Help for approaching end of life issues with forethought and dignity.

4 Periods of Planning for a Nursing Home

We got another one of those calls the other day. It went something like this: “Mom has been in the nursing home for 3 years now and her money is gone. Is there anything we can do?” Our hearts sink when we hear this, because for this family, it’s too late for a lot of planning options.

How do you deal with a parent or spouse who can’t stay at home anymore? It’s one of the most stressful things a family can face. Few know what to do because they have never faced this issue before.

The key is the earlier we can plan, the more we can do, the more assets we can protect, and the easier we can make it on the family.

Generally, we see 4 different periods of planning. How much we can do declines as time passes.

1. Too late. When the money has all been spent on the nursing home over several years, it might be too late to protect assets. But we can help the family deal with all the mountains of paperwork and complete the Medicaid application. Oftentimes, our Medicaid team spends 40-50 hours completing a Medicaid application! How long would it take someone less experienced? We can help take the stress off of the family.

2. Not too late. “Mom’s Medicare coverage for nursing home care runs out in about 3 weeks. What do we do?” At this point, the family hasn’t spent any of mom’s money, but in 3 weeks they will start spending A LOT of her savings on the nursing home. (Around $6500 per month in Central Illinois.) We can still do a lot for this family. We call this a “crisis plan” and we move quickly to maximize Medicaid and VA benefits. Often we can still protect 50% or more of mom’s assets.

3. Protect your nest egg. What if mom is still living at home, but her health is going downhill? The family sees a point in the future when she will need care. So how do you plan ahead? One option is to create a special kind of trust, a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust, to protect the nest egg. The nest egg includes the assets she doesn’t plan to need or spend during her life. Maybe we protect the house or some savings or investments, while still leaving enough for her to continue to live well. Whatever assets were placed in the trust will be 100% protected once 5 years have passed.

4. Best option. The absolute best option is to buy long-term care insurance when you are still young and healthy. Often it’s too expensive or not available once you hit retirement age. Those who buy good long-term care insurance can rest easy, knowing the insurance company will help pay for their future care, instead of it coming out of their family’s inheritance. Read more about long-term care insurance here.

For more details on how nursing home crisis planning works, click here to read a case study. To learn more about Medicaid Planning, sign up for our free 3-part email series on the topic.

For immediate assistance, please call 217-726-9200 and speak with an Elder Care Advisor.

3 Ways to Pay for a Nursing Home

It’s difficult to face, but statistics show that 70% of people who reach the age of 70 will need some sort of long-term care (like a nursing home). The need for long-term care can arise because of stroke, dementia or any number of health problems. When that happens, you and your family will have to figure out a way to pay for it. There are really only three ways to pay for long-term care:

1. Use your own assets or income to pay for care. You could use your savings, your pension, your Social Security, your IRA, your investments or sell your house to pay for care. Even the wealthiest of people generally have trouble doing this for any length of time because the average cost of nursing care in Central Illinois is around $6500 per month! With the average nursing home stay lasting nearly 2.5 years, that’s $195,000!

2. Let the insurance company pay for it. If you buy long-term care insurance, or buy a life insurance policy with a long-term care rider, when the time comes your family won’t have to use their own savings. If you can purchase long-term care insurance early enough, this can be a good option for helping pay for care. However, there will come a point in life when purchasing LTC insurance just isn’t an option. Read “Should I buy long-term care insurance?” here.

3. Use benefits paid for by your taxes. Many people do not want to rely on government help as they age, yet 70% of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid to pay the exorbitant costs of care. Until something changes, this benefit will continue to play a vital role in making sure people get the care they need as they age. You’ve paid a lifetime of taxes. Why not use this benefit just like you use Medicare or Social Security? Another very important benefit in paying for long-term care is the Veteran’s Pension and Survivor’s Pension Programs (often called “Aid and Attendance”). This benefit is available to a wide range of Veterans who often do not even know about the program. (Only 28% of those eligible actually take advantage of the program.) It is a great help in providing in-home care or nursing care.

