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Gainesville Florida Estate Planning & Elder Law Blog

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Appointing of Healthcare Surrogates

It is safe to assume that an individual is capable of making their own medical decisions, until they are determined unfit to do so. If a person is incapable to make their own decisions or speak for themselves on the matter of personal healthcare, their attending physician will give an opinion that the patient lacks the capacity to give informed consent. Before becoming incapacitated, a person can sign a document that names someone as their surrogate, or proxy, to make his or her medical decisions. This form is signed by the patient with two adult witnesses present, one of whom must not be a spouse or blood relative, and can designate both a proxy and an alternate in the case that the original is unwilling or unable to perform their duties.

A healthcare surrogate has the jurisdiction to make any and all medical decisions for the patient during their time of mental incapacity. One may also appoint a separate surrogate to consent to mental health treatment in the event that he or she is determined by a court to be mentally incompetent.

The surrogate is charged with making any and all healthcare decisions in congruence with the prior instructions given by the patient for whom they are serving. These decisions include consenting, refusing to consent or withdrawing consent to any and all medical treatment, as well as life-prolonging procedures. If there is no expression of what the patient would have chosen, the surrogate must consider their best interest in deciding what treatments are to be administered or withheld. The proxy's duties also include applying for private, government, or veterans' benefits to help bear the costs of healthcare. The surrogate also has the right to access all of the patient’s medical records to assist them in making decisions involving medical care and to apply for benefits.

With the commencement of the surrogate’s authority, the patient's spouse or adult children must be made aware that such an appointment has been made and that the proxy now has the authority to make the decisions. The proxy's authority to make healthcare decisions remains effective until there is a determination that the person who was labeled as incapacitated regains their ability to make medical decisions.

If the surrogate is unable or unwilling to make medical decisions in accordance to the patient’s expressed wishes and no alternate is named, the healthcare facility caring for the patient may seek the appointment of a healthcare proxy. 


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Regional Forums to Provide Input and Ideas for 2015 White House Conference on Aging

Starting with a session in Tampa on Feb. 19, the White House is holding a series of regional forums to engage older Americans, their families, advocates, experts and leaders in the community on the imperative issues affecting the elderly.  These forums are designed to help provide ideas and input for the upcoming 2015 White House Conference of Aging.

These regional forums will be taking place all over the United States. Following the Tampa forum others are scheduled in Phoenix on March 31, Seattle on April 9, Cleveland on April 27 and Boston on May 28.

Each of these will give the White House the chance to hear directly from the general public on the issues of retirement, healthy aging, providing long term services and the protection of the elderly from financial abuse, exploitation or neglect. The White House will also be reaching out to older Americans, along with their caregivers and families where they live for further input.

The AARP has co-sponsored each of the regional forums and are currently coordinating their efforts with the Leadership Council of Aging Organization. While participation is by invitation only, you can watch all of the events over a live webcast by going to www.whitehouseconferenceonaging.gov.

 


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Look-Back Penalty Period for Benefits Proposed by V.A.

Candidates (or candidates and their partners) are not eligible for V.A. Aid and Attendance benefits if they have a net worth exceeding $80,000. Currently, there is no look-back period for asset relocation, like there is for Medicaid benefits, which have a five-year look-back period.

Previously, it has seemed that a V.A. look-back period might have been looming, but after the Senate failed to pass SB 1982, which would establish a three-year look-back period, it did not seem that this would come anytime soon. However, on January 23rd, the Federal Register included a proposal by the V.A. to establish, among other regulations, a three-year look-back period for transfers and corresponding penalty periods during which V.A. pensions would be unavailable, despite whether or not the veteran qualified in all other aspects.

Follow link to read more on this:  https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/01/23/2015-00297/net-worth-asset-transfers-and-income-exclusions-for-needs-based-benefits


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Preparing for End-of-Life Decisions

In the latest issue of the Caregiver Chronicle there is another great article, this one by  Dr. Joel Rich, one of the physicians at the Senior Health Center at Crown Pointe. Dr. Rich is often the last Doctor many of his patients will see. He works with patients and families to help make extremely challenging decisions about care, especially as they near end-of-life issues. In this article Dr. Rich explains how he attempts to eliminate the fear of the unknown, and lay out a plan for those he works with.

