What is elder law?
Traditional estate planning answers the question “what happens when I die?”. Elder law attorneys answer this question and focus on answering the question, “what happens if I get really sick before I die?”
Most of us think estate planning is about planning for retirement or transferring possessions to family, charity, or friends after we pass away. But, it is also important to consider health care needs such as current or future disability, incapacity, and illnesses.
Many assume that Medicare will pay for the time spent in a nursing home, but this type of care is not covered by Medicare (with limited exceptions). As a result, Hardworking families who have managed to save for retirement may find themselves paying as much as $8,000 per month for long-term care. This can be financially devastating. It is the biggest financial risk to middle-class America today.
Seniors need to take proactive steps to understand how their needs for income, housing, health care and long-term care will be met. The attorneys at Heritage are dedicated to helping their clients develop and implement detailed plans to ensure a comfortable and confident retirement.
Planning for future disability and long-term care can be uncomfortable to talk about. However, even more upsetting is the potential result of having no plan in place. The long-term care system in this country is complex and fragmented. Without a carefully constructed plan, seniors and their families frequently find themselves lost in the long-term care options and financing decisions they have to make.
For example, nursing home care in Pennsylvania frequently exceeds $8,000 per month, and this type of care is not covered by Medicare (with limited exceptions). Therefore, many uninformed seniors and families have found themselves having to sell assets and spend their life’s savings to pay for the care they need. These results can be mitigated or even avoided with proper planning.
Seniors have varying goals when planning. Some common goals include:
• Remaining in your own home as long as possible (home health care)
• Avoiding the placement of a financial burden on family members
• Protecting and controlling assets
• Ensuring assets are sufficient to meet varying care needs
• Providing for adequate and appropriate medical care
• Ensuring your wishes will be carried out and respected
• Minimizing income tax, estate tax and gift tax
• Avoiding probate and greater privacy concerning your financial affairs
• Leaving a lasting legacy to loved ones
There is no one-size-fits-all long-term care plan. Beware of prepackaged software and non-lawyer advisors, as these avenues often do not encompass all of your goals simultaneously. The attorneys at Heritage will take care to create a plan to your specific needs and goals.
The costs of skilled nursing are staggering. In Pennsylvania, the average cost of skilled nursing care is over $8,000 per month. Too frequently, families are surprised to find that Medicare only provides limited benefits and that they will have to pay privately for this type of care. This forces many families to consider Medicaid (Medical Assistance) as a means of paying these bills. Without planning, seniors may have to spend significant assets prior to becoming eligible for benefits. However, it is possible to become Medicaid eligible while preserving assets for the senior and his or her spouse. Medicaid eligibility rules and the application process are complicated and many people need help applying. Our attorneys conduct no-charge consultations to determine if we can help your family preserve assets.
Ideally, everyone would have a plan for disability and Long-Term Care long before becoming ill. Unfortunately, many of the chronic mental and physical disabilities that affect seniors arrive without warning. Sometimes seniors find themselves in a situation where they need medical assistance or help with their daily living (bathing, cooking, etc.). Without a plan, these types of care can place physical, emotional and financial strains on the senior and family members. However, even if there is no plan in place, there are still options to ease the financial burdens on the senior and family. The attorneys at Heritage assist their clients by evaluating the situation and providing workable solutions.
There is a common belief that a person must be “rich” before the need for estate planning arises. However, there are many circumstances in which some careful planning can save significant time and expenses for individuals and their families, regardless of their net worth. For example, a young family may primarily be concerned with providing for minor children, while an older couple may be more concerned about the costs of long term care.
The attorneys at Heritage take into consideration many factors in recommending and implementing an estate plan. We recognize that an estate plan has a significant impact on an individual’s lifestyle and needs. By using a variety of tools, including wills, trusts, gifting plans and powers of attorney we are able to work with you to achieve an integrated estate plan.
Wills are one of the most basic estate planning tools. If drafted properly, a will allows a person to leave assets according to his wishes. However, not all wills are equal. A will can have significant tax implications as well as an impact on an individual’s long-term care plans. The attorneys at Banner & Sechler incorporate wills as a component of a comprehensive estate and long-term care plan, based on each client’s individual needs.
