#TuesdayTips: Caring for Aging Parents

Currently, it is estimated that approximately one-third of the U.S. population provides care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member and spends, on average, twenty hours per week providing that care.  Caring for your aging parents is not an easy task. 

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By Jessica L. Estes 

Currently, it is estimated that approximately one-third of the U.S. population provides care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member and spends, on average, twenty hours per week providing that care.  Caring for your aging parents is not an easy task.  Not only can it be overwhelming, but it may cause stress in your life which can manifest itself in various ways, including illness, depression and/or anxiety, or strained family relationships. There are things you can do, though, to make the job less stressful.

First, it is important to know your parent’s personal wants and needs.  Satisfying those requirements will depend largely on the type of long-term care your parent is likely to require.  For most, living independently for as long as possible is ideal.  Usually, this requires that the parent stay healthy both physically and mentally, so the more physical and social activities your parent participates in, the more likely they are to maintain their health and independence.

Second, you and your parent should discuss where the caregiving is going to take place.  Will your parent be moving, or will you travel to your parent?  Any decision in this regard will have an impact on your immediate family (i.e. your spouse and/or children) so they should be included in that part of the discussion.  To determine the best housing option for your parent, you will need to compare the costs of any modifications to the home as well as the cost of assistive devices needed to continue to reside in their home, with the costs of an assisted living or nursing facility.  Also, be sure to check if there are any in-home or community services available to assist with transportation, shopping, housekeeping or yard-work and their respective costs.

Next, there should be a discussion about end-of-life care.  Make sure your parent has a health care power of attorney and an advance directive or living will.  Also, if your parent has any final disposition instructions for their body after their death, they should be included in these documents as well.

Finally, what is your parent’s financial situation?  Do they have sufficient funds to pay for their long-term care?  If not, what programs are available to pay for that type of care?  Generally, Medicaid is the only program available to pay for long-term care, but it is a needs-based program so your parent will have to meet the eligibility requirements.  You should make sure your parent has a durable financial power of attorney that names an agent to manage their finances if they become incapacitated or incompetent.  That agent also should be made aware of what income and assets your parent has and where the assets are located.

Organizing the caregiving duties into the above four manageable categories: personal, housing, medical and financial, will keep you calm and able to focus on specific tasks rather than feeling overwhelmed by everything all at once.  Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 and ask how we can help!

#FamilyFriday: What is the “Best Interests of the Child” Standard?

After families separate, parents must decide where their children will live and what schedule the children will have with the other parent. To make this determination, the Court uses the “Best Interests of the Child” standard.

After families separate, parents must decide where their children will live, or custody, and what schedule the children will have with the other parent, or visitation.  Some families can settle this among themselves while others require Court intervention.  Often parents assume the Court will award custody to the mother however, that’s not necessarily the case.  In this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC explains the “Best Interests of the Child” standard used by the Court in determining custody.

Put simply, the Best Interests of the Child standard simply means that the Court looks at certain factors to determine what is in the best interest of the children involved in the family situation.  Even when parents have an agreement, the Court still must make a finding that the agreement is in the best interest of the child.  Often parents become disgruntled because they believe they are in the best position to decide what is in the best interest of their children.  Unfortunately, family litigation often results in both parents with opposing opinions about what is in the best interest of their children and the Court must step in to make its determination.

The Court may consider a number of factors in its analysis.  Most commonly the Court focuses on the following factors:

  1. Primary Care Giver – Who is the person who takes care of the child? Who handles the child’s day-to-day activities?
  2. Fitness – What are the psychological and physical capacities of the parties seeking custody? Was there evidence of abuse – physical, emotional, or otherwise?
  3. Character and Reputation
  4. Agreements – Is there a custody agreement already in place?
  5. Ability to Maintain Family Relationships – Who will be best able to help the child keep family relationships, including relationships with the other parent’s family?
  6. Child Preference– Does the child have a preference?  Some courts will interview the children  outside of the presence of their parents.  The older the children involved the more weight is given to their preference.
  7. Material Opportunity – Which parent has the financial resources to give the child more things?
  8. Age, Health and Gender of Child
  9. Residences of Parents and Opportunity for Visitation – How close do the parents live to each other, extended family, school, etc?
  10. Length of Separation– How long has the parent been separated from the child?
  11. Any Prior Abandonment or Surrender of Custody – Is there a history of one parent walking out and leaving the other parent to cope with the child and the home?
  12. Religious Views – These will be important in the court’s decision only if you can show that religious views affect the physical or emotional well-being of the child. There is no consideration made for non-religious families.
  13. Disability – A party’s disability is only relevant to a custody decision if the disability affects the best interest of the child.