The key is to plan ahead as to which of these options you hope to use to pay for your care. The tragic family situations regarding long-term care happen when people don’t plan ahead and then are surprised or having an immediate crisis which results in a worst-case scenario of depleting their life savings. Our Elder Care Advisors are a great resource for families who are trying to figure out how to get and pay for good care. Give them a call at 217-726-9200 today!

aging alone

Aging and Alone: 7 Steps to Protect Yourself

In a previous post, we talked about a growing segment of people who are aging alone without the help of their adult children (either because they don’t have children or their children live very far away). These seniors face unique challenges in their 70’s and 80’s. To read about those four challenges, click here. With proper planning, guided by an experienced elder law attorney who has faced these issues many times before, you can achieve peace of mind and have a plan in place if you do not have close family nearby.

7 Steps Every Senior Should Take if Aging Alone

1. Make a plan while you are still sharp (physically and mentally).

A study by the National Institutes of Health found decreased cognition and decision-making impairment begin around the age of 60. Research has also shown that the ability to make sound investment decisions sharply declines at 70. Because of this, it’s important to plan ahead.

2. Make sure your plan is a comprehensive plan and not just a will.

An effective Life Care Plan should include documents like Powers of Attorney (for health and finances), advanced directives for end of life medical issues, etc. It should also address questions such as how will you pay for long-term care, how do you want care decisions to be made, and do you want to stay at home if at all possible?

3. Set up structures to protect yourself.

With the help of an experienced elder law attorney, you should anticipate future issues and how you want them handled. (For instance, if you don’t have kids, consider a professional helper such as an attorney, CPA or bank to handle your finances.)

4. Be open to changing your living arrangements.

If you’re willing to alter your living arrangements earlier on, then you’ll be able to make changes on your own terms, deciding what’s most important to you. If you wait until crisis strikes, others may have to dictate where you go, or your medical issues may dictate where you have to live.

If you start to become isolated in your house, having difficulty taking medicine or eating properly, there needs to be a fail-safe in place so that you don’t suffer and linger too long in the house on your own.

5. Create a plan with ongoing maintenance.

In the last few decades of life things can change rapidly. That’s why a plan with ongoing maintenance is especially helpful. Crafting a flexible plan, through an attorney you trust, insures that adjustments can be made as circumstances change.

6. Gather a list of contacts who can help you.

Identify what tasks you need help with (cooking, cleaning, yard work, etc.) and then match the tasks with people (friends, neighbors, nieces, nephews, church members) who might be able to help you with those specific jobs.

7. Find local resources to help.

There are several good resources that can help seniors, or their distant children, get the help they need.

Aging is not something any of us wants to think about, but by thinking and planning ahead, you can save yourself a lot of grief, stress, dignity and money.

If you are facing the prospect of aging alone and are concerned that you don’t have an adequate plan in place, don’t hesitate to give our Elder Care Advisors a call at 217-726-9200. We are always happy to help in anyway that we can!

4 Challenges of Aging Alone

There’s a growing segment of people who are aging without the help of their adult children (either because they don’t have children or because their children live far away). Read on to learn more about the challenges they face.

People are living longer than ever before in history. People are having less children. And those children often live out of town or in other states. Because of all these factors, 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 65 are at risk of becoming “elder orphans.”

Many don’t like this term. “I’ve lived just fine on my own nearly all my life!” However, it is a quick and clear way to describe a growing number of people who are getting older without the immediate support of close family. And it is a HUGE challenge – one our firm is seeing more and more often.

4 Challenges of Aging Alone

It used to be that a will was an adequate estate plan for most people, but a will only works after a person’s death. A will cannot help with the challenges that present themselves when a person is in their 70’s and 80’s. And if that person does not have children, or has children halfway across the country, then the challenges of the last two decades of life can make things even harder.

So what are 4 important things to consider if you find yourself in this situation?

1. Who’s gonna be in charge?

Of course, you would like the answer to be yourself, but what happens if you have a stroke, start to experience the signs of dementia or develop cancer? When the time comes (and it will come for the vast majority of people), who will pay your bills for you? Who will help get you to doctor visits or treatments? Who will help you get groceries or cook? Read about choosing good helpers here.

2. Who will even know if you need help?

Oftentimes, we don’t recognize the need for help in our own lives. More often than not, at our firm, it is the adult children who notice that their parents need help. It is nearly impossible to notice a slow decline in your own life without someone else’s perspective.

