Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Caring for Mom when you are far away

My mother in law fell recently. A fall can be a devastating event for an older adult. One out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. Each year, 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
A widow, my mother in law (who I will refer to as “gramma”), lives thousands of miles away from my wife, her only child. While we talk on the phone daily, the distance is a big barrier to our ability to provide her with the broad range of supports she needs as she ages.   
The fall happened on a Saturday at a restaurant where she was dining with friends. No one saw the fall but it was clear that she had hit her head and injured her knee and foot. Two of her friends took gramma to the emergency room where it was determined that she was badly bruised but there were no broken bones.
Things could have been much worse. There was no broken hip, which can be a real killer. According to a Kaiser Permanente study women ages 65–69 who break a hip are five times more likely to die within a year than other women of the same age. For women ages 70–79, a hip fracture doubles the risk of dying within a year. Each year at least 250,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures and more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling.
But, while gramma was lucky, she was also confused and in pain and in need of a lot immediate care support. And my wife and I were thousands of miles away. How could we get her the immediate help that she needed?
Fortunately, the help was available. My wife and I had previously hired a professional care manager, Bonnie, in the town where gramma lives. As soon as we got the call from the emergency room we contacted Bonnie and filled her in. She swung into action at once. She visited gramma and evaluated her condition. She implemented a system of caregivers to stay with gramma. She set up a Monday morning appointment with gramma’s physician, attended it with her, and reported back to the family.
Bonnie served as the family’s eyes and ears and local expert and was able to ensure that gramma got the care and support she needed when she needed it.  
Our care manager could “hit the ground running” because she was already in place when the crisis arose. She already knew gramma and understood her situation, and gramma already knew and trusted Bonnie. Our care manager was a godsend to our family in this emergency situation. Thank you, Bonnie.
Hiring a local care manager is one of the steps my wife and I have taken to help us care for gramma from a distance. Our idea has been to have a support structure already in place before some Saturday when we suddenly find we need it. That planning paid off when gramma fell.
I thought it might be helpful to readers of this blog if I listed some of the other advance planning steps we have implemented with gramma’s consent.
Create a Contact List. We put together a contact list of gramma’s medical providers, insurance and financial advisors, accountant, friends, neighbors, and church people who we could reach in the event of an emergency. One trusted neighbor has a key to gramma’s residence.
Collect Medical Information. In addition to our list of gramma’s medical providers we established online access to them and to her medical records. We separately collected and documented information on her medical conditions and treatments, including a listing of her medications and dosages.
Set up regular home delivery of prescriptions. This will allow for continuation in the event that gramma is unable to go to the drug store to fill a prescription. It is also cheaper.   
Collect Financial Information. We made copies of gramma’s most recent financial statements, including bank and credit card statements, retirement account statements, and recurring bills. We established online access to her banking and credit card accounts which allows us to monitor her payments and watch for any unusual or fraudulent activities. We collected the names, phone numbers and account numbers for her utilities, phone, and cable/internet suppliers. We put together a listing of gramma’s assets, income and expenses.
Set up Auto Payments. We set up automatic payments for gramma's recurring bills where possible. Such payments can usually be set up to be made from a care recipient's checking account or credit card.
Document Power of Attorney Authority at Financial Institutions. We established power of attorney with gramma’s financial institutions. Although we have a separate power of attorney document, we tried to use the “in house” forms created by the financial institutions to avoid later delays or issues. We ordered a separate book of checks that we can use to pay bills from gramma’s checking account if she becomes unable to do so.  
Collect Tax Information. We made copies of the most recent year’s federal, state, local and real estate tax returns. We gathered the information required to make future estimated and other tax payments if that becomes necessary.
Establish HIPAA privacy disclosure authority for health information. Gramma has authorized her medical providers and medical insurance to disclose her protected health information to designated family members. This can be accomplished on forms available from the providers.
Collect Insurance Information. We documented gramma’s insurance coverages and made copies of policy numbers and company contact information.
Set up a journal to track issues and events. I set up a journal where I document what is happening in gramma’s life. For example, I document medical information including health concerns and results of doctor’s appointments. I also include information about interactions with financial, legal, accounting and other professionals, vendors, and even friends where that information may become important later. I summarize calls and copy emails with gramma’s care manager.    