In addition to the above factors, the Court may also consider: Willingness to share custody; Fitness of parents; Child’s relationships with each parent; Ability to stabilize child’s school and social life; Employment considerations (e.g. long hours, extensive travel, etc.); Age and number of children; Financial status; Benefit to parent; Sincerity of parent’s request for custody.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation!  Ask about our legal services including: mediation, marital separation agreements, and parenting plans!

#FamilyFriday: Co-Parenting Resources

Figuring out how to co-parent after a breakup, separation, or divorce is difficult.  When parents don’t communicate well, that makes it even harder. 

Figuring out how to co-parent after a breakup, separation, or divorce is difficult.  When parents don’t communicate well, that makes it even harder.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC want to help parents by identifying various resources available to help them Co-Parent.

Some parents find difficulty in communicating with one another.  At times the communication is simple and other times, it is rather difficult.  Nonetheless, both must parent their children.  Removing face-to-face conversation is sometimes the best place to start when trying to co-parent effectively.  The below programs and apps provide various resources for the separated and divorced parents.

  1. Our Family Wizard

Our Family Wizard is an online program which provides a platform for communication.  The parents can “email” back and forth, add items to a joint calendar, and, most importantly, if their dispute needs to be taken to Court, the correspondence can be tracked by the Court.  This also serves as a means to encourage parents to speak with each other in a respectful manner and keep it about the children.  There is an annual cost of approximately $100.00 per parent.  This is a web-based program though there is an app for iOS and Android.

  1. 2Houses

Similar to Our Family Wizard, this program offers a mutual calendar, financial tab, and photo album tab.  It does not allow for direct communication but there is a journal function which allows parents to make notes.  The financial tab is particularly helpful as it outlines each parents expenses and each parent can upload what expenses they have paid on behalf of the child.  There is no cost to this program.  This is a web-based program though there is an app for iOS.

  1. Kidganizer

Like the former two programs, this is also a means for both parents to keep information related to their children in one central location.  It does not permit the parents a platform for direct communication such as Our Family Wizard, but there is an alert system to alert each parent regarding important events like doctor appointments or parent-teacher conferences.  This is an iOS only app program and costs $1.99.

  1. Custody Junction

Custody Junction provides a Scheduling Center which allows parents to schedule their visitation/events/vacations, etc. up to 2 years in advance.  It also has a Tracking Center which allows parents to track when events were created, edited, amended, what the expenses were, who was present at each event, etc.  It gets rid of the “he said, she said” regarding who, what, where, and when.  Similar to 2Houses, it also has a Reporting Center which provides for accumulated expenses as well as reporting about child support payments, denied or forfeited parenting time, etc.  This program is only web-based and costs $47.00 per parent for a 1 year subscription.

  1. Appclose

AppClose is a combination of the above 4 programs.  It has a joint calendar, a messenger option like texting, an expense forum that acts like Venmo by requesting reimbursement from the other parent as well as the ability to track expenses, the ability to create a parenting schedule, set important reminders, and keep track of family information such as immunizations, date of births, etc.  Much like Facebook, it also has a NewsFeed function which displays all communications, events, etc. at a glance.   This is a free app only program available for iOS and Android.

  1. SKEDi

This program is a family calendar of sorts.  It syncs your calendars so that each parent and/or child knows everyone’s schedule.  It also has the capability of being shared with caregivers and babysitters if necessary.  This is an iOS only app program and costs $9.99.

If you are in need of co-parenting assistance, call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 for your free 30-minute consultation!

#TuesdayTips: Long-Term Care Insurance Policies

A long-term care insurance policy can be an effective tool to pay for your long-term care, while at the same time, allowing you an opportunity to preserve your assets and qualify for government needs-based benefits.

By Jessica L. Estes

 Generally, most people do not have sufficient income or assets to fund their long-term care for extended periods of time.  And, most people are not what the government deems “needs-based,” so they would not qualify immediately for any needs-based benefits.  Rather, most individuals are somewhere in the middle.

