Does Your Parent Need Help With Finances? Start Here

Caring for an aging parent is a common challenge for Baby Boomers, and now even Gen-X’ers and Millennials. And, stepping in to help manage your parents’ finances, without eroding their sense of independence and privacy, can be tricky.

Many aging parents are reluctant to ask their children for help with their finances. It means a loss of control, a trading of places from them taking care of you to you taking care of them, and can signify a loss of power that feels too frightening for your parents.

Nevertheless, you may be wondering what you can do when your parents start needing help.

A pile of unpaid bills, threatening calls from creditors or repeated instances of credit card fraud or financial scams are good indicators that your parent needs help managing his or her finances.

Financial caregiving is easiest when you already have a plan in place. You may be in a good position to make educated decisions about their finances, but without the proper information and legal authority, your options are limited.

If your parent needs help, the first step is to make sure you know what they have, where it is, and how you can access it, if necessary.

Next, you want to make sure you know what bills are due, when and that their bills are being paid on time.

Unless you have the legal authority to manage your parents’ finances, you will need their help in getting access to their account and setting up auto-bill pay for them.

When you are ready, the first place to start is with a heart to heart conversation about whether your parent is ready for help and what that help could look like.

Then, if your parent is ready to help, you can ask him or her (or them) to legally designate you as either the Trustee of their trust or financial power of attorney holder, if they do not have a trust. And, be sure you are also designed as medical power of attorney, so you can make important care-giving decisions for your parent(s) if he, she or they cannot.

If your parent needs or wants help with finances, he or she may also need help with health care or the management of their estate. You can address these issues by working with one of our Personal Family Lawyer® members who will help you develop an estate plan that considers your parent’s best interests. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we work with your family to ensure you have the authority required to help your parent with his or her finances.

This is also an opportune time for you to consider your own long-term financial planning. If you are ready to take a step toward financial peace of mind, begin by scheduling a Family Wealth Planning Session. Before the session, we’ll send you a Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment that will get you thinking about what you own, what you want to leave behind and how you want your finances to be managed if you need help. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we’ll help you establish a plan for your finances to ensure you have a plan in place when you need it down the road.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session.

How to Discuss Estate Planning With Aging (or Sick) Loved Ones – Part 1

Someone you love is aging. Or maybe, facing a potentially terminal illness. And you know it’s time for them to think about end of life planning because the end of their life will impact you.

So how do you broach this delicate topic when it feels so uncomfortable to acknowledge?

The first step is to acknowledge that it can be a difficult or uncomfortable conversation. Give yourself time to consider how you want to bring it up with your loved one.

Ideally, considering end of life matters would be something we regularly spoke about and got comfortable with before the end of life was near, but that’s not generally the case in our culture.

You can change that going forward, and I’ll share an article next week with guidance for how to make end of life discussions a regular part of your family conversations.

But, if you haven’t already begun incorporating end of life discussions into the culture of your family, it could be awkward at first. Especially if your family member is ill.

Create a safe space for the conversation. Prepare your loved one in advance that you would like to speak about something that could be difficult, but also will provide peace of mind that his or her wishes will be known and honored.

Maybe the first meeting would be with just you and your loved one and be more generally exploratory with an intention to schedule more specifically focused future meetings with other family members included, based on the desires of your loved one.

During this first meeting, begin by acknowledging any discomfort and your desire to create a supportive field based in clarity and understanding. If you find yourself speaking more than your loved one, ask more questions to open a space for listening and clarity.

Consider that this conversation can happen over more than one session and does not have to take place all at once.

Educate yourself about what will happen when your loved one becomes unable to handle his or her financial affairs, make medical decisions for him or herself, and then also what will happen to their assets and personal effects when they die.

Understand what your role will be if your loved one doesn’t take any action, and how that will impact you and other family members.

Be prepared to share that with your loved one so he or she can decide if the state’s default plan is sufficient to meet his or her wishes, so action can be taken if an alternative plan is desired.

