For over 20 years now, I have been serving older adults and their families with the best tools in the profession to protect their rights and dignity.  These tools include the following:

  • A keen insight into the legal issues effecting you and your families. 
  • An ability to navigate the maze and complexities of the laws effecting you.
  • Active listening skills to understand your thoughts to formulate a plan specific to your needs. 
  • Communicating with you to help you understand your legal issues in plain English as well as responding to all of your communications promptly.  
  • Working in concert with geriatric care managers, social workers, medical providers, financial advisers, real estate agents, insurance brokers and host of other professionals to give you a holistic approach to aging with dignity. 
  • Fair pricing. 
  • Efficient and excellent work product.
  • Providing empathy and compassion in a confidential non-judgmental manner.  

Lastly to sum things up, I think it is best to use this quote to symbolize how I feel about my clients.

“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Alzheimer's and long-term care

Dementia is a chronic or persistent disorder of mental functioning caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory problems, personality changes, and reduced reasoning.  It results in cognitive impairment and interferes with the ability to make informed judgments regarding personal safety, medical care and finances.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia. Alzheimer's disease accounts for over 60 percent of dementia cases.  The greatest known risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer's are 65 and older.

According to Alzheimer's Association, “Alzheimer's worsens over time. Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer's live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.” 

Given that people suffering from Alzheimer's lose their ability to function independently; it has a dramatic impact on that person and their families in terms of economics as well as their mental wellness. The economic impact on our society in general is billions of dollars in expenses on care for Alzheimer's patients.  Part of this economic impact is the high costs of nursing home care.

How do you pay for nursing home care?  You can privately pay or self pay at a rate on average of $300.00 per day.  You may have long-term care insurance.  You need to pay premiums on this insurance so there will be out-of-pocket expense upfront, but it could be a financial benefit later on.  Medicare and supplemental health insurance is limited in paying for these costs.  There are Veterans’ benefits for some.

Generally, the costs of nursing home care are paid by Medicaid which is a joint federal-state program that provides long-term care coverage to persons in nursing homes.  There are a maze of laws and regulations concerning Medicaid and lots of myths out there.  We hear all the time that the nursing home will take my house.  That is not true and it leads to older adults and their families to make unwise decisions.  Your principle residence (with intent to return) limited to $552,000.00 equity is an exempt resource in being eligible for Medicaid.  



Guardianship for Adults

What can you do when your parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and is making poor decisions regarding his healthcare and finances?

Does he have a Power-of-Attorney appointing an Agent to makes these decisions for him? That would help in protecting his finances and maintaining proper healthcare. But, what can you do if he didn't properly plan for this event, and never executed a Power-of-Attorney?

You may have to Petition the Orphans' Court in Pennsylvania or Superior Court - Probate Part in New Jersey to have him declared an incapacitated person and appoint someone as his Guardian of his Person and Estate.

Courts don't like to declare people incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves since that is in essence stripping that person of their rights.  Courts will look first for a least restrictive alternative such as a Power-of-Attorney.  If there is no least restrictive alternative, and it is proven that he is in need of a Guardian, a Court will appoint one.

Guardianship is a much costlier process than a Power-of-Attorney.  So if you are an older adult and have capacity, it would be prudent of you now to appoint someone your Agent pursuant to a Power-of-Attorney document to make decisions for you when you are no longer able to do so yourself.  Otherwise, you will leave your family scrambling to adequately protect you if you become incapacitated.

If you want to chat about Power-of-Attorney vs. Guardianship, we would love to hear from you.

Have a fun Summer everybody.



PROBATE! What is it and what are the steps involved in the administration of it?

In PA, probate is the process of proving a Will at your local Register of Wills Office after death.  The named Executor in the Will or proponent of the Will must present an original, executed copy of the Will to the local Register of Wills, along with a petition for the Grant of Letters Testamentary, an original death certificate, a completed Estate Information Sheet, and a check made payable to the Register of Wills for the estimated probate fees.  If a person dies without a Will, then that person is said to have died intestate.  Probate is still necessary.  So maybe we should be calling Probate by the term "Estate Administration".  Pennsylvania laws determine who has priority to being appointed an Administrator of an intestate person’s estate.

What are the steps involved in Estate Administration and what are the timetables?

Before Estate Administration, you should review the Will and any separate writings for funeral and burial instructions.  You should locate cemetery deed.  You should estimate number of death certificates needed.     And, you should safeguard decedent's residence and place of business.

As for Estate Administration, as I mentioned earlier, you need to prepare a local probate petition and statewide Estate Information Sheet. 

You should also obtain death certificates and estimate size of probate estate for purposes of probate fee.  Probate estate is an estate comprising of assets passing through the decedent's Will.  Joint assets don't pass through the Decedent's Will and aren't subject to the probate process.  However, the assets inherited from a joint asset are subject to inheritance taxes unless it is a surviving spouse or charity. 

Most Wills today that are properly drafted are self-proving.  You still need to prove it to the local Register of Wills.  However, you do not have to locate the witnesses to the Will and haul them into the Register of Wills to help prove the Will to them.  If the Will is not self-proved, you need to locate subscribing witnesses and arrange their participation in probate; or prepare an Oath or Affidavit of Subscribing Witness for any witness who will not appear. You may also have to arrange bond, if Will does not waive entry of security.

