Protect Your Pet Via Estate Planning

woman walking dogAs a Newport Beach estate planning attorney, I can tell you that people often forget to plan for their faithful pet companions. A pet that’s been with someone for 10, 12 or 15 years can certainly be considered a member of the family. Yet pets are often forgotten or neglected in the estate planning process, leaving them “orphans” after their owner has passed on. In some cases, family members were unaware their aging parent or relative even had a pet, leaving them totally unprepared to assume that responsibility once their loved one passes on.

Pets that are left with no provision are often taken to a shelter to be put up for adoption. However, there’s no guarantee they will find a new home. For pets that have grown up together, it could be even more difficult as they may find themselves separated and living in different homes.

There have been situations where a pet owner had to be placed in the hospital and no one was available to care for their canine or feline companion. Even when relatives volunteered to take a pet, no documents had been prepared to release the pet into their custody, resulting in pets being taken to a shelter instead.

Like any other valuable property, pets should be incorporated into estate planning, or have a separate emergency plan made to provide for them in the event that pet owners are hospitalized or pass on.

When planning your future, consider how your pet will be cared for if you have an accident or pass on. Ask your estate planning attorney to create legal documents that make provision for your pet when you’re no longer capable of doing the job. Here are a few ways you can plan ahead for your pet’s care:

•Create a trust for your pet to provide finances for their care, and include detailed instruction as to how you would like them to be cared for.

•Create a legal document designating a guardian for your pet in the event you are incapacitated or pass on.

•Write a brief biography of your pet to include name, age, state of health, years of ownership and instructions for care as well as name and number of your pet’s vet to make it easier for your pet’s guardian to move forward.

•Make pet documents easily accessible to family and/or friends.

•Make sure the contact info of your pet’s guardian is within easy reach of first responders.

•Make a list of names and numbers of local animal shelters in the area in case your pet is moved to a shelter before a guardian arrives.

Losing an owner can be a traumatic experience for a pet, particularly if a pet has had the same owner for years. By including your pet in the estate planning process, you can take measures to protect your pet’s safety and comfort.

If you have a topic relating to elder law or estate planning that you would like OC Elder Law to cover in our blog, send it to us at info@ocelderlaw.com!

Financial Elder Abuse: A Growing Problem

senior citizen holding headFinancial elder abuse is fast becoming one of the most serious problems faced today by senior citizens. In broad terms, our estate planning attorneys in Orange County define financial elder abuse as fraudulent, unauthorized or even illegal exploitation of an older person. The person causing the abuse is often someone that the elder has a trusting relationship with. This trusted person then causes harm to the elder, by means of misappropriating his or her financial resources, or abusing the financial control that they have been entrusted with. Instead of handling the senior’s finances responsibly, the person bringing about the abuse uses the elder’s financial assets for their own personal gain and profit. As a result, the senior is deprived of his or her financial assets, benefits or other resources of value.

This type of abuse can come about in many ways. Whenever a caregiver has access to a senior’s resources, there is a chance that this access could be abused. Sometimes the financial abuse comes about through outright monetary theft. However, there are other subtler ways by which this abuse can take place, some of which are not immediately obvious to the elder individual or others. For example, a person might forge the senior’s signature, using it for financial transactions. Sometimes a person obtains a guardianship or power of attorney role over the senior, for the specific purpose of abusing that power. Sometimes a senior may be forced into transactions that he or she simply does not understand. Sadly, this type of abuse is often brought about by family members that the senior trusts, such as their children, grandchildren or spouse.

There are also scam tactics that are designed to be confusing to senior citizens. Shady insurance schemes, fake health care products, lottery scams, and predatory lending practices are all ways that financial elder abuse can take place.

As this type of abuse continues to grow, states are increasingly working to put laws and other protections in place. During the 2016 legislative session alone, financial elder abuse was addressed by thirty-three states, as well as the District of Columbia. In the case of some states that already had laws of this nature on the books, these existing laws were expanded and reinforced. For example, Idaho’s existing law was revised to include exploitation as part of neglect. Illinois extended the timeframe, after the act of exploitation occurs, during which prosecution can take place. New Hampshire, whose law previously used the wording “incapacitated,” changed the wording to “vulnerable” in the case of adults. Other states, such as new Jersey, established task forces against this type of abuse.

As this problem grows, elected officials have become more aware of the extent of the exploitation, neglect and abuse of elders. Bills will undoubtedly continue to be introduced in Congress, to further protect seniors against financial abuse. It is important to note that not all legislation of this kind has been introduced only within the last couple of years. However, although the problem has been recognized for some time, in recent years the efforts to protect seniors against this abuse have accelerated. Unfortunately, not all proposed legislation designed to protect seniors against financial abuse has been passed. For example, although California introduced several elder financial abuse bills during 2016, not all were signed by the governor.

There remains a lot of work to be done to further protect senior Americans from financial losses resulting from abuse. Currently, it was estimated in a recent study that elders are suffering annual losses exceeding $2.9 billion dollars, exclusively due to exploitation and financial abuse. As the “baby boomers” continue to age, it is expected that this issue will continue to grow. As such, it is important that both our federal and state governments rise to the task of protecting senior citizens from financial abuse.

Our Orange County estate planning attorneys are committed to bringing public awareness to the growing epidemic of financial elder abuse through our blog. If you see a news story about financial elder abuse that you would like us to feature, send us a link to info@ocelderlaw.com today.

Suicide Prevention Month | Help a Veteran

couple laying on American flagSeptember is suicide prevention month, and although suicide afflicts every demographic in the country, there is one group of people that are disproportionately affected; veterans.

