Having the ‘Tough Conversations’ With Mom or Dad for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Awareness Week

According to Marietta  elder law attorney, Steve Worrall,  Alzheimer’s and Dementia awareness week (February 14th –21st) is the perfect time to have ‘tough conversations’ with aging parents about their wishes and plans should the disease ever strike. 


Marietta, Georgia –

“Does mom want to live in a nursing home?”

“Does dad consider living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia to be quality of life?”

“Is there legal documentation in place that ensures someone can act financially on mom or dad’s behalf if they are unable to?”

These are just three of many questions that experts are urging adult children to ask their parents during Alzheimer’s and Dementia Awareness Week (February 14th– 21st).   Without the answers to such questions, families could be left battling over long-term care, struggling financially and not truly honoring their parent’s wishes should the disease unexpectedly strike.

“So many families avoid talking about Alzheimer’s or Dementia until it’s too late,” says Marietta  elder lawyer, Steve Worrall.  “Especially from a legal standpoint, if you don’t know your parents’ wishes or the documentation they have in place, you could be left with a huge mess on your hands in the wake of this debilitating disease”.

According to Worrall, there are 5 specific conversations adult children should have with their parents as soon as the opportunity presents itself.  They comprise the following:

1.       Long-term care preferences– Does mom or dad want to live in a nursing home or would they prefer in-home care if the need presented itself?  If they prefer a facility, what amenities and activities are important to them at this point in their life?  These are questions that if discussed in advance can make the transition into an assisted living facility or a home-health care program much easier on everyone when the time comes.

2.       Current Legal Documentation– It’s imperative that adult children find out what legal documentation their parents have in place before incapacity occurs.  This includes making sure their parents have a power of attorney, health care directive and HIPAA forms so someone can easily step in to make financial or medical decisions on their behalf.  Otherwise the family will be forced to petition a court for control over their parent’s affairs if they have passed the point of legal capacity.

3.       Medical Preferences and Wishes– Adult children are urged to find out what type and how much medical care their parents want after receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Do they have specific wishes about life support or other end-of life medical treatments?  Who do they want to make such decisions on their behalf?  The answers to these questions will help your parents to feel secure knowing their wishes will be carried out during an otherwise emotionally-charged time.

4.       Current state of financial affairs-  To ensure finances stay properly managed after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Dementia, adult children should use this week to start asking tough questions about their parent’s financial affairs.  This includes finding out the location of any safety deposit boxes, bank accounts, investment or brokerage accounts, outstanding debts or other assets unknown to the family.   Otherwise, necessary assets needed to cover long-term care or other expenses could be overlooked when memory loss ultimately occurs.

5.       Important contacts and information– While their memory is sharp, adult children should work with aging parents to compile a list of important contacts and information that will be useful to the family if memory loss occurs. This includes documenting key doctors, professional advisors (ie. accountant, attorney, financial advisor) and important passwords for online accounts.

“While these conversations are certainly not easy to have, families can make the transition into living with Alzheimer’s or Dementia much easier by simply planning ahead,” says Worrall.  “Not to mention, mom or dad will appreciate your willingness to make sure their wishes are honored if and when incapacity occurs”.

‘Deadbeat’ parents caught in a debtor’s prison

The following article appeared in AJC.com:

On any given day, hundreds of Georgians are in jail for failing to pay child support.

Family law attorneys say many of these "deadbeats" are right where they belong. They have been found in willful contempt of court for repeatedly refusing to pay their child support, failing to try to find work or hiding their income and assets.

But many parents are being jailed even though they have no ability to pay, creating modern-day debtor's prisons, according to motions being filed in Georgia courts. The state should provide lawyers to indigent parents for their civil-contempt hearings to ensure due process, the filings say.

Leah Ward Sears, former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, spells out the complexity of the issue.

"There are a lot of kids out there with parents who just don't pay, and for every dollar they're not paying someone else has to pay," Sears said. "Too often it's the taxpayer. They're taxing the court systems that have to process them and taxing the jails that have to house them. They tax the welfare rolls. It also forces extended families — grandmothers and grandfathers — to pay."

But it is illegal to incarcerate someone who has no ability to pay, she added. "We don't believe in debtor's prisons in this country, and that's what we're doing here in some cases."

The U.S. Supreme Court  will consider the issue in March, when it hears an appeal from a South Carolina man who was jailed for a year for failing to pay child support. South Carolina, like Georgia, is one of a few states nationwide that do not provide lawyers to indigent parents facing contempt hearings for failure to pay support.

The high court's ruling could change the way Georgia's courts handle child-support contempt cases and hit the state's budget.

North Carolina, for example, has been providing attorneys in child-support cases since a 1993 court ruling required the state to do so. Last year, North Carolina paid more than $3 million to appointed lawyers in child-support cases, Wendy Sotolongo, the state's parent representative coordinator, said.

Emotions run extraordinarily high in cases involving custody and support; angry ex-spouses often are all too happy to see the other parent jailed, and judges, weary of excuses from deadbeats, often oblige them.

In Georgia, after finding a parent in contempt, judges set a "purge fee," which is typically below the amount of child support that is owed. If the parent can pay the purge fee, he or she can avoid being sent to jail.

Over the past decade, 3,612 people — each serving an average of 127 days — were incarcerated in Gwinnett County for failing to pay child support, according to jail records.

"We've seen some who've been jailed come up with $15,000 to $20,000 in a couple of days," Sheriff Butch Conway said. "Some will languish for months and not be able to come up with $100 to $200. Some can't pay it but, sadly, I think some do have the money but just don't want to pay."

Randy Miller, a war veteran from Marietta, sits in a Floyd County jail facing a $3,000 purge fee he can't pay, he said in a statement provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by his lawyers.

