Virginia Passes New Law to Thwart Elder Abuse

“Elder abuse is a growing epidemic in our Commonwealth, yet these cases are under-reported and remain very difficult to prosecute for various reasons,” says Chuck Slemp III, commonwealth’s attorney for Wise County and the City of Norton.

The Southwest Times’ recent article, “Law boosts tools to fight elder abuse,” reports that Slemp requested the new legislation. This law goes into effect July 1 and will help protect adults age 60 and older and physically or mentally incapacitated adults age 18 and older. The legislation provides a framework for local departments of social service and commonwealth attorneys to create one or separate multidisciplinary teams to review cases at all stages of investigation and prosecution. The teams would be made up of professionals from diverse disciplines. The team goals would be as follows:

  • To help identify abused, neglected and exploited individuals;
  • To coordinate medical, social and legal services for these people and their families;
  • To develop programs to detect and prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation; and
  • To promote community awareness of the problem, and educate them on ways to prevent it.

Slemp said that he was thrilled that the bill will become law to give the state additional tools in the effort to fight elder crimes and to establish a framework for a team-approach to review these situations. The Commonwealth’s attorney for Wise County and the City of Norton added that he was grateful to Senator Chafin and 4th District Delegate Todd Pillion (R-Abingdon), who introduced the House version of the legislation.

“Every day the elderly are taken advantage of financially and abused. It is our responsibility in the General Assembly to help protect the most vulnerable of our citizens. Commonwealth Attorneys and law enforcement need all of the tools available to effectively prosecute elder abuse and financial exploitation,” said Chafin. “Multidisciplinary response teams will aid in the prosecution of these crimes and will bring these criminals to justice.”

Pillion added, “With an aging population, particularly in rural areas, it’s critical we form the systems and processes needed to help safeguard people who may find themselves in abusive situations.” You may also seek help from a local attorney.

Slemp believes that the new bill will help localities to concentrate additional resources on the “epidemic” of elder abuse.

Reference: The Southwest Times (March 13, 2018) “Law boosts tools to fight elder abuse”

 

As a New Parent, Have You Updated (or Created) Your Estate Plan?

You just had a baby. Now you’re sleep-deprived, overwhelmed, and frazzled. Having a child dramatically changes one’s legacy plan and makes having a plan all the more necessary, says ThinkAdvisor’s recent article, “5 Legacy Planning Basics for New Parents.”

Take time to talk through two high-priority items. Create a staggered checklist—starting with today—and set attainable dates to complete the rest of the tasks. Here are five things to put on that list:

  1. Will. This gives the probate court your instructions on who will care for your children, if something happens to both you and your spouse. A will also should name a guardian to be responsible for the children. Parents also should think about how they want to share their personal belongings and financial assets. Without a will, the state decides what goes to whom. Lastly, a will must name an executor.
  2. Beneficiaries. Review your beneficiary designations when you who will care for your children because you don’t want your will and designations (on life insurance policies and investments) telling two different stories. If there’s an issue, the beneficiary designation overrides the will.
  3. Trust. Created by an experienced estate planning attorney, a trust has some excellent benefits, particularly if you have young children. Everything in a trust is shielded from probate court, including property. This avoids court fees and hassle. A trust also provides some flexibility and customization to your plan. You can instruct that your children get a sum of money at 18, 25 or 30, and you can say that the money is for school, among other conditions. The trustee will distribute funds, according to your instructions.
  4. Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. These are two separate documents, but they’re both used in the event of incapacitation. Their power of attorney and health care proxy designees can make important financial and medical decisions, when you’re incapable of doing so.
  5. Life Insurance. Most people don’t think about purchasing life insurance, until they have children. Therefore, if you haven’t thought about it, you’re not alone. If you are among the few who bought a policy pre-child, consider increasing the amount so your child is covered, if something should happen.

