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  • What is Elder Law

  • Elder Law Services

  • We Need To Have "The Talk"

  • Long Term Care - The Numbers

  • Costs of Long Term Care

  • Your Options

  • Common Pre-Planning Mistakes

  • Example Scenario - Judy

  • Doing It Your Way

  • Next Steps

What Is Elder Law?

Elder Law is an area of law that covers a broad spectrum of legal areas devoted to seniors, their families, caregivers, individuals with special needs and veterans. Some of these areas are: advocacy, care planning, guardianship/conservatorship, benefits planning, probate, trust administration, nursing home malpractice and more.

An elder law attorney is an attorney who focuses on two types of clients: those who are aging and their families. Because our practice is about helping a certain group of people prepare for the future in many respects, we have knowledge and experience in a wide array of areas and fields:
  • Preserve and distribute assets to beneficiaries
  • Plan for incapacity
  • Prepare for long-term care
  • Discuss health care preferences
  • Qualify for public benefits
  • Stay in their home longer
  • Sell or transfer ownership of their home
  • End-of-life planning
  • Ease the burden on family caretakers

Elder Law Services

We aren’t just estate planning attorneys, although that is an important piece of what we do. You may believe you just need a “simple will” or that you will be prepared with a handwritten note or a will form you downloaded from internet. Think again! We not only engage in basic will drafting, as we also help you create a comprehensive future plan that takes into consideration all of the possible issues down the road.
Elder law attorneys are also well-versed in the many areas of federal or state law relating to issues of aging.
The federal agencies that handle social security, medicaid, medicare and veterans benefits can be notoriously difficult to navigate. While the government agencies do their best, they cannot give specialized care or information to everyone's unique situation. An elder law attorney can look out for their client in an individualized way.
We can also help with other legal problems that may arise outside of the scope of public benefits, like age discrimination, elder abuse, and estate and probate issues.

These are some of the services we provide:

  • Wills & Trusts
  • Powers of attorney
  • Advance health care directives
  • Guardianship/Conservatorship
  • Long-term care plans
  • Health care decisions
  • Mental health
  • Social Security
  • Medicare
  • Medicaid
  • Veterans benefits
  • Age discrimination
  • Elder abuse and fraud
  • Trust administration
  • Probate
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These are just a few of the ways that an elder law attorney can help aging clients secure their financial future while working alongside financial professionals:
  • Long-term care planning
  • Revocable “living” trusts
  • Irrevocable trusts
  • Beneficiary lifetime trusts
  • Durable powers of attorney
  • Life insurance trusts
  • IRA trusts
  • Special needs trusts
We Need To Have "The Talk"
You are (or may be) losing capacity and need to plan. With or without a diagnosis, the loss of capacity is a major life changing event and sadly some clients or family members of clients refuse to recognize the diagnosis because many associate embarrassment with this diagnosis. However, the family needs to know what is coming because losing capacity is going to be a challenge.
The BAD news is that this diagnosis is NOT going to get better:
  • it MAY slow with proper medical intervention
  • it WILL get worse over time
  • you WILL have a period of time where you will not be able to make rational decisions
  • you WILL be susceptible to fraud, abuse and undue influence
The GOOD news is that someone WILL help you with your decisions, this can be voluntary or by court order (guardian-ward) and this person will have legal authority to do what needs to be done.
We Are All Going To Die Some Day...
Something is going to happen to you and to your "stuff" when you die. You have two options: control it yourself or let the state have control. Because seniors have unique legal needs, it is important that they work with attorneys who are highly experienced in this particular area of law.
At Stepp & Sullivan, P.C., we understand that no two situations are the same. As such, we offer personalized legal services tailored to you and your circumstances. We have helped individuals from all walks of life with a variety of estate planning and elder law issues.

Long Term Care - The Numbers

Over 75 million babies were born in the period between the mid-1940s and the mid 1960s. This is the generation known as the baby boomers.
These Americans are aging rapidly, with an average of 10,000 people turning age 65 each day. In fact, more than half of people who turn 65 today will end up requiring long-term care. The average senior will need 2 years of care. Women are more likely to require care, and for longer periods of time since they tend to live longer than men.
These seniors are going to need increasing amounts of professional services as they grow older. These could include specialized medical care like geriatrics, health care preferences, financial planning, retirement plan related services, life insurance, disability insurance, independent living support, real estate issues, funeral planning, and assisted-living concerns.

Costs of Long Term Care

Not only will many individuals and families face prolonged long-term care, in-home care and nursing home costs continue to rise. According to the 2016 Genworth Survey of Nursing Home, Assisted Living, Adult Day Services, and Home Care Costs national averages for long-term care costs are as follows:
  • Monthly base rate (room and board, two meals per day, housekeeping and personal care assistance) for assisted living care in 2016 is $3,628 or $43,539 annually, up 0.78% from 2015.
  • Monthly for a private room in a nursing home is $7,698, or $92,378 annually as of 2016, up 1.24% from 2015.
  • Monthly rate for a semi-private room in a nursing home is $6,844, or $82,125 annually as of 2016, up 2.27% from 2015.
  • Hourly rate for home health aides is $20 per hour, in 2016 up 1.25% from 2015
These costs vary significantly by region, and thus it is critical that to know the costs where the individual will receive care. For example, the average cost for a private room in a nursing home is much higher in the Northeast ($373 per day, or $135,963 annually, in New York City) than in the Midwest (only $205 per day, or $74,825 annually, in Illinois) or the West ($307 per day, or $112,055 annually, in California).

What About Family?