3. What if you get help from all the wrong places?

Sadly, there are more ways to scam seniors than ever before. Dishonest caregivers have always been able to steal money, change the will, etc. but now there are mail order scams, and tech scams on iPads or via email. It is really hard to know who to trust (read about 7 Types of Helpers to Watch Out For here), which brings us to the next challenge…

4. What if you reject good advice because you don’t know who to trust?

While it is really hard to know who to trust, there are still some really good, honest people out there who are passionate about helping seniors. We work with these types of advisors everyday. They are out there, but if you’re on your own, how will you know if you can trust them?

Aging is not something any of us wants to think about, but by thinking and planning ahead, you can save yourself a lot of grief, stress, dignity and money.

If you are facing the prospect of aging alone and are concerned that you don’t have an adequate plan in place, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 217-726-9200. We are always happy to help in anyway that we can!

Widows at Risk for Being Taken Advantage Of

It may be hard to believe, but when a husband (or wife) dies, there are plenty of people there to take advantage of the situation. A recent article in a national newspaper column highlighted this risk with a local Springfield woman.

Trustworthy helpers are vitally important to widows/widowers…

Recently, there was a very concerning article in the paper about people preying on a widow after her husband’s death. It would have been an eye-opening article regardless, but the writer of the letter to the paper’s columnist was writing from Springfield, Illinois, so it created quite a stir around here. Several people forwarded the article to us. Some wondered what they could do to avoid such a terrible situation. Some wondered how Edwards Group could help prevent such a thing.

 

SJ-R Widows article April 2015 web copy

In the letter, the writer from Springfield details how the funeral home, real estate agents, car dealerships, home repair companies, charities, and even the widow’s own pastor, tried to take advantage of her and pressure her to make unwise financial purchases, decisions or donations. The number of requests shocked this family friend, who had been asked by the late husband to watch out for his wife after he was gone. People were literally coming out of the woodwork… including 2 estranged children who hadn’t been in the picture for 13 years. (Much of this is because obituaries and wills are very public, and opportunists watch them carefully.)

So, what did the columnist recommend?

First, he told the writer how lucky the woman was to have a friend such as himself. Secondly, he recommended finding a professional “helper” (such as a trust company) in Springfield who could help pay bills and provide other assistance and guidance related to the house, medical care, or other things she might need. He also recommended a good Certified Public Accountant to help make sure that her finances are properly taken care of.

So, how could Edwards Group have helped Alice?

We thought this would be a great opportunity to show you what it would be like if Alice (the widow in the article) were a client of Edwards Group:

1) When Alice’s husband died, she would have had a plan in place and known who to call right away. The plan would clearly outline what would happen, and Edwards Group would have been with her every step of the way, possibly preventing a funeral home from taking advantage of her and the situation. (Click here for a checklist of what to do when a loved one dies.)

2) Alice and her husband would have already carefully chosen helpers for their plan, in case they were needed. They would have done this with the help and advice of our attorneys who are very experienced in making these sorts of important decisions and thinking through every detail.

3) When decisions came up or needed to be made, Alice would have someone (she already knows and trusts) to call for assistance. That might be one of the attorneys, or perhaps on or our Elder Care Advisors, who have walked with many clients through terminal illnesses and the loss of loved ones. (Often making house calls, when needed.)

4) Liis, our Trust/Estate Administrator, would be available to help with bill paying or other financial management issues that may come up.

5) If Alice had been a part of our Dynasty membership program, she would have an up to date asset list and we could help advise her on how new potential investments fit into her (and her late husband’s) planning goals.

6) We would help Alice know what questions to ask of other professionals in her life, such as her financial advisor, CPA or banker. We would help her coordinate between them and help her make wise choices after her husband’s death. We would also help watch out for those trying to take advantage of her.

7) And when it comes to Alice’s estranged children, who now want to be in the picture, we could serve as a buffer or mediator. Edwards Group has worked with estranged children and challenging family dynamics before, always trying to bring peace if possible, or if not, to protect the client from family pressures.