If you haven’t been through your own Family Wealth Planning Session, perhaps start there. This is a Session during which we look at everything you own and everyone you love to determine what would happen if something were to happen to you, based on the State’s plan for you. By understanding the default plan, specific to your personal situation, you are able to make informed and empowered choices and can then help the people you love do the same.

Contact us and we can schedule time to do this with you. By considering your own planning first, you can let your loved one know that you’ve looked at these issues for yourself and you would like to share what you’ve learned and perhaps invite him or her into a Family Wealth Planning Session to consider his or her options.

Then, when your loved one is ready, consider bringing him or her to meet with us for their own Family Wealth Planning Session.  We are here to support you each step of the way.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Sessio.

What Is Elder Abuse and How Can You Keep Yourself (or Your Parents) Safe?

One day, you will be an elderly person, you hope. Maybe you are already there. Or, your parents are.

And, unfortunately, as more of us age, there is more and more cases of elder abuse, and in order to stop it, we must first spot it and understand the totality of the problem.

Physical abuse is obvious. Signs of physical abuse include bruises, broken bones, and scrapes, often resulting from sexual abuse, hitting, pushing, and restraining.

Physical abuse also includes dispensing medicine that affects a person’s ability or desire to function properly. For example, administering additional pain or sleeping medication may lead an elder to be bedridden when they would otherwise be active and mobile.

Emotional abuse takes a heavy toll on a victim, but especially the extra vulnerable, such as seniors. Emotional abuse includes insults, threats, and screaming. It can also include isolating someone from others, interfering with their access to friends and family members. These behaviors are demeaning and can lead victims to withdraw, become angry, or suffer other types of personality changes.

Financial abuse is most often hidden, and the one that you (and your parents could be most at risk from).

Financial abuse encompasses taking advantage of, as well as stealing from, seniors. And, surprisingly, often occurs when seniors get trapped in a Court system with unscrupulous lawyers, guardians and conservators. You can read story after story of the heinous crimes being committed by our very own court system against our elderly community, starting here.

You might think it can’t happen to you, or your parents, and yet when you read the actual stories, you begin to realize that it could. Without trusted legal counsel on your side, even the “right documents” sometimes aren’t enough.

If you would like to ensure you have trusted counsel on your side to keep you and your family out of Court and outside of risk of elder abuse from our own Court system, start by having a Family Wealth Planning Session with our office. We’ll look at what you own, who you love, and how to ensure you are more financially organized and empowered than you ever have been before to keep yourself and the people you love out of court and out of conflict.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers,  Personal Family Lawyer,® who develops trusting relationships with families for life.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.

Can Family Care giving Change Your Reputation (and Self-Perception) For the Better?

Are you the unappreciated black sheep in your family? Have you wished you could redeem your reputation and at the same time shift your own perception of yourself?

Consider taking on the role of family caregiver for an elderly parent, a niece or nephew, or even having a baby of your own.

One AARP commentator suggests that family caregiving may be a way for a child to recover from a negative image in the eyes of his or her family. In his article “How a Black Sheep Can Become a White Knight,” clinical psychologist Barry J. Jacobs describes how a child on the “outs” with her family made inroads by caregiving for her parent.

Jacobs suggests that caregiving may be the perfect time for caregivers to “seek to change their family reputations.” He describes, for example, a workaholic who cares for his disabled wife as well as a one-time rebellious teen who reconnects with her parents through caregiving.

Jacobs gives three tips for you, if you  want to try to recover your image or reputation within your family:

  • Consistency is the key. Jacobs suggests that building dependability is important because family members will be on guard for errors, if you have not appeared reliable in the past.
  • Say you’re sorry and make amends. Even if you previously apologized for wrongs done, when you are taking care of a family member, your words may be better received and making amends, means not just saying you are sorry, but taking full responsibility, stating what you learned and showing how you are making it right.
  • Provide genuine loving care. Jacobs says that the primary purpose of taking care of someone you love is to reflect your values and not to gain recognition. You may need support here because caregiving is often a thankless role. Look for caregiver support groups in our area. Or contact us for referrals.

