Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Vacations Are Good For The Soul

Barbara K. Armstrong

Well, here we are right in the middle of summer.  Most likely a few of you have already gone on a vacation or are planning one.  Vacations are good for the soul.  Not only do they give you quality fun time with loved ones, they also rejuvenate. Who couldn’t use some rejuvenation!

Recently, my husband and I went on a three-day excursion. Granted, it wasn’t a week vacation, but it was fun. We went zip lining and horseback riding. My husband, at 72 years old, rolled down a hill for the first time in his life! He didn’t even have that on his bucket list.  We were sitting with a few other vacationers and commented on the little children rolling down the hill and how much fun that used to be.  My husband said he had never done that.   Well, the rest was history.  The guests all stood up and clapped when he reached the bottom.  Not sure if it was because he had made it or had not seriously injured himself! 

We met some special people while we were there. We spoke with a grandfather who was there with his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson.  He told us that his grandson at the age of 5 years old, had already had 6 brain surgeries and although his prognosis was favorable, they were going to do as much with him and have him experience as much of life as possible. 

My point is, take some time off for yourself.   Life can fly by in an instant and it doesn’t matter if you are 5 or 72 years old.   Enjoy all moments and take that vacation whether it be a long weekend or a month.  Vacations are good for the soul!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Easy Gardening at Any Age

Teresa M. Clemons
Office Manager
Seniors don't need to have a huge yard or sprawling piece of property to enjoy the many benefits of gardening. Hundreds of plant species can thrive inside a home as long as they are properly cared for. Here are a few suggestions:

Recognizable by its long and vibrant leaves is the spider plant. There are many different types of spider plants, and they are often hung from windows so the leaves can cascade over the sides of the pots. Spider plants can thrive as long as they get a little bit of sunlight every day and are watered at least once a week. 

Very few indoor plants are as popular as the peace lily, and many cultures believe these flowers bring good luck into a home. They are also an excellent air purifier. To keep the petals and leaves healthy, they require indirect sunlight and moist potting soil at all times. 

Aloe vera is extremely easy to care for and also has the benefit of healing qualities. Many people make burn salves and topical pain relief creams from the gel inside an aloe vera plant. This plant doesn't need much water but it should be kept near a window to get as much light as possible.

Beautiful and delicious, try to plant some mint. This herb is easy to care for and as the leaves grow larger, you can pick a few off to throw in a cup of tea or ice water. 

Senior who are more interested in vibrant flowers might want to go with an African violet. These beautiful flowers vary in color depending on their location, but most petals are bright purple or blue. African violets shouldn't be watered until the soil is completely dry, and the leaves can't get wet or spotting will occur.

With some encouragement and assistance, even older adults with limited mobility can enjoy caring for indoor plants. 

Please be aware that peace lilies, aloe vera, and mint are toxic to dogs and cats.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Yoga For Healthy Aging

Valerie Hollar

Being an estate planning paralegal and a registered yoga teacher, I constantly meet clients and students with a common issue - worrying about injuries and finding stability and strength as they age. 

The practice of yoga is on the rise across the United States, including for those who are 65 and over. Yoga is becoming a part of a healthy aging routine that not only promotes a stronger body less prone to injuries, but also a sharper mind. University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of family medicine, Irene Hamrick, reported the number of falls in older adults dropped forty-eight percent in the six months after they began taking yoga classes! Especially practicing the style of yoga known as “Hatha”. By incorporating a practice combining postures, breath-work, and meditation, you are able to give the whole body a form of a “workout”.

These poses can be completed on the floor, standing, or even sitting in a chair. They improve flexibility, mood, and teach the mind to be more present. Among people 65 years and older, falls are the leading cause of injury leading to hospital admissions, or even death. I’m sure we all know someone who has fallen and broken a hip at an older age, and what troubles that can cause.  Yoga is a step in the right direction to helping prevent these types of events from happening! Practicing yoga will help to build core and muscle strength throughout the body, leading to more stability and balance when walking, bending, etc.

If your doctor has been suggesting you start an exercise program or if you have a loved one or relative that needs to get moving, think of yoga!  There are several studios and non-studio locations that host this type of yoga on the Peninsula. If you have any questions or would like to know where to look, please comment!

Follow the links below to learn more:

Yoga for Reducing Falls- Article:

Yoga for Healthy Aging

Relax into Yoga for Seniors

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Life Care Planning: The Best Protection for Elders and Their Families

Elizabeth D. Johnson
Legal Assistant
There’s a reason we call it "The Best Protection for Elders and Their Families."

Life Care Planning will help you make the best decisions to protect yourself later on. It can help you achieve your goals and reduce stress for yourself and for your family.

The primary goal of a Life Care Plan is to assist the senior and their family in being able to make legal, financial, and medical decisions without government or court intervention (such as a guardianship, which can be very costly), prolong the senior’s stay at home, protect their quality of life, and preserve their assets.