 Please follow the link to read the full article:

http://www.caregiverchronicle.com/2015/01/preparing-for-end-of-life-decisions/

 


Monday, January 19, 2015

New Year Hopes & Dreams

Tom Rinkoski, who runs the Savvy Caregiver program for Elder Options, wrote a great piece about what it truly means to be a caregiver. In it he focuses on personal hardships and how to balance this daunting task with everyday life in the new year.Tom is one of those people in the community who is dedicated to helping caregivers. The Savvy Caregiver program is a must for anyone who serves in that special role. Here’s the latest schedule for the six-week training program:

 

  1. Tuesdays; 1:30 – 3:30 pm, begins January 13, 2015 at Hospice of Nature Coast in Palatka, Florida.
  2. Tuesdays; 2:00 – 4:00 pm, begins February 3, 2014 at Top of The World in Ocala, Florida.
  3. Thursdays; 1:00 – 3:00 pm, begins February 5 at Alachua County Health Department in Gainesville, Florida.
  4. Tuesdays; 1:00 – 3:00 pm, begins February 24, 2015 at Life Style Enrichment Center, in Lake City, Florida

 Choose whichever series works for your schedule and call Tom at (352) 378-6649, ext. 126 to register. Or e-mail him at rinkoskit@agingresources.org.  More dates of upcoming Savvy Caregiver Trainings can be found at his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/SavvyCaregiverNorthCentralFlorida) or Web Page (www.agingresources.org).

 I am pleased to be able to share this Caregiver Chronicle article with you.

 Please follow the link for the full article:

http://www.caregiverchronicle.com/2015/01/new-year-hopes-dreams/


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Strategizing and Planning for the New Year

As we enter 2015 there is no better time to begin, or continue, the legal documentation of your wishes for your loves ones.

Many of you may not understand the importance of having an estate plan, and I want to make it clear. Think of your estate plan as a type of business plan for your life that will help you and your loved ones achieve peace of mind. There is absolutely no escape from taxes, and your estate plan is there to help you pan for that. If you are new to the journey of planning for the unforeseeable future, here are the basic documents that you may want to consider:

  • A Living Will states your wishes for your loved ones if you were to fall into an incurable state. This can cover everything from nutrition to the duration of life support. These decisions are extremely personal, so it is imperative that your family knows exactly what you would want to happen.
  • A Health Care Surrogate is someone who appoints a surrogate that you have personally chosen to make decisions on your health in the event you become incapacitated. This can be especially important if you have multiple loved ones who feel the need to act in your interest, thus it is critical that they know who you truly want making those decisions.
  • The Power of Attorney authorizes an agent to make your financial decisions for you if you are unable. This document is powerful and must be discussed at length with your attorney due to its ability to be easily abused.
  • A DNR (or Do No Resuscitate order) advises first responders that if you are found incapacitated you do not wished to be revived. This is a bright yellow form which should be posted visibly in your home and can be obtained from your physician.
  • A Last Will and Testament provides your loved ones with information as to what you wish to happen with you and your assets if you should pass on.
  • And finally, Beneficiary Designations may help dispose of any assets. There are the people you name as your primary beneficiary of your retirement plans, IRAs, life insurance, etc.

All of this may seem like a lot to take in, and may leave you wondering “why estate planning is even necessary?” This is more than just a simple group of documents that dispose of your assets at death; this is a road map that provides guidance and protection during life, along with death. Planning for the unknown allows you to choose the individuals whom you trust to make decisions about everything from your health to your finances if you become incapacitated or die. Without a well-documented plan you are leaving it to the legal system to make these personal decisions for you and your family.

It is true that none of us enjoys thinking about these types of situations, but the best time to plan is when you are healthy. Always remember that it is critical to periodically review, revise and update your estate plan, as certain events can impact it. The start of a new year is always a good time to do that. By getting your affairs in order now, you can save your loved ones, as well as yourself, from extra heartbreak and stress in a time of crisis. 


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Social Security Recipients to Receive 1.7 Percent Raise

Starting in January, Social Security recipients will receive a 1.7% cost-of-living adjustment, according to the Social Security Administration.  For the average recipient, this means an increase in monthly payments by approximately $22 from $1,306 to $1,328.

For people who rely heavily on Social Security, the raise is good news.  In general, benefit checks stay consistent with the cost of living.  As of now, inflation has been low, meaning that the cost of most goods and services has not gone up. 


Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Internet Impacts Your Financial Planning

Gone are the days when people kept important things in filing cabinets, banks, and photo albums. Now everything from communications, to photos, to music, to sensitive financial information is often kept online. A recent Pew Research Center study showed that 51 percent of U.S. adults bank online, and 63 percent of all American adults, and 27 percent of all Americans 65 and over, use social networking sites.

