Have You Taken These Four Steps to Prepare for Greater Longevity?

Americans and people the world over, are living longer than ever before and while this is generally good news, it can be disconcerting if you don’t have an appropriate estate plan in place. Thankfully, doing your estate planning work in advance with the help of a knowledgeable attorney can give you greater peace of mind that should you ever need long term care, that it would be accessible to you and confidence in your estate and financial planning.

The first stage for protecting yourself for greater longevity is considering long term care. There is a good chance that one spouse of every married couple will at least end up in a nursing home. Traditional long-term care policies might be too expensive, but it’s a good idea to investigate your options now. The second thing to do to prepare for greater longevity is to consider incapacity.

Many people assume that their spouse will have the automatic ability to make financial and medical decisions on their behalf in the event they become incapacitated, but this is not always the case. You should have legal documents that line up directly with your wishes and individual desires. The third thing you should do to incorporate longevity into your plan is to avoid probate. If you were to pass away without assets in your sole name, your loved one may have to go through the painful, expensive and sometimes frustrating process known as probate.

Probate can cost anywhere from a couple of thousand dollars to many thousands of dollars and can take six months to a year or longer. Finally, the last step to consider in your longevity plan is how to minimize taxes. Although federal estate taxes might no longer apply unless you have substantial assets inside, there are other taxes that you might need to consider, including inheritance taxes, estate taxes, and capital gains taxes. Make sure that you consult with an attorney about what to do if this applies to you.

Most Common Challenges Facing Aging Family Members with Housing Transitions

The discovery that your loved one may need to make a housing transition either to downsize to a different location or to move into a residential facility that assist them with day to day care can be overwhelming and difficult for the family member in question and their adult children and other caregivers. These situations can be complicated by a sudden diagnosis of a cognitive issue like dementia and should therefore be handled with care and a team of professionals.

There are a number of different living arrangements available for the elderly today. They include senior communities, skilled care, independent living and assisted living. Deciding on the right type of location for your loved one will likely require research and an in-home visit. When you know your loved one’s abilities and where he or she needs assistance, you’ll be better equipped to make this decision.

All of these have one thing in common and that is a transition from an apartment or a home with which your loved one may have become very attached. This transition involves financial, medical and personal intricacies. This situation would ideally occur when everyone is of sound mind and very healthy.

However, sadly, many of these decisions happen in a rush and after other issues like dementia have come onto the picture. Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney in Massachusetts can assist you to avoid these challenges and help you with determining how your estate plan is affected by decisions made regarding housing.


University of Missouri Research Shows Benefits of Volunteering

Older adults who are concerned about protecting their cognitive functions and benefiting from social interaction could consider volunteering as one boost. A University of Missouri researcher found that although the associations with physical health and volunteering have long been documented, less has been known about the connections with mental function.

However, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science found that there is link between volunteering and higher levels of cognitive functioning in older adults.

Working memory and processing are all essential for living an independent life and these are the methods with which the brain uses to process information. The processing capacity and brain working memory benefit significantly from volunteering. Processing refers to how fast a person’s mind is able to take in and store information.

Working memory, distinct from long term memory, is what the brain requires to temporarily manage and store information. Data from the Health and Retirement Study, which has been collected over the past quarter of the century were used to identify these results and they found that looking at results for more than 11,000 adults aged 51 and over.

There were significant connections between volunteering and cognitive function, regardless of the amount of time the person spent volunteering. Volunteering can be a great way to supplement your future as an older adult. Consulting with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney can also be helpful. Schedule a meeting with a Massachusetts estate planning lawyer today.

Dealing with An Aging Parent Who Shows Signs of Cognitive Issues

It is very difficult to realize that your loved one may be losing his or her faculties. In fact, many children who find themselves in this situation as adults will try to do everything in their power to step in and assist with this situation as long as they can. However, after a certain point you may be unable to handle this situation on your own.

This is even more difficult when your loved one is uncomfortable with getting help and may even fight you about it. Relying on your support network of other relatives is extremely important but particularly if there are cognitive issues with your loved one, it is imperative that you discuss these with the family member’s physician and develop a plan for how you and others will assist with this.

Alzheimer’s, plus unclear estate planning, can also generate a great deal of problems down the road when your loved one may no longer be able to make decisions for themselves. Finding advisors that you can trust to help with this situation – including an attorney, accountant, and financial professionals – can give you peace of mind. If something were to happen to your loved one where they were no longer able to make decisions on their own, someone is available to help guide you through the decisions that need to be made.

Unfortunately, elder individuals who are starting to suffer from cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s may be easy picking for scammers who will do everything possible to carry out fraud for people who are unable to make decisions for themselves.

Having the right family and professional people in positions of assistance and who care about your loved ones early on in the process is important. Furthermore, you need a clear plan of what will happen if the condition continues to worsen is crucial for protecting you and your family member.

An estate planning lawyer in Massachusetts is a great resource to turn to during this difficult time.


Senior Driving Safety, Part II.