Reference: ThinkAdvisor (March 7, 2019) “5 Legacy Planning Basics for New Parents”

 

Health Care Decisions Require a Medical Power of Attorney

The patient above was asked if he had a living will or a health care directive. He wondered, why are they asking me this? It’s a simple knee replacement surgery. Do they think I am going to die? However, as discussed in the article “Take control of health care decisions in 2019 | Coming of Age…Again” from the Kirkland Reporter, all of these documents need to be in place anytime a medical procedure takes place, no matter how routine the patient may think it is.

Someone, whether a parent, spouse, friend or colleague, needs to be able to have the legal power to make decisions on your behalf, when you cannot. You need a health care directive or a durable Power of Attorney for health care, or both, or to have both of these documents combined into one (depending upon the state you live in; these laws vary by state). In Washington, the official term is health care directive. In other states, the term living will is used.

The health care directive is used to tell doctors and medical caregivers of your choices about medical interventions that you would or would not want to be used, in the unexpected event that you become seriously or critically injured, terminally ill or unable to communicate with those around you.

If you don’t have this document, the decisions will be made by select members of your family with health care professionals. If you don’t want certain things to happen, like being intubated or put on a feeding tube, and they feel strongly that they want to keep you alive, your wishes may not be followed.

A Power of Attorney and health care directives are created when working with an estate planning attorney to create an overall estate plan, which includes your will and any necessary trusts. These documents are too important to try to do on your own. There are major implications. What if they are not executed properly?

The person who is your health care agent has the authority to stop medical treatment on your behalf, or to refuse it. They can hire or fire any medical professional working on your care, and they can determine which medical facility should treat you. They can visit you, regardless of any visitation restrictions, and review your medical records. A durable Power of Attorney for health care gives this person the right to make decisions that are not necessarily covered in your health care directive.

Note that you can revoke your Power of Attorney document at any time, with a written notice to your agent.

These are complicated matters that deserve thoughtful consideration. The person you name will have tremendous responsibility — you are putting your life into their hands. Make sure the person you select is willing to take this responsibility on and have a secondary person in mind, just in case.

Reference: Kirkland Reporter (Feb. 20, 2019) “Take control of health care decisions in 2019 | Coming of Age…Again”

 

What Do Parents Need to Know About Writing a Will?

Who wants to think about their own mortality? No one. However, it’s a fact of life. If you die without a will, it can mean conflict among your survivors, as they attempt to see how best to divide up your assets.

Fatherly’s recent article, “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know” says that families can battle over big assets like cars to small assets like a collection of supposedly rare books. They can fight over anything and everything. Therefore, remember to prepare and sign a last will and testament to dispose of your property the way you want.

Dying without a will means your estate will be disposed of according to the intestacy laws. That could leave your loved ones in the lurch. For instance, in some states, your spouse may only get half your estate, with the remainder going to your parents.

Writing a will is essential, and you should not try to do it yourself. Instead, hire an experienced estate planning lawyer. Along with this, keep these items in mind.

Plan for Every Scenario. When doing your estate planning, consider the various scenarios and contingencies that can happen after you’re gone. A well prepared will includes when and where you want your assets to go. Be wise in how to distribute your assets, to whom they will be going and the timing.

Family Dynamics. You must be very specific when drafting up a will, especially if family circumstances are unique, such when there are children from previous marriages who aren’t legally adopted by a spouse. They could be disinherited. Work with an attorney to make sure they receive what you intend with specific details. If you and your partner aren’t legally married, your significant other could find himself or herself disinherited from your assets after you’re dead.

Designating Your Children’s Guardian. If you don’t name a guardian for your children (in cases of either single parenthood or where both parents pass away), the state will determine who gets your children.

Specificity. Your will is a chance to say who gets what. If you want your brother to get the baseball card collection, you should write it down in your will or it’s not enforceable. In some states, you can attach a written list of these personal items to your will.

Health Care. Begin planning your will when you’re healthy so that, in the event of disaster, you will have a financial power of attorney and a health care agent in place. If you become too ill to make decisions yourself, you’ll need to appoint someone to make those decisions for you.

