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Sign a Power of Attorney Before It’s Too Late

durable power of attorney by elder law attorney and lawyerIn my last post to this blog, I explained why it is so important to put in place a durable power of attorney.  In this post, I want to emphasize why it is important to get that power of attorney in place before you need it.  If you wait until you need it, you’ll be too late.

Why Do I Need A Durable Power of Attorney?

As we discussed in that prior post, a durable power of attorney is an extremely important estate planning tool, even more important than a will in many cases.  This crucial document allows a person you appoint — your “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” — to act in place of you — the “principal” — for financial, business and legal, purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated due to dementia or some other reason, such as a stroke, heart attack, automobile accident, or other reasons that might arise.  The agent under the durable power of attorney can quickly step in and take care of your affairs.

To properly execute a power of attorney and name an agent to stand in your shoes, you need to have legal capacity.  Regrettably, many people delay completing this vital estate planning step until it’s too late and they no longer legally have the capacity for signing the document and giving it full legal effect.  Won’t wait until its too late!

What Happens If You Do Not Have A Durable Power of Attorney?

What happens then? Without a properly executed durable power of attorney, no one can represent you unless a court appoints a conservator or guardian. That court process takes lots of time, costs lots of money, and the judge may not choose the person you would prefer. In addition, under a guardianship or conservatorship, the representative may have to seek court permission to take planning steps, make long term care decisions, engage in basic financial transactions, that your agent could implement immediately with a properly executed simple durable power of attorney.  In effect, the judge, or the person appointed by the judge as your guardian, will be “in charge” of determining what issues are brought to the probate judge’s attention.  Either the judge or the guardian will be making decisions that may have a profound effect on you and your family.  No one really wants to be the subject of a guardianship.

This is why it’s so important that you have a durable power of attorney in place before the capacity to sign the document becomes an issue.  The standard for legal capacity with respect to durable powers of attorney varies from state to state. Some courts and lawyers argue that this threshold can be quite low: that you need only know that you trust the agent to manage your financial affairs. Others argue that since the agent generally has the right to enter into contracts on behalf of the principal, the principal should have the capacity to enter into contracts as well, and the threshold for entering into contracts is fairly high.  In Florida, you must show that the person signing the durable power of attorney has the capacity, and does in fact understand, who are the natural objects of his or her estate (the identity of children, grandchildren, etc.), and the nature, approximate value, and the extent of the estate assets.

How Do I Choose An Agent to Act on My Behalf?

If you do not have someone you trust to appoint as your agent, it may be more appropriate to have the probate court looking over the shoulder of the person who is handling your affairs through a guardianship or conservatorship. In that case, you may want to sign a limited durable power of attorney that simply nominates the person you want to serve as your conservator or guardian. Most states require the court to respect your nomination “except for good cause or disqualification.”

Because you need a third party to assess capacity and because you need to be certain that the formal legal requirements are followed, it can be risky to prepare and execute legal documents on your own without representation by an attorney. To sign a durable power of attorney before it’s too late, contact a local experienced elder law attorney.

Can I Prepare My Own Power of Attorney?

If you insist on preparing your own Florida durable power of attorney, without the assistance of a Florida attorney because you don’t want to meet with one or pay for one, we actually offer a power of attorney for you to prepare online that complies with all of the changes in the Florida power of attorney statute that was completely rewritten in 2011.  We review your input for that power of attorney so that you can know that it will be enforceable in Florida.

Durable power of attorney in Florida by experienced elder law lawyer

Top Reasons Everyone Needs a Comprehensive Power of Attorney

Florida durable power of attorney formThe benefits of a highly detailed, comprehensive durable power of attorney are numerous. Unfortunately, many powers of attorney are more general in nature and can actually cause more problems than they solve, especially for seniors. This post highlights the benefits of a comprehensive, detailed durable power of attorney, including some of the provisions that should be included. A proper starting point is to emphasize that the proper use of a durable power of attorney as an estate planning and elder law document depends on the reliability and honesty of the appointed agent.

The agent under a power of attorney has traditionally been called an “attorney-in-fact” or sometimes just “attorney.” However, confusion over these terms has encouraged the terminology to change so more recent state statutes tend to use the label “agent” for the person receiving power by the document.

The “law of agency” governs the agent under a durable power of attorney. The law of agency is the body of statutes and common law court decisions built up over centuries that dictate how and to what degree an agent is authorized to act on behalf of the “principal”—in other words, the individual who has appointed the agent to represent him or her.

