes his ways, he will not be able to support himself.

         What to do?  Margaret and Al talked to their estate-planning attorney and shared their concerns about Lee, Sally and the grandchildren.  They were honest in sharing their worries.  For certain they did not want to give everything to Lee, and have it go to Sally when he dies because, if she remarried, Sally’s second husband would end up with everything.   They want all their assets to pass to Lee and somehow be protected from Sally inheriting the balance.  In addition, they want to help and protect their grandchildren.  Their attorney suggests one planning method to accomplish their goals is to create an “Inheritance Trust.”

         How does an “Inheritance Trust” work?  Margaret and Al create the Inheritance Trust now, and they name the Trust as the recipient of their estate when they both die.  Lee manages the Trust and also has the use of the estate assets deposited in the Trust.  A big difference is when Lee dies the assets in the Trust go to his children, not his spouse.  In addition, the funds in the trust can be used to help provide an education for the grandchildren.  Pete can get the help he needs to be self-supporting, but he will not be able to freely waste the money in the Trust. 

         There are a number of additional benefits to leaving assets in Trust to Lee.  These include: (1) the assets will be protected from his spouse in the event of divorce, (2) the assets will be protected from Lee’s creditors in the event of a financial hardship, (3) on Lee’s death, the unused assets will go to his blood relatives (grandchildren) instead of in laws, and  (4) these assets are protected from lawsuits.   If the grandchildren are under age 30, the funds are held in Trust for them until 30, but the funds can be available to the grandchildren to help them get started in life.

         If you want to protect your children’s inheritances from divorce, lawsuits, creditors and bankruptcy, call and set up an appointment with me to see how this planning technique fits for your estate plan.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wolf Tracks at My Farm


by Susan M. Graham, Attorney at Law, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

There were wolf tracks in the snow by my farm house last week.  I have never seen wolf tracks before.  They are bigger than a big dog print.

I was excited, and disappointed I missed seeing the wolf.  At the same time, I was a little frightened and wondered what would have happened if my dogs were outside when the wolf came by.  I would put my money on the wolf.

I really did not need to worry.  I have done everything I can to make my farm safe.  The buildings are secure.  I carry a phone.  I have a loaded shot gun.  There is little cover for hiding.

I was glad to see the prints, but also glad to be reminded of the need to review whether I am prepared to actually see a wolf at my farm.

How does this relate to estate planning?  One of the primary purposes for setting up an estate plan is to make it easy to handle the unexpected bad days of sudden serious illness or death.  Usually there is no advance notice and the tragic event just happens.  There is less need to worry if a plan is in place to identify who will be making decisions for health and finances, and that plan gives sufficient legal rights to help out.  Are you prepared if the wolf comes into your world?

If so, great.  If not, take steps now so you don't have to worry.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012 Resolutions

2012 resolutions

It's time again for New Year’s resolutions. According to Forbes, there are 12 resolutions we should all make – and “plan your estate” is number two:

1.            Set goals;

2.            Plan your estate;

3.            Check your credit;

4.            See where your money is going;

5.            See where you can cut back;

6.            Make sure you have the right amount of insurance;

7.            Build an emergency fund;

8.            See if you can refinance your debt;

9.            Pay down bad debt;

10.          Get on track for retirement;

11.          Consider saving for education;

12.          Make sure your investment portfolio is properly diversified.


As to plan your estate, the author recognizes that we never know when we might need estate planning documents, and that these are “notoriously easy to procrastinate so it’s good to get them out of the way.”

The full article, 12 Financial Resolutions for 2012, is available online at Forbes.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

There Go The Social Safety Nets (to help pay for catastrophic long-term care!!)


by Susan M. Graham, Attorney at Law, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

We have no money in this country.  We all know that.  How does this impact on you if you need to pay for residential long-term care in a nursing home, assisted living or in your own home?

There are two government programs that are available to seniors to help pay for care - Medicare and Medicaid.