Over time, and after you’ve regained your family’s trust, you can help your parent make wise decisions about family finances, including getting his or her legal and financial affairs in order. Start by setting a good example. Work with a Personal Family Lawyer® to develop your own legal and financial plan, making your family a priority.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,®  who develops trusting relationships with families for life. If you’re ready to begin assessing the security you want to provide for your family, schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session™ today by calling our office. We can help you make plans for how you want to provide for your loved ones when you can’t be there.

Even Celebrities Like Queen Latifah Act as Caregivers for Their Aging Parents

We may not think about it often, but even celebrities take care of their aging parents. Actress, singer, and songwriter Queen Latifah plays an active role in caring for her mother, Rita Owens, who was diagnosed with heart failure more than 10 years ago.

Owens learned of her condition when she passed out at work one day. She moved from New Jersey to California to recover and be close to her daughter. There, Queen Latifah cared for her mom and acted as a coordinator for a network of healthcare providers, family, and friends.

After her recovery, Owens was able to return to her home in New Jersey. Now, the two are working with the American Heart Association to raise awareness of heart failure.

Queen Latifah’s story is far from unique, and can help you remember that if you are a caregiver of an elderly or sick parent, you are not alone. And there are resources available to support you.

AARP reports of a study that found more discontent in relationships between U.S. elderly parents and their adult caregivers than in five other countries. In the U.S., 20% of the relationships were rated as disharmonious. In the five other countries surveyed—England, Germany, Israel, Norway, and Spain—less than 10% were similarly ranked.  Here in the US, it is sadly “normal” for caregivers of elderly or sick parents to feel frustrated, unappreciated, and resentful.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way. With advance planning, strong communication, and family coordination,

the potential for a disharmonious relationship can be greatly reduced.

Proper planning should not only account for the legal issues involved, but also the personal and interpersonal issues, too. Schedules should be worked out, structures put in place, and legal documents prepared. Getting your lawyer involved early in the process ensures all issues are identified, contingencies prepared for, and the transition into caregiving is as easy as possible for both you and your parents.  We can help.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,®  who develops trusting relationships with families for life.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ where we can review your family caregiving needs and help identify the best strategies for you and your whole family. You can begin by calling our office today and facing what may be hard to think about. We promise to make it easy now and even easier later when caregiving is required.

How To Proactively Plan To Reduce the Impact of Caring For Elderly Family Members

Much has been written about our nation’s need to help mothers in the workplace. Many benefits, such as maternity leave and nursing stations, are present or well on their way towards implementation in many U.S. states. With employees working later in life, due, in part, to the rise in the regular Social Security retirement age, it is becoming increasingly important that we start to talk about the crisis facing the other end of the spectrum: America’s working daughters, many of whom are also mothers.

According to the Census Bureau, 44 million unpaid eldercare providers work in the U.S. Many of these people are family caregivers: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2013-2014, “[t]here were 6.3 million elder care providers who cared solely for someone with whom they lived.”

The impact on working daughters is significant. In addition to lost wages, Social Security and retirement benefits drop when women earn less due to caregiving responsibilities. And that’s only for the women who are fortunate enough to stay in their current positions. Many must quit their jobs or take less demanding, lower-paying work so that they can care for their elderly family members.

By planning in advance, you can mitigate the risk that caregiving an elderly parent will have on your family.

It begins with getting comfortable talking with your parents (or your children if you are in the senior generation), openly and honestly about late in life care. When families work together there doesn’t need to be a burden, but instead the whole family can create a plan that most effectively uses the family’s resources to create an outcome that supports everyone.

We can look at these issues proactively with your family during a Family Wealth Planning Session, which is what sets us apart from other lawyers in the community who are typically only focused on creating legal documents to pass on financial assets after you (or senior family members) die.

When done this way, estate planning is not just for the wealthy; it’s for all families that want to work together to use their resources in support of intergenerational well-being.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,®  who develops trusting relationships with families for life.  That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ where we can explain financial management techniques and help identify the best strategies for you and your family. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.