Powers of attorney are a species of agency-creating document. In most states, powers of attorney can be and most often are unilateral contracts – that is, signed only by the principal, but accepted by the agent by the act of performance.

Much has been written about financial exploitation of individuals, particularly seniors and other vulnerable people, by people who take advantage of them through undue influence, hidden transactions, identity theft and the like.

Many articles in the legal arena have addressed guardianships and conservatorships in Florida and discussed the benefits of court supervision of care of vulnerable people in such contexts. Even though exploitation risks exist, there are great benefits to one individual (the principal) privately empowering another person (the agent) to act on the principal’s behalf to perform certain financial functions.

A comprehensive durable power of attorney may include a grant of power for the agent to represent and advocate for the principal in regard to health care decisions. Such health care powers are more commonly addressed in a separate “health care power of attorney,” which may be a distinct document or combined with other health topics in an “advance health care directive.”

Another important preliminary consideration about powers of attorney is “durability.”  “Durability” or a “durable” power of attorney is one that does not lose its legal effectiveness in the event the principal becomes incapacitated.

Powers of attorney are voluntary delegations of authority by the principal to the agent. The principal has not given up his or her own power to do these same functions but has granted legal authority to the agent to perform various tasks on the principal’s behalf. All states have adopted a “durability” statute that allows principals to include in their powers of attorney a simple declaration that no power granted by the principal in this document will become invalid upon the subsequent mental incapacity of the principal. The result is a “durable power of attorney” – a document that continues to be valid until a stated termination date or event occurs, or the principal dies. Absent durability provisions, the power of attorney terminates upon the principal’s death or incapacity.

Having covered the explanation of what a durable power of attorney is, let us look at the top benefits of having a comprehensive durable power of attorney.

1. Provides the ability to choose who will make decisions for you (rather than a court).

If someone has signed a durable power of attorney and later becomes incapacitated and unable to make decisions, the agent named can step into the shoes of the incapacitated person and make important financial decisions. Without a durable power of attorney, a guardianship or conservatorship may need to be established, and can be very expensive and intrusive.  It also removes from the family the final authority over the incapacitated party’s family members and shifts it to the guardianship judge.

2. Avoids the necessity of a guardianship or conservatorship.

Someone who does not have a comprehensive durable power of attorney at the time they become incapacitated would have no alternative than to have someone else petition the court to appoint a guardian or conservator. The court will choose who is appointed to manage the financial and/or health affairs of the incapacitated person, and the court will continue to monitor the situation as long as the incapacitated person is alive. While not only a costly process, another detriment is the fact that the incapacitated person has no input on who will be appointed to serve.



3. Provides family members a good opportunity to discuss wishes and desires.

durable power of attorney for childThere is much thought and consideration that goes into the creation of a comprehensive durable power of attorney. One of the most important decisions is who will serve as the agent. When a parent or loved one makes the decision to sign a power of attorney, it is a good opportunity for the parent to discuss wishes and expectations with the family and, in particular, the person named as agent in the power of attorney.



4. The more comprehensive the durable power of attorney, the better.

As people age, their needs change and their power of attorney should reflect that. Seniors have concerns about long-term care, applying for government benefits to pay for care, as well as choosing the proper care providers. Without allowing, the agent to perform these tasks and more, precious time and money may be wasted.

5. Prevents questions about principal’s intent.

Many of us have read about court battles over a person’s intent once that person has become incapacitated. A well-drafted durable power of attorney, along with other health care directives, can eliminate the need for family members to argue or disagree over a loved one’s wishes. Once written down, this document is excellent evidence of their intent and is difficult to dispute.


6. Prevents delays in asset protection planning.

A comprehensive durable power of attorney should include all of the powers required to do effective asset protection planning in the event of incapacity. If the power of attorney does not include a specific power, it can greatly dampen the agent’s ability to complete the planning and could result in thousands of dollars lost. While some powers of attorney seem long, it is necessary to include all of the powers necessary to carry out proper planning.  Importantly, if the durable power of attorney does not have certain specific provisions involving “special” powers, as defined by the Florida durable power of attorney statute, it may result in the denial of Medicaid benefits to pay for long term care.  Thus it is critical that the durable power of attorney, especially in Florida, be prepared in accordance with the Florida power of attorney statute.

7. Protects the agent from claims of financial abuse.

Comprehensive durable powers of attorney often allow the agent to make substantial gifts to self or others in order to carry out asset protection planning objectives. Without the power of attorney authorizing this, the agent (often a family member) could be at risk for financial abuse allegations.  In Florida, without specifically providing in the durable power of attorney for the special power of gifting to the agent, or other family members, the agent will not have the authority to engage in gifting – with potential tax and long term care consequences.