Rules for Minors. Minors can own property, but they’ll have no control over it until they turn 18. If parents leave their home to their minor child, the surviving spouse will have issues if they want to sell it. Likewise, if a child is named the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, IRA, or 401(k), those assets will go into a protected account.

Don’t Do It Yourself. This cannot be emphasized enough. It’s tempting to create a will from a generic form online. But this may be a recipe for disaster. If your will is drafted poorly, your family will suffer the consequences. Generic forms found online are just that—generic. Families are not generic. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with what can be a complex process.

Reference: Fatherly (February 6, 2019) “How to Write a Will: 8 Tips Every Parent Needs to Know”

 

Your Most Important Asset Is Not Your Bank Account

It’s hard to think about getting older. When something is challenging, the usual human response is to procrastinate. We can’t slow down the aging process, but we can prepare for it. One of the things that needs to be done to prepare for aging, is discussed in the article from The Mercury titled “REINVENTING RETIREMENT: Your most important asset—it’s not what you think.” Good health is definitely important, but there’s something else to consider: your independence.

We hate to think about becoming dependent upon others, but that is often what occurs with aging. This is an asset that needs to be planned for and managed, like any other. Here are some tips for each decade:

Health Care Directives in Your 50s. You need to have a will and you need to have it updated, as the years go by. However, in mid-life you need to make sure to have a living will and power of attorney. Estate planning is a tool used to protect your independence and your wishes as you grow older. These two documents are a critical part of your estate plan. A health crisis or an accident can happen to anyone, but planning can ensure that your wishes are followed. Put your wishes on paper, with an attorney, so that they are enforceable. Just telling someone what you want, is not going to do it.

Home and Belongings in Your 60s. The kids are out of college and have their own careers and families. Do you still need that big house? Downsizing could bring you tremendous freedom now. Yes, you have to go through all of your belongings which is a lot of work. However, consider how your life would change if you had less stuff, a smaller home and lower bills? This one move could change how your retirement succeeds—or fails.

Stay Connected in your 70s and 80s. Connecting with your community is critical at this time of life. When you are actively engaged with your community, you’ll be busy with activities that you enjoy. You will hopefully be making contributions that draw on your years of experience and knowledge. Hope and having a purpose in life is not just for the young. The healthiest and most independent lives, are lived when people are engaged with other people, with a life that has meaning and purpose.

Planning for your retirement is about much more than your bank account. Speak with an estate planning attorney to make sure that your estate plan protects your independence, conveys your wishes and plans the coming stages of your life to be as rewarding—or maybe more fulfilling—than the past.

Reference: The Mercury (Feb. 10, 2019) “REINVENTING RETIREMENT: Your most important asset—it’s not what you think”

 

How Older Travelers Can Stay Safe

One of the top dreams of retirees is to travel, whether to visit the kids and grandkids or go to all those places you did not have the time or money to explore when you were working and rearing your family. The joy of travel can turn into a nightmare, however, if you find yourself a victim of unsafe circumstances. Here are some recommendations from the U.S. Department of State on how older travelers can stay safe when abroad.

Months Before Your Trip

If there is a problem with your passport, you could get stranded at customs and immigration in a foreign country. When you first begin to plan your trip, pull out your passport and check the expiration date. If there are not at least six months left after you return from your travels, renew your passport.

Some people make the mistake of thinking that the six-month guideline applies to the day you start your trip. However, it actually refers to the date you get home. Just make sure you do not delay in sending in your renewal application. It can take several months or longer for you to receive your new passport.

Before You Finalize Your Travel Plans

Do not deposit any money or pay for your airfare, hotel, tours, or other costs, before you check out these websites:

  • The S. State Department website issues travel warnings to let you know when there is a safety concern in another country. You do not want to walk into the middle of a country’s civil war or other violence. The State Department will also let you know the legal requirements for entering specific countries. If you need a visa, follow the instructions on how to obtain one and allow plenty of time. Some countries allow you to get a visa online or at your arrival airport.
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issues guidance on required and recommended vaccinations for visiting particular countries. Some of these vaccines require multiple injections spaced weeks apart, so you should check well in advance of your trip. You might have to carry proof of vaccinations to be allowed into a country.