For anyone in this “middle” category, a long-term care insurance policy can be an effective tool to pay for their long-term care, while at the same time, allowing them an opportunity to preserve their assets and qualify for government needs-based benefits.  For example, if you have a policy that will supplement your income to cover your monthly long-term care costs, you could gift money to an asset protection trust and use the policy and your income to pay through any look-back period.  When the policy is exhausted, you would be eligible for benefits, as the gift would be outside the look-back period.

Moreover, having an insurance policy that will pay benefits not only for nursing home care, but for home care, adult day care, assisted living and respite care is best, as it covers all the bases.  The policy does not need to have a lifetime benefit; usually, a 3 to 5-year term, with an inflation rider of 3% to 5%, compounded if one can afford it, is ideal.  The shorter the elimination period – the time you must wait before benefits are paid, the costlier the policy.  However, a 90 to 120-day elimination period is typical.

Additionally, you may want to consider a policy that qualifies as a partnership policy under the Maryland Long-Term Care Insurance Partnership Program.  Certain policies that qualify as a partnership policy will allow individuals to preserve assets in an amount equal to the benefits that were paid out on the policy if they ever need to apply for Medicaid.  In other words, if one has a partnership policy that paid out $300,000.00 toward his/her long-term care and then he/she applies for Medicaid, he/she will be allowed to keep $302,500.00 in assets instead of the normal $2,500.00.

Even though these policies may seem costly, the annual premium likely is less than a month’s cost in a nursing home; yet, most people do not want to spend the money if there is a chance they will never use the policy.  For these individuals, companies have created policies that can act as an annuity and provide a return of premiums if they never use it or can act as life insurance and provide a death benefit.  Also, for a married couple, and if both spouses can qualify for a policy, some policies will allow a transfer of benefits to one spouse if the other spouse does not use them.

The Maryland Consumer Guide to Long Term Care provides information on the companies authorized to sell policies in Maryland, as well as detailed information regarding Maryland’s Partnership Program.  Also, there is a one-time tax credit up to $500 that you can take on your Maryland return for purchasing a long-term care insurance policy.

To schedule an appointment with Jessica L. Estes, Esq., call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

#TuesdayTips: Utilizing Asset Protection Trusts

To utilize an Asset Protection Trust you must Assess your needs; Create what is missing; and Tie in your plan.  In other words, you must ACT!

By: Jessica L. Estes, Esq.

If you read last week’s #TuesdayTips article, you learned how to protect your stuff in three easy steps: 1) know the rules; 2) know your predators; and 3) know your options.  Easy, right?  But, knowing is only half of the equation.  Now, it is time to: Assess your needs; Create what is missing; and Tie in your plan.  In other words, you must ACT!

Protecting your stuff starts with an assessment of your needs, which, in turn, requires careful consideration of your goals and values.  Typical goals of an estate plan include maintaining control and not becoming a burden to loved ones, all the while keeping it as simple as possible.  Most people would agree that protecting their stuff from future long-term care costs, is important to them.  That way, they maintain control of the assets, protecting them after they are gone for the benefit of their loved ones, while at the same time, minimizing the costs of such long-term care and the burden to their family while they are alive.

So how, exactly, does an asset protection trust work? First, there are three parties to a trust – the grantor, trustee and beneficiary.  The “grantor” is the person who is transferring his or her assets to the trust.  The “trustee” is the person who manages and administers the trust in accordance with the trust provisions.  The Trustee is responsible for making all decisions regarding the trust, including any management or investment decisions, as well as deciding whether to make distributions from the trust.  The “beneficiary” can be a single person, multiple people or an entity such as a church or charity.  There are two types of beneficiaries: “lifetime” beneficiaries and “residuary” beneficiaries.  “Lifetime” beneficiaries are those individuals named by the grantor who are entitled to receive distributions of income and/or principal during the grantor’s lifetime.  The “residuary” beneficiaries are those individuals named by the grantor who are entitled to receive distribution of the trust assets after the death of the grantor.