8. Allows agents to talk to other agencies.

An agent under a power of attorney is often in the position of trying to reconcile bank charges, make arrangements for health care, engage professionals for services to be provided to the principal, and much more. Without a comprehensive durable power of attorney giving authority to the agent, many companies will refuse to disclose any information or provide services to the incapacitated person. This can result in a great deal of frustration on the part of the family, as well as lost time and money – and the specter of establishing a court supervised guardianship.

9. Allows an agent to perform planning and transactions to make the principal eligible for public benefits.

One could argue that transferring assets from the principal to others in order to make the principal eligible for public benefits–Medicaid and/or non-service-connected Veterans Administration benefits–is not in the best interests of the principal, but rather in the best interests of the transferees. In fact, one reason that a comprehensive durable power of attorney is essential in elder law is that a Judge may not be willing to authorize a guardian to protect assets for others while enhancing the ward/protected person’s eligibility for public benefits. However, that may have been the wish of the incapacitated person and one that would remain unfulfilled if a durable power of attorney were not in place.



10. Provides immediate access to critical assets.

A well-crafted durable power of attorney includes provisions that allow the agent to access critical assets, such as the principal’s digital assets or safety deposit box, to continue to pay bills, access funds, etc. in a timely manner. Absent these provisions, court approval will be required before anyone can access these assets. Digital assets are also important because older powers of attorney did not address digital assets, yet more and more individuals have digital accounts.  The statutes and case law surrounding durable powers of attorney is ever changing.  Consequently, durable powers of attorney should be reviewed regularly to determine whether changes in the law might adversely affect the usability of the power of attorney.

11. Provides peace of mind for everyone involved.

Taking the time to sign a power of attorney lessens the burden on family members who would otherwise have to go to court to get authority for performing basic tasks, like writing a check or arranging for home health services. Knowing this has been taken care of in advance is of great comfort to families and loved ones.

Conclusion

Florida Durable Power of Attorney Helps the ElderlyThis discussion of the Reasons Why Everyone Needs a Comprehensive Power of Attorney could be expanded by many more. Which benefits are most important depends on the situation of the principal and their loved ones. This is why a comprehensive durable power of attorney is so essential: Nobody can predict exactly which powers will be needed in the future. The planning goal is to have a power of attorney in place that empowers a succession of trustworthy agents to do whatever needs to be done in the future. Please call us if we can be of assistance in any way or if you have any questions about durable powers of attorney.  You can obtain a durable power of attorney that contains the basic requirements for compliance online through this website by going to this page.  If you would like to develop a durable power of attorney that is specifically tailored for your needs, and the needs of your family, call and schedule a consultation, either office, telephonically or through email, and we’ll help you get one that fits your specific needs.

To comply with the U.S. Treasury regulations, we must inform you that (i) any U.S. federal tax advice contained in this newsletter was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by any person for the purpose of avoiding U.S. federal tax penalties that may be imposed on such person and (ii) each taxpayer should seek advice from their tax advisor based on the taxpayer’s particular circumstances.

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Fighting Nursing Home Discrimination Against Medicaid Recipients

Nursing home discrimination against Medicaid residents is illegal.

nursing home discrimination against Medicaid recipients is illegalWhile it is illegal for a nursing home to discriminate against a Medicaid recipient, it still happens. To prevent such discrimination, nursing home residents and their families need to know their rights and how to fight nursing home discrimination against Medicaid beneficiaries.

The potential for discrimination arises because Medicaid pays nursing homes less than the facilities receive from residents who pay privately with their own funds and less than Medicare pays. Nursing homes are not required to accept any Medicaid patients, but Medicaid payments are a steady guaranteed payment, so many nursing homes agree to accept Medicaid recipients.

When a nursing home agrees to take Medicaid payments, it also agrees not to discriminate against Medicaid residents based on how they are paying. Nursing home discrimination against Medicaid recipients is illegal. Medicaid residents are entitled to the same quality of care as other residents. A nursing home cannot evict residents solely because they qualified for Medicaid.

Unfortunately, nursing home discrimination against Medicaid patients does occur, and the discrimination can take different forms. The nursing home may refuse to accept a Medicaid recipient or may require that a resident pay privately for a certain period of time before applying for Medicaid. When a resident switches from Medicare or private-pay to Medicaid payments, the nursing home may transfer the resident to a less desirable room or claim that it doesn’t have any Medicaid beds, which is illegal.

