More formality may be better with intergenerational households

As elder law attorneys, our clients have presented us with many difficult situations involving adult children or grandchildren who live in their houses. Sometimes a child has run into some hard times and sees the parent’s home as an economical option; the child may move into his parent’s house along with his spouse and children. Sometimes the child just never became self-sufficient and never made any plan to move out. The adult child may or may not be disabled. Sometimes the expenses are being shared to a degree, but often the parent pays for most of the expenses. The parent may be wrestling with a feeling of obligation, and the child may have a feeling of entitlement. The child may feel that they are “taking care of the parent,” yet the actual need for care or the work being done may be imprecise and doubted by others in the family.

The longer the arrangement lasts, the more difficult it can be for the parent to move on. The dynamic can really change when there are other children who are upset at the arrangement. The parent’s financial security may get on edge. Things can particularly blow up when the parent has to hire a caregiver or wants to sell the house in order to downsize or move to assisted living or nursing home.  How can all of these competing interests be managed? How will the house be sold, and where will the child go?

Aging parents who are still supporting their adult children may want to do some careful planning. They need to consider what will happen to them if they need their funds for care but their child is counting on all of that ongoing financial support. There are many issues to consider. Should they charge actual rent? Should there be a written lease that specifies that occupancy only continues of the occupancy fees are paid? Should they put restrictions on the child’s behavior so that the parent’s peaceful residence isn’t disturbed? A parent may want to put a provision in his or her Will that allocates some extra amount for the dependent child so that at the parent’s death, there are extra funds for relocation. By putting protective provisions into the estate plan, the parent may be able to provide better protections than counting on other family members to honor the parent’s verbal “wishes.” It may not work well to just assume that the whole family will be able to work out an agreement to support the dependent one after mom or dad passes on.

At some point, should the parent insist that the child move out, but agree to pay for the alternate housing for some period of time? What if the house is going to be sold. Does the parent want to give the child written, enforceable rights to remain in the house for a certain amount of time under certain terms & conditions if the parent dies or moves out? How will that impact the parent’s well-being, or the ability of their Executor to wrap up the estate after death? Will the child need a new guardian or life care planner?

Call us for legal advice on developing a family well being plan … 732-382-6070

The Landscape has changed for Guardianship in New Jersey

Procedures for filing for Guardianship are changing in New Jersey as a result of amendments to the Court rules that were effective 9-1-2016. The Rules are at N.J.R. 4:86-1 to 4:86-10. Guardianship petitions now must be initiated using a specific set of forms that have been prepared by the Administrative Office of the Courts.  A Guardianship Monitoring Program is being established in each county. After the pleadings are filed, the petitioner must complete a mandatory guardianship training program before the court hearing date, which includes watching a certain video about the Guardian’s many duties and responsibilities.  The alleged incapacitated person must attend the hearing unless his/her court appointed attorney and the petitioner’s attorney both certify  that s/he would be unable to attend due to physical or mental incapacity. Once the Judgment is entered, the Guardian must qualify as Guardian within thirty days. The physicians’ reports must specifically delineate the areas of functional decision-making in which the individual retains capacity.

There continue to be thorny legal issues that will come up in these cases.  Whether planning the care for a senior or a young person with disabilities, The law is bending towards limited guardianship, and sometimes it isn’t patently obvious that the individual lacks capacity in all respects. If the person who seeks to become guardian cannot be bonded due to their own prior financial difficulties or lack of personal resources, there may be a need to find somebody else to serve as guardian. The petitioner may need to obtain court permission for sale of real estate, or for placement of a mortgage on the property to pay off debt or support the individual in his/her home. The petitioner may wish to get court authorization for Medicaid eligibility planning including transfer of assets to spouse or other family members. The Verified Complaint, Order for Hearing, Physicians’ Certifications and Judgment are in a format that requires careful reading and additional legal drafting, in order to be sure that everything the petitioner knows and everything the petitioner seeks can be reflected in the forms that are submitted to the County Surrogate.

Call us for advice and representation in guardianship matters …732-382-6070

Find your parents’ Long-Term Care Policies so you can help them plan

There is plenty of debate about the benefits and drawbacks of buying long-term care insurance.  The premiums are expensive for a person in their 70’s who is first considering a purchase. Potential buyers worry that they will pay premiums for years and never have to use the policy. The industry has been in flux and there aren’t too many carriers around. What I do know is that over the years, long-term care insurance policies have been a lifesaver for many of my clients, particularly if the policy pays for in-home care. The annual premium cost has always been well less than a single month in a nursing home. So LTC policies can be an important component of long-range planning for a person who will eventually enter what I like to call “the elder zone.”

All too often, the need for 24/7 care drops on the doorstep when there’s been no prior planning, and concerned family members are faced with making arrangements without any good information. Elsewhere on this Blog I’ve written about strategies such as assembling the team, compiling your financial & insurance data,  and getting legal help for an updated estate plan and power of attorney. Today I suggest that you dig out those long-term care policies from wherever they are being stashed, read them and get familiar with what the policies provide. Contact the company for an updated statement of benefits. What’s the daily rate? Compare that to the anticipated cost of care  in a nursing home ($350+ in most places) or at home ($165 /day or more). Ask questions about what it takes to start the typical 90-day elimination period — what documentation is required? Can it start when the patient enters the hospital if s/he will then transition to long-term care? Can it start if the patient has already had an in-home Aide who was paid off the books? Find out if premium payments can be switched to auto-debit from the checking account, to avoid the risk of lapse if the policy-owner starts forgetting to pay bills.