In Pennsylvania, you have the legal right to make medical decisions on your own behalf. However, if you are unable to make these decisions, someone else may have to make them for you. A healthcare power of attorney allows you to appoint the person (health care agent) who will have the authority to make medical decisions for you.
A Living Will (Advance Directive for Health Care Declarations) allows you to communicate and exercise your right to control decisions relating to your own medical care if you are in an end-stage medical condition or are permanently unconscious. This document usually works together with the Healthcare Power of Attorney to ensure your choices regarding end of life care are met.
Generally, a durable power of attorney allows an individual to appoint another person to make decisions on his behalf in the event he is unable to make the decisions for himself. A durable power of attorney allows you to designate a person (agent) to make timely and critical decisions. If a durable power of attorney is not drafted, the courts may need to appoint a guardian to make decisions on the incapacitated person’s behalf. This process can be expensive and lengthy, and does not always result in the best result for the incapacitated individual.
Not all powers of attorney are the same. Use caution in assuming that having a simple power of attorney will work in all circumstances. There are specific provisions that should be considered, especially if long-term care may be in the future.
With a durable power of attorney in place, court supervision is usually avoided, allowing more privacy, and maintaining all legal rights. However, the durable power of attorney must be carefully prepared to ensure that the incapacitated individual’s best interests, including those regarding long-term care, are provided for.
Trust-based planning has become increasingly popular for middle-class families. There are many different reasons for creating a trust, but not all trusts accomplish the same goals. The key is to know your estate planning and asset protection goals and whether they can be properly addressed with a trust. We work closely with our clients to help them define their goals. Once our clients' goals are established, we consider trust-based planning as one option to meet the estate planning needs.
Heritage offers a full range of services designed to assist clients with the complicated responsibilities of administering an estate. Delays and frustration are common in the probate process, made all the worse by the fact that you are grieving for the loss of a loved one. If you are faced with the prospect of dealing with the probate court, we can guide you through the process efficiently and compassionately, so that you can focus on your family.
“The debt owed to American’s veterans is to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and for his orphan.”
-Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.
You, or your loved one has served this country honorably. As a result of this service, certain benefits may be available. As veterans themselves, the attorneys at Heritage understand that obtaining benefits through the government can be a confusing and frustrating experience.
Frequently, veterans do not collect all of the benefits they are entitled to. For example, the VA provides benefits to veterans and spouses who are in need of assistance with their activities of daily living. Sometimes, however, veterans are informed by the VA or a VA service organization that they are not eligible for these benefits due to their high level of assets. The attorneys at Heritage can explain how proper estate planning tools can help veterans qualify for the benefits they need and deserve.
All too often, as individuals age they are affected by chronic mental or physical medical conditions, and may suddenly find themselves in need of long-term care. In fact, it has been estimated that 99 million Americans suffer from one or more chronic conditions. Further, more than half of the people aged 85 and older are impaired to such an extent that they need long-term care.
Unprepared seniors are all too often surprised to discover that they are required to pay for long-term care out of pocket, as long-term care is not covered by Medicare (with limited exceptions). Considering that the average nursing home in Western Pennsylvania costs over $8,000 per month, the financial strain caused to the senior and their family can be devastating.
Fortunately, with the right forethought, seniors can develop a plan to help cover the costs of long-term care, while protecting their assets. The Attorneys at Heritage will work with you to formulate a plan to allow you to pass on the legacy you’ve worked all your life to achieve.
The attorneys at Heritage develop detailed plans to ensure that your loved one with special needs is properly provided for over the long term. A plan consisting of various legal tools, including special needs trusts, will allow you to rest assured that you have properly provided for your loved one’s future.
Please view our FREE workshop dates by downloading the word file below or visit our events page.
The attorneys at Heritage Law are available, free of charge, for speaking engagements arranged by your organization. These discussions typically focus on the needs of seniors and the importance of long-term care planning.
If you are organizing an event catered to seniors and would like for us to attend, please contact us at (724) 841-0004.