Three Youthful Myths About Estate Planning for Millennials

Funny day with the best friendsBlitheness is the prerogative of the young. Arguably, no generation has better exercised its right to youthful nonchalance than the Millennial one, known for its “Peter Pan” reluctance to embrace the burdens of adulthood.

Then again, maybe that isn’t fair. Millennials might think about growing up in different terms than those who came before them, but they are also coming of age in a different world than the one we grew up in.

And who’s to say they aren’t responsible? The New York Times recently reported that more and more young people — even without a family of their own — are beginning to make estate plans. That’s something those of us who practice estate law have been recommending to young Americans for a long time, but the message has often fallen on deaf ears. It’s nice to see that changing.

The Times report notwithstanding, though, there may still be a pervasive sentiment among Millennials that estate planning is a concern for their far-off futures.

Financial e-magazine The Street recently argued on behalf of estate planning for Millennials, and we might match the points they made to three common myths among the young:

1. Young people don’t own anything of value. That is surely a myth. Most Millennials do indeed have estates of their own. While they might not own homes, their possessions can still add up to a lot, not only in terms of financial worth but also sentimental value. That needs to be accounted for.

2. Estate planning is for rich people. This myth is popular among people of all ages, but it is equally untrue for all of them. Everyone has assets. You don’t have to be wealthy to own things that matter. Moreover, even in the absence of high-dollar assets, you still have a body. Healthcare directives, powers of attorney, and other documents are all essential for making sure that someone will make the right decisions for your health and welfare if you’re ever unable to.

3. There’s still time to do it later. That’s an easy assumption to make, especially while you’re young, but the truth is that none of us have that guarantee. Unexpected accidents, illnesses, and deaths have left many families in terrible binds. Young people can alleviate enormous burdens for their loved ones by putting an effective estate plan in place now.

If you’re a young person (or the parent of one), and you’d like to learn more about estate planning for Millennials, I can help. Give me a call.

For Dementia Patients, Increased Awareness Brings New Dignity

Things are changing on the dementia front, and we might say they’re changing for both the better and the worst. On the one hand, the overall rate of dementia is (according to most projections) rising rather rapidly. On the other, though, scientists are finally starting to make some real headway in their understanding of this terrible disease.

With the growing diagnoses and the more frequent dementia-related headlines in the news, we’re seeing more widespread awareness about dementia than ever before.

Statistical models show that if you don’t already know someone affected by dementia, you probably will within the next few decades (or sooner), unless things change. In other words, the disease is really hitting home for many Americans.Group Of Senior Couples Enjoying Meal Together With Home Help

In a sense, that is encouraging news — history shows us that medical advances often follow a rising tide of cultural awareness.

For today’s dementia patients, this newfound awareness also heralds a more immediate benefit — dignity. New nursing homes are popping up with dementia-specific care programs. Seniors have a growing number of alternative care options, too, like “Dementia Villages,” which are designed to provide a neighborhood-like living environment for those with advanced care needs.

Recently, I came across a story about a pub in Mill Creek, Washington that offers a 90-minute dementia “supper club” every week, designed to offer a good meal and a respectful network of support for dementia patients and their caregivers. “Mac ‘n’ cheese with a side of dignity,” they call it.

Dignity is crucial to the dementia patient’s experience, and it ought to be a paramount objective in every service we seek out for them. It’s always a chief goal in my efforts as a Middlesex County elder law attorney, and I’m pleased to see that people in other lines of business are getting on board with that notion as well.

This Holiday, Honor Caregivers with Random Acts of Kindness

Nursing homeThe news is filled with horrifying headlines. As comfort, we remind ourselves that the world knows more kindness than tragedy, even if the former never earns the lion’s share of the coverage.

Though we seldom hear about them, millions of acts of kindness unfold on Earth every single day, big and small. I see some of them in my own clients.

America has a large and ever-growing elderly population, and many of those seniors require long-term care. For some, that involves a mix of professional services and volunteer family care. For others, a loved one’s sacrifice represents the primary or even sole source of daily care.

Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the long-term care provided in this country comes from unpaid family members. There are 40 million of those caregivers in the U.S. alone.

Family caregiving isn’t just an act of kindness. It is a lifestyle of kindness, defined by dedication, sacrifice, and love — day after day. These noble caregivers deserve our respect, appreciation, and shows of gratitude.