The Medicaid home care program under MLTSS/HCBS  does not provide 24/7 full-time care. Knowing what the benefits are in your parent’s  long term care insurance policy can make a huge difference in how you approach the discharge planning from hospital or “rehab” back home for senior planning. It may be the ticket to asset preservation.

Call us for advice about long-term care planning and asset protection for peace of mind …. 732-382-6070

Garn-St. Germaine Act protects families against certain mortgage acceleration

Home mortgages typically have a mortgage acceleration clause, called a “due on sale” clause. This is a clause that says that the mortgage becomes due and payable if the property is sold or transferred to another individual without the lender’s prior written consent. There is a federal law that prevents lenders from applying that clause when the homeowner transfers their property to their spouse or children. It’s known as the Garn -St.Germaine Depository Institutions Act of 1982, which is in the U.S. Code of laws at 12 USC.1701j.

Section d. specifies the situations in which a lender may not enforce the due-on-sale clause. The exemptions that are most relevant for elder law and estate planning are these:

(d) Exemption of specified transfers or dispositions  …. (3) a transfer by devise, descent, or operation of law on the death of a joint tenant or tenant by the entirety; (4) the granting of a leasehold interest of three years or less not containing an option to purchase; (5) a transfer to a relative resulting from the death of a borrower; (6) a transfer where the spouse or children of the borrower become an owner of the property; (7) a transfer resulting from a decree of a dissolution of marriage, legal separation agreement, or from an incidental property settlement agreement, by which the spouse of the borrower becomes an owner of the property;  (8) a transfer into an inter vivos trust in which the borrower is and remains a beneficiary and which does not relate to a transfer of rights of occupancy in the property …. “

There are times that transferring the ownership of residential property makes good sense for asset protection purposes. No transfer should be made without legal advice, as there are so many considerations to take into account. For example, can the new owner in the family pay the mortgage? if not, who will pay it, and is that person going to be making ongoing gifts to the new homeowner, or is there some other legal relationship at play? But it’s good to know that there is this protection available when there’s a mortgage on the property. Preferably, the Deed itself should make reference to the mortgage that’s on the property at time of transfer.

Call us for advice on asset preservation planning and real estate transfers … 732-382-6070

Thwarted by HIPPA rules? Persevere.

Protected health information can’t be  disclosed to anyone but the patient or the patient’s authorized recipients.  If you are the court-appointed Guardian of an incapacitated person, or you are a designated Agent under a Health Care Proxy or Health Care Power of Attorney, you may have encountered roadblocks in trying to get access to the records of the person you are acting for.  These protections of confidentiality were always a matter of common law but were explicitly set down in the Health Insurance Protection and Portability Act of 1996, usually called “the HIPPA Law.” The law allows the patient to sign a HIPPA-compliant records release. The law also explicitly states that a Guardian is an authorized recipient, and that the designated Health Care Proxy/ Agent/ Representative is an authorized recipient. Nonetheless, even if you are authorized, you may hit roadblocks getting access to the medical records of the incapacitated person.

I encountered this recently and I have to say it was just maddening. I have been  the Legal Guardian [of Person and Property] for a certain individual for about 15 years. Two months ago he had a serious injury and was admitted to the hospital. The patient has been in that hospital before and I thought that my guardianship record had been placed on the chart. Arriving at the hospital on the weekend without my guardianship certificate, I discovered that they could not check the prior charts, and of course would give me no information. At 7:30 Monday morning, I faxed up the guardianship certificate with a request that the nurse or doctor call me. By mid-day  I had heard nothing and when I called in I was told that those faxes go to a central fax room and don’t get delivered right away [though I had faxed it to the direct line at the nurses’ station]. This whole process had to be repeated and finally a day later I was able to have a telephone meeting with the treatment team. Then he was back in the hospital, and on arrival at the hospital a few mornings later the floor nurse wouldn’t allow me to review the patient’s chart, citing HIPPA, and I had to again provide the certificate because they still hadn’t actually entered this critical information into the patient’s chart.   Even with that it took several conversations until the nurse was persuaded that I had authority to not only see the chart but to make the decisions and sign the Consents to Treatment. When the patient was discharged to an outside  subacute facility, the hospital didn’t provide this guardianship information with the transfer paperwork and I had to start it all over again. When he went back to the hospital, a new chart was being created and again, they found no record of my guardian status. Start again.

The usual Health Care Power of Attorney appoints a decision-maker to make the medical decisions if the doctors determine that the patient is incapable of giving informed consent. A good document will also say that its effectiveness is not diminished by the mere passage of time, and it will also grant HIPPA access to information. However, if the patient isn’t incapacitated, the patient may still have to sign a new HIPPA authorization in order for the treatment team to be willing to share information with you. That wouldn’t install the person as surrogate decision-maker at that point, but it would give them access to necessary information in order to be able to assist the patient to make decisions about treatment. Here is a downloadable PDF of a HIPPA-compliant form which we provide to all of our estate planning clients. HIPAA FORM.

The moral of this story is: (1) always bring the original guardianship certificate or health care power of attorney to the health care facility with you, (2) get an updated guardianship certificate one a year so that it is reasonably current; (3) if you are the health care proxy but your person isn’t mentally incapacitated, ask him or her to sign a medical release authorization and place it in the chart so that you can have access to information.

Call us for legal advice concerning the appointment of health care representatives and functioning as a guardian or power of attorney ….. 732-382-6070