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Legally Protect Your Aging Loved Ones

By  Terry Abrams Berger, Esq.
Abrams Berger, P.A.

 

Without proper legal planning, caring for aging loved ones is often emotionally and financially distressing for everyone involved. Families struggle at the last minute to find information, guidance and assistance to handle the complex health care, financial and legal needs.

By planning ahead and obtaining the right legal documents, families can help their aging relatives gain security, take advantage of public benefits, and preserve their assets.

First, estate plans are key. They can help families avoid probate, which occurs when an individual owns assets in his or her name alone, and the court determines distribution. If not handled properly, probate can be time-consuming and costly while providing no privacy for the family.

Estate plans include wills or trusts, durable powers of attorney, health-care surrogate designations, and living wills. These documents enable individuals to manage their assets during their lifetime and upon incapacity, as well as after their death. Planning can help minimize or avoid estate taxes and ensure the senior – not the state – retains control of his or her assets.

If nothing else is done, individuals should obtain advance directives. These documents help ensure their wishes are carried out (financially and medically) in the event of their incapacity.

Advance directives include:

  • Living Will: Documents an individual’s wishes concerning prolonging life through artificial means when there is no other hope of recovery
  • Health-Care Surrogate: Grants an individual’s designee the power to access medical information otherwise prohibited by HIPAA
  • Durable Power of Attorney: Gives an individual the power to direct the giving of gifts, apply for Medicaid, pay expenses, access retirement benefits and sell real estate.

Without these documents, a guardianship will likely be required. In addition to being costly, guardianships enable the judges – not the family members – to make critical decisions. In addition, guardianship courts hesitate to “gift away” a Ward’s assets for medical planning.

Families should work with trusted legal experts with experience handling elder law issues. Obtaining the right legal documents can eliminate the stress of caring for aging loved ones and give families a priceless asset: peace of mind.

Additional Public Sources for Information:
AARP: www.aarp.org
Elder Care Locator: www.eldercare.gov
Elder Law Answers: www.elderlawanswers.com

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