At Edwards Group, we take care of our clients as if they were our own family. (See testimonials from clients here.) Integrity is of great importance, and we take the trust that our clients place in us very seriously. If you, or someone you know, could use help with estate planning, long-term care planning, estate administration, probate, finding a good nursing home for your loved one, or even finding a good attorney in another field, we strive to be a trustworthy resource for the Springfield community and beyond. Call us at 217-726-9200, and we’d be happy to speak with you.

What To Do When a Loved One Dies at Home

Our clients often come to us as a resource for questions not related to estate planning, and we are more than happy to help when they do.

“What happens when a loved one dies in my home?”

Like we said, sometimes our clients call us with questions that aren’t directly related to estate planning. And we’re more than happy to be a resource for them in whatever way we can. So, a few weeks ago when a client called wanting to know what happens when a loved one dies in a private home, one of our attorneys spoke with the coroner’s office and looked into the actual laws involved.

A Time/CNN poll in 2000 showed that 7 out of 10 people would rather die at home. And while nowhere near that many get their wish, more and more people seem to be staying home with the help of in-home care or in-home hospice.

The Law

According to the law, if a loved one dies in a private residence, you should obtain the coroner’s approval before moving the body.

Illinois law requires alerting the coroner “promptly” after death, and prohibits the body (or personal property) from being moved from the place of death by anyone without the coroner’s permission – unless it’s necessary to protect the body, or to protect others’ life, safety or health.

Upon being granted permission, the law allows the body to be moved by a licensed funeral director, or its trained staff, as long as the licensed funeral director accompanies them to direct and instruct the movement.

Practical Steps

So, what does all this really mean? According to our conversation with the coroner’s office, here is what happens when a loved one dies in a private home:

If the deceased was under hospice care, you should take the following steps:

  • Call the hospice nurse.
  • The hospice nurse will then call the coroner, which has a 24-hour phone line.
  • The coroner makes a determination on whether there is cause for an investigation.
  • If there is no investigation needed, or after an initial investigation, the hospice nurse will get approval for contacting the funeral home and moving the body.
  • Contact the funeral home to make arrangements.

If the deceased was NOT under hospice care, you should take the following steps:

  • Call 9-1-1 (although a non-emergency line would be okay as well).
  • Someone will come to the home in response to that call.
  • The coroner will be notified, make a determination on whether there is cause for investigation, and then give approval for contacting the funeral home and moving the body.
  • Contact the funeral home to make arrangements.

As always, if you have any questions at all, please feel free to call us at 217-726-9200. We will be more than happy to help you in any way possible. The death of a loved one is incredibly stressful, and we are here to help alleviate some of that stress. Feel free to check out this article, 7 Things Every Executor Needs to Know Before the Funeralor download our free checklist, What to Do When a Loved One Dies.

7 Types of “Helpers” You Need to Watch Out For

As you age, or as you complete your estate plan, you’ll need to name different kinds of “helpers” who will carry out your plan when the time comes. These helpers are officially known by different names depending on the job they’re given. They can be known as trustee, executor, power of attorney or guardian, but no matter what their legal name is, their job is to act for you when you can’t act for yourself. This can happen in cases of stroke or other debilitating illnesses as you age, or after a death. It’s very important you choose the right person.

Our founding attorney, David Edwards, has been in the estate planning field for almost two decades now. When you’re that experienced, you start to notice trends. Here are some kinds of helpers David has seen over the years – helpers you may want to avoid if you have any of these “types” in your family:

1. The Do-Nothing – Mom died 2 years ago, but her house is still sitting empty, crumbling. Tax bills and utilities eat up the estate, while the rest of the family waits. He says, “I’ll get to it soon.”

2. The Messy One – In grade school, this person couldn’t find her homework. As a teenager? Clothes piled a foot deep in her bedroom. As an adult? She’s often late to appointments (if she remembers them at all). And finances? Her checkbook has never been balanced, and she gets monthly overdraft notices. Now she’s been named a trustee…

3. The Fighter – His competitive spirit was great while playing sports in high school. But it has not worked out so well with his family or his marriage. Being right is more important than anything else. And now, as a trustee, he gets to decide what’s “right.” There’s no talking to him about it, because it’s his job, and it’s “none of your business how I do it.”

