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.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Would You Want Your Enemy As Your Guardian?

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

This happened for the heiress of L'Oreal, a French cosmetics company.  Liliane Bettencourt is 89.  She and her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, have been suing one another for oyears.  A French Court found the mother to have failing mental healtlh and to be showing signs of dementia.  The Court then appointed the daughter as her mother's guardian.  Now, the daughter can control when her mother can travel and how her money will be managed.1

Could this happen to you?

A simple way to avoid this is sign a financial power of attorney and health power of attorney stating who you want to make financial and health decisions for you if you are not able to care for yourself.  That will be a great first step.


1Heiress Loses L'Oreal Family Fight.  The Wall Street Journal, Page B8, October 18, 2011.


Friday, October 14, 2011

A MacArthur Genius Grant is Awarded to An Elder Abuse Lawyer. Yeah!

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

Caregivers of the elderly have a legal as well as a moral obligation to provide proper care for their charge.  Allowing your 84-year-old mother to rot to death is considered illegal.

Attorney Marie-Therese Connolly received the MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called "genius" grant, and was awarded $50,000 in recognition of a career that focused on many forms of elder abuse, incuding physical and psychological abuse as well as the financial exploitation and wrongful deprivation of rights of the elderly.

One example of a case handled by Ms. Connolly involved Chris Wise, a caregiver for his mother who was sentenced to three years in prison.  Why?  Even though his mother said she did not want to go to a nursing home and wanted to die at home with dignity, there is nothing dignified about dying in a filthy bed, emaciated and covered in sores so deep that bone was visible.  In her last days he ignored her calls for help, and just turned up the sound of his music so he could more easily ignore her.

Of course this is unpleasant to imagine, but thankfully it is called to our attention so that we can be more vigilant in protecting our seniors.  Perhaps this will help move some state Legislatures, including Idaho, to strengthen their laws to protect the elderly.

Congratulations and thank you, Ms. Connolly, for your work to protect seniors.


Friday, October 7, 2011

What is an Incentive Trust?

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

An inheritance of cash can be good or bad.  The "good" part is easy.  Someone receives the inheritance and uses the funds wisely to enhance their lives.  The "bad" part is often swept under the rug.

If someone inherits money and that person is young emerging into adulthood, likes to spend money freely with no sense of tomorrow, has an addiction problem or has trouble holding down a job, his or her inheritance is likely to evaporate.

An Incentive Trust may be the solution to help a child who is a reckless spender.  How does such a Trust work?  The parents need to sit down with their attorney and discuss the needs and abilities [and shortcomings] of their child.  Between them they can craft a Trust that will provide for the child's future in a constructive way.  Frequently a professional Corporate Trustee (such as a Bank Trust Department) will be the Trustee or co-Trustee with the child.  You don't want to make a family member a Trustee because that will poison the relationship between that person and the child.  Incentive Trusts frequently include a method to help educate the child to manage money responsibly so that he or she can develop the skills to take over their own finances in the future.  These trusts can work if they include objective standards and are transparent so the Trustee knows what the beneficiary is doing and the beneficiary knows the standards used for measurement.

Your other choice is to give the money outright with a "wish and a prayer" that it will all work out, knowing in your heart that result is unlikely.

Friday, September 30, 2011

You Have Been Nominated as Personal Representative! Lucky you?

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

You may be nominated by a family member or friend to handle their affairs when they die.  It is certainly a compliment and an honor, but also a huge job.  You may want to think twice before you accept, or consider hiring professionalsl to assist you.

There is a long list of steps that need to be taken and the time period to complete the process is easily a year or more.

Some steps are easy, such as changing the locks on the house and making sure the mail is redirected to your address.

Many steps can be more difficult, such as preparing a proper accounting, investing the assets appropriately during the period of administration so you don't lose money, settling family disputes and arranging for care for a dependent family member.  It is often difficult to get through this process and have family relationships remain on a good footing.

An important first step for the person signing a Last Will and Testament or Trust is to talk to the person they are appointing to handle their affairs to see if they are willing to take the job.  That too is a good time to bring up any special concerns that either person may have about the job and the process, which should help when the time comes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer's

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

Did you know September 21, 2011 was Alzheimer's Action Day?  Many companies have taken action by educating their employees and customers about the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's1 disease.  I want to share that information with you too so you can help others in your world.

