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The Erie County Department of Senior Services recently announced the date for its 17th annual Elder Law Day event. The program will take place from 2pm to 8pm on Thursday, June 22, at the Adam’s Mark Hotel, 120 Church St., Buffalo, New York. The event helps educates seniors and the greater public about many health, safety, and legal issues many of our beloved elders face in these modern times.

The free event will touch on such topics as Medicare, Medicare Supplemental and Managed Care plans, HMO’s, PPO’s, Part D coverage and long term care insurance to help seniors and their families make informed decisions about elder health care needs. Event Goers can also sit down with sponsors to discuss topics like Medicaid planning, estates, trusts, wills, housing, consumer, health insurance and much more.

“Elder Law Day is full of valuable information and is a great opportunity for seniors and caregivers to learn about their rights, get answers to their questions, and build a plan for the future. These events have been tremendously popular in the past and have proven to be a good way to get information into the hands of people who need it,” said Tim Hogues, Erie County Commissioner of Senior Services. “Elder Law Day brings together professionals from all around the aging spectrum to share their knowledge and actually help seniors right on the spot. I encourage seniors, caregivers, and anyone who needs the latest information on any aspect of senior life to attend.”

The passing of a loved one is never an easy event. While families take time to grieve and mourn the loss of a parent or spouse, many estate-related details that can greatly impact the estate’s financial situation may be overlooked. By taking some time to understand what types of benefits Social Security Insurance (SSI) recipients qualified for before their passing, surviving family members can more easily claim these benefits and relieve some of the financial strain of laying a loved one to rest.

Believe it or not, many people forget to claim SSI death benefits after the passing of a senior loved one. These benefits help provide funds towards the cost of funeral or burial for surviving spouses or children of SSI eligible individuals. The program is administered by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) and provides a $225 Social Security Lump Sum Death Payment (LSDP) benefit.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the administration in 1935 during his first term during the New Deal. The SSA provides benefits for the elderly, disabled, widows, and many other vulnerable citizens. The $225 is the original amount written into law and stands today to aid those in need.

Anyone with a spouse stricken by Alzheimer’s disease knows exactly how devastating the condition is on the patient and how taxing it can be on the person administering care. Often times, senior act as primary caregivers to their spouses battling Alzheimer’s, a testament to their love and commitment until the very end.

While the nature of alzheimer’s disease means afflicted persons do not often outlive their spouses, those acting as caregivers should nonetheless plan for contingencies such as these to ensure their surviving spouse is well taken care of. Depending on the disease’s progression and the overall health of each spouse, couples may need to plan differently to suit their individual situation.

First and foremost, elder spouses need to ensure their power of attorney is up to date and names the caregiver spouse as the primary decision maker for the individual afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, this document should give the caretaker the power to name another individual as the decision maker upon passing away.

When someone passes away, he or she typically has the estate in order by creating a will or trust and designating an executor to oversee the dispersal of assets to named beneficiaries, ensuring a smooth process during a time of grief. However, even the wills and trusts that seem cut and dry can face legal challenges to parties claiming to have a stake in the estate and are rightfully entitled to certain assets.

Fortunately, New York and other states have laws on the books known as “dead man’s statutes” that help to exclude testimony concerning conversations between the deceased and the individual challenging the estate. The main reason to exclude such conversations as evidence from probate proceedings is to prevent purgery and the introduction of evidence that cannot otherwise be verified.

While not limited to cases involving trusts and estates, New York Surrogate Courts often find themselves hearing arguments involving the dead man’s statute. There are three-exceptions to the exclusion of testimony by interested parties under New York law. These exceptions include:

Executing a will or estate through probate court can be a costly, time consuming process full of surprises and complex issues. On top of that, the probate process creates a public record of the proceedings that may reveal information individuals wish to keep private, including debts, real estate holdings, and prenuptial agreement agreements.

Fortunately, New York probate law gives individuals planning their estate options to avoid this burdensome process by creating living trusts, setting up joint ownership, and various transfer agreements. However, even these options come with various challenges that can complicate what is meant to be a less stressful process.

By thinking ahead, weighing options, and speaking to an experienced estate planning attorney, individuals and couples can tailor a plan that best suits their needs and ensures their final wishes are carried out with the greatest benefit to survivors. Here are some common ways to avoid probate court in New York.

As our parents age, many of us begin to take on greater roles concerning basic needs like overseeing finances, medical care, and other tasks. Often times, some form of guardianship is necessary to ensure our loved one’s best interests are executed by financial institutions, hospitals, and even local governments. Even loved ones capable of handling many responsibilities themselves can use assistance from family members.

Fortunately, New York elder law gives family members the right to step in and request guardianship as well as allow competent elders the right to agree to guardianship and allow a family member to make certain decisions on their behalf. Whether you find yourself in either circumstance, an experienced and dedicated New York elder law attorney can help the process goes as smoothly as possible and your beloved elder has his or her needs met.

New York guardianship elder laws

There are many estate planning tools that should be considered when writing a will. While the obvious includable provisions are for assets and property distribution, you should also consider how you want your life insurance policy distributed as well as any retirement benefit accounts. The policies you have subscribed to and pay premiums on will administer a life insurance policy or benefits as you have provided, however, many people forget to amend these policies when they go through events such as a divorce or if they lose a loved one.

