Who is a Qualifying Relative

Mother and daughterFor many years Baby Boomers were consumed by ‘empty nest syndrome’ when their children moved out and they had fewer responsibilities. Anxiety centered around everything from what to do with the rest of your life to how to use the extra space and whether your should move into a smaller home.

But then The Recession hit, and college graduates realized how much they still owed for their college educations. Thousands of young adults lost their jobs and had no choice but to move back home.

Aging parents, who did not have the means to support themselves added to the pressure and Baby Boomers became the ‘sandwich generation.’ Everyone, it seemed, was turning to them for help.

The result was an increased number of parents who had adult relatives living with them. These days, in some parts of the country, housing is so expensive adult children cannot even afford a place of their own so mom and dad are a great place to stay while they try to save money.

Love and compassion make it tough to say no, but there are some practical things to consider, such as what impact this will have on your taxes.

Claiming an adult dependent on your taxes is possible but the IRS has a specific set of factors that have to be considered for a qualifying relative.

Factors such as age, relationship, income, and how much support you actually provide are all part of the equation.

Noreen Murphy Law  for all your estate planning needs, if you need help with your estate, elder law or Veterans benefits please give her a call.

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.

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.

Old Age Is Never an Identical Experience

Joyful senior stretching his legs in a parkThe New Yorker calls them “the oldest old” — people aged 85 and above. It isn’t exactly a flattering term, but it makes the columnist’s point: most people younger than that age have a hard time grasping what it could possibly be like to be that old.

Popular media relies on two stereotypes: the cantankerous geriatric and the flighty eccentric. New Yorker columnist Ceridwen Dovey recently realized just how powerful those stereotypes are. In trying to create a new novel with an octogenarian protagonist, the author kept slipping into those archetypal modes, quite by accident.

Upon further investigation, though, Dovey discovered that there’s really nothing uniform about old age. It’s a different experience for everyone who goes through it.

Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, do any of us ever experience anything in life in exactly the same way? Why should aging be any different?

It isn’t.

In realizing that, we should also note that old age can be a better experience for some people than others. Much of that has to do with how carefully we’ve planned for our latter years. Happiness is often earned by preparation.

One of my passions in life is helping people create a reliable, well-protected future for themselves — right on into old age. That’s what my Middlesex County elder law practice is all about. I’d like to help you make the best of yours. Call me or contact me online to set up an easy, confidential consultation. I’d love to chat.

More People with Mental Illness Are Reaching Old Age

Sadly, it has long been the case that people with severe mental illness — especially schizophrenia and similar conditions — tend to die at much younger ages than those who are not suffering from mental illness. But now that’s starting to change.

The University of Iowa’s Center on Aging reports that more and more people who suffer from severe mental illness are living into old age. That’s largely due to advances in treatment therapy, improved social programs, earlier diagnoses, and an improved focus on tending to these patients’ underlying ailments.

That’s certainly good news. Society’s inability to meet the mentally ill’s needs has been an ongoing source of sadness and tragedy. A documented improvement in their average lifespan, not to mention their quality of life, is very welcome news indeed.

Society will now need to plan to address the needs of a growing elderly population with increased mental illness, though — needs that might differ significantly from those of their younger years.

“It’s a very difficult social problem, and we’ll have to start thinking carefully about how best to meet that need,” Dr. Susan Schultz recently told The Des Moines Register. Dr. Schultz is a geriatric psychiatrist and the director of UoI’s Center on Aging. “It’s a big question that will become more important over time.”

Family members will need to do some thinking and planning too, as will the mental health patients themselves. Long-term care costs are already expensive as it is. Coupled with additional psychological and/or psychiatric care, those costs could become overwhelming. Proactive planning can help.

If you or a loved one suffers from mental illness, now might be a good time to begin thinking about your options for paying for long-term care. Figuring out those solutions isn’t always easy, but they are absolutely attainable — and I’m here to help. I invite you to give my office a call so we can talk more about your options.


One Hundred and Happier Than Ever

She’s never been in a nursing home. She lives alone, takes care of herself, and appears to be in perfect health. She’s the envy of many — thriving, highly respected, and seemingly happy as can be.

She’s Ann Husfloen of Wisconsin, and she is 100 years old.

I recently came across a news article about Husfloen’s one-hundredth birthday party (apparently something of a town-wide affair), and her high spirits and great health made an impression on me. After all, most people her age utilize some kind of assisted living service, and most can’t quite claim picture-perfect health.

But there is Ann Husfloen, looking radiant and not a day over 70 in her newspaper profile. She’s living like most twenty-year-olds… by herself and playing cards with the neighbors at night for fun now and then.

