Seniors who are facing changes in their health and mental abilities face several important legal and financial decisions.
They need to let their families know what their healthcare and housing wishes are. They need to plan how to protect their savings and other assets as the cost of their care increases. They need legal strategies to make sure their estate does not get taxed more than it needs to. And they need to appoint a responsible spokesperson to act on their behalf if they become no longer able to do so themselves.
While these decisions can certainly be made with the help of friends, books and Internet forms, it’s also a good idea to consider talking with an eldercare attorney. An eldercare attorney listens to you and your wishes, and helps you think of things you may not have thought of on your own. For example, Beachwood elder law attorney Todd Bartimole advises clients to add a “residuary clause” to their will to cover those things you may have forgotten or things that you acquire after the will is written. An Internet form may not include this.
Eldercare attorneys can help you organize your assets to help you qualify for Medicare and VA benefits. They also help clear up misconceptions about the qualification rules, something friends or books may not be able to do. Beachwood elder law attorney Rachel Kabb said that many people do not realize they can qualify for these benefits even if they have savings.
Many people hesitate to go to an attorney because they think it will be very expensive. In fact, an eldercare attorney can help you create a Last Will and Testament for $100-$250. And they can help you create a complete legal paperwork package for around $300, including a Last Will and Testament, Living Will, Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney and HIPAA release. It is much less expensive to pay an attorney to put these documents in place now than it is for your family to pay legal fees trying to figure out your wishes later.
Many people also hesitate to go to an attorney because they think the attorney will not really listen to them, and may try to convince them to do something they do not really want to do. These are very valid fears. Most eldercare attorneys are good, honest people, but you should do some research before hiring anyone. You should find an attorney who has been in business for a long time, and who practices elder law as a large percentage of their business (many lawyers practice more than one kind of law). You should call references from previous clients. And it is also a good idea to meet with two or three attorneys before deciding. Said Kabb, “You want to find someone that you feel comfortable with, and that really listens to you.”
One thing all eldercare professionals agree on is that these types of decisions need to be made early, while you are still able to voice your opinion. If you do not spell out your wishes, your family has to guess or the court has to decide. “These documents help you say from paper what you can no longer say yourself,” Bartimole said.
Finding an attorney you trust to help you get your affairs in order can make things much easier on your family later.