There is at least one way that nursing homes can treat Medicaid recipients differently, however. Nursing homes are allowed to switch residents who were privately paying for a single room to a shared room once they qualify for Medicaid. In addition, the nursing home is not required to cover personal and comfort care items, such as a telephone or television. In some states families are allowed to pay the difference to get a private room or the care item. Other states do not allow any supplementation.

If you feel you have been discriminated against by a nursing home, contact Florida’s long-term care ombudsman or your attorney.

For a guide to the 20 common nursing home problems, including discrimination against Medicaid recipients, click here.

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NJ Supreme Court Rules Medicaid Planning Attorneys Do Planning-Non-Lawyers Engaged In Unauthorized Practice of Law

Medicaid planning with Jacksonville Medicaid planning attorneys in FloridaJoining the states of Florida, Ohio, and Tennessee, the Supreme Court of New Jersey has found that Medicaid planning attorneys should handle Medicaid planning. Non-lawyers who apply the law to a Medicaid applicant’s specific circumstances are engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.  Florida’s Supreme Court decision last year, to the same effect, provides that a non-lawyer who engages in Medicaid planning is guilty of the unauthorized practice of law and is committing a criminal felony.

The NJ state Supreme Court received complaints that non-lawyers retained by families or nursing homes to assist with the Medicaid application process were providing erroneous or incomplete law-related advice. A state attorney ethics hotline received reports that non-lawyers charged “clients” large sums of money for what turned out to be faulty Medicaid-planning legal assistance. These actions caused the elderly victims to suffer significant financial losses.

The NJ state Supreme Court was asked for an opinion specifying what activities non-lawyers may engage in and what activities are the unauthorized practice of law. The Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law concluded that while non-lawyer Medicaid advisors may provide limited services, “[a]pplying the law to an individual’s specific circumstances generally is the ‘practice of law,’ and should be accomplished through Medicaid planning attorneys.  A Medicaid advisor or Application Assistor may provide information on insurance programs and coverage options; help individuals complete the application or renewal; help them with gathering and providing required documentation; assist in counting income and assets; submit the application to the agency; and assist with communication between the agency and the individual. But the advisor may not provide legal advice on strategies to become eligible for Medicaid benefits, including advice on spending down resources, tax implications, guardianships, sale or transfer of assets, creation of trusts or service contracts, and the like,” as those items constitute the practice of law and should be done by Medicaid planning attorneys.

For the Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law’s Opinion 53, “Non-Lawyer Medicaid Advisors (Including ‘Application Assistors’) and the Unauthorized Practice of Law,” , click here.

The Medicaid laws are very complex, and deal with a number of overlapping legal doctrines.  When you need assistance with Medicaid planning, including the preparation of spend down plans, trusts, personal care contracts, Medicaid asset protection trusts, or other options that comply with the Medicaid laws, you should seek out experienced elder law or Medicaid planning attorneys for that assistance.  Otherwise, you and your family may also experience “significant financial losses.”

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The Elder Law Attorney’s Role in Medicaid Planning

Do you need an elder law attorney for even “simple” Medicaid planning?

The answer, as so often is the case in legal matters, is that it depends on your particular situation and circumstances, but in most cases, the prudent answer would be “yes” you do need an elder law attorney to help you accomplish Medicaid planning to preserve your family’s assets and qualify your loved one for Medicaid benefits to pay for nursing home care.

The social worker atelder law attorney explains medicaid rules your parent’s nursing home assigned to assist you with the preparation of a Medicaid application for your mother knows a lot about the program, but maybe not that one particular rule that applies in your case or the newest changes in the law, which can make all the difference in whether your mother’s application will be approved. In addition, by the time you’re applying for Medicaid, you may have missed out on significant planning opportunities, that could have helped your family preserve valuable assets.

The best option is to immediately consult with a qualified and experienced elder law attorney who can advise you on your family’s entire situation, at the first thought that a nursing home might be necessary. At the very least, the price of the consultation should purchase some peace of mind that things are being accomplished appropriately and in your family’s best interest. What you learn from such a consultation with an experienced elder law attorney can mean significant financial savings or better care for you or your loved one. Proper Medicaid planning may involve the use of trusts, transfers of assets, purchase of annuities or increased income and resource allowances for the healthy parent who is living at home.