A study that appeared in the February 2015 issue of The Annals of Epidemiology discovered that veterans took their own lives at a rate of 29.5 per 100,000, nearly twice the national suicide rate.

It is common wisdom that men who saw combat are the most at risk, but this is not actually accurate. Veterans who were never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan were 16 percent more likely to commit suicide than veterans who saw combat, according to the study cited above. Furthermore, female veterans were twice as likely to take their own lives than women who had never served. The veterans in your life may need help even if they do not fit the stereotypical mold.

How to Help

Thankfully, research suggests that you can help prevent veteran suicide by reaching out to those who may be in need. The first and perhaps most important thing you can do is learn the signs that somebody might be in trouble. If you feel that your friend may be at risk, you can point them toward valuable resources such as the Veteran Crisis Line to ensure that they get the help they need before it is too late.

You can also help by showing veterans that you value both their service and their humanity. It does not require a massive time commitment, as simple acts such as sending a quick text or emailing a friend are enough to show someone that they are cared for. These tasks take no longer than a minute, proving that everyone can help reduce the suicide rate for veterans.

If you have a little bit more time available each week, meeting with your veteran associates can be a great way to strengthen the bond between you. Consider bringing them a home-cooked meal, getting together for coffee, dropping by their place, or even having a lengthy phone conversation. Sending someone you care for a care package is also a great way to show them how much they mean to you. These simple acts take no longer than an hour and help veterans understand that they would be missed by many if they did something regrettable, encouraging them to seek help rather than make a rash decision in the moment.

There is also nothing wrong with making more of a time commitment if you can swing it. Heading to the gym together on a weekly basis can help veterans have an event to look forward to, improving their lives. You can also share an experience by trying something new together, or even volunteering for a worthy cause. The options are limitless!

You can help by volunteering to handle mundane tasks for the veterans in your life as well. Offer to babysit so that they can get a night to recharge, or run simple errands so they don’t have to worry about them. These acts may seem small, but the effect they can have on mental well being is pronounced.

The elevated veteran suicide rate is not a new phenomenon, as Vietnam-era veterans displayed elevated suicide rates only if they were wounded in battle or suffering from PTSD. These seemingly obvious risk factors are no longer the indicators they once were, so you should acknowledge the veterans in your life regularly to ensure that they do not make a life-ending mistake.

Our estate planning attorneys are committed to helping the veterans of our community. If you have a story relating to veterans that you would like us to cover on our blog, email us today at info@ocelderlaw.com

Medicare to Cover Nursing Home Care for Hurricane Victims

elderly home care nurse with patientWhen natural disasters strike, it’s important for people to come together to make sure that the elderly community is looked after. Our estate planning attorneys in Long Beach have been closely monitoring the situation with Hurricane Harvey, and we’ve recently learned that federal officials have announced that Medicare will pay the nursing home costs of Hurricane Harvey survivors in the aftermath of the storm.

Traditionally, Medicare does not pay for long term nursing home care. The program does pay for shorter term rehabilitation periods after surgical procedures or a stroke, but patients must receive hospital care for at least three days beforehand for Medicare to accept those costs.

Hurricane Harvey made meeting this requirement difficult, as many Medicare recipients were displaced by the storm. Patients in hospitals had to be evacuated, interrupting their care. Others were injured during the evacuation process and taken to a shelter instead of a hospital to recover. Still others were receiving home care, making it challenging for them to receive their vital treatments now that they cannot return home.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma issued a waiver on August 31 allowing Medicare recipients to transfer to a licensed nursing facility without first spending three or more days in the hospital. This allows them to receive the care they need without worrying about the expense. In a statement, Verma said that “CMS is committed to acting as quickly and effectively as possible” in order to ensure adequate accommodations for “our most vulnerable beneficiaries.”

The situation was bad for patients, but hospitals were struggling as well. They needed all of their beds available to treat victims requiring immediate care, so using a bed on a patient who could be adequately treated at a licensed nursing home facility represented an inefficient use of resources. According to Kevin Warren, president and CEO of the Texas Health Care Association, hospitals were calling nursing homes to encourage them to waive the usual three-day waiting period in an effort to provide care to as many patients as possible.

Warren greeted news of the waiver enthusiastically, stating that it “allows… communities to make decisions in the best interests of the patients.”

The quick action of CMS in the wake of a natural disaster may have been inspired in part by the fallout from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. That storm devastated an area including 24 states, stretching from the Eastern Seaboard west to Wisconsin. No Medicare waivers were issued to pay for nursing home costs after that storm, but hospitals transferred many patients anyway to treat as many victims as they could. Many of the patients could not afford treatment on their own, leading to a payment crisis that could have been avoided.

The CEO of RBC Limited Healthcare and Management Consultants in Staatsburg, N.Y., Barbara Citarella, stated that a waiver such as that issued in Texas is “very helpful” for ensuring that patients receive continuous care in the wake of a natural disaster. She also noted that many Medicare recipients receive vital outpatient services that are no longer feasible after a major storm. These patients can “deteriorate quickly” if these vital services are interrupted, practically mandating that they receive care in a professional facility for the duration.

Medicare recipients in Houston and the surrounding areas are grateful that they will receive the care they need without needing to pay out of pocket or compromising their level of care. Hospitals in the area are also elated, as they can move treated patients with the confidence that they will continue to receive the care they need.

In our role as Long Beach estate planning attorneys, we strive to keep the public informed on the issues that matter to senior citizens. If you have a topic you would like us to cover on our blog, send us an email at info@ocelderlaw.com