After the trust is established, your assets must be transferred to the trust and the trust will become the owner of the assets.  Even though you will no longer own the assets, you maintain control of them because you are the trustee.  The plan must, of necessity, though, limit direct access to the principal to ensure that creditors, predators and lawsuits do not obtain access to it.  Still, the trust can provide indirect access to the principal during the remainder of your life through your designated lifetime beneficiaries.

Finally, upon your death, and because the trust is a separate entity, any assets owned by the trust would bypass probate and could be distributed immediately to your residuary beneficiaries.  Overall, irrevocable asset protection trusts are not only a great way to protect your stuff, but also can be very flexible and easily customized to meet your individual goals.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to learn more!

 

#FamilyFriday – What Changes in Maryland Family Law Can We Expect to See in 2018?

The 2018 Legislative Session began on January 10, 2018 and brings with it some possible changes to Maryland Family Law.

On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC want to bring to your attention some possible changes in Maryland Family Law!  The 2018 Legislative Session began on January 10, 2018 and brings with it some possible changes to Maryland Family Law.

Divorce – Mutual Consent

As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, divorce by mutual consent allows spouses to divorce within one (1) year of their separation and is available only to those married couples that have settled all marital issues and do not have any children in common.  Now, for the third time, there is an attempt to allow spouses with minor children in common to obtain a divorce by mutual consent.

Child Support – Driver’s License Suspension

Parents who fail to pay child support could potentially suffer serious consequences such as having their license suspended.  In this session there is an attempt to exempt individuals from having their license suspended if their income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Child Support – Income

When determining child support, it is only the actual gross income of the parents that are considered.  Even if one of the parent’s is re-married their spouse’s income is not factored into the child support equation.  In this session there is an attempt to allow a Court to consider a parent’s spouse’s income when determining that parent’s child support obligation.  Additionally, under the same considerations, the Court may order payment of attorney fees in proportion of each parties’ adjusted actual incomes.

Visitation and Child Custody – Terms

Currently the term used for describing the time awarded to the non-custodial parent is “visitation.”  Additionally, the term used to describe decision making authority is “child custody.”  In this session there is an attempt to replace the word “visitation” with “parenting time” and the term “child custody” with “legal decision making.”

If you have a family law related issue or question, call the attorneys of ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790!

#TuesdayTips: Asset Preservation in 3 Easy Steps

Asset preservation is simple; all it takes are three easy steps.  First, know the rules.  Second, know your predators.  Third, know your options. 

By Jessica L. Estes

Asset preservation is simple; all it takes are three easy steps.  First, know the rules.  Second, know your predators.  Third, know your options.

There are two sets of rules: rules that apply during your lifetime and rules that apply after your death.  During your lifetime, your named financial and health care powers of attorney will be able to act for you with respect to your finances and medical/end- of-life decisions, respectively.  These are your rules.  If you do not have these powers of attorney, you should get them; otherwise, your loved ones will have to apply for legal guardianship of you.  Not only does this require certificates of incompetency from two doctors, but it also requires a hearing and/or trial, which can be costly.  And, the court will be involved in your finances and health care decisions until you die.  Guardianship is the government’s rules.

After your death, your Last Will and Testament will take effect and your personal representative, or executor, will distribute your assets to your beneficiaries.  The Will represents your rules, but the Will must be probated, which is a legal process involving court oversight (or, the government’s rules).  Again, this can be costly, ranging from 5% to 20% of the total value of your estate according to AARP, and the personal representative cannot distribute assets to the beneficiaries for a minimum of six months.  Also, probate estates are available for public inspection.  Rather than a Will, you may want to consider a trust, which would bypass the probate process and the government’s involvement.

Now that you know the rules, you need to be aware of your predators.  They include the government (i.e., guardianship, probate, and taxes), long-term care costs (i.e. in-home care, assisted living and nursing homes), family (e.g. a spouse that requires long-term care or a child that is a spendthrift), and lawsuits, either yours or your beneficiaries.

Finally, your options – use the government’s rules or make your own.  By drafting your documents in a way that assures: 1) you are in control, 2) you decide who benefits from your estate plan and 3) you direct when and under what circumstances (e.g. while you are alive and well, incapacitated, and deceased) such benefits are distributed, you have created a proper estate plan that protects not only you, but your family as well, during your lifetime and after.   And remember, most people have documents, but not a plan.  To create your plan today call ERA Law Group at (410) 919-1790!