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Is Elder Abuse the Next Big Crime Wave?

Doctor with patientAbout 400 social workers, law enforcers, lawyers, nursing home workers, and others who work with vulnerable adults gathered recently at the University of Minnesota to discuss what some think could be the next big crime wave: elder abuse.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in “Minnesota elder abuse reports increasing” that the conference, hosted by the Minnesota Elder Justice Center, was one of many nationwide marking World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. The recognition began in 2006 and is intended to raise awareness of financial crimes and other abuses targeting older people.
One Anoka County prosecutor commented that more tips are coming from financial institutions and nursing homes. These tips cover a wide variety of concerns, including possible financial exploitation and medication thefts. Elderly victims often are reticent to report the crimes because they’re embarrassed and don't want to be perceived as being vulnerable.
One assistant Hennepin County prosecutor said that crimes against the elderly are "doubling year-over-year." Yet, there are only two attorneys assigned to work full time on crimes against the elderly in this county. The most common crimes involve financial exploitation by family members and abuse by professionals.
An assistant Carver County attorney said his office is preparing for "a tsunami of financial exploitation" crimes that prey on older people. He noted that prosecutions can be avoided in some instances by asking a suspected abuser to a meeting with adult protection maltreatment investigators to discuss the penalties for elder exploitation.
Ashton Applewhite, an author and activist, remarked in her keynote speech, "We aspire to grow old, and yet we dread the prospect. We are all old people in training."
Reference: Minneapolis Star Tribune (June 20, 2016) “Minnesota elder abuse reports increasing”

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Persistent Problems with Powers of Attorney

Senior couple puzzling over documentYour parents or other relatives signed a durable power of attorney, which lets you handle their finances in the event they become incapacitated.
However, The New York Times explains in "Finding Out Your Power of Attorney Is Powerless" that when you take the witnessed and notarized document to a financial institution, the officials there may not accept the documents. They may not honor your power of attorney and may insist that the account owners sign the institution’s own power of attorney form.
Sometimes when a person is helping an older relative consolidate his or her accounts, the individual will run into this roadblock. The local bank will not accept the out-of-state power of attorney that the relative had signed three years earlier, when this individual sold his or her house. The bank has its own more detailed state form. In the meantime, the relative has developed dementia.
This is not a rare occurrence. Elder law attorneys often encounter financial institutions unwilling to honor valid powers of attorney. Even when state statutes require banks to accept a durable power of attorney, or waive their liability when they do accept it, elder law attorneys have seen some banks resist.
Financial industry executives have not given any estimates of how many banks and brokerages insist on their own power of attorney forms, but it is uncommon, they say. Nevertheless, banks argue that they hold important assets and need to be careful when someone is asking for access to a customer's account. This is a valid concern. Government agencies and advocacy groups warn us about the financial exploitation of seniors, particularly those with cognitive impairment.
Banks also have other motivations. When they're insisting on their own forms, they're concerned about liability.
What can you do? An elder law attorney can help with banks and brokerages honoring valid powers of attorney by going above local managers to higher-ups. You can also be proactive by asking a brokerage or bank if it requires its own durable power of attorney document and, if it does, having your relatives sign it when they are still able to do so.
Nevertheless, read all bank forms carefully or have your elder law or estate planning attorney review them because these forms can have disadvantageous indemnity or arbitration clauses—or provisions that contradict the individual’s general power of attorney.
Reference: New York Times (May 6, 2016) "Finding Out Your Power of Attorney Is Powerless"

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Don’t Postpone Your Retirement because of These Mistakes

Happy retirementIf we don't do a bang-up job with our financial planning, it could mean postponing retirement—or abandoning the idea altogether. That's what the CPA Practice Advisor says, and gives some examples of avoidable errors in the article, "3 Retirement Errors to Avoid."

Unfortunately, many folks don't spend a lot of time even thinking about retirement because they think it's a far-off time when money will have magically accumulated. That means no money to buy the condo in Cozumel, pay for the grandkids' education, or live a life of leisure. Someone in this situation might have to find a part-time job to make ends meet—and it's not out of the question that they could outlive their money. Don't end up without the money you need for retirement. Avoid these common mistakes.