But while the Internet has made things easier in many ways, it can cause a lot of complications when someone dies or loses the ability to manage their own affairs. That’s why the Uniform Law Commission, a group of state-appointed attorneys, created the Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA) as a way to clear up some of the complications. 

Right now, accessing a loved one’s account could be a criminal act. So what becomes of a person’s digital life, such as their Facebook accounts, Flickr photos, and online banking information, when they die or become incapacitated?  Even if a will contains instructions, there is no guarantee the person’s wishes will be carried out. 

Often, only the account holder can legally access their online account. The terms of agreement on many sites prohibit sharing passwords and third-party access. In fact, it may be an actual criminal act to violate those terms of the service agreement.

The current limits on access make the problem of identity theft even worse. The year after somebody passes is one of the most vulnerable times for identity theft.  Because death is public record, the bad guys comb through recently deceased and create a fake identity, because the deceased don’t check email and they don’t get the mail. And the inability to access a loved one’s digital assets makes problems much harder to stop.

Currently, there’s no good answer. Florida is among the majority of states that have no laws in place to deal with these issues. A bill is being filed for consideration by the state legislature in 2015. This will give people the power to plan for the management and disposition of their digital assets the same way they can make plans for their tangible property: by providing instructions in a will, trust, or power of attorney. If a person fails to plan, the law contains provisions for distributing those assets.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

End-of-Year Charitable Giving

The IRS recently offered a series of tax tips for charitable giving as people give gifts at the end of the calendar year. Keep these in mind.

  1. Household or Clothing Gifts – These items must be in good used condition or better. A donor must have a contemporaneous written acknowledgement if the gift value of similar items is $250 or more. The receipt should include a description of the gifted items. If the similar items are over $500 in value, then an appraisal is permitted and there is no specific condition requirement.   
  2. Gifts of Money – All gifts of money require a bank record or contemporaneous written acknowledgement. The bank record may be a cancelled check or a credit union statement. The record should show the name of the charity, the date and amount. A credit card record should indicate the charity name, the date and the transaction posting date. A payroll deduction is permitted if the employee retains a pay stub, a Form W-2 or another document provided by the employer. All gifts of $250 or more require the contemporaneous written acknowledgement.  
  3. Timing – Gifts at the end of the year are deductible if deposited in the U.S. mail by Dec. 31 or delivered to the charity by that date. Credit card gifts are deductible as of the date of the charge, even if paid in the subsequent year.   
  4. Itemized Deductions – Most taxpayers will take the standard deduction and will not benefit from additional charitable deductions. Taxpayers who have a combination of mortgage interest, state and local taxes and charitable deductions may choose to itemize because the total is greater than their standard deduction.  
  5. Tax Records – For all gifts of similar items with value of $250 or more, there must be a contemporaneous written acknowledgement. Gifts of tangible personal property also require a “reasonably detailed” description.  
  6. Vehicles – Gifts of automobiles, boats or recreational vehicles are usually deductible at the price received by the charity in a public sale. The charity is required to provide Form 1098-C to the donor.   
  7. Noncash Gifts – Gifts of property over $500 require filing IRS Form 8283. Gifts of real estate and similar nonmarketable property valued over $5,000 require a qualified appraisal. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

National Family Caregiver Month

November is National Family Caregiver Month – and it’s important that we take time to appreciate the people who put their loved ones in front of themselves. 

Every year, more and more American family members are caring for a loved one with a chronic disability or condition that comes with old age.  Two out of every five adults are family caregivers; there are more than 90 million family caregivers in the U.S. today.

Often, family members give up everything to take care of their loved ones who need constant care.  Being a caregiver is no easy task; nearly half of family caregivers have to perform serious medical or nursing tasks that require complex work and time. 

We should always be grateful for those who sacrifice for loved ones. This month especially, take the time to thank a caregiver. 


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Speaking at the Law in the Library Series

I will have the opportunity again next week to participate in the Law and the Library series. I will be speaking with Shannon Miller on Elder Law: Protecting Yourself and Your Assets, on Monday, Nov.10, 6 p.m. at Headquarters Library, 401 E. University Avenue.

I will be focusing on the importance of a proper estate for the elderly to provide for an orderly transition of assets at death, the prevention of guardianship and to minimize possible exploitation. We will also include a brief overview of the Veterans Administration’s Enhanced Pension (Aid and Attendance), Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBA) and Medicaid Eligibility.

As always, this presentation is free and open to the public. Registration is not required. I look forward to seeing many of you there.


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