Legal Steps to Take When Facing a Dementia Diagnosis

Maria Shriver knows the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease firsthand.  Her beloved father Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps and one-time candidate for Vice President of the United States, died of the disease in 2011 after being diagnosed in 2003.

Often called “the long goodbye,” Alzheimer’s disease affects more than five million Americans and its prevalence will continue to grow with the aging population.  Shriver recently reported for NBC.com on the five things Alzheimer’s or dementia victims should do once a diagnosis has been confirmed:

  1. Execute powers of attorney and advance medical directives. These allow for the designation of a trusted person or persons to make financial and medical decisions before cognitive impairments worsen.
  1. Create a will. If you do not have a will that designates how your assets will be distributed upon your death, you need to create one.  If one exists, check it over for any necessary updates to beneficiaries or the addition of any assets acquired after the original will was made.
  1. Create an estate plan. Asset preservation is usually critical for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.  An estate planning attorney can help preserve assets for future long-term care.
  1. Communicate. Once diagnosed, you should have a conversation with your family about your decisions for your care.  Let them know where important documents are stored.  As part of your legacy planning, we can help you capture and pass on your own story and wishes for your loved ones through a special recording we provide for each of our clients.
  1. Do it sooner rather than later. Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases are progressive illnesses, so prompt action is necessary to put these protections in place for you and your loved ones.

More information and inspiration on dealing with Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases can be found at MariaShriver.com.

Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk about a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best ways for you to ensure your legacy of love and financial security for your family.

New Help for Financial Caregivers

If you are helping an elderly parent or relative manage their finances or have been given a power of attorney, then you have both legal and ethical obligations in your role as a fiduciary.

Basically, a fiduciary is legally bound to:

Act in the person’s best interest.  You are not allowed to use their money for yourself or others and need to avoid any conflict of interest.

Manage assets carefully.  Pay bills on time and consider investment decisions carefully.  Get help if you need it.

Keep money and property separate from yours.  Be sure you keep your assets totally separate from those you are managing on behalf of another person.

Maintain good records.  You are responsible for accounting for all transactions.

The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect consumers by making and enforcing consumer financial laws.  The CFPB recently contracted with the American Bar Association to develop four Managing Someone Else’s Money guides to help those who are acting as agents under (1) power of attorney, (2) court-appointed guardians or conservators, (3) trustees for revocable living trusts and (4) government benefits fiduciaries.

These guides help “lay fiduciaries” understand their responsibilities under the law, provide education on financial scams and exploitation and give tips on where to go for additional help from local, state and federal resources.

You can download these guides for free on the CFPB website.

If you would like more information about the responsibilities of a fiduciary or support talking with your parents about these issues, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.

 

How to Protect Elderly Parents From Financial Abuse

According to a recent study by the Investor Protection Trust and Investor Protection Institute, the top three ways that the elderly could be financially exploited are:

  • Theft of funds or property by family members
  • Theft of funds or property by caregivers
  • Financial scams by strangers

It is estimated that one in nine seniors has been a victim of financial abuse in the past year, so what can you do to protect elderly parents from financial fraud?  Here are some tips:

Seek out a financial abuse prevention seminar in your local area.  Many senior centers and organizations provide these programs, so choose one and go with your parent(s) as an opportunity to do something social with them.

Put your parents’ finances on auto-pilot by enrolling them in direct deposit for Social Security, pension, retirement and investment income.  Set up automatic bill pay for as many bills as possible, and help them pay their bills online.

Check in with them frequently and ask them directly if they have been solicited by anyone who visited or called.  If you live nearby, visit in person.

Some experts advise those with elderly parents who become incapable of handling investments to invest a portion of their retirement income into a low-cost, immediate-fixed or inflation-adjusted annuity from a reputable insurance company.  This will provide a guaranteed lifetime income that cannot be lost to fraud or abuse.

If a parent’s savings are still in their former employer’s 401(k) plan, consider keeping it there.  These plans are strictly regulated for the exclusive benefit of employees, and may yield the best investment deal possible.

If you’d like to learn more about estate planning, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.