Don’t Neglect a Plan for Your Pet During the Pandemic

If you have a pet, chances are you have worried about what would happen to your furry companion if something were to happen to you. However, worrying and having an actual plan are two very different things, as discussed at a Council of Aging webinar. That’s the subject of the article “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future” that appeared in The Harvard Press.

It’s stressful to worry about something happening, but it’s not that difficult to put something in place. After you’ve got a plan for yourself, your children and your property, add a plan for your pet.

Start by considering who would really commit to caring for your pet, if you had a long-term illness or in the event of your unexpected passing. Have a discussion with them. Don’t assume that they’ll take care of your pet. A casual agreement isn’t enough. The owner needs to be sure that the potential caretaker understands the degree of commitment and responsibility involved.

If you should need to receive home health care, don’t also assume that your health care provider will be willing to take care of your pet. It’s best to find a pet sitter or friend who can care for the pet before the need arises. Write down the pet’s information: the name and contact info for the vets, the brand of food, medication and any behavioral quirks.

There are legal documents that can be put into place to protect a pet. Your will can contain general directions about how the pet should be cared for, and a certain amount of money can be set aside in a will, although that method may not be legally enforceable. Owners cannot leave money directly to a pet, but a pet trust can be created to hold money to be used for the benefit of the pet, under the management of the trustee. The trust can also be accessed while the owner is still living. Therefore, if the owner becomes incapacitated, the pet’s care will not be interrupted.

An estate planning attorney will know the laws concerning pet trusts in your state. Not all states permit them, although many do.

A pet trust is also preferable to a mention in a will, because the caretaker will have to wait until the will is probated to receive funds to care for your pet. The cost of veterinary services, food, medication, boarding or pet sitters can add up quickly, as pet owners know.

A durable power of attorney can also be used to make provisions for the care of a pet. The person in that role has the authority to access and use the owner’s financial resources to care for the animal.

The legal documents will not contain information about the pet, so it’s a good idea to provide info on the pet’s habits, medications, etc., in a separate document. Choose the caretaker wisely—your pet’s well-being will depend upon it!

Reference: The Harvard Press (May 14, 2020) “COA speakers urge pet owners to plan for their animal’s future”


Nursing Home Care Costs and Applying for Medicaid

Medicaid provides several programs funded through a state-federal agreement, explains the article “Planning a must: Medicaid and paying for nursing homes” from The Dallas Morning News. One of the programs provides long-term nursing home care benefits to pay for nursing home or approved residential care facilities. However, requirements to qualify for Medicaid vary widely from state to state. It’s best to speak with an elder law attorney, who will be able to help you plan in advance.

To qualify in Massachusetts, you must have a medical need and fall under the asset limits, which change yearly. In 2020, the asset (resource) amount for an individual is $2,000. For a married person, your spouse can have countable assets of $128,640.  If these sound like low levels, they are.   However, there are some assets that Massachusetts does not count.   A married couple or individual’s house is exempt up to an equity limit of $893,000.   However, once sold, an exempt assets becomes a countable asset, that is, cash.  An elder law attorney can assist with the planning relating to a primary residence.  In Massachusetts, there is one other exempt asset, which is one vehicle.  All other assets are generally countable and subject to the asset cap above.  One way to get countable assets down to or under the cap is to spend these “excess resources” on exempt purchases.  The strategies available to an individual depends upon the mixture of assets that he or she has and his or her marital status.    There are many variables that go into proper planning.

For most people, their assets are too high to qualify for Medicaid (which is called MassHealth in Massachusetts), but their assets are not sufficient to pay for nursing home care, which statistically is a stay of 36 months.   The average cost of skilled care in a nursing home in the Greater Boston area is about $15,000 per month or $180,000 per year.  It is not uncommon to see the cost close to $16,000 or even higher per month.  That’s where Medicaid planning with an elder law attorney comes in. The attorney will know what assets are countable and what are exempt.  More importantly, the elder law attorney will know how to protect those assets in accordance with the Medicaid requirements and regulations.

While it may be tempting to give away assets, there is a five-year lookback period.  And, a DIY long term care plan can unintentionally result in ineligibility, given the time frame for the need for skilled care.  The rules about gifting assets are complicated and mistakes are non-negotiable.  The result may be a delay in eligibility.

If you are planning for someone else, such as an elderly parent, be sure that they have a durable power of attorney and a health care proxy and the agent under those documents is the person assisting the elder.    Why are these documents so important?  If you or your loved one becomes incapacitated while you are either planning for long term care or applying for MassHealth benefits, your agent will be able to legally assist with the Medicaid planning and file the Medicaid application.  Without these essential documents, the incapacitated individual will need to have a conservator and/or guardian appointed by the courts.

An elder lawyer will be able to help you and your family with planning for Medicaid, and with an application. You’ll be better off relying on the help of an experienced attorney.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (March 15, 2020) “Planning a must: Medicaid and paying for nursing homes”


What I Need to Know about Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

Family caregivers of dementia patients must be more prepared for immediate changes in temperament. They need more support and respite care, and they need a better idea of what to expect in the days and months ahead.

Forbes’s recent article entitled “When Your Loved One Has Dementia: 3 Questions For Family Caregivers” provided three important questions to ask if your aging parent or family member has been diagnosed with a form of dementia.

What training must I have? When a parent, friend, or other loved one in your care is has dementia, you should look to local healthcare resources for education and training.

The temperament of people suffering from a form of dementia can change swiftly. It can rapidly turn hurtful or even violent. However, there are things a caregiver can do to interact with them to help keep them calm. Ask their healthcare provider for suggestions or referrals.

As a caregiver, do I have the legal standing to take care of this person? You should determine if your loved one has a will, durable power of attorney, and living will in place, along with a healthcare proxy. These are documents that must be drafted and signed, before their dementia progresses to the point where it totally distorts your loved one’s thought process.

The documents provide instructions as how to care for them, according to their original wishes and avoid stress in the family, if disagreements arise. Contact an elder law attorney as soon as possible to create these documents.

How do I get help when I need it? Caring for an aging loved one can be a very tiring task. Tending to the needs of an aging loved one with a form of dementia is an even greater challenge. Begin planning now for self-care.

You can’t take care of a loved one with dementia, if your physical and mental health is wiped out and you are exhausted. Look at respite care options to give yourself the rest you’re going to need.

Getting these measures ready now can ensure that you are prepared for the tough future.

Reference:  Forbes (March 23, 2020) “When Your Loved One Has Dementia: 3 Questions For Family Caregivers”