Over the next 25 years, it is estimated that the number of American households that are caring for an older relative will double. That means that care giving for elderly relatives will become as common as childcare. Care giving in this capacity can be costly, both for the senior citizen and for his family members. Most people want to stay at home (or with an adult child) rather than entering a nursing home. However, most people also don’t want to be a burden on their children, or their children live far away or are too busy with their own lives to provide care for their parents. 
Additionally, many people don’t have children or don’t trust their own family members to provide good care to them or make wise decisions on their behalf.  A Life Care Plan can address all of these issues and concerns.

It’s never too early to start thinking about all of this. One must be prepared for a future where you may not be in control so that your best interests and wishes are carried out properly. So often, clients come to us only when there is a crisis, at which point there are far fewer options available.  By planning early, you can establish your overall priorities and make a plan that meets your goals and adapts to you as your medical or financial situation changes.

You may ask why a law firm would be at the center of the Life Care Plan. So much of the aging process intersects with the law (estate planning, long-term care planning, probate and trust administration, etc.). Instead of stepping in when there is a crisis, a Life Care Plan allows the law firm to be part of the aging process from the start, to maximize the legal options available to the aging client when needed.

So, what is included in a Life Care Plan? First, you would meet with an attorney to discuss your unique goals, conduct a thorough analysis of your financial situation, and determine eligibility for government benefits. Then there would be a medical assessment and on-site evaluation of your current living arrangements with an elder care coordinator (ECC) who has a background in health care and social work. Finally, the attorney and elder care coordinator would work together to develop your Life Care Plan: a written assessment of your current situation and plan for implementing your goals.

The elder care coordinator will work as liaison between you, your family, and all facets of aging: financial, legal, medical, and senior resources. Your elder care coordinator will put you in contact with various senior resources to enhance quality of life, such as resources to help you age in your own home, or, eventually, find facility care that meets your needs. The average person going through the aging process for the first time likely does not know about these various resources and programs in the area, but the ECC already has this knowledge from helping many other clients age gracefully.  If you do eventually need facility care, the ECC can visit you in a facility unannounced to see how you are really being treated. The ECC will know what to look for and can identify subtle problems that your family members might not recognize.  Because the law firm is at the center of your Plan, an attorney can step in and advocate on your behalf to a long-term care facility as soon as the ECC notices a problem.

A Life Care Plan also includes a comprehensive review of your current estate planning documents, if you have them, and creating new estate planning documents for you if you do not have anything in place. Your attorney will also discuss how you plan to pay for care. Do you have long term care insurance, Medicaid, or will you be paying out of pocket? If you or your spouse is a veteran, you would want to look into veteran’s benefits. Your Life Care Plan will also provide safeguarding against financial abuse. Financial abuse and exploitation is more common than people may realize, so your attorney will go over options on how to protect yourself and your assets.

Finally, your Life Care Plan will be an ongoing relationship that adapts to your needs. We will be aware of your family dynamic and will be on the lookout for suspicious or unusual behavior. When sudden changes occur (health issues, death in the family, etc.), your ECC will not have to play catch-up, but can instead step in to solve problems as soon as they appear. We will already be very familiar with your finances and medical situation so that we can step in and help immediately.
In conclusion, proper planning for your aging can be expensive and there are many individual components to consider. A Life Care Plan combines all of these individual components into a single, cohesive plan. Providing input now lets you take control of where and how you age and takes stress off of loved ones. A Life Care Plan is a gift to yourself and your family and an investment in your future.

If you would like to learn more or schedule an appointment, please give us a call.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Medicare vs. Medicaid

Barbara K. Armstrong
I am often asked what the difference between Medicare and Medicaid actually is. So, I decided to do a little summary on the differences that I hope you will find helpful in the event that you, a relative, or a friend has questions. 

Medicare is a federal health insurance program for individuals 65 or older, under 65 with certain disabilities, or any age if they have End Stage Renal Disease or ALS. The federal government provides coverage and it is paid for from payroll tax.  The coverage depends on the type of plan you choose and may include the following:
  • Care and services received as an inpatient in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (Part A)
  • Doctor visits, care and services received as an outpatient, and some prevent care (Part B)
  • Prescription drugs (Part D)

Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) combine A and B coverage, and often will include drug coverage (Part D) as well. Medicare costs depends on the coverage that is chosen.   The costs may include premiums, deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance. Upon reaching the age of 65 years, many people are enrolled in Part A automatically.   To be sure of your eligibility, you should contact your local Social Security office.

Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that helps pay health care costs for people and families who have limited income and resources.  There are different programs that are designed for specific populations. Although Medicaid is a joint program, it is governed by the state you reside in.  Each state creates its own Medicaid programs, which have to follow federal guidelines. Mandatory benefits include, in part:
  • Care and services received in a hospital or skilled nursing facility
  • Care and services received in a federally qualified health care center, rural health clinics of freestanding birth centers (licensed or recognized by the individual state)
  • Doctor, nurse midwife, and certified pediatric and family nurse practitioner services

Medicaid costs depends on income and the rules of your state. Costs may include premiums, deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance. Certain groups are exempt from most out-of-pocket costs. Eligibility for Medicaid depends upon the state that you live in. If you think that you may qualify, you should call your State Medical Assistance (Medicaid) office to inquire.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Life Lesson from Harper Lee’s Death

Catherine E. Sears, Esq.

