Many elder Americans need protection from financial, emotional and even physical abuse. All too often, a family member, caretaker, neighbor or scam artist tries to take advantage of an older person with financial assets. In other cases, siblings will argue about what’s best for an aging parent in terms of ongoing care at home or in a residential facility.
For many families, advance planning can provide a solid foundation for addressing these types of concerns. Along with drawing up a will, an aging parent can prepare advance directives regarding future healthcare decisions, along with a power of attorney and a revocable trust that allows a family member or other designee to make decisions in the event of cognitive or physical disability.
At the same time, family members can discuss financial issues, such as guarding against financial fraud and how best to cover the cost of ongoing medical or residential services. For example, an elder might be cautioned not to send money to a caller claiming to represent a child or grandchild in an emergency, or to change a will or estate in favor of a “friendly” neighbor taking advantage of an elder’s diminished mental capacity.
Fortunately, Florida has some of the nation’s better statutes in terms of guardianship and protecting the elderly against exploitation, making it easier to prosecute exploitation cases and imposing harsher penalties. Another bill is now being considered in the Legislature that could allow a family or household member to request a temporary freeze on an elder’s financial accounts if exploitation is suspected.
Along with discussing financial issues, family members should also maintain open lines of communication regarding the appropriate care for an elderly parent or other relative. That’s especially important if siblings disagree about taking extraordinary measures when a mother or father is nearing the end of life. Having a parent’s advance directives in place can go a long way to resolving these highly emotional issues.
Another form of advance planning involves making a decision about long-term care insurance or asset protection to qualify for government benefits. Since Americans are living longer, many elders are likely to need expensive residential or skilled nursing care. However, the premiums for long term care insurance policies are rising, so the cost of coverage must also be taken into account. And the pros and cons of advance planning for asset protection should be fully discussed.
Today, there are more options in terms of long-term care policies, including benefits that would go to the heirs after an elder’s death, and there are other ways to protect an elder’s estate, while providing for ongoing care.
Regardless of the situation, discussing these issues in advance is essential for making sound decisions regarding an elder’s care and finances.
Ellen S. Morris is the founder of Elder Law Associates in Boca Raton.