Shortly after you are appointed Executor or Administrator of the Estate via a Grant of Letters issued by the Register of Wills, you need make arrangements to have mail forwarded to you if you aren't the surviving spouse.  These Grant of Letters gives you the legal authority to administer the decedent's estate.  You need to advertise your Letters in a local newspaper and legal newspaper.  You need to arrange adequate security and insurance for residence and tangible personal property, including car, with appropriate endorsements for policies.  You need to obtain a Federal I.D. number. You need to file Notice of Fiduciary Relationship. Then, you should open an estate bank account, enter safe deposit box and arrange inventory of box contents by representative of Commonwealth of PA or bank officer.  Other initial duties will be to search for and collect papers and records, such as bank and brokerage statements, Federal and state income tax returns and many others.

So you have gotten through the initial stages, but there is still so much more to do.  Within three months from date of death, you can pre-pay Pennsylvania inheritance tax to obtain a 5% discount.  Within three months of Grant of Letters, send official Notice of Beneficial Interest in the Estate to all beneficiaries, and file Certification of Notice with the local Register of Wills.      

Within six months of date of death, there is a deadline for filing of spouse's election to take elective share.  Within nine months from date of death, file Federal estate tax return, if necessary; file Pennsylvania inheritance tax return and pay balance of tax; file an Inventory with the local Register of Wills.  Within one year of date of death, pay outright legacies to avoid interest.

Your final steps as Executor or Administrator, is to file a Status Report with the local Register of Wills; review appraisement of Pennsylvania inheritance tax return; file final fiduciary income tax returns; and prepare your Accounting of your administration to the heirs and creditors.  You may have to file a formal Accounting with the Court. Issue final distributions pursuant to Releases received by heirs and creditors if done informally, or by adjudication of the Court if done formally. 

There are a lot of duties, deadlines and decisions to make, and I didn't mention all of them.  If you need help in this area, you can always contact us for help.  We would love to help you. 


Planning for Incapacity

We live in a free society where we determine how best to manage our finances or medical care.  But, what happens if you become incapacitated and unable to make competent decisions anymore?  A family member or interested person may have to petition a Court to have you declared an incapacitated person and to have a Guardian appointed to manage your affairs.

A Guardian is a person lawfully invested by Court Order with the power and charged with the duty of taking care of the person and managing the property and rights of another person, who, for defect of age, understanding, executive functioning or self-control, is considered incapable of administering his own affairs.  This requires a Court process which could be cost prohibitive.  There will be costs for lawyers, doctors and Court filings in completing this process.  The fees and costs could be even higher if the Guardianship petition is a contested matter.

So take control of this potential problem by planning ahead.  Choose now who should manage your affairs when you are unable to do so yourself instead of having a Court choose someone for you.  Cost effective alternatives are:

  1. Powers-of-Attorney for Finances
  2. Powers-of-Attorney for Healthcare
  3. "Living Wills" or Advance Healthcare Directives
  4. Representative payee of social security benefits

Some other alternatives that are costlier than the four mentioned above, are Trusts and Special Needs Trusts.  But, at least it gives you control over managing your affairs instead of having a Court do so for you.

Self-determination is what makes a free society special.




What are Special Needs Trusts, Supplemental Needs Trusts, and Pooled Trusts?

These trusts are specialized trusts designed to benefit a person with a disability.  It allows the disabled person to benefit from assets without losing their important governmental benefits.  Such benefits may include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medical Assistance (Medicaid), and other benefits based on need.  Examples of these trusts are:

1. Third-party Special or Supplemental Needs Trust.  This is a trust established by a third party for the benefit of a person with disabilities to improve their quality of life.  It can be established by someone, usually a parent, for the benefit of a disabled person.  You need not be concerned with Medicare claims, Medicaid liens or age limits relating to the beneficiary.  There is no requirement for the state Medicaid agency be paid back funds on the death of the beneficiary.  The purpose is to give the disabled person benefit of the proceeds by placing them in a protected trust rather than leaving them in the disabled person’s possession which would hinder his/her ability to receive important governmental benefits.

2. Self-settled Special Needs Trust. This is a trust established with the assets of the person with disabilities to improve their quality of life.  These assets may come from a person who is injured, suffers a disability and receives a substantial settlement.  The funds come from the person who is disabled, and no longer is the trust limited to being established by the parent, grandparent, Guardian, or Court.   The Trust can now be established by the disabled person.  The trust must be established for the benefit of the disabled person.  You must be concerned with the existence of any Medicare claim and Medicaid lien.  The trust must be irrevocable and cannot be established if the beneficiary is over the age of 64.  On the death of the beneficiary, assets remaining in the trust must be used to pay back any state Medicaid agency providing benefits.  The purpose is to protect governmental benefits for disabled person through a trust rather than in the disabled person’s possession.

3. Pooled Trust.  This is a trust wherein the assets of an individual, usually not a large sum, are placed in a Pooled Trust to be used for the benefit of the individual with a disability to improve their quality of life. The assets of all the beneficiaries in a Pooled Trust are pooled for investment purposes so the trustee can have more flexibility in investments.  The trustee still must separately account for each person’s interest in the Pooled Trust.  If there are any funds left after the beneficiary dies, the remaining funds are placed in a fund that benefits other people with disabilities.  The account in the Pooled Trust may be created either by the individual with a disability, their parent or grandparent, their Guardian or a Court.  Pooled Trusts are operated by non-profit companies.