4. The Romantic – “I’m just not ready to sell grandpa’s car or fishing cabin yet.” This trustee lets her emotions get in the way of the job – which is to sell or distribute trust assets. And it’s not just the car and cabin – what about personal property? How do you sort out or (gasp!) even throw stuff away? “It’s just too hard. I can’t do it yet.”

5. The Bossy One – The parents named Junior and Sissy as co-trustees, wanting both of them to have a say and to work together. But big brother is used to being in charge and taking over. He won’t even talk to his sister about what is going on. “If you don’t like it, go get a lawyer… I don’t care if we spend the entire estate on legal fees!” Bossy brother pushes and threatens, leading the more reasonable sister to let him have his way. “It’s just not worth it to try to fight.”

6. The Stress Ball – She’s always running here and there, never any time to sit and talk about the estate. IF you get her on the phone she says, “Sorry. Can’t talk now. Can I call you back?” She means to do her job as trustee, but she can’t find time for the things in her own life, much less this added duty. The family isn’t sure what to do – take legal action or just wait a little longer.

7. The Broke One – His ends never seem to meet, and he’s always in financial crisis. Bill collectors call all the time. Now he’s named as a trustee and gets a checkbook showing a nice balance. It’s easy to rationalize – “I’ll just take some of my inheritance early, to get past this crisis.” But then he needs a little more and a little more. As time passes, the family wonders what has happened to their parents’ money.

So, what types of people make good helpers? Here are some things to consider in naming “helpers.”

We understand that this can be a very daunting task. As always, we are here to help you create an effective estate plan. You don’t have to do it alone. We’ll guide you along every step of the way. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 to get started, or attend a FREE workshop.

Call 217-726-9200 to RSVP for an upcoming workshop today or to schedule an Initial Meeting.

life care planning

What You Need to Know About Caregiving By 50, 60, 70

One of the best things about Edwards Group is the fact that so many of our clients become like family, so there is a lot of give and take. They learn things through our email newsletters, along with our extensive website and free workshops, but did you know that our clients are often teaching us things as well?

They send us articles and things they find helpful all the time… and we really appreciate it. A client found this link the other day and forwarded it on to firm founder, David Edwards. You can read the full article here, but we wanted to share some highlights.

What to Know About Caregiving By 50

Have the difficult conversation. How do your parents want to live as they age? (Read an article about “the conversation” with your parents, here.) A few key considerations are:

  1. What financial benefits do they have or qualify for? Do they qualify for VA benefits? Will they need the help of Medicaid to get the care they need later on?
  2. Make sure they have a living will in place and have expressed their wishes about end-of-life scenarios.
  3. Understand that Medicare does not often pay for long-term care, but that 70% of people who reach the age of 70 will need some sort of long-term care, so the issue of paying for long-term care can’t be ignored.
  4. Investigate long-term care insurance options.
  5. Identify community services that can help ease the aging process; identify possible housing alternatives.

What to Know About Caregiving By 60

Consider new ways of living. Plan ahead for how you want to live out life as you get older. Think about if you want to age in place or downsize.

What to Know About Caregiving By 70

Have another difficult conversation. This time with your own children.

  1. What would a “good” death look like for you?
  2. Where do you want to die?
  3. How do you feel about ventilators and feeding tubes?

Read more about starting the conversation in an article we wrote, here.

Again, if you’d like to read the whole article, What to Know About Caregiving by 50, 60, 70, just click here. If you’d like more information about the challenges of aging, the costs of aging and what can be done about it, check out the following blog posts:

Where Are You on the Planning Continuum?

The 5 Stages of Life Care Planning — Which Stage Are You or Your Loved One In?

Helping People Age Well: Elder Care Advisors

3 Ways to Pay for a Nursing Home

6 Things To Do BEFORE Your Parents Go To a Nursing Home

Taking care of these 6 things will save you time, money and heartache.

The decision to go into long-term care is rarely an easy one, but there are several things you can do to make sure the transition is a little easier:

1. See if your parent or loved one qualifies for additional financial benefits to help pay for their care. You may be surprised that, with good legal planning, your parents may qualify for benefits to help pay for care. Those benefits will help with the mounting costs of a nursing home, which now average over $200 a day. Every family should get a review by an experienced elder law attorney before giving up on the prospect of additional benefits. Many families miss out on benefits for which they could qualify, because they wrongly assume “nothing can be done now.”

