Clients call this law firm asking for a copy of their will or other estate planning documents because they cannot locate the original all of the time. Our first response is to tell them that if they cannot find the original document, then they do not really have a will. In New York, only a document bearing the original signature of the testator and witnesses can be submitted to probate. While a photocopy or electronic copy of the document may exist, it is not the original and will be rejected by the Surrogate’s Court when seeking to have an estate probated. It is not until the loved person becomes admitted at the hospital under an emergency or that person passes that those left behind start the search for estate planning documents. Another overlooked catastrophic event is damage or loss of estate planning documents after a natural disaster.

Domestic weather events, including nor’easters, tropical storms, and hurricanes often bring a great deal of water to the shorelines and shore communities of New York State. Emergency plans should include provisions for the preservation of estate planning documents. When people are asked or ordered to evacuate their homes, because of emergency weather conditions, they often only leave with the clothes on their backs and their loved ones. Not all temporary shelters for example, allow people to bring their pets with them and many times the pets stay behind. The last thing on peoples’ mind, when evacuating their homes, is collecting and preserving estate planning documents.

What are estate planning documents?

Some couples approach their estate planning lawyer seeking advice on creating a joint will. Generally, the estates lawyer will frown upon such a suggestion because in practice, joint wills are fraught with problems. A joint will can be created by a married couple and is a single will. A joint will is signed by the couple and in it contain provisions leaving all of their assets to each other. The reason why joint wills are not more commonly used as an instrument to bequeath gifts upon death is that usually, even in longtime marriages, most married couples do not have identical wishes regarding their assets.

Joint tenancy vs. tenancy in common

Married couples generally own real estate assets as joint tenants. A lesser form of home ownership is a tenancy in common. The key difference between the two is their effect on the distribution of assets at the death of one of the partners. Joint tenancies contain a right to survivorship. This means that at a partner’s death, their share of any joint assets become the sole property of the surviving partner by operation of law and outside any asset distribution of a will for example. In a will, assets held as a tenancy in common are distributed according to the terms of each person’s will. Tenancy in common may be a better ownership form where couples wish to gift or bequeath their assets or shares in an asset in different ways. This may be an attractive form of ownership for couples with children from a prior marriage particularly if the new spouse has no children of his or her own.

Despite the prevalence of aggressive, life-prolonging medical procedures, such as feeding tubes, ventilators, and dialysis, once a patient enters a long-term care hospital, L.T.C.H. for short, more than one-third of them will never return home. According to the New York Times, the median survival for such patients is 8.3 months. Much of the time will be spent in a combination of hospitals, skilled nursing home, and specialized rehab facilities.

The high and low spots

Patients in their 60s with musculoskeletal diagnoses, like complications from a hip fracture or joint replacement, do better in L.T.C.H. institutions then people over 80. A high number of patients that are transferred to L.T.C.H facilities from hospitals have undergone a medical procedure called a tracheostomy. Also called a stoma, a tracheostomy is a surgical opening in the windpipe to accommodate a breathing tube that is attached to a ventilator. This procedure is commonly performed on patients who suffer from chronic and severe lung disease and neck cancers among other neck and voice box disorders.

Parents with dementia and other memory loss disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, present extraordinary challenges for the parent and adult children tasked with assisting them. Drafting a will, making health care decisions, and taking care of legal and financial matters are just some of the items that must be sorted out, hopefully before the onset of the worst conditions.

The first step when caring for a parent is to assess their mental capacity. It is important that you seek medical guidance, including a diagnosis, when you observe signs of dementia. If your parent has been diagnosed with dementia-causing illnesses, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, adjustments should be made to all legal and financial matters.

Durable power of attorney

This is the second post in a two-part series on the opioid crisis at home. Addiction, the subject of our first post, is not the only opioid-related impact on older adults. The following post will examine the rise in elder abuse tied to the opioid epidemic.

I assisted a client with the purchase of commercial real estate property and had the opportunity to talk to the sellers at the property closing. I was surprised to learn that the building had been a family restaurant, in business for nearly eighty years. I asked the sellers why they were selling their business. They told me that they could no longer keep running it. They continued to share that they have two adult children battling opioid addiction.