1.  Memory loss that disrupts daily life.  One of the most common signs of Alzheimer's is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information.  Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aids [e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices] or family members for things they used to handle on their own.

     What's a typical age-related change?  Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

2.  Challenges in planning or solving problems.  Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers.  They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills.  They have have difficulty concentrating and taking much longer to do things than they did before.

     What's a typical age-related change?  Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.

3.  Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.  People with Alzheimer's often find it hard to complete daily tasks.  Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.

     What's a typical age-related change?  Occasionally needing help to use the setting on a microwave or to record a television show.

4.  Confusion with time or place.  People with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time.  They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately.  Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.

     What's a typical age-related change?  Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

5.  Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.  For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer's.  They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast.  In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room.  They may not realize they are the person in the mirror.

     What's a typical age-related change?  Vision changes related to cataracts.

6.  New problems with words in speaking or writing.  People with Alzheimer's may have trouble following or joining a conversation.  They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves.  They may struggle with vocabulary, having problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name [e.g., calling a "watch" a "hand-clock".]

     What's a typical age-related change?  Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

7.  Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.  A person with Alzheimer's disease may put things in unusual places.  They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again.  Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing.  This may occur more frequently over time.

     What's a typcical age-related change?  Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control.

8.  Decreased or poor judgment.  People with Alzheimer's may experience changes in judgment or decision-making.  For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers.  They may less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

     What's a typical age-related change?  Making a bad decision once in a while.

9.  Withdrawal from work or social activities.  A person with Alzheimer's may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports.  They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby.  They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.

     What's a typical age-related change?  Sometimes feeling wary of work, family and social obligations.

10.  Changes in mood and personality.  The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer's can change.  They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious.  They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.

     What's a typical age-related change?  Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.


1Source:  The Alzheimer's Association [alz.org]


Friday, September 23, 2011

Caregivers Reminder

By Anonymous and Susan Graham

When I spill some food on my nice clean dress or maybe forget to tie my shoe, please be patient and perhaps reminisce about the many hours I spent with you.  When I taught you how to eat with care, plus tying laces, dressing yourself and combing your hair.

Those were precious hours spent with you so when I forget what I was about to say, just give me a minute.  Or, maybe too it probably wasn't important anyway.  I would much rather you just listen if I tell a story once more even if you know the ending through and through.  Remember your first nursery rhymes when I rehearsed it a hundred times.

When my legs are tired and it's hard to stand or walk the steady pace that I would like to do, please take me carefully by my hand, and guide me now as I so often did for you.

I don't know who wrote this [I modified it some], but I love the sentiment to remind us of both the earlier and later steps in life's journey.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

13 Steps To Maintain Your Independence, Protect Your Assets and Protect Your Family

By:  Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney

Do you want to protect your independence, assets and your family?  There are many steps you can take to make it easier for you and your loved ones when the bad days happen:  death or becoming unable to handle your affairs due to illness.  I encourage you to consult with an attorney to discuss many of the following topics to see which will best fit your needs.

1.  Health Power of Attorney.  Signing this document permits the people you rely upon to talk with your doctor when you can't.

2.  Living Will.  If your death is near, you have 3 choices for your end-of-life medical care:  (a) use all the fancy machines to keep you going, (b) have nutrition and hydration with tubes, or (c) "let me go."  If you fail to sign a "Living Will," the legal and medical rules require that you be on "tubes" at a minimum.

3.  Last Will and Testament.  This document declares how you want your property distributed when you die, and if you have minor children, who will be the guardian.  After a death, the Will is filed with the Probate Court to start the administration of the decedent's estate.

4.  Revocable Trust.  This is an other way to arrange for the management of your assets should you be unable to do so due to illness or when you die.  This document usually allows you to avoid probate or going to court.

5.  Financial Power of Attorney.  This document identifies those people whom you selected to handle some of your finances if you are unable to do so because of illness.

