Elder Care Category
Dear Liz: Our landlady has been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. In her precarious health, I find myself concerned that we may have to move if she gives up the duplex and moves to a care facility.
I’m unemployed and my 72-year-old husband has recently been diagnosed with early stages of dementia. I find it difficult to face the prospect of returning to work and finding proper care for him even though I know I need to do so very soon.
If she sells the duplex or leaves it to someone in her will should she die, what protection do we have against having to move out in a hurry or have our rent raised dramatically? Either situation would put us into chaos. What are our options?
Answer: If you have a lease, that contract typically would survive a change in ownership. The new owner would have to honor its terms until the lease was up. If you rent month to month, the new owner would have to follow minimum notice requirements determined by your state to raise your rent or terminate your tenancy. The Nolo website at http://www.nolo.com has additional information about tenants’ rights.
If you can no longer afford your rent, you may be eligible for government housing assistance if your income is sufficiently low. You can find more information by using the Eldercare Locator at http://www.eldercare.gov or calling (800) 677-1116. You should check out this federal service’s resources in any case, since you will have a big task ahead of you in caring for your husband even if nothing changes in your living situation.
Other good sites to explore include the Alzheimer’s Assn. at http://www.alz.org, which has information for caregivers and a “care locator” that can help you find care options in your community such as adult day centers, in-home care and respite care. And speaking of respite, you also should check out the ARCH National Respite Network at archrespite.org for people who can help when you need a break.
Dear Liz: I read with interest your answers about older people who need a trusted gatekeeper to keep others from taking financial advantage. I want to let you know there’s great help out there for seniors: the American Assn. of Daily Money Managers. We daily money managers provide assistance to people who have difficulty managing their personal bill-paying responsibilities and associated personal paperwork. This service offers a cost-effective way for clients to get assistance with organizing, bill paying, balancing checkbooks and reviewing statements from a trusted source. A daily money manager does not replace the services of other professionals — such as CPAs, banks, financial planners and attorneys — but assists clients with daily affairs and helps maintain records and information that is essential for these professionals. People can find more information at the association’s website, http://www.aadmm.com.
Answer: Thanks for pointing out this resource. Many older Americans have trouble with household money management. They may forget to pay bills or keep track of their account balances, leading to bounced checks. Organizing their paperwork and collecting information for tax returns can become an ordeal. Some people have trusted family members who have the time to take over. For others, daily money managers can be the answer.
Daily money managers are distinct from conservators or guardians, however. They aren’t supervised by the courts, so potential clients need to take care in hiring one. In addition to the AADMM’s website, people may be able to get referrals from financial professionals such as a lawyer, financial planner or accountant. The daily money manager should be insured and willing to work with those professionals.
Daily money managers aren’t limited to helping only seniors. They also can help busy executives, travelers and people with attention deficit disorders who have trouble keeping up with daily financial details.
Dear Liz: Our mother just turned 64, and our father is divorcing her. She hasn’t worked in years because of significant physical and mental health issues. My sister and I have been trying to figure out how she’s going to survive on $750 a month, which is the equivalent of half his Social Security. She has always had serious issues with money management, which is why there are no retirement savings or a house. We are now about to embark on the maze of social service benefits that an older woman below the poverty line can receive, partly so we can decide whether she’s better off staying put where she is in Arkansas, moving to my sister’s in Texas, moving to be near me in Maryland, or moving to her childhood home of Chicago, where most of her friends are. For a lot of complicated reasons (mostly related to the mental health issues), we are trying to avoid having her live with either of us full time, and she expresses no desire to do so. So we have to figure out the ins and outs of Medicaid, food stamps, subsidized senior housing and anything else in four different states and then try to explain it to her. If you have any hints about helping an indigent and somewhat incapacitated mother access services, we would love to hear them. We feel a little overwhelmed at the moment and aren’t even sure whom to call in each place.
Answer: It’s understandable that you feel overwhelmed. You have a huge task in front of you.
You can start with the Eldercare Locator, a free service offered by the U.S. Administration on Aging that can connect you to services for older adults and their families. You’ll find it at http://www.eldercare.gov, or you can call (800) 677-1116.
Another resource you might want to consider is a geriatric care manager. These are professionals who help family members care for elderly relatives. The care manager can evaluate your mom, review her options and make recommendations. Their services aren’t cheap, but they can be especially helpful in managing a long-distance situation. You can find referrals at the National Assn. of Geriatric Care Managers’ site, http://www.caregiver.org. And speaking of distance: It might be easier to help your mom if she lives closer to one of you, or to a trustworthy friend who can check in on her and let you know how things are going.
You also should check with an Arkansas family law attorney, since your mother may be eligible for some kind of spousal support and possibly a property division that could help her financially.
Finally, if your father dies before your mother, she still will be eligible for survivor benefits that could bump her Social Security check up to 100% of what your father was receiving. Many people don’t realize that ex-spouses can qualify for survivors’ benefits as long as the marriage lasted 10 years and the person applying for benefits didn’t remarry until after age 60.