Arrange for a family member or caregiver to accompany gramma to her medical appointments. This needs to be someone who knows gramma and can help her relay information to gramma’s medical professionals. This caregiver can also serve as a second set of ears at doctor’s appointments and someone who can raise questions that need to be asked.  
Retain a local elder law attorney. Even though I am an elder law attorney I don’t practice law in the state where gramma resides. So I retained the services of a local elder law attorney to provide the legal planning services gramma needs. Now that this relationship is established we can call on this local lawyer to deal with any legal issues that arise in the future.  
I’ll admit that this all took time to set up. It wasn’t simple and it wasn’t easy. But, we didn’t try to do everything all at once. We were able to accomplish most of these tasks while we were visiting gramma.
I’m sure that the listing above misses some additional things that we should have addressed. Please feel free to comment with your experiences and suggestions. I’d love to hear them.
I do know that having this long-distance care support structure in place is reassuring to both gramma and my wife and I. It is becoming increasing useful as time goes by and gramma grows older and her abilities decline.  And, when gramma fell, having the local care manager in place made all of the effort worthwhile. That one step alone was invaluable.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Overview of Executor’s Duties in Pennsylvania

The Role of the Personal Representative in Administering an Estate
You've been named as a Personal Representative (commonly known as an Executor or Administrator) to administer the estate of someone who died.  What do you do and where do you start? This article is intended to give you a brief overview of your responsibilities.
Initially, you need to file a petition for the probate of the will (or the grant of letters of administration if there is no will) with the Register of Wills of the County where the decedent resided.  
Once the Orphan's Court of the County in which the decedent resided has officially appointed you as the Estate's Executor or Administrator, your authority to act as such is set forth in a document called "Letters Testamentary" (for estates with a Will) or "Letters of Administration" (for estates without a Will). Your work as the estate's Executor or Administrator has now officially begun.
Some of your responsibilities will include:
1.         Collect all property owned by the decedent at the time of death.
2.         Contract the services of an appraiser(s) to perform the required appraisals for real and personal property.
3.         Pay all valid claims from creditors in accordance with the terms of the applicable Will or intestate laws.
4.         File the inheritance tax return and all required income tax returns within the time frame the law dictates and pay the taxes thereon.
5.         Distribute the net assets to the beneficiaries according to the terms of an accounting or Family Settlement Agreement.
The following are some questions that we are frequently asked:
1.         Am I required to accept the appointment as an Executor?
Keep in mind that just because you have been appointed as an Executor does not mean you have to accept.  You may renounce your appointment and the alternate Executor appointed in the decedent's Will becomes the Executor.  If there is no Will, an Administrator will be appointed.
2.         As an executor or an administrator am I personally liable for the debts of the decedent?
As long as the executor or administrator properly administers the estate according to the law, he or she will not be held personally liable for any debts owed by the decedent.
3.         Am I entitled to compensation for acting as an Executor/Administrator?
Yes, you are entitled to reasonable compensation.  The amount of the compensation is determined by the amount of work you performed as an Executor/Administrator.  Keep in mind that whatever compensation you receive from the Estate will be subject to income tax because it is income you earned.  The amount of your fee is subject to review by the Court.
4.         How long will it take for the Estate to be completed?
Although there is no definite answer to this question, the average estate administration takes approximately one year.  Some estates may be concluded is less time and some estates may take longer.  In most cases, the size of the estate and the type of assets in the estate dictate the time frame. Inheritance taxes are due 9 months after the date of death.
6.         Do I need the assistance of an attorney to administer this Estate?
There is no legal requirement that you must contract the services of an attorney to help you administer an Estate.  However, it is good common sense. Few people have the legal knowledge or experience to properly administer an estate.  Even experienced Executors usually hire an attorney.  As an Executor/Administrator you may be held personally responsible if you fail to properly handle the estate or pay taxes. It is generally in your best interest and the best interest of the beneficiaries of the Estate to hire an experienced lawyer to help you through the process.