The Medicaid laws and regulations collectively create a maze in which the non-lawyer can easily run into dead ends. The experienced elder law attorney is aware of recent changes in the law, the results of the latest “fair hearings” (which are written decisions by administrative judges ruling on appeals of Medicaid denials of benefits made by the Department of Children and Families), and information gathered from other elder law attorneys who involved in dealing with Medicaid matters on a daily basis.

Medicaid Planning Constitutes the Practice of Law and Should Be Undertaken by Elder Law Attorneys

Furthermore, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled in The Florida Bar Re: Advisory Opinion — Medicaid Planning Activities by Nonlawyers, SC14-211, January 15, 2015, that Medicaid planning, because of the requirement to understand and implement the statutes and regulations, constitutes the practice of law.  In that opinion, the Florida Supreme Court said:

 

“. . . the testimony revealed that non-lawyer Medicaid planners are essentially unregulated, as there are no licensing, education, or advertising requirements. . . .

elder law attorney provides medicaid planningTestimony described the type of harm caused by nonlawyer Medicaid planners which includes denial of Medicaid eligibility, exploitation, catastrophic or severe tax liability, and the purchase of inappropriate financial products threatening or destroying clients’ life savings. The potential for public harm is even greater when the nonlawyers put themselves in a position of reliance and advising the customer as to the proper course of action to take. In order to protect the public from harm, it is the opinion of the Standing Committee that the activities described herein constitute the unlicensed practice of law and should not be authorized.”

Consequently, non-lawyers who engage in Medicaid planning are involved in the unlicensed practice of law, which in Florida is a felony.

If you are going to consult with an experienced elder law attorney, the sooner the better. If you wait, it may be too late to take some steps available to preserve substantial assets for the family.  Whether your initial consultation is in advance of the actual need for Medicaid benefits to pay for nursing home care, or on a crisis basis because your spouse or elderly parent has just been determined to need Medicaid, we can help. To schedule a consultation, just call us at (904) 448-1969.

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Cost of Long Term Care Increases in 2016

cost of long term care from elder law attorney medicaid lawyer in jacksonville, floridaThe cost of long term care continues to rise, even if slightly for 2016 compared to 2015. The median cost of a private nursing home room in the United States has increased slightly to $92,378 a year, up 1.24 percent from 2015, according to Genworth’s 2016 Cost of Care survey, which the insurer conducts annually. Genworth reports that the median cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $82,125, up 2.27 percent from 2015. The rise in prices is modest compared to the 4.2 percent and 3.8 percent gains, respectively, in 2015.

Florida experienced increases in the cost of long term care similar to the national averages:

The price rise was even lower for assisted living facilities, where the median rate ticked up only .78 percent, to $3,628 a month. The national median rate for the services of a home health aide was $20 an hour, the same rate as 2015, and the cost of adult day care, which provides support services in a protective setting during part of the day, actually fell from $69 to $68 a day.

Alaska continues to be the costliest state for nursing home care, with the median annual cost of long term care in a private nursing home room totaling $297,840. Oklahoma again was found to be the most affordable state, with a median annual cost of long term care in a private room of $60,225, which did not increase in 2016.

The rates reported for the Jacksonville, Florida area include the following according to the Genworth study:

Home Health Care         Adult Cay Health Care     Assisted Living Facility     Nursing Home Care

Homemaker Services                                                                                                     Semi-Private Rooms

Annual Costs                      Annual Costs                              Annual Costs                     Annual Costs

$47,362                                 $20,930                                         $36,300                                 $85,045

While prices may not have increased drastically from last year, the survey found that Americans underestimate the cost of in-home long-term care by almost 50 percent. Thirty percent believe it will be less than $417 a month. In fact, an in-home aide working 44 hours a month would cost $3,861, according to Genworth. Proper spend down planning can allow you to qualify for Medicaid benefits to pay the cost of long term care in assisted living facilities and skilled nursing homes.

The 2016 survey was based on responses from more than 15,000 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health facilities and home care providers. The survey was conducted by phone during January and February of 2016.medicaid planning lawyer elder law attorney to pay for cost of long term care

If your personal assets are not sufficient to cover the costs of long term care, and you do not have long term care insurance, then your only real option to pay for long term care, especially in a skilled nursing home, is to qualify for Medicaid benefits under the Florida Institution Care Program (ICP). We can help you preserve your remaining assets and qualify for Medicaid to pay for your long term care costs. If you, or a loved one, need skilled nursing home care, schedule an appointment with us to determine how we can help you qualify for Medicaid benefits to pay for nursing home care and other cost of long term care, and legally preserve your assets for yourself, your spouse and your family.