There is no single, comprehensive test to determine whether a senior (or anyone else for that matter) is a safe driver. However, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles has put together the following safe driver checklist:

  • Do you have difficulty seeing clearly in the dusk and dark? Do headlights from other vehicles obstruct your sight?
  • Are you easily intimidated by passing vehicles, including trucks and motorcycles?
  • Do you have difficulty reading road signs?
  • Do you have difficulty following construction detours or seeing a police officer on detail near construction zones?
  • Do you have difficulty seeing train crossing signals or hearing train whistles?
  • Do you have difficulty keeping up with the posted speed limit?
  • Do you get drowsy behind the wheel or have difficulty concentrating?
  • Do you have difficulty hearing other vehicles?
  • Do you often get lost on once familiar roads?
  • Do you forget the basics, such as putting on your head­ lights and wearing a seat belt?
  • Are you unsure of your parking skills? Can you parallel park and park in a straight line?
  • Are you unsure of your reflexes and reaction time? Is it difficult to react quickly in certain situations, such as brak­ing to avoid a collision?
  • Have your family, friends, or even police officers told you that you aren’t a safe driver?

If you answered yes to many of these questions, you may want to consider driving less or not driving at all. If you’re still not sure, many hospitals, occupational therapists and rehabilitation centers offer driving evaluations. Here is a link to a comprehensive list of driving evaluation programs and driver training classes in Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire: http://www.massrmv.com/Portals/30/docs/Med_Affairs_Brochure.pdf. In addition, the RMV offers free, one-hour safe driving workshops. Visit http://www.massrmv.com/MatureDrivers/SafeDrivingPresentationsSchedule.aspx for a list of upcoming workshops.

If it is clear that you or a loved one shouldn’t be driving anymore, what are your options?

Let’s start with the obvious. Having your family or friends drive you around is fine and many loved ones are happy to do it. But what about that sense of freedom we talked about in my last post? One way to regain some of that freedom is to use ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. However, many seniors are uncomfortable with the technology involved. Ride sharing companies have begun to address this. So, too, have other entrepreneurs.

Here are links to two stories about seniors taking advantage of ride sharing options. This one discusses seniors using Uber: https://senior.com/uber-for-elders/. This article describes a newer company that tailors its services specifically to seniors: https://www.fastcompany.com/3035804/this-ride-sharing-service-is-like-uber-for-the-elderly. And here’s one I really like: https://gogograndparent.com. It’s about a company called GoGoGrandparent, which allows seniors to request rides by making a simple phone call. The company even allows users to purchase gift cards for their loved ones.

I would also like to direct you to a site where you can order free booklets about safe driving for seniors: https://www.thehartford.com/resources/mature-market-excellence/publications-on-aging. These booklets contain a number of excellent articles about the emotional issues involved in losing one’s ability to drive and how to broach this difficult topic with loved ones.

I hope you find these links and articles helpful. Drive safely.


Senior Driving Safety

Remember how exciting it was to get your first driver’s license? It wasn’t the prospect of getting from point A to point B faster than walking or riding a bike that excited you. No, you were thrilled about the freedom and independence afforded by your new license and the opportunity to drive wherever you wanted to go. Now imagine losing your license, or being forced to question your ability to drive safely. Many seniors and their loved ones struggle with this prospect every day. And, the loss of freedom and independence that comes with it.

I recently participated in an interesting seminar about senior driving safety at the Gables at Winchester. The featured speaker was Michele Ellicks from the Registry of Motor Vehicles. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you what I learned at the seminar, together with some research I have done on my own since then.

Statistically, people actually drive better as they get older… up to a certain point. Overall crash rates for mature drivers are relatively low, in part because many seniors take precautions such as driving only during the day, staying home in bad weather and avoiding rush hour. And let’s be honest—weren’t you a little more reckless behind the wheel when you were 18, 20, 23? You are certainly more experienced now, and considerably wiser.

However, drivers age 70 and above have higher crash rates per mile driven than middle age drivers. The rate of fatalities increases slightly after age 70 and significantly after age 85. Medical conditions, medication usage and reduced physical function can increase the risk of accidents and injury among older adults. Although older persons with health issues can certainly be satisfactory drivers, they have a higher risk of injury or death in an accident, regardless of fault.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has taken some steps to address the problem of senior driving safety. For example, as of September 30, 2010, drivers 75 years of age or older can only renew a driver’s license at an RMV Service Center or AAA office. Medical providers are not subject to prosecution for HIPAA violations when reporting medical information to the RMV in cases where the provider thinks the patient may be an unsafe driver. In addition, anyone can write a letter to the RMV to say a person should not have a license to drive.

Are you worried about your ability to drive safely, or that of a senior you love? In my next post I’ll discuss the signs of unsafe senior driving and the options available to seniors who have lost their license or decided it is best to avoid driving altogether.


What You Should Know About Anxiety in Older Adults

Your aging loved ones may require advanced care as they face greater physical issues, but as family members, you should also be aware of potential mental indicators that your loved one is struggling. This may be in the form of symptoms of depression, anxiety, or isolation. No matter how these signs prevent, they can have a serious impact on your loved one’s ability to live independently. Existing mental concerns can also amplify physical conditions.