With the high cost of professional care, perhaps the idea of family stepping in to help seems like a good option to save money. Family is the largest source of long-term care in the US. 75% of family caregivers spend an average of $5000 to $7000 per month adding up to over $60,000 per year. Care provided by family is worth more than the value of professional care at $339 billion. The Economic value of family care equals $470 billion in 2013.
Care by loved ones that we might think of as “free” really isn’t free at all.
There is also the decline of the caregivers health to be considered. Family caregivers reduce work hours, some take less demanding jobs and some quit jobs entirely.

Your Options

  1. Do nothing
  2. Pay with your own income/savings
  3. Purchase long term care insurance
  4. Rely on family
  5. Implement a legal plan to protect your home and your savings

Do Nothing...

Many of us don’t like to think about getting older or running into financial troubles. But when you consider your future and do not take action, your inaction could cost you... big time.
How will you pay?
Your monthly income? Your savings? Use or purchase long term care insurance? Rely on family? Public benefits? Sell your home? Implement a legal plan to protect your home and your savings or.. all of the above?
Your options on how to pay are probably limited. If you fail to pre-plan you will probably need to take an “all of the above” approach.
Many people end up selling their home to pay for care – if there is a spouse, they are now homeless. If no spouse, the home proceeds have been spent for no reason. Beware of keeping the loved one at home too long – make sure you are easily capable of taking care of the loved one while still maintaining your own health.
The answer to beating these problems is to start a comprehensive plan for the future...

Through Pre-Planning You Are:

  1. Taking control while still mentally and physically well
  2. Taking advantage of maximum available funds
  3. Leaving the best possible financial situation & legacy for your family
Taking the time to pre-plan will help you avoid any number of problems down the road. You have probably heard of the concept of “avoiding probate,” but there are other good reasons to get a good, well-strategized estate plan.
Pre-planning helps you take control of your future while you are still able to make your own decisions. By pre-planning you can determine who will act as your representative in the future, and how your funds should be managed by your family members.
Using tools like advanced health care directives, durable POA and different types of trusts allow you to tailor your plans to work for your specific family situation.

Common Pre-Planning Mistakes

Many people believe they only need a “simple will.” Sometimes they'll use wills from forms they find in a store or online.
You have no way of knowing if these DIY wills will help you achieve your goals, and they almost certainly do not. It is also important to understand the distinction between estate planning and life insurance issues. Putting a name on your insurance beneficiary card is not enough to take care of your estate, and it does absolutely nothing in terms of care while you are still alive. Also, many people don’t know about the 5-year look back period which could preclude them from qualifying for benefits that could help pay for care.

Problems With This Planning:

  • Your “simple will” won’t achieve what you want it to achieve
  • Running into problems with the “l00k-back period” when qualifying for public benefits to pay for long-term care
  • Expose your assets to potential liability claims - from creditors or judgments
  • You limit future distribution options
Here are only a few examples of "DIY Estate Plan"
    • Deed property to a child
    • Put child on bank accounts
    • DIY “Simple Will”
    • Give money away
    • Give valuable assets away

Example Scenario - Judy

Judy is 77 years old, she's recently widowed and has 2 adult children who live out of state. Judy also owns a home that is paid for, about $200,000 in checking, savings and CDs and has a long term care policy which will provide a benefit of $75 a day.

Judy's Plan...

Is to keep the long-term care insurance policy, place home and a portion of her liquid assets ($150,000) into a family trust which her children may oversee and use funds if needed, place the remaining $50,000 into a revocable trust which Judy may use for whatever she wants AND execute a power of attorney, healthcare proxy documents so Judy knows who will make decisions if she becomes incapacitated.

Results of the Plan

Judy’s long-term care insurance, family trust fund and revocable trust fund are all available to use for her care. In 5 years, the funds in the family trust would be protected and would not count against her if she needs Medicaid. The power attorney and health care proxy documents will make it clear who should make decisions if the need arises.

What if Judy's husband was a Veteran?

If Judy was the surviving spouse of a wartime veteran (World War II, Korean War, Vietnam), she could be eligible for a cash payment of up to $1,094. Her health and medical expenses would determine how much she would be eligible for. The same type of planning in the prior example would need to be done to reduce her income and assets to an acceptable level.

What if Judy was a Veteran?

If Judy had served during a war-time period and was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, she could be eligible for up to $1,703 from the VA. Her health and medical expenses would determine how much she was eligible for monthly. Similar planning would be done to get Judy’s income and assets to an appropriate level to qualify for Medicaid.

What if Judy Did NOTHING?

Her home and all of her liquid assets ($200,000) could be consumed by long term care costs. Without a proper financial power of attorney, thousands could be spent on setting up a guardianship for her and the court would choose who makes decisions. There would be no funds that her children could access to make sure she is getting the best care possible and nothing would pass to them upon her death.
If a veteran or surviving spouse of a wartime veteran, she would have left thousands of dollars of available benefits. Her choices of care would be severely limited-nursing home care may be the only choice. Essentially nothing would have been done her way.

Doing It Your Way

As professionals who help aging people prepare for the best possible future, we have mutual goals. We want to see our clients age as happily and with as much dignity and support as possible. Working together and keeping each other in the loop is the best way to give these amazing clients the best possible service. In the end, each of our professions is about helping people.

Our ultimate goal is to support YOUR independence by helping you:

  • Preserve your income
  • Plan for your retirement
  • Minimize your taxes
  • Protect your assets
  • Transfer the largest amount of your assets to your chosen beneficiaries
  • Plan for long-term care
  • Age happily and with dignity

Next Steps

Don't wait!
If you or your loved one is interested in taking control of the future, we can help. We would be honored to assist you with planning to do things your way!
Coming up with a well thought out plan with an elder attorney can help you achieve those goals. Pre-planning puts you in charge of your own future, and therefore should put your concerns for the future at ease. Planning early gives YOU the most power and allows YOU to make decisions for yourself.