Last month marked National Family Caregivers Month, and as part of that, the AARP launched a Random Acts of Kindness Contest. They’re encouraging people to surprise caregivers with unexpected, heartfelt acknowledgements of their service. The winners will share a prize pot of $10,000.

The contest runs throughout the holiday season and on into March, so there’s still time to reflect on the caregivers in your life and devise the perfect surprise. Need inspiration? The Huffington Post offers a few ideas:

  • Send uplifting greeting cards and text messages
  • Offer to take care of time-consuming tasks, like boxing up holiday decorations after Christmas
  • Compile the latest research on whichever condition they’re providing care for (especially if the developments are of the encouraging kind)
  • Pay for their next meal or grocery list
  • Chocolate (because who doesn’t love chocolate?)

Whether those are bold enough to win a contest remains to be seen (AARP insists you don’t have to break new ground or get especially creative to win). Winners or not, though, they are guaranteed to lift the hearts of those who could probably use a pick-me-up now and then.

In my own practice as a Massachusetts elder law attorney, I see the wonderful work and tremendous sacrifice of family caregivers every day. To those people, I am proud to say thank you, bless you, and Happy Holidays.

Even for Dementia Patients, There’s No Place Like Home

The yellow brick roadNBC paved yet another yellow brick road to ruby-red-hot ratings with their latest live musical event this month, The Wiz LIVE!

The Wizard of Oz holds a special place in our cultural consciousness, with the 1939 MGM version standing out as perhaps the most-watched movie in the whole history of cinema. Nearly every American has seen it, and for decades now, scholars have pondered how that original novel and its two most famous adaptations (the 1939 film and Broadway’s The Wiz) have molded our collective notion of home.

Indeed, the banner song in The Wiz is a beautiful ballad entitled “Home,” in which Dorothy wrestles what it really means to “go home.” (By all accounts, actress Shanice Williams knocked it out of the park on NBC.)

Incidentally, I recently ran across a U.S. News & World Report piece that grapples with that very same question for dementia patients. What does “home” mean for someone who might struggle to remember where that is?

“Caregivers are initially caught off guard when people in the middle to late-middle stage of dementia plead, ‘I want to go home!’” the article explains. Often, the home they’re referencing is the one they knew long ago in their childhood, as those earliest memories tend to last the longest.

Of course, childhood homes are often inaccessible for the elderly, so World Report offers these tips for helping dementia patients feel “at home” in a place they don’t recognize:

  • Talk to them about the “home” they remember. Describe it to them. Show pictures if you have them. Recount stories they might have shared with you about the place they grew up in.
  • Have a conversation. Some patients hang on to more communication skills and/or stronger memories than others, but a few simple questions about their past — or about whichever “home” they’re referring to — can help them to feel centered and engaged.
  • Offer to take them home. Simply going on a journey can be encouraging to them. You may or may not actually make it there. For that matter, that “home” may not even exist anymore! But just like the rest of us, for dementia patients, the journey can mean more than the destination.

Truly, there’s no place like home, and that’s a notion that can stick with us long after memories fade.

A Change in Your Sense of Humor Could Mean Dementia

Doctor and patientThe things that make you laugh may have caused plenty of arguments about which movie to see at the theater over the years, but they’ve never been of much clinical interest to doctors… until now.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, a new study conducted by University College London and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has found that changes in a person’s sense of humor can signal oncoming dementia by as much as ten years.

The Journal cites stories of people with dignified senses of humor who suddenly became snide, or those who’ve always adored satire but then took an unexpected interest in slapstick. For some, it could be a simple shift in personality, but many of those people go on to develop dementia.

Why is that? Dr. Jason Warren, one of the neurologists responsible for the study, puts it like this: “Humor is like a stress test. The same way you’re on a treadmill to test the cardiovascular system, complex jokes are stressing the brain more than usual.”

Until now, scientists have looked primarily to memory as a marker of cognitive change. But the patient’s sense of humor may hold more diagnostic value because friends and family are more likely to pick up on changes in humor than to notice subtle memory problems.

I rather like the way that the Journal sizes up our brain’s relationship with the comedy we enjoy:

“…Most forms of humor require some form of cognitive sleight-of-hand. ‘Getting’ satire hinges on the ability to shift perspective in a nanosecond. Absurdist jokes play fast and loose with our grasp of logic and social norms; black humor lampoons taboos. All are a rich source of data about the brain.”

Data about the brain is exactly what makes this study so encouraging — we are getting more and more of that data all the time. The ability to recognize new warning signs of dementia as much as a decade in advance could be game changing for people we know and love — maybe even for ourselves. It’s no laughing matter, but I know I’ll appreciate the things that do make me laugh all the more now.