6.  Funeral Arrangements.  Pre-planning your funeral is a gift to your family.  Making your arrangements will assure that you will have what you want and save your family from the worry and burden of such decisions at an impossible time.

7.  Pet Care.  You have the opportunity to write down who you want to be the caretaker for your pet when you are gone, recovering from an illness, or in a rest home.

8.  Beneficiary Designation.  Make certain that the beneficiary designation on all life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts, such as IRAs and a 401(k), match your current estate plan.

9.  Professional Advisors.  List those professionals who know about your affairs.  Include your attorney, accountant, insurance persons, doctors, dentist and others you rely on.

10.  Important Records.  Where do you keep your papers?  Who knows where to look?  Do they have a key, or can they get into your safe deposit box?

11.  Family Information.  Do you have a list of contact information for the family and friends who are important to you?  This information is helpful in an emergency.

12.  The Key to Your House.  Who has one?  Do they know whom to contact in an emergency?

13.  Driving Instructions.  If the time comes that it is no longer safe for you to drive, you can arrange ahead of time how to give up your car and provide for alternate transportation.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Steps to Take After the Death of a Loved One

By:  Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney

This checklist includes important steps to help manage the estate of someone who has died.

1.  Follow the specific funeral and burial instructions left by the decedent.  Contact your local funeral home or mortuary for assistance in making or following through with any prearranged funeral plan.

2.  Arrange for the care of any persons who were dependent on the decedent, such as minor or disabled children, an elderly spouse or the decedent's elderly relatives.

3.  Arrange for the care of any pets of the decedent.

4.  Secure the residence.  You may want to have some trusted friend stay at the house.  Change the locks.

5.  Arrange to receive several copies of the death certificate - ten is not too many in most cases.

6.  Keep track of your time.  Get receipts for all out-of-pocket expenses you pay related to the estate administration so you can be reimbursed.

7.  Notify the decedent's friends, family members and work associates of the death.

8.  Call the attorney who set up the estate plan to make an appointment and learn how to administer the decedent's estate.  The attorney can tell you who is legally responsible under a Last Will and Testament, Trust, or even if no documents were prepared.  Locate the original Last Will and Tesatment or Trust to take to the attorney if those documents exist.  It is important to talk with an attorney prior to making any decisions relating to the administration of the estate.  Sometimes the wrong decision, taken hastily, can be costly.

9.  Do not distribute any personal property items such as rings, guns, china and other household things until you speak to an attorney.  If you distribute such items and you did not have the legal authority to do so, you may be personally liable to others.

10.  Update your own estate plan to be certain you and your family are protected.  It is important that a surviving spouse make changes now that their spouse has died.  In most situations, it will be necessary to prepare a new financial power of attorney, new health power of attorney and new Last Will and Testament or Trust to reflect any changes to your plan.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The National Senior Citizens Law Center Issues an Updated "20 Common Nursing Home Problems"

Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney

The average consumer knows more about credit cards, cell phones or renting an apartment or movie than they do about nursing home regulations.  This great guide is available by going to the NSCLC website.  This guide spotlights some of the most common illegal practices and explains strategies that residents and family members can use to avoid or reverse illegal procedures.

For example, being "difficult" is not a sufficient basis to evict a resident from a nursing home.

To access this helpful guide, go to the NSCLC website and click on "Publications."  You can print one copy for free.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Are You Fed Up Yet? How About An Amendment to Make Congress More Accountable?

Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney

I received this suggestion from a friend today, and I thought it might resonate with some of you.

The 26th Amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months and 8 days to be ratified!  Why?  Simple!  The people demanded it.  That was in 1971...before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.

Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took one year or less to become the law of the land...all because of public pressure.

Here is a suggested amendment:

Title:  Congressional Reform Act of 2011.

1.  No Tenure/No Pension.  A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

2.  Congress (past, present and future) participates in Social Security.  All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately.  All future funds flow into the Social Security system and Congress participates with the American people.  It may not be used for any other purpose.

3.  Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

4.  Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.  Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5.  Congress loses their current health care system and participate in the same health care system as the American people.

6.  Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

7.  All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective January 1, 2012.

The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen.  Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.  Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

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