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Elder law attorneys have far too many stories of people who fail to plan, plan incorrectly or incompletely, or plan to fail by doing nothing at all, as described in the article “Elder Care: People in a pickle” from The Sentinel. Here’s a sad story.
A woman calls the elder law office because her husband fell at home—a common occurrence among the elderly. He was hospitalized and is now receiving rehabilitation in a nursing home. The treating physician recommends that the husband remain in the nursing home because he has significant limitations and his wife, who has her own medical issues, isn’t physically able to care for him.
The wife agrees. However, she has a host of challenges to overcome that were never addressed. The husband took care of all of the finances, for decades telling his wife not to worry. Now, she has no idea what their resources are. Can they afford to pay for his nursing home care? She doesn’t know. Nor does she have the authority to access their accounts, because there are accounts in her husband’s name only and she does not have access to them.
Her husband’s insistence of being the only one in control of their finances has put her in a terrible predicament. Without the estate planning documents to give her access to everything, including his own accounts, she can’t act. Can he now sign a Power of Attorney? Maybe—but maybe not, if it can be shown he lacks capacity.
If the couple cannot pay the nursing home bill, they have given their children a problem, since they live in Pennsylvania, where the state’s filial support law allows the nursing home to sue one or more of the children for the cost of their parent’s care. (This law varies by state, so check with a local elder lawyer to see if it could impact your family). Even if the wife knew about the family’s finances and could apply for public benefits, in this case his eligibility would be denied, as they had purchased a home for one of their children within five years of his being moved to the nursing home. Medicaid has a five-year look back period, and any large transfers or purchases would make the husband ineligible for five years.
If this sounds like a financial, legal and emotional mess, it’s a fair assessment.
Unexpected events happen, and putting off planning for them, or one spouse insisting “I’ve got this” when truly they don’t, takes a big impact on the future for spouses and family members. All of the decisions we make, or fail to make, can have major impacts on the future for our loved ones.
Other situations familiar to elder lawyers: a parent naming two children as co-agents for power of attorney. When she began showing symptoms of dementia, the two children disagreed on her care and ended up in court.
A father has guardianship for a disabled adult son. He promised the son he’d always be able to live in the family home. The father becomes ill and must move into a nursing home. Neither one is able to manage their own personal finances, and no financial or practical arrangements were made to fulfill the promise to the son.
No one expects to have these problems, but even the most loving families find themselves snarled in legal battles because of poor planning. Careful planning may not reduce the messy events of life, but it can reduce the stress and expenses. By choosing to exert some control over who can help you with decisions and what plans are in place for the future, you can leave a legacy of caring.
Reference: The Sentinel (Aug. 19, 2022) “Elder Care: People in a pickle”
Suggested Key Terms: Elder Care, Nursing Home, Power of Attorney, Guardianship, Disabled Adult, Capacity, Filial Support Law, Estate Planning, Rehabilitation, Medicaid