Money Makes the World Go ‘Round

It is no fun to be on your trip of a lifetime and suddenly be unable to use your bank or credit cards. Notify your banks and credit card companies of the dates you will be traveling, and in which countries, so they do not put a security freeze on your accounts. Find out where you can make deposits and withdrawals, while on the road.

Compare international transaction fees to avoid excessive charges. You can order some local currency from your bank to have on hand, as soon as you land in a country. Therefore, you will not have to stand in long lines at the currency exchange in the airport. Search online to find out where you can get the best currency exchange rate at your destination. Exchange rates fluctuate constantly, so be sure to check and recheck.

Medication

Some countries restrict certain medications that are legal in the United States. Check on the State Department website to find out if any of your drugs are illegal where you will be traveling. Always carry prescription medication in the original pharmacy container, and have your doctor write extra prescriptions for you, in case you lose your drugs. Carry enough medicine for the trip and some extra, in case you experience any delays.

Your local elder law attorney can help you prepare the legal documents that will give you peace of mind during your travels, and explain to you how your state regulations might differ from the general law of this article.

References:

AARP. “State Department Wants Older Travelers to Stay Safe.” (accessed December 29, 2018) https://www.aarp.org/travel/travel-tips/safety/info-2018/state-department-recommendations.html

U.S. State Department. “Country Information.” (December 30, 2018) https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages.html

CDC. “Vaccines. Medicines. Advice.” (December 30, 2018) https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel

Why is Financial Fraud So Risky for Seniors?

“[Financial fraud] is a very high risk for 100 percent of the elderly population,” said North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. “Senior citizens have social security coming [in]. Maybe they have a pension [or] some savings. This is a magnet for crooks and people who want to take their golden years away from them and line their pockets with somebody else’s gold.”

WRAL.com says, in the article “Elderly population a ‘very high risk’ for financial fraud,” that scams looking to make a quick buck and disappear may be easier to see, than the subtle but truly harmful abuse that makes a more significant impact.

As people get older, they usually depend more on close family and friends for help, but it can be very easy to abuse that relationship. These types of activities usually target seniors who have diminished mental or physical capacities. Abuse can begin when seniors put their trust in the wrong people. It can be a very close, trusted family member or the caregiver—someone who’s very close physically or in relationship.

It’s not uncommon for a senior to be persuaded to change his will to benefit a person with whom he had developed a close relationship, only to find out the person had ulterior motives. This type of financial abuse or exploitation can also be hard to see initially.

“Sadly, so much of the elder abuse is done by somebody in the family who is trusted, who is caring for this person, and then takes advantage of them,” Marshall said.

“A word of caution to families–as folks get isolated and lonely, it is very important that they have social contact in a positive nature, every day. Not just somebody coming in to see if they’re walking around and eating,” Marshall said. “They need socialization. And therein becomes an avenue for crooks to follow.”

Seniors should also be wary of invitations to sales pitches masked as “free lunches,” charities that aren’t who they say they are and writing checks to unverified individuals. If it sounds too good to be true, the elderly should use extreme caution before making a financial commitment.

To prevent this, families can divide responsibility between more than one family member. If you have multiple children, giving each one access to the finances makes certain that anything bad will be detected quickly. Another option is to create a trust with the help of an elder law or estate planning attorney. A trust permits the designation of a trustee and requires a more thorough credentialing process to access the assets. An elder law attorney can help in creating a trust and can provide advice on any other methods to protect your finances.

It comes down to determining whom you can trust. Finding credentialed individuals to help you manage and establish safeguards for your assets is critical.

Reference: WRAL.com (January 2, 2019) “Elderly population a ‘very high risk’ for financial fraud”