Life Insurance Policies

Failing to update life insurance policies can end up benefitting a party you no longer intend to provide for, such as a former spouse who has since remarried, or a family member or friend you have been estranged from. Thus, it is certainly a good practice to amend and update your policy after a major event or to make sure it aligns with your wishes every few years. Making reference to the life insurance policy and the intended beneficiary in your will just goes to further support your claim to show whom you wish to receive the proceeds of policy.

How property and assets are distributed when you pass can be a sensitive topic that many people do not like to address, in fact, more than half of Americans die without a will every year. This failure to plan for the distribution of assets and property can leave many interested parties at odds and may not reflect what your last wishes were for your legacy. Depending on what you are leaving behind, there are some considerations that must be made regarding your assets.

Depending upon the state you reside in, your property may pass subject to probate or it may pass outside due to pre-documented rights of survivorship or trust language. If you live in a community property state, which means that all property acquired by you or your spouse during the marriage, regardless of who bought it is property of the marriage, then your property will pass subject to probate court. However, passing through probate may be avoided if you have left rights of survivorship language in your will or property ownership documentation. Property is then subject to the estate tax, which may not be the main concern of dissolution, depending on the assets involved.

Additionally, a trust can be set up that will either avoid probate or will continue to be includable in your estate. If you seek to avoid probate, you can form what is called an irrevocable trust, which allows you to put your assets and property in a  trust, to be held and owned by the trustee, who works to administer the trust under the governing trust and also make decisions in the best interest of the grantor and any potential beneficiaries. However, if you wish to form a trust but still seek to maintain control of your assets and property by amending or revoking the trust during your lifetime, you can form a revocable trust.

As we continue to age, there are a number of ailments that develop and health issues that we are forced to address and adapt to. While we anticipate problems such as achy joints and the occasional stiff legs, we do often forget about the continued upkeep associated with dental hygiene. Dental checkups are easy to forget about and avoid, especially when you do not feel like anything is wrong, however, as soon as something starts to ache, the check up can turn into a very expensive visit. Many elderly individuals avoid going to the dentist due to the associated fear of costs and lack of coverage.

 

Medicare does not provide dental care coverage for their insured beneficiaries, which leads many to either go without coverage or to retain an independent plan that could cost them more than they can afford in their budget. Millions of elderly Americans rely on Social Security and Medicaid or Medicare to support them in their old age, however, these programs continue to shrink in size and will not be able to provide for all of those soon to be retirees. Medicare does provide dental care for some chronic medical conditions such as reconstruction following an accidental injury, or extraction due to radiation exposure for neoplastic diseases of the jaw, a very specific list. Even with those exceptions, the reimbursement rate is so low that some doctors will not accept Medicare coverage in their offices because they know how difficult it becomes to get paid.
The National Center for Health Statistics has found that 20% of Americans over 65 years old have cavities that are currently going untreated, with the numbers steadily increasing with old age. With teeth becoming more brittle and procedures performed decades earlier needing maintenance, many elders find themselves in the Emergency Room due to the pain. There are a number of nonprofits however across the nation that offer free or discounted dental cleanings for elderly patients that do not have dental coverage and cannot afford it. Additionally, many universities offer discounted cleanings as well as procedures by having elderly patients be seen by their class of graduating dentists. They will offer up front costs of services as well as payment plans in an effort to avoid having the individual rack up debt.

Meals on Wheels is a government program that started in the 1950s that has assisted elderly citizens by delivering food to them when in need, either by providing the meals in the elderly individual’s home or in a community senior center. They not only provide the meal but also provide safety checks and visit with the senior, critical actions that have been shown to help elders live longer. There are over 5,000 independent organizations across America that help administer the program, and it has for decades, had much success. In order to receive funding local communities as well as the Older Americans Act help to keep the program afloat.

 

As the new budget is proposed, many programs are in jeopardy of being cut. One program that is may see a threat to funding is Meals on Wheels, due to the program not providing results. However, the nature of the program is not a results oriented initiative. The program services 2.4 million Americans, a number that will undoubtedly grow in the coming decades due to the large number of baby boomers beginning the retirement age. These cuts are the result of discretionary spending decisions related to the Community Development Block Grant that allocates a portion of the block grant money to elderly through Meals on Wheels. There have been numerous studies conducted that have showed the effectiveness of Meals on Wheels decreasing loneliness scores and also decreasing reliance on traditional care, while allowing elderly individuals to remain in their homes longer.

 

However, there are conflicting opinions about how much influence this will actually have on the institution. From financial statements released last year, only about 3% of the total funding was made from the block grant. On a local level, there is much more monetary influence, with federal funds accounting for 30% of the expenses relating to the home delivered meals. While the program’s costs and returns are currently being debated, it is evident that although it may not be the most lucrative on it’s face, Meals on Wheels can provide a number of benefits. One study even found that if there was a 1% increase in elderly individuals receiving Meals on Wheels, states would saved over $109 million, due to reductions in need for nursing home care.

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