Dear Liz: I liked your answer to the elderly couple who were being badgered for money by their daughter and her husband. I agree that involving the other daughter can help.
I managed to combat the tendency of family and caregivers to pester my 90-something mom for money by convincing her to give me electronic access to her bank accounts. We did this so that I could pay her bills if she got sick unexpectedly. The other benefit is that I see the small larcenies as they begin to happen. Then I can quickly step in and stop them before they escalate. It is a lot easier having a conversation with someone who has sleazed $100 from her than to deal with the $5,000 theft that motivated me to set this in motion.
She is deeply grateful that she doesn’t have to be the heavy with the people she loves and depends on. You can’t make greed disappear, but it can be managed. I continue to be amazed by how easy it is for people to think that her money (which gives her a sublime sense of security in the midst of physical frailty) is their money because they need it and she is too kind (and dithery) to say no.
Answer: Installing a trusted gatekeeper can be an effective way to keep elderly people from being financially abused. The elderly person can refer all requests for money to the gatekeeper, which in itself is likely to reduce the begging. If a relative can’t perform this function, sometimes an advisor can. Ideally, the advisor would have a fiduciary relationship with the client, meaning that the advisor is legally obligated to put the client’s needs ahead of his or her own. Attorneys and CPAs are fiduciaries, and some financial planners are willing to be, as well.
Dear Liz: I am 84, and my husband is 88. We have two daughters, the elder of whom is married to a very controlling man. In the past, we lent them money and were paid back. But starting in 2009 his small business began to do poorly. They borrowed nearly $100,000 from us. Then in 2010, he begged us to get a home equity loan on our home, which was paid for.
They now owe us $300,000. We make the home equity payments of $800 a month because they are not able to pay that amount. He said he planned to sell a parcel of land to pay us back. Now he wants to borrow from my individual retirement account. He is telling our daughter to go after us and what to do. So I told my daughter and her husband, no more!
We are so sad. We didn’t expect to have money problems at this age. We wanted our estate to be divided equally between our daughters. But we’re wondering if we should make a new living trust to reflect the debt owed to us. Should we consult a lawyer?
Answer: You absolutely need a lawyer. Not just to draw up a new trust but to stand between you and the financial predator you call a son-in-law.
Badgering people in their 80s for money could be considered a form of elder abuse, and the amount he’s squeezed out of you is horrific. If either of you died or became incapacitated, he could swoop in to clean you out completely.
An elder law attorney can help you protect your finances and figure out what to do about this debt. It certainly would be understandable if you wanted to deduct the money you’re owed from your elder daughter’s inheritance, but you can expect this bully to cause misery regardless of what you decide.
Not that you needed more to worry about, but what you’re calling a home equity loan may well be a home equity line of credit. Although home equity loans come with fixed rates, lines of credit do not — which means the payments that are difficult for you to make now will be more expensive when interest rates rise. In any case, you might want to ask the attorney about the feasibility of a reverse mortgage, which could allow you to pay off the loan without having to make further payments.
You can get referrals to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys at http://www.naela.org. If your other daughter is trustworthy, please enlist her help in looking for and speaking with an attorney. She needs to know what’s going on so she can help in your efforts to protect yourselves from this man.
Dear Liz: My healthy and active 82-year-old mother is faced with having to sell her home this year because she’s running out of money. She has lived a very minimal lifestyle for many years as her savings dwindled, and her income is now basically Social Security. She owes $25,000 on a home worth more than $700,000 in a top school district. We don’t know if we are jumping the gun with this sale. I could move in with her and pay rent for a year or two, although that would mean a longer commute for me and would just put off the day she has to sell. There are things that must be done to the house for upkeep, and her being cash-poor puts her in a crunch. My brother will help pay for minor sprucing up depending on what the real estate agent says we need to do to make the house presentable, but if Mom remains in the home there are other things to be done. We are assuming that we should sell it and find an apartment for her to rent until she needs more assisted living at a later age. Are we right to take action now?
Answer: Your family needs to take action, but setting your mother up for not just one but possibly two future moves probably isn’t the best course. Moving is terribly disruptive, and AARP surveys show that the vast majority of older people prefer to “age in place” rather than leave their homes.
Investigate reverse mortgages as one option. With a reverse mortgage, your mom could pay off her small mortgage and tap the substantial equity in her home. She could get a lump sum, a stream of monthly checks or a line of credit that could allow her to fix her home and live more comfortably. She wouldn’t have to make payments or pay income taxes on this loan, and it wouldn’t have to be paid off until she dies or moves out.
Reverse mortgages can be expensive because of the fees involved, although a new version of the federal Home Equity Conversion Mortgage offers lower upfront fees, and some lenders will waive or reduce their fees. You’ll want to do plenty of research, and shop around to make sure you get the best deal. The AARP and U.S. Housing and Urban Development websites have a lot of information about reverse mortgages.