Interesting, when she was in her twenties, she got a job as an assistant care provider for ailing elderly women in her area. Maybe that experience helped her approach old age with the grace that now earns her the neighborhood’s admiration. She is “such a lady,” her property manager says.

Of course, things aren’t exactly the same as they were eighty years ago. She doesn’t drive anymore (she gave that up at age 93!), and she does have some help cleaning the house for a couple of hours each day. Otherwise, she isn’t anyone’s idea of what 100 looks like.

Maybe Ms. Husfloen is the face of the future, though. With new advances in medical science and an ever-expanding average lifespan, it’s likely that more Americans will reach age 100 in the decades ahead.
Naturally, most of us will need a little more help along the way. The challenge for now is keeping ourselves healthy, embracing a positive attitude in the face of growing older, and making financial arrangements to provide for what might be a very long life.

That last goal is a big part of what I help people with as a Middlesex County elder law attorney. If you were as touched by Ann’s story as I was, give my office a call and we can talk about practical ways to secure a bright future for you too. I’d love to help.

Growing Old Together: What It Looks Like

Growing old together: it’s the dream that drives many couples toward marriage. The idea of two people so in love that they can’t wait to live out forever together is about as lovely an idea as I can think of.Senior couple face to face

Now just imagine that you could fast-forward to the future with your significant other in the blink of an eye. One lucky couple got to do just that.

Just last month, in St. Louis, a young couple was given the chance to see and feel what forever looks like just before they tied the knot. The idea came from The Cut, a popular fashion channel on YouTube, renowned for its incredible work in the hair and makeup department.

The Cut team asked two soon-to-be-marrieds, a young man and woman named Tavis and Kristie, to pose for a little aesthetic enhancement. They proposed to age the two from their current ages (late 20s) to three future milestones in life: ages 50, 70, and 90.

They put the whole thing together in a video, and it just might be the most poignant thing you’ll see all week.

In just under six minutes, we witness Tavis and Kirstie’s transformation before our eyes. At each stage along the way, they react with emotional candor to the changes they see in front of them. It’s incredibly touching to see the couple reflect on what kind of life might have led them there.

Plenty of laughs are shared, but it’s the tears that really reveal how powerful this couple’s love is.

Once they hit their 90s, the two are asked a profoundly personal series of questions, including what their last words to one another might be. With tears in both their eyes (and admittedly mine), Tavis and Kristie say exactly what the other needs to hear — before it’s too late.

We all know that they’re just 20-somethings in wigs and makeup, but for a brief shining second, the two become the age they see.

Then Kristie brings us back to reality when she mentions, “We should write these down because we’re writing our own vows.” And just like that, we suddenly remember that they aren’t even married. Still, we somehow feel that we lived a whole life with them.

Watching the video, I’m truly reminded how beautiful a thing aging really is. Whether with a companion or on our own, we all deserve a full and meaningful life in each of the years ahead. I’m proud to play a part in securing that kind of future for so many of my clients, and I hope that this video inspires some joyful reflection for many of you too. Watch it here.

“Middle Age” Now Begins at 60

When are you “old”? Once upon a time, the most popular answer to that question was 50. Some said 55, 60, or 65… but almost everyone agreed that by the time you hit the big 7-0, you were anything but a spring chicken.

Well now that’s all changing… big time.171095033

A few months ago, I wrote about a major new report proclaiming that age 60 can no longer be considered the average clinical onset of “old age,” medically speaking. The statistics simply don’t support that classification anymore — too many people are living well beyond that age with vigor and in perfect health.

Now another new study is going even further. As featured on The TODAY Show, researchers from Stony Brook University and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis now say that age 60 should be considered the beginning of middle age. In other words, 60 isn’t even close to “old” anymore!

Unquestionably, that’s a major shift in the way we think about aging in America. By bumping “middle age” back by fifteen or twenty years, medical science is extending a much longer lease on life for today’s seniors. The next generation might expect that benchmark to move back even further.

So what does that mean for those of us who might be bouncing back and forth between categories, depending on whose definition we use? Well, we’re just getting started! And that can change everything.

Mortgages, life insurance, retirement plans, long-term care funding, lifetime savings accounts… all these things demand reconsideration in the context of a longer life to live. As America’s middle-aged-and-up population look down the now-suddenly-longer road ahead of them, it’s important that we all make sure we’re well covered for the long haul.

Part of my practice is devoted to helping people in Massachusetts — regardless of their ages — start planning today for financial security in the future. The earlier you start, the easier it is to ensure that you won’t face any financial problems years or even decades from now.

Peace of mind is one of the best gifts you can give yourself for the rest of your life. Feel free to give me a call to talk about how you can get started on that — and pretty painlessly, I might add — right away!