  1. Not understanding taxes. We know that most of the time our money is taxable right away, like earnings from employment or interest on savings. But with individual retirement accounts, the taxes can be deferred. There's also tax-free money, like municipal bonds, life insurance proceeds, and 529 education savings plans. You should try to move as much taxable money as you can to the tax-deferred or tax-free categories.
  2. Acting without specialized advice. Don't think that one person can be an expert in all areas of planning. A financial advisor may handle your investment needs, but you should also work in concert with an eldercare and estate-planning attorney, especially if you are 60 or older.
  3. Not appreciating the longevity risk. Modern medicine lets us live longer. But that can create a problem of outliving your money, and it also can mean increased odds of needing nursing home or other long-term care. These can be expensive. So ask yourself if you have enough money to deal with these expenses for your entire lifetime. The sooner you tackle the longevity risk, the more prepared you'll be to live a rich life.

You still have time to get this going even if you are nearing retirement—it is never too late to make a plan.

Reference: CPA Practice Advisor (March 22, 2016) "3 Retirement Errors to Avoid"

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Don’t Forget to Ask Your Doctor about Dementia

Bigstock-Doctor-with-female-patient-21258332"Do you worry that forgetting names, or where you put your keys, might be a sign of impending dementia?"

Researchers who reviewed federal government data on more than 10,000 people found that in 2011, only 1 in 4 adults aged 45 or older talked about memory problems with their doctor during a routine checkup. Furthermore, the chance that a person would admit to a memory problem in a doctor's office visit declined with advancing age. This was reported in a US News & World Report article, "Too Few Older Adults Tell Doctors About Memory Loss: Study," discussing findings published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Routine checkups can be a missed opportunity for assessing and discussing memory problems for the majority of older adults. Experts say the stigma of memory loss and dementia may keep some from discussing these issues with their doctors.

Many think that as long as we don't mention it, memory loss might just be normal aging. However, talking about memory troubles doesn't necessarily mean you have dementia. It might be another highly treatable condition, like depression. But if it is related to dementia, recognizing it early is crucial.

Patients can meet with family members and an experienced elder law attorney to get advice on making individualized decisions for their care, rather than relying on last-minute decisions.

Memory loss and the possibility of the early onset of dementia is a difficult discussion for both the physician and patient, particularly in light of the long-term implications. However, early diagnosis of dementia is important, as even mild memory loss from early Alzheimer's disease may be improved with medication (although these prescriptions don't stop the disease's progression).

It can be hard for people to assess whether their own subtle memory loss is "normal," but a discussion with their physician in conjunction with specialized testing may result in answers that could lead to treatment and a better overall quality of life.

Reference: US News & World Report (January 28, 2016) "Too Few Older Adults Tell Doctors about Memory Loss: Study"

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Helping your Parents Downsize

Bigstock-Downsize-70763308 “People are not relying on the way things used to be.”

Theauthor of aChicago Tribune article titled “Don't want to burden your children? Plan now,” wrote that his parents, who are in their early 60s, moved from their old five-bedroom home to a two-bedroom house. In addition to being way too big, the old house had problems and needed maintenance and repairs. The new place is newly renovated with all new mechanicals and a smaller yard. Plus, it's in a more walkable neighborhood with friends and family nearby.

Downsizing is emotionally and logistically difficult. It is wise to do so while you are young, healthy retirees. In more traditional times, older folks would be cared for until the end of their lives by children and extended family. However, times have changed.

Part of this changing perspective is from "the triple-decker sandwich," where baby boomers are facing retirement themselves and have to also care for their elderly parents—plus manage relationships with their own children.

The number of Americans needing long-term care is expected to double in the next 30 years, and a recent study of Medicare patients found that out-of-pocket costs at the end of life were highest for patients with dementia. These people require help with daily living, often for years—most of whom aren’t covered by public programs.

Here are some ideas on how to address this issue:

Downsizing. If you're in a large, expensive home in a car-dependent neighborhood, downsizing now lets you limit expenses while maintaining independence longer. Proximity to family and friends is also very important. Even though 89% of respondents in the survey said they'd wanted to stay in their current home, they still found the option of a smaller home to be much more preferable to a nursing home or assisted living.

Invest in long-term care insurance. If you want to be cared for in your home, find an insurance policy that covers that type of care as part of your retirement planning. The younger and healthier you are, the cheaper these policies are going to be.

Talk to an estate planning attorney, preferably all together. An experienced elder law or estate planning attorney can sit down with the whole family. They should have expertise in intergenerational wealth transfer, inheritance, and estate planning.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: The Chicago Tribune (November 14, 2015) “Don't want to burden your children? Plan now”

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