Anxiety in older adults is more common than you might think. While anxiety that makes it difficult for an elderly individual to get through the day is not a typical part of aging, up to 14% of older adults already meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder. According to research published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, nearly 30% of older individuals currently receiving care from a provider will have anxiety symptoms outside of a disorder that make day-to-day life difficult.

The most common anxiety disorders affecting the elderly include social phobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD. If you begin noticing that your loved one is withdrawn or not engaging in activities he or she previously enjoyed, it may be time to sit down and discuss anxiety-specific care.

If you are an adult helping an elderly loved one cope with physical or mental concerns tied to aging, you may also benefit from setting up a meeting with an experienced estate planning attorney. Talk to a lawyer now about the tools and strategies that can help you plan ahead with a loved one.

Planning Ahead for Aging in Place

Man with a tennis ball and a racquetIf you’re looking ahead to your retirement and the years beyond, there’s a strong chance that you’d like to remain in your own home independently as long as possible. This is because a growing number of older individuals – not just in Massachusetts – but across the country want the same. This is referred to as aging in place.

In certain situations, aging in place makes a lot of sense. You can make use of additional support systems such as family members or outside care professionals, if necessary, while still living in your own home and retaining a lot of independence.

One of the first and most important steps regarding your wish to age in place is to have this conversation with your family members. If you’re in relatively good health, aging in place may be the right fit for you, but your family members should be aware of your needs and desires. Furthermore, they might be able to help with the second step of the process, which is determining whether or not your current home supports you fully. Some minor modifications to the home might make it a reality for you to continue to stay there largely on your own.

The next stage of the process is to determine what mix of caregiving you would have access to if something happened to you. Usually the first type of support you’ll receive comes from family, but you may also want to work with outside caregivers like a home health aide if you have some minor needs on an ongoing basis.

Finally, make sure that all of your estate planning and medical documents are up to date. Being in good health now does not guarantee that things will always be the same, but getting family members on board with your wishes regarding care and having clearly-written documents outlining your plans can be very helpful if something happens to you suddenly.

If you’d like to learn more about the estate planning documents that can be helpful when you intend to age in place, contact a Massachusetts estate planning lawyer today.

Key Tips to Help Maximize the Value of Parental Assets as They Age

House on pile of moneyThere may come a time when your parents turn to you as the adult child and request your assistance in helping them put together their estate plan or manage their assets appropriately.

This is a worthwhile concern as you or other beneficiaries may stand to benefit from all opportunities to minimize tax obligations and maximize the value of assets. Furthermore, you are doing a good deed by helping your parents stay organized and understand how various state and federal laws affect them.

  • There are several different tax saving strategies that you can implement in order to maximize the value of their assets. These include:
  • Encouraging them to keep stocks that have gains and selling stocks that have losses.
  • Using trusts to protect assets and avoid the probate process.
  • Evaluating their estate planning documents on a regular basis to ensure they are still valid and accurate for your parents’ needs.
  • Encourage your parents to take advantage of gift taxes. Each individual in the U.S. is allowed to give up to $14,000 per year to other people. If your parents have an estate large enough to be subjected to the estate tax, then minimizing their tax liability by giving things away while they are still alive can benefit them.
  • Consider situations in which you may be eligible to claim your parents as dependents if they qualify.

Consulting with a dedicated estate planning attorney in Massachusetts can help you accomplish the vast majority of goals associated with your needs and their concerns.


Living Longer

Senior woman portraitRecently, President and Mrs. Obama made news when they enjoyed a visit and short dance with a 106-year-old woman from Washington D.C.

Virginia McLaurin, told reporters she had waited all her life to see a black man in the White House and had launched her own social media campaign two years ago, to visit the President before he left office. Her quote, after, seeing herself on You Tube was simply, “I can die with a smile on my face now.”

But, her performance brought to the fore a long held belief about the life expectancy difference between men and women. All over the globe, people have just assumed that it was something in the makeup of the female anatomy that allowed them to live longer.

But, according to scientists, that has only been true since the end of the 19th century.

A University of Wisconsin researcher studied deaths going back 200 years in 13 countries across North America and Europe. When combined with mortality data from the World Health Organization, they found that women and men had roughly the same life expectancy. Overall their lives were short, due to a number of factors, including lack of access to clean water and food as well as modern antibiotics.

But once those factors were available to everyone, women began to gain a longevity edge. For people born between 1900 and 1935, men were two or three times more likely to die in their 50’s and 60’s than their female counter parts.

For the first part of the 20th century smoking was much more common in men which accounted for some of the differences, but according to the study the gap really widened when people started eating more animal fats. A high-fat diet may do more damage to your system and since men tend to eat more animal fat that may account for the difference in mortality rates.

I’m not an expert in health and wellness but I know that you need to be prepared for the end of life regardless of sex or age. I am Noreen Murphy and would be happy to help you with Elder Care advice or Estate Planning guidance.