Related Reading
This article was developed to give you an overview of your responsibilities as an Executor/Administrator in Pennsylvania, and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice.  The duties of an Executor/Administrator are not limited to the responsibilities set forth in this article.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A New Year’s Resolution – Plan for Getting Older

As the New Year begins, many people resolve to do some things they know they should do, but have put off. In various years past I have vowed to lose weight, get organized, save more, spend more time with my family, eat healthier foods, and get more exercise. In truth, these are pretty much continuing resolutions that I have to revisit every year.
A recent study from the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology shows that 45% of people make New Year’s resolutions. The most frequent resolution is to lose weight. (See the list of top ten resolutions below.) Unfortunately, only 8% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions. Still, it seems worthwhile to make them. If you have made any resolutions for 2016, I wish you success.  
This year, if you are over 60 like me, I suggest you make a resolution to protect yourself and your family by creating a plan for getting older.
According to data compiled by the Social Security Administration:
    A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.
    A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.6.
And those are just averages. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95.
You need to put a legal plan together for the problems that can arise from an extended life span. You need to plan to be old and for the reality that your aging is likely to eventually include some level of disability. A majority of people who are over age 85 have some form of disability.
At age 65 the chances we will need some care support during our remaining lives is 70%. 40% of us will need support for over 2 years, and 20% will need care assistance for 5 years or more. The financial costs and personal burdens placed on care-giving families can be substantial. But, you can create a strategy now to protect yourself and your family from these potential costs and burdens.
Part of your strategy should be to have the proper legal documents in place now, before a crisis arises and they are needed. Your power of attorney, health directives, trust and other documents need to be specifically designed to implement a good plan for your aging. These planning tools should not be standard “off the shelf” documents. They need to be tailored to your unique personal goals and family situation. One size does not fit all.
Yes, it's complicated. To put together a good strategic plan for getting older you are going to need the help of experts in financial and estate planning and elder law. The good news is, the help you need is available - and this New Year's resolution should be much easier to keep than one that involves losing weight.  
Key Documents in Planning for Aging
Here are some of the documents that may be essential components of your planning strategy.
Financial Power of Attorney - This critical document allows a trusted agent of your choosing to step in to pay your bills and manage your financial affairs in the event you can no longer do so. You need to make sure you choose the right person. Don't neglect to name a backup in case your first choice can't serve. 
You may want to notify your financial advisors and institutions of your choice in advance. If a financial institution has its own “in-house” power of attorney form, you may want to complete it as a supplement to your primary document. And make sure your chosen agent knows how to get access to the financial information he or she will need when they have to step in.  
A financial power of attorney is a very sophisticated and complicated document. This is not something to take lightly or buy online. You need to make certain that your agent has the powers required to protect you and your family and that those powers are consistent with your personal situation and goals. 
Seek expert guidance to create a document that has the provisions you need.
Health Care Directives - These documents allow you to give directions regarding the kinds of care you want to receive in the event you become incapacitated. And you can designate the persons you want to be making health and personal care decisions for you. The key planning document in this regard is the Health Care Power of Attorney.
Will - this is a document that says who gets what when you die. It also names someone to be in charge of finalizing your affairs. But, many people don’t realize that they have created other documents that can trump the provisions of their Will. These include trusts, beneficiary designations, and joint ownership. If you become incapacitated you may not be able to change the terms of your Will. So, you may want to have your Will and beneficiary designations reviewed and updated as needed as you have your aging plan prepared.
Trust – this is a document that can be used to provide for management of some of the investments and other things that you own. Trusts can be very useful tools in planning for aging. Special forms of trust can allow you to set aside a home or savings to be protected in the event you or your spouse encounter serious health and long term care costs later in your life.  
Quality Advice: As Important as Your Documents
The above documents are important components of your aging plan. But a good plan requires more than having the right documents. You also need to put a well thought out strategy in place.
People often don't appreciate the complexity of planning for aging and long term care. It is imperative that you get the highest quality advice in putting together your plan. Be sure to talk with a lawyer who is a recognized expert in elder law and estate planning. If you live in Pennsylvania, you can call my law firm, Marshall, Parker and Weber and set up an initial meeting.
The bottom line is that the likelihood that your goals will be achieved both during your life and after your death depends largely on how good your plan is, and whether you keep it up to date. The quality of the advice you get in putting together your plan and creating and updating your documents is critical to protecting you and your family. Don’t be penny wise and dollar foolish when your security and your family’s future are at stake.   