Married with No Estate Plan But Too Busy to Make One?

Signing DocumentsFact: 64% of Americans do not have a will.

Fact: 1/3 of America’s married couples are without life insurance.

Fact: Even among those couples that do have life insurance, 43% still say they would be in financial trouble if one of the spouses passed away.

This month, NerdWallet and USA Today are teaming up with tips for married couples who need to get some sort of plan together but can’t seem to find the time to actually do it. (Sound familiar?) Let’s look at a few of those tips below:

  • Figure out how much life insurance you actually need. In most families, at least one spouse should carry coverage. If your employer offers a policy, that’s a start, but don’t assume it’s all the protection you will need. It almost never is. Research is the hard part, but a professional can help with guidance. The actual application can be done in an afternoon.
  • Make a “financial safety box.” Put all your important documents, records, and other such information in a single location. Then make sure that everyone in your family knows where it is. In the event of an emergency or a sudden death someday, a frantic scramble to find essential information is a hassle that no one wants to deal with, and it can cause big problems. USA Today suggests making a “one-page, quick-start guide” that lists your bank accounts, insurance policies, and other important information. Put that page on top of the stack and update it often.
  • Have a conversation. Do you know what your spouse wants for his or her burial? And where should his or her personal assets go? Assumptions about the answers to these questions are one of the leading problems in estate planning. Don’t assume. Communicate about it instead. (Isn’t that the answer to just about every relationship challenge?)
  • Let Noreen handle it. Okay, they don’t put it quite that way in their article, but that is one of NerdWallet’s essential recommendations — let an experienced professional do the heavy lifting. As a Middlesex County estate planning lawyer, I’ve helped many couples put together wills, trusts, and other essential documents to protect their families for the future. I can do the same for you. I want you to be involved, but I also want to respect your time. I know that life is busy, and that’s why I’m here to shoulder the stress.

If you and your spouse know you need a plan in place but just can’t find the time, I understand. Give me a call and we’ll have a quick chat about how my office can make a difference. Let’s talk.

November Is National Family Caregivers Month

æ??ã??握ã??Every November, the Caregiver Action Network (CAN) gives a formal, month-long salute to elder care’s unsung heroes: the unpaid, volunteer, in-home family caregiver. They call it National Family Caregivers Month.

More than 90 million Americans currently provide some sort of unpaid care to a loved one dealing with disability, disease, chronic illness, or simply the challenges of old age. CAN is a non-profit organization that helps to link those caregivers with helpful online and community resources.

Each National Family Caregivers Month is assigned a theme. 2015’s is RESPITE. It sounds almost like an Aretha Franklin song, and much like “respect,” “respite” is an R-word that America’s volunteer caregivers could use a lot more of.

CAN reminds us that, for these hardworking heroes, respite isn’t just a request. It’s truly a need. None of us can help others if we don’t also take time for ourselves. In recognition of that fact, the organization has taken this year’s theme and made it an acronym for the various ways that caregivers can help themselves to some peace of mind this holiday season:

Rest and relaxation — An hour on the couch to watch some TV, an afternoon on the beach, or a day at the spa can work wonders for rejuvenation.

Energize — All of us reenergize in different ways. Ask yourself where you find your “happy place” in life and make a point of spending some time there to recharge.

Sleep — In a way, caregivers are really sleeping for two. Most people need at least eight hours of sleep each night. I’m not saying you should aim for 16, but don’t cut yourself short with four or five either. As CAN notes, insomnia and other sleep disorders are notoriously common among caregivers. If you’re dealing with those, talk to a doctor. Solutions are available.

Programs — This year, CAN has partnered with the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center to offer local programs throughout the country that help to accomplish National Family Caregivers Month’s goals.

Imagination — The brain needs a break too. Read a book. Doodle. Daydream. Let your imagination run free.

Take Five — Little breaks matter as much as big ones. Resolve to allowing yourself five-minute or ten-minute “breathers” throughout your busy days.

Exhale — Take a deep breath! Breathing exercises have been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve mood, and add energy to your daily life.

As a Middlesex County elder law attorney, I work with family caregivers all year long. I know how much they need some respite (and how rarely they get it).

That’s why I’m so happy to see an acknowledgment like National Family Caregivers Month come along. November really is the right time for it. Few people need to hear “thank you” more than those who’re making sacrifices in their own lives for the good of others.