If your mom decides she’d rather sell, she should consider a move directly to a senior community that offers assisted living as an option. She will have the most choices if she’s healthy when she moves in. Although she may never need the assisted living option, many people start to need some kind of help with daily activities by the time they reach their mid-80s.
Dear Liz: I wanted to thank you for urging people not to be cheap when doing their estate planning. I am an estate planning and elder-law attorney in Los Angeles, and every do-it-yourself trust or will I’ve seen makes it compulsory to leave income and assets to the spouse. This is a huge mistake in many cases. That’s because such a transfer will disqualify the spouse from receiving government aid from Medicaid (which is called Medi-Cal in California). The result could literally mean hundreds of thousands of dollars are lost. This area of law is extremely complicated and only a knowledgeable elder-law and estate planning attorney should be advising people about it.
Answer: Medicaid planning is a controversial topic, since the federal program is designed to help the indigent, not those trying to preserve assets. That’s why the programs have look-back periods (typically five years, although it’s 30 months in California) to discourage people from transferring assets just to qualify.
But your point is well taken that estate planning and elder-law issues are too complicated for do-it-yourself solutions.
Dear Liz: My retired parents are in a financial crisis. They got behind on their credit cards while they were trying to pay the mortgage on their home of 41 years. That home is now in a short sale. An attorney has advised them to file for bankruptcy to discharge the credit card debt and any debt that might remain after the short sale. After the sale of the home, I need to relocate them to my state so that I can further assist them, but I’m not sure if any landlord will rent to them given their terrible credit history, which will look even worse after the bankruptcy. Right now they make too much to qualify for subsidized senior housing. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Answer: You’ll probably have better luck with mom-and-pop landlords than with the corporate kind that run huge complexes. The mom-and-pop types tend to have more flexibility with potential renters who have tattered credit, particularly if those renters can make substantial deposits. If your parents don’t have much cash left over after bankruptcy — and they probably won’t — you may need to front them some money or consider letting them live with you while they save up.
You also should get a better idea of what caused their financial train wreck to see what you can do to help avoid further crises. If they’re suffering from diminished capacity, you may need to talk to an elder law attorney about taking over their finances for them. If they’re chronic overspenders, they may benefit from budgeting classes from a nonprofit credit counseling agency or community college. Even if the only bad decision they made was to continue borrowing against their home rather than paying it off, they could still benefit from some financial education and advice about how to live within their means. A session with a fee-only financial planner could help you all figure out what that will look like.
Dear Liz: My mom has BP stock. Currently she is moving toward applying for Medicaid to pay for nursing home expenses, and I was advised to put the stock in my name. Now I am watching her stock (and savings) plummet. It’s gone from a $100,000 savings to about $40,000 currently. Do I take it out, or do you think it will come back and I should leave it alone?
Answer: You may want to cash out at least some of the stock to hire a good elder law attorney who can advise you about the Medicaid look-back rules.
These rules are designed to prevent what you seem to be doing, which is trying to hide assets from the government by transferring them away from the potential Medicaid recipient. Medicaid is the government-run healthcare program for the poor, and recipients are supposed to have exhausted their assets before they apply. Any transfers made within five years of applying for Medicaid will delay eligibility.
As for your original question, having more than 10% of one’s assets in a single stock is extremely unwise, and you shouldn’t have any money invested in stocks if you’re likely to need it within the next 10 years. After you’ve consulted with an elder law attorney you might also want to make appointments with a tax pro and a financial planner so your mom can better manage what she has left.
Dear Liz: Good news! I wrote to you recently about being unable to find my elderly father’s signed living trust. However, just by luck (or maybe it was prayers to St. Anthony), the original copy of the trust has turned up! So that’s one problem solved. Now I hope you’ll tell people how important it is to sure your parents have filled out durable powers of attorney for finances and for health care. We had a health care power of attorney for him, but my dad never filled out the other kind, which has made it extremely difficult to handle his finances now that he’s had a stroke and is in a nursing home. Our only option may be to get a court to appoint a conservator of his estate but it sounds like that would be complicated, costly, and probably take a long time.
Answer: Every adult who cares about his or her family should have durable powers of attorney for health care and for finances. As you’ve discovered, the lack of these documents can cause huge problems, forcing families to go to court to get authority to make decisions.
Many people assume incorrectly that their spouses can just take over. In reality, without a durable power of attorney a spouse may not have the legal authority to transactions involving real estate, investments and other assets, even if they’re jointly held. If the spouse is also incapacitated or dies first, getting anything done—down to paying the light bill—can become impossible.
Your father’s living trust may have language that allows the successor trustee (the person who would manage his assets after his death) to make decisions regarding the assets in case of your father’s incapacity. But he still needed a durable power of attorney for finances so that someone else had legal authority to make decisions about assets held outside the trust and to pay bills.