Medicare is a national health insurance program for people 65 and older.  Medicare will help pay for a maximum of 100 days of care.  To access this benefit a few requirements must be met.  First, a person must be admitted to a hospital and stay there at least three days.  Then, when they are discharged to a rehabilitative facility, such as the Boise Elks, if that person is improving, Medicare will pay 100% for the first 20 days of care.  If the person continues to improve, Medicare will pay part and the individual or their supplemental insurance will pay part of the expense for the next 80 days.

What are the holes in this "safety net"?  First, the Medicare recipient must be ADMITTED to the hospital and not there for OBSERVATION.  The difference is huge.  If a person is not admitted, Medicare will not pay a dime toward the rehabilitative care.  If Medicare does not pay, then in most cases the supplemental health insurance coverage will not pay for the care as well.  This problem is happening here in Idaho as well as nationwide.  The bills for the first 20 days that I've seen range from $6,000 to $30,000.  This is a huge bill for most individuals and families to absorb.

The next hole in the Medicare safety net requires that the person be "Improving" during their rehabilitative care.  My cousin, Kathie, at age 98, went to the hospital for three days.  She was admitted.  They discharged her back to her nursing home and I was called two days later saying Medicare would not pay for her care because she was not "improving."  She was old and could not follow instructions.  I was not surprised that she failed this second test.

Another "safety net" is the federal and state Medicaid program.  Part of this program helps to pay the long-term residential care expenses for people 65 and older who meet a list of criteria.  The cost for privately paying these bills ranges from $20 per hour for a bath aide to $8,000 per month for skilled nursing care.  To access this benefit, it is necessary to complete an application form and submit it to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.  The last two application forms we submitted on behalf of a married couple were approximately 400 pages each.

There were at least six more inches of back-up information.  It took hours and hours to sort out and complete the application and deal with the follow-up issues.  All of our Medicaid applications have been approved in the past 5 years, but remember I have a law office.  The process is onerous and next to impossible for regular families in crisis to complete on their own.  That is not fair, but it is the real world.

We have no money in this country to continue to provide the safety nets that have been available.

What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones?

  1. Make certain you have up-to-date legal documents that include your Living Will, Health Power of Attorney and Financial Power of Attorney.
  2. Let the people you plan to rely upon in a crisis know you have nominated them to help.
  3. If you need help, seek it out.  Your failure to make informed decisions may cost you and your family thousands of dollars and unnecessary worry.
  4. Contact your government representatives and let them know you want honest safety nets that really work, not ones that exist on paper and are not really accessible to regular people.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Yesterday, I Spent 3 Hours in the Emergency Room [E.R.] With a Friend. Who Will Go With You When You Need Help?


By:  Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

Sam had a cough that started about 10 days ago, and he became so uncomfortable it was difficult to breathe.  We ended up spending 7 hours in the doctor's office and E.R. until they decided what to do.

Did you know there are 4 drugs that cause two-thirds of the E.R. visits for people 65 and older?1  What are they?

1.  Warfarin, also known as Coumadin, a blood thinner, accounts for 33% of emergency visits.

2.  Insulin injections account for 14% of the visits.

3.  Aspirin, clopidogrel and other anti-platelet drugs that help prevent blood clotting result in 13% of visits.

4.  Lastly, diabetes drugs taken by mouth [oral hypoglycemic agents] accounts for 11% of the hospitalizations.

Why are these drugs a problem?  One reason mentioned in the New York Times article is these drugs have a narrow window between an effective and a dangerous amount to be taken.  Another problem is these drugs are not considered "high risk" drugs, so less attention is paid to the actual dosage.

What is the answer so you don't end up in the E.R. because of prescribed drugs?  Be proactive.  Talk to your doctor about all the medications you are taking (prescribed or not) and take the appropriate dosage.

What plans do you have if you are too ill to care for yourself?



1The New York Times, Tuesday, November 29, 2011, p. D6, "4 Drugs Cause Most E.R. Visits in Elderly."


Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving - A Time For Stories (Repeating what I share with you last year)

By:  Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho


    I remember as a child, sitting at the Thanksgiving table and listening to the adults share stories about their lives and the lives of their long dead family and friends.  I heard new stories and the same stories year after year and only slightly paid attention (because I was young and somewhat stupid).  Now the elders in my family are all gone and their stories are only vague memories, just like a vivid dream that fades when I awake.

    So this blog is to help you do a better job than I did.  I was delighted to learn about the “National Day of Listening” which is the day after Thanksgiving.  Story Corps, a non-profit, gives suggestions about how to collect and keep those stories.  Some great questions to ask are:

  • What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
  • Who was the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?
  • Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did they teach you?
  • Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
  • What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • Are there any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to me?
  • What are you proudest of in your life?
  • When in life have you felt most alone?
  • How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • What does your future hold?
  • Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
  • Is there something about me that you’ve always wanted to know but have never asked?

     For a “Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide” go to nationaldayoflistening.org.  You will find the Instruction Guide and lots of other good questions and suggestions.  

     My best wishes to you for an enjoyable Thanksgiving and Holiday Season.

Friday, November 4, 2011

How Do You Talk To Your Elderly Parents About Their Money? [And Not Sound Greedy?]

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

Are you thinking about your elderly parents' finances and beginning to worry what you should do to help them in an emergency?

Don't expect your parents to be thrilled at the idea of discussing their finances if they have not been open about this in the past.

If you are lucky, they may bring up the topic.  When my Cousin Kathie was age 90, she called me one day to say she was going to be kicked out of her retirement home because she was two months behind in her rent.  She asked me to call and check.  I looked into it and she was indeed behind in the rent.  Right then and there she asked that I take over her finances, which I did, and I continued to handle her finances until she died at the age of 99.

If you are not so lucky to be asked for your help, you need to start the discussion.  Be careful that you don't come on too strong, because it may be perceived that you want to take their money.  One way to start is to express your concern about your role in an emergency if they should die or worse, they become unable to handle their affairs due to old age, dementia or illness.  If they share the information about what they own, the approximate value, and where their records are located, that would be a huge first step.  If they don't, be patient.  You have opened the door a crack and they may call you later to share this information.

An alternative approach is to suggest you go to a meeting with them at their attorney's office to get independent, unbiased information on alternative ways to handle the health and financial emergencies worrying you.

Of course, if they say no, you are stuck.  You did your best.

If everything goes wrong that could go wrong and there is no plan in place when your parents become mentally or physically unable to handle their affairs, you have the option to go to Court to be appointed as their conservator [the one who handles their finances] and guardian [the one who makes the health and housing decisions].

What can you do?  Start the discussion so everyone is prepared for the bad days in life, death or the possibiity of becoming incompetent.  Good Luck!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Too Many Fall Leaves

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

Can you keep up with all the things you think you need to be doing?  No?  Well, NO is my answer!

The leaves are falling, I rake them every day, and in the morning they are back again.  Pooh - I didn't plan to spend the extra half hour each evening doing this chore, so something else had to slide.

How can you get a grip rather than chasing what calls for your attention this moment?

Take some time, even if just 10 minutes, and decide what is important in the big picture "to do" today, this month, this year to get you where you want to go.  Make a list.

In 2008, Congress took a look at the following statistics:

  • It is estimated that more than 120 million Americans lack an up-to-date estate plan.
  • Two thirds of Americans over age 65 believe they lack the necessary knowledge to plan adequately for retirement.
  • Nearly one-half of all Americans are unfamiliar with basic retirement tools, such as a 401(k) plan.

The result was passage of HR 1499 declaring the third full week in October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week.

Now I am telling you this a week late, but even so, the information is a great reminder to focus on the big picture of the important steps to take to make certain you have the best and most secure future that preserves your independence, protects your family and protects your assets.

Check your own estate plan to be certain the documents you have are up to date with the current law and your changing circumstances.  That way you will accomplish your personal goals.

Happy Halloween and pretty Fall to you.

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