As a lawyer, I am practically required to love Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  As an estate planning lawyer who evaluates clients’ competency on a daily basis, the mysteries surrounding the 2015 publication of Ms. Lee’s long-lost second novel, Go Set a Watchman, and the author’s subsequent death in 2016 are as fascinating to me as Boo Radley was to Scout.  The story is also potentially as tragic as Boo’s, as it is widely disputed whether Ms. Lee – who famously shied away from the public eye after writing Mockingbird – had had the mental capacity to agree to the publication of Watchman.  Some argue that she was competent, while others worry that those she trusted manipulated her into publishing the sequel simply to increase the size of her estate which, conveniently, they would inherit upon her death only a few months later.

Adding to the suspicion was the fact that Ms. Lee’s attorney moved to have the author’s will – which had been executed only eight days before her death – filed with the local court under seal, so that the public could not see the identities of Ms. Lee’s beneficiaries.  Just last month, however, a lawsuit to unseal the will and make the document part of the public record was decided in favor of The New York Times.  Though technically a victory for the Times, the win did not reveal much more meaningful information, as it simply revealed that Ms. Lee’s will was a pour-over will that left all of her assets to her trust, which is not a public record.  Thus, the identity of the beneficiaries and the monetary scope of their inheritance continue to remain a mystery to the curious public.

Just as Atticus Finch taught his children valuable lessons in Mockingbird, we can all learn an important lesson from Ms. Lee’s estate planning.  There are significant differences between will-based estate plans and trust-based plans and, depending on your family’s financial situation and personal values, one of these options might make much more sense than the other. 

People often incorrectly assume that trusts are only for the wealthy and that “regular people” should have a will.  As a best-selling novelist, Ms. Lee was likely an incredibly wealthy woman, so one could argue that her situation feeds into this stereotype.  Certainly, by having a trust instead of a will, Ms. Lee – like anyone with a trust-based estate plan – likely saved her estate quite a bit of money by avoiding the various fees associated with the process of probating a will.  Therefore, there certainly are financial reasons to consider a trust in lieu of a will, especially depending what kind of assets you have, but this is only one consideration.

By all accounts, Ms. Lee identified by so many characteristics other than her wealth.  She is best remembered, perhaps, for her desire for privacy, as she refused to be interviewed and openly fought efforts to turn her hometown in Alabama into a Mockingbird-themed tourist trap.  Similarly, a key characteristic of a trust is the privacy it affords its grantor (the client establishing the trust).  As The New York Times discovered, trust documents are private, and, unlike a will, their contents do not become public with the court even after the grantor dies.  Many clients, even those without large estates, prefer the privacy that a trust affords as they do not want nosy neighbors or friends to be able to see what their assets are and who will receive them.

Additionally, Ms. Lee valued simplicity, as illustrated by the fact that she lived in a non-descript home with her sister and routinely shopped at the dollar store.  Having a trust also conforms with this characteristic, as a trust greatly simplifies the process of administering a decedent’s estate.  With probate, or the process of administering a will, there are numerous documents that need to be filed with the court, as well as strict deadlines dictating when these documents must be completed.  Furthermore, before the personal representative or executor can even begin filing the documents, he or she must go through a formal qualification process.  As a result, in Virginia, it can easily take over a year for even a simple will to be probated from start to finish.  In contrast, administering a trust is much faster and simpler.

Though many uncertainties remain regarding Go Set a Watchman and Ms. Lee’s death, it is indisputable that the benefits of a trust conformed with the attributes of Ms. Lee’s personality.  If you, like Ms. Lee, value privacy and simplicity, consider discussing with an estate planning attorney whether a trust-based estate plan is right for you.

Full New York Times article here

Thursday, March 1, 2018

K-9 Companions: Cute, Cuddly, and Good for Your Health Too!

Teresa M. Clemons
Office Manager

It can be a lonely life for senior citizens - whether living on their own or in an assisted living facility, or dealing with physical and/or mental conditions. Though it's not a cure for health issues by any stretch of the imagination, a dog can provide relief for many of the issues that our elderly population deals with daily. Whether dealing with the loss of a spouse or another loved one, or having a child move far away, the companionship of a furry, four-legged friend can lead to a different kind of love and friendship.

Living with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be very scary and can cause frustration and agitation.  The interaction with a puppy (holding, petting - which is also great for arthritis - or giving kisses) can have a calming effect. In some sufferers who have trouble eating on a regular basis, the company of a dog has actually stimulated their appetites. It can be hard for seniors to stay active if they do not get out much or do not have planned activities. A short walk (stopping and starting as many pooches do, as they have to sniff every blade of grass along the way) can be a nice, mild cardio workout! Sometimes it will lead to activities even when the dog is not physically there.  Owners may want to read about the specific breed, and having a topic to discuss with others can be a great way to stimulate the brain. The American Heart Association even released a study showing that owning or interacting with a dog can prevent heart disease! How amazing the power of a K-9 companion can be.