Further Information:
Here are the top ten New Year’s Resolutions people made in 2015:
      1.    Lose Weight
      2.    Get Organized
      3.    Spend Less, Save More
     4.    Enjoy Life to the Fullest
     5.    Stay Fit and Healthy
     6.    Learn Something Exciting
     7.    Quit Smoking
     8.    Help Others Achieve their Dreams
     9.    Fall in Love
   10. Spend More Time with Family
New Years Resolution Statistics, (Source: University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology.)
Want to know your life expectancy? Social Security has a simple Calculator that gives a rough estimate of how long you (or your spouse) may live. http://tinyurl.com/ho5uahu.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Who Inherits Your “Stuff” if You Don’t Have a Will?

[The following article was written by my colleague, Attorney Liz White of Marshall, Parker and Associates. It is republished here with her permission.]
Often I get the question, “Who will get my stuff if I don’t have a will?” I then undoubtedly frustrate the person with my answer, which is “It depends.”
The disposition of your assets may be controlled by a beneficiary designation or contract or other ownership arrangement. Otherwise, in Pennsylvania if you do not have a Will, the things you own will pass by intestate succession; a law that dictates the order and amount that your beneficiaries will inherit from your estate.
In simpler terms, the law says who gets your “stuff” if you die without a valid will. More specifically, however, who inherits your estate under intestate succession depends on who your living relatives are at the time of your passing.
Below are some of the more common scenarios of how your assets are distributed if you do not have a will at passing.
Married, No Living Parent(s), and No Issue
If you are married, have no surviving parents, and no surviving issue (i.e., children, grandchildren, and so forth down the line) your entire estate will pass to your spouse.
Married, Living Parent(s), and No Issue
If you are married with no issue, but a surviving parent or parents, generally your spouse will get $30,000.00 plus one-half of the balance of your estate. Your parent or parents receive the other one-half of the balance of your estate.
Married with Issue only of Spouse
If you are married and have issue, all of whom are also the issue of your surviving spouse, your estate will pass $30,000.00 plus one-half of the balance to your spouse and the other one-half of the balance to your issue.
Married with Issue that are not all Issue of your Spouse
With today’s modern family there are oftentimes children from prior marriages. In these situations, if you have any issue that are not issue of both you and your spouse, your spouse receives one-half of the estate, and the remainder one-half of your estate is paid to any issue you have, whether issue of your spouse or issue from a previous relationship.
Not married with Issue
If you are not married at the time of your passing, but have issue, your estate will pay to your issue.
Not Married, No Issue, Parent(s) Living
If you are not married and do not have issue, but your parents are living, your estate will pay to your parent or parents that are living at the time of your passing.
Not Married, No Issue, No Parent(s) Living
If you do not have a spouse, issue, or parents at your passing, your estate will pay to your brothers or sisters, or their issue (i.e., nieces and nephews, and so forth down the line).
The intestate statute continues to outline various scenarios of living relatives, and leaves your assets to those relatives in a particular order, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, aunt’s and uncle’s children and grandchildren. Finally, if none of these relatives are living, your estate will pay to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Generally, to determine the amount that issue, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, aunt’s and uncle’s children and grandchildren will receive, the part of the estate that will pass to the group is divided in as many equal shares as there are persons in the nearest degree of consanguinity to you living, and to persons in the same degree that have died before you but have left issue that survive you.
It is important to point out that intestate law and a will only control certain assets. Assets that have named living beneficiaries or that are held jointly with right of survivorship will likely pass outside of your will.
As you can see, the intestate law is very complicated and confusing.
You, like many people, may be putting off signing a will. If you don’t have a will, this could be for a variety of reasons. You may be busy and telling yourself that there will be time later to get a will executed. Or, you might be under the impression that all of your assets will automatically pass to the person or persons you want with or without a will. Commonly, you, like most people, may not want to think or talk about dying. Whatever your reason is, it is important to understand the benefits of a will and what happens to your stuff without a will. Although making the decision to execute a will can be difficult, it takes away the “It depends” and ensures that the people that you choose inherit your estate at the time of your passing.

Further Reading