Thank you.

One Woman Learns She’ll Live Longer and Responds Hilariously

I wanted to share an article I found that adopts rather a humorous perspective on old age, written by a woman who mirthfully admits she’s knocking on that door herself.

Columnist Betty Coutant reflects on a recent revelation in which she learned that, even at the age of 60, she should prepare herself to live another 80 years.

That would be a red-letter headline for some people, the best news of the century. Coutant is more hesitant.

“I’m not even sure I want to live with that long,” she says. “Check with me again when I get closer to 90, though.”Portrait of a senior adult woman

Musing on the creaks, aches, and pains that already greet her each morning, she wonders if her “hinges” are really up for the challenges of a medical miracle. (She brags that, much like Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, she has “moves like Jagger,” but hers mirror Mick the 72-year-old.)

And is there even enough to occupy her interest for so long?

“What will they have me doing at 120-ish?” she asks. “Do we need more angry white women? Methinks not, and me imagines you thinks not as well.”

Tongue-in-cheek as Coutant’s musings are, they highlight a fast-emerging reality: most of us are going to live longer than we once anticipated. For some us, that could mean a lot longer. All the way to 140, you ask? Well, that remains to be seen, but the point is that we don’t really know.

The future is as uncertain as it is exciting. The best thing we can do (and really the only thing we can do now) is plan wisely. That’s something I can help with.

I love to find little articles like these, penned by someone who approaches aging and the unknown with a sense of humor. After all, if we have a lot of life left, we might as well fill it with laughter!

Can Banks Help You Care for Aging Parents?

E22Did you know that the fastest-growing group in the United States is seniors aged 85 and older? Or that in the next two to three decades, America will have more than 75 million people who are 60 or older?

Those statistics appear in an intriguing new article in Barron’s, which makes a claim you might have a hard time believing — if you’re struggling to care for your aging parents, the big banks might be able to help you.

As it turns out, banks have been polling their wealthy clients for quite some time about the issues that mean the most to them. College savings, tax returns, and investments used to top the list. Not anymore.

These days, banks say their clientele are more anxious about long-term care for their parents than any other financial challenge.

That’s why Bank of America set up its Eldercare Planning Services program in 2012. And they aren’t the only ones. Barron’s reports that Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Northern Trust are among the many major banks now offering some form of elder care service.

Mind you, the banks aren’t actually paying for your bills. In fact, their services primarily target only their wealthiest accountholders. But they can help make the transactions themselves a little easier.

The Barron’s article even describes one episode in which U.S. Trust helped its customer arrange for dialysis appointments at various cities throughout Europe so that they could take one last global vacation together.

Any time you’re talking about banks, though, it’s best to proceed with caution. Many of the services available through your bank’s elder care office can be even more easily achieved outside the big-bank system. As a matter of fact, I help many of my clients with those some kinds of arrangements all the time.

Still, if you’re looking at substantial long-term costs in your future, you will need a bank account, and it might be a good idea to choose a bank that offers some sort of elder-oriented service.

Ultimately, the best advice is to get good advice before you sign on the dotted line for financial services of any kind. And when it comes to advice on elder law, I’m always happy to help. Feel free to give me a call.

Cancer Medication May Improve Parkinson’s, Dementia

Home careParkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia all share certain key traits. Now, it seems, we might add leukemia to that list too.

NPR reports that nilotinib, a medication long used to treat leukemia, may confer significant health benefits for seniors diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body dementia as well.

Lewy body is one of the most common kinds of dementia, second only to Alzheimer’s, and in fact, the two are often confused in their early stages. It isn’t uncommon for doctors to misdiagnose Lewy body, given that the symptoms may mirror that of other neural disorders like Parkinson’s.

But in patients treated with nilotinib, those symptoms show remarkable improvement.

“After 25 years in Parkinson’s disease research, this is the most excited I’ve ever been,” Fernando Pagan told NPR. Pagan directs the Movement Disorders Program at Georgetown University Medical Center.

For Parkinson’s patients, this is a rare breath of fresh air. Good news has been much more common on the dementia front.

Indeed, every week seems to bring a significant new advancement in our understanding of — and treatment for — dementia, a condition that not long ago was considered entirely untreatable.

Of course, we still haven’t managed to turn the tide on dementia altogether, and those who are diagnosed with the crippling disorder continue to face real medical and financial hardship. But good news is always welcome, and there seems to be plenty of it lately.