The dad confided further that their children used to break into their restaurant and steal steaks and seafood to fund their drug habit. They were tired of hiding their valuables around their children and were having a difficult time anticipating what they would raid next. When the kids started breaking into the business, they knew they could not keep it going. In addition, they have grandchildren that they are raising as the primary caregivers because their children and their partners were not able to care for the young ones.

Alcohol and drug abuse among adults 60 years and older is underestimated and under-diagnosed. To caregivers, whether they are a spouse, adult child, or a home health aide, understanding how and where to get help for their loved one is critical to getting a person in treatment.

Nationwide, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers found a 33.3 percent increase in older adult (ages 65 and older) deaths from heroin between 2014 and 2015 (heroin deaths for all ages rose only 21 percent).

Doctors fail to diagnose drug addiction in older adults because some of the symptoms experienced by alcohol and drug abusers mimic symptoms more common in older adults generally. Alcohol and drug abusers, like older adults, suffer from depression, diabetes, and dementia. It may be harder to attribute the cause to alcohol or drugs rather than old age, so treatment is under-diagnosed.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a group of bills intended to increase consumer homeowner protections. By press release, the Governor’s office announced three important improvements in an effort to strengthen homeowner safeguards and close loopholes to prevent deed fraud and mortgage scams.

Unbeknownst to the homeowner, deed fraud occurs when someone steals your identity, forges your name on a deed, and takes title to your home. The homeowner only becomes aware of the fraud when a third-party tries to collect on a mortgage or debt. Seniors are often targeted as unknowing participants in mortgage scams, especially surrounding reverse mortgage products. The purpose of the scam is to steal the equity from your home. Beware of any offer for a free home, investment opportunity or foreclosure or refinance assistance. No reputable company will be calling you cold or knocking on your door with offers that sound too good to be true.

The new laws passed in New York to protect homeowners are as follows:

Debt no matter the age of the debtor is a difficult load to carry. The opportunity to pay back debts diminishes with age because one’s income potential is decreased due to unemployment and any physical limitation to working. The fixed income that Social Security, pension, and retirement savings provide ideally should cover living expenses – such as housing, clothing, food, and medical care and expenses. Households that must stretch those dollars out to pay back debt are very vulnerable.

Senior above 60 hold $2.16 trillion in debt

Senior household debt is on the rise, contributing to a spike in senior bankruptcy filings throughout the country. According to the Federal Reserve, during the first quarter of 2019, Americans in their 60s held $2.16 trillion in debt. During the economic downturn of 2008, seniors in their 60s held $1.47 trillion in debt. For individuals in households with seniors who are 70 and older, the household debt is double what it was in 2008.

Millions of people find themselves in a middle class bind as they enter the midpoint of their retirement period. A good eight (8) to ten (10) years into retirement, many individuals are able to physically continue to live in their home and afford the upkeep and maintenance of their home with their retirement savings

Especially if the individual’s home is single-story, as health problems mature, many individuals will be physically able to maneuver their way around their home with little assistance. Multi-story homes become more difficult because climbing stairs may be a problem. Individuals in the midpoint of their retirement are generally still able to care for themselves. Many of them even hold permanent part-time jobs.

The sources of income for individuals in retirement are the fixed income they receive from a pension, an individual retirement account (IRA), Social Security, and 401K savings. Variable income is received through part-time job wages and other financial instruments like an annuity and cash savings.

Beginning in 2020, Medicare supplement insurance policies, known as Medigap plans, will offer fewer choices to individuals who reach age 65 after January 1, 2020. Individuals who turn age 65 before 2020 will not be affected by these changes.

The ABCs of Medigap plains

Medigap plans, which are sold by private insurance companies, help cover cost-sharing aspects of Medicare Parts A and B, including copays, coinsurance, and deductibles. Some Medigap plans cover services such as hospitalization and medical care when you travel outside of the United States. Medigap policies generally don’t cover long-term care, vision or dental care, hearing aids, eyeglasses, or private-duty nursing. Source: Medicare.

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