2. Discuss end-of-life options. This is never an easy conversation, but it is vitally important! Just this week I heard of a situation where the elderly mother had to be placed on a ventilator because she had not prepared end of life documents. 7 of her 8 children agreed to take her off (because of a conversation she had had with one of the adult children), but the eighth adult child certainly made it more difficult for her mother and her siblings by refusing. Click here for practical ways to start this conversation and the types of thing you need to find out from the discussion.

3. Choose a facility that offers options for the future. Nobody likes to move, but think about how that must feel when you’re 85? By choosing a facility that offers a range of care, you may minimize having to move your parents as their health declines. Because we help people with these issues all the time, we know quite a bit about local facilities and enjoy being a resource for our clients as they are making these difficult decisions. Give us a call if you have questions about local facilities.

4. Know who can make important decisions. Once your parents move into a facility, it is best if they legally designate “helpers” to make decisions if the time comes that they can’t. A power of attorney is an important legal document that authorizes someone to represent or act on your behalf. They will need two different power of attorney documents: one for medical decisions (like in #2 above) and another for financial decisions.

5. Don’t take valuables into the facility. Your mom might really take comfort in having things like her jewelry with her, but if that jewelry is very sentimental or valuable, you should never let it go to the nursing home with her. It is far too easy for valuable things to disappear in long-term care environments.

6. Talk to your parents about important things like family history before it’s too late. While it is really important to take care of financial and legal responsibilities as your parents age, there are some things that will be lost forever once your parent is gone. Now is a good time to talk to them about things you’ve always wanted to know, but never asked – family recipes and the stories behind those recipes, or stories of your family’s immigration to this country and where those ancestors are buried. While these things may not have financial value, most people agree that things like this are irreplaceable. Check out our infographic on 10 Non-financial Planning Issues here.

As always, we hope that you’ve found this list to be a valuable resource. At Edwards Group we truly desire to help make this stressful time a little less stressful. That’s why we created Elder Care AdvisorsElder Care Advisors help seniors and their families make the best legal, financial, and care decisions. They are uniquely qualified to answer many of the difficult questions that arise as your loved ones age. If you have any questions or concerns, give us a call today at 217-726-9200 and we’d be happy to help.

reverse mortgage

Are Reverse Mortgages EVER Okay?

Reverse mortgages should only be used as a last resort.

You know the old saying, “If it seems to good to be true, then it probably is.” Well, it seems that saying could easily apply to the reverse mortgage industry. Because of that, if you are considering one, you need to proceed with extreme caution.

Being able to borrow against the value of your home can seem like a really good idea at the time, but when it comes time to repay the loan (because that’s what this is after all), it can create real problems for your heirs or even yourself if you end up having to move out of your house unexpectedly.

As chronicled in this article from the New York Times, many lending companies are not behaving on the up and up when it comes to repayment of reverse mortgages. These shady practices create a lot of extra stress (emotional, financial and otherwise) on those left behind. After reading the full article, one has to wonder, “Is a reverse mortgage EVER a good idea?”

They can be. According to the website, eldercarelinkreverse mortgages can be a good idea when:

  • you own your home free and clear or have a low mortgage balance.
  • if you’re over 70.
  • if you need extra money for medical costs or other bills.
  • if you want to use the proceeds to downsize to a smaller home.

But sometimes, reverse mortgages can be a bad idea. This is especially true if:

  • your home lost a lot of equity in the housing downturn.
  • you aren’t that old.
  • the mortgage lender pressures you and also asks you to buy annuities or expensive financial services.
  • you plan to move in a few years.
  • you want to leave the home as an inheritance.

Bottom line from Dave: In most cases reverse mortgages should only be used as a last resort! The costs of these loans make them a very expensive way to get funds. A home equity line of credit should be considered before a reverse mortgage. And you should definitely get advice from an experienced elder law attorney before doing so. It’s possible that other benefits such as VA or Medicaid could be a better option for care than a reverse mortgage. Give us a call at 217-726-9200 if you have questions about this topic.