When Miller, 39, lost his job as an AT&T service technician in 2009, he struggled to keep up with his $452-a-month child support payments for his 16-year-old daughter. He eventually saw his home go into foreclosure and wound up with only 39 cents in the bank, according to court records. In November, he was jailed for four months for failing to pay an estimated $4,400 in child support.

"My biggest concern right now is finding some work," Miller said, noting his child-support bills are growing because of his incarceration.

Miller said he may try to re-enlist in the military when he gets out of jail as a way to secure a more consistent income, but worries he might be too old.

His lawyer, Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, said everyone agrees that parents must support their children. "But we can't go around locking up indigent parents because they are too poor to pay the full amount owed."

Doug Slade, an attorney who represents the state Office of Child Support Services and asked Miller be found in contempt, has said Miller is incarcerated for failing to comply with a court order.

"Our job is to seek to take care of the best interests of the child," he said. "It seems people are often more concerned about the parent who has the ability to work but is not and consequently is not taking care of the child."

Last year, the Southern Center filed Open Records Act requests with county sheriffs to find out how many parents were jailed statewide for failing to pay court-ordered child support. The center, which heard back from 135 of the state's 159 counties, found that 526 parents were incarcerated statewide.

"The people we see in jail are not wealthy ‘deadbeat' dads," Geraghty said. "They are often working people who have lost jobs and become totally indigent."

In 2009, Geraghty obtained the release of Frank Hatley, a South Georgia man who had been jailed for more than a year for being too poor to pay child support — even though the judge and the state attorney who brought the contempt charge knew Hatley was not the boy's father. Hatley should have been provided counsel at his initial contempt hearing, Geraghty said.

On March 23, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case involving Michael Turner, who was jailed for a year after being found in contempt for not paying more than $5,700 in his child-support for his daughter. Turner told the judge he had been addicted to drugs, and he broke his back when he finally got a job. "Now I'm off the dope and everything," he said. "I just hope that you give me a chance. … I know I done wrong."

In its ruling last year, the South Carolina Supreme Court distinguished between civil contempt child-support jailings, whose purpose is to coerce compliance with court orders, and criminal contempt sanctions, which are punishment for disobedience and disrespect. A parent such as Turner "hold[s] the keys to his cell because he may end the imprisonment and purge himself of the sentence at any time by doing the act he had previously refused to do," the court said.

Turner, now represented pro bono by the a number of lawyers, including former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman, wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the South Carolina court's ruling.

When a parent lacks the ability to pay, jailing the parent is merely punitive — and illegal — Turner's lawyers said in court filings. The state has no interest in maintaining "a de facto debtors' prison for [parents] who genuinely cannot pay. … As a matter of fundamental fairness, Turner should have been afforded the assistance of counsel to show that he could not [pay]."

This month, the U.S. Justice Department disagreed, telling the high court that Turner did not have a categorical right to counsel. But the agency's brief said the South Carolina decision should be overturned because parents need to be given a more meaningful opportunity to show they can't pay. Such procedures could include requiring parents to complete an understandable form disclosing their personal finances, the Justice Department said.

Seth Harp, who chairs the Georgia Child Support Guidelines Commission, said a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring lawyers for indigent parents "could devastate our system."

"We don't pay enough now for the defense of our criminals," said Harp, a former state legislator. "If there's no money for lawyers in child-support cases, then the possible result could be the end of the threat of jail time. And there are many people who deserve to go to jail."

Harp acknowledged that the recession has resulted in increased numbers of parents being hauled into court facing contempt. "I recognize many have lost their jobs, literally exhausted all their efforts to find work, exhausted their employment benefits," he said. "And I also know courts will often err heavily against the parent who's being brought into court. The philosophy is, ‘We've got to take care of the children.'"


So…What Exactly Does An Executor Do in a Georgia Probate?

So, you’re thinking about estate planning…

In my Cobb County probate and estate planning practice, after naming guardians for their minor children, I ask my clients who they would like as their executor…

Or maybe, someone you know has asked you to be their executor…

If either of these scenarios sounds familiar, it might be a good idea to know exactly what an executor does under Georgia law before you make a commitment either way.

Being an Executor – An Honor and a Burden

The executor of an estate in Georgia is charged with taking care of a person’s final business on earth.  You are responsible for protecting the deceased person’s property until all the taxes and debts are paid and making sure that everyone else receives what they’re entitled to under the estate.  That can be a huge task or a small one, depending on the size and complexity of the estate. 

As an executor, you don’t have to be a legal expert or an accountant but you do have to be honest, impartial and detail oriented.  As an executor, you’re charged with a “fiduciary duty” (which means a duty to act in good faith and honesty) in all business of the estate.  If you fail to carry out this “fiduciary duty”, you could be held legally liable for that failure.  This is a serious consideration when deciding who to name as your executor or whether or not to accept appointment as the executor of someone else’s estate.

Again, depending on the size and complexity of the estate, you could feel like Switzerland in the middle of warring factions for a long time until everything is settled.  Make sure your nerves are up to the task before you sign on.

The Daily Business of the Estate

Executors have a lot of work to do to settle an estate, regardless of the size.  Some of the things you would be responsible for are:

·           Finding and managing the deceased person’s assets until they’re distributed to the heirs of the estate.  You may be asked to make decisions on whether or not to sell certain assets or keep them in the estate.

·           Determining whether or not the will needs to be sent through probate.  If there is a surviving spouse, many of the assets that were jointly owned may pass on to the spouse without the probate process.  Always consult an estate planning lawyer to determine what needs to be done.

·           Determining who actually inherits property.  If you’ve been named as an executor, chances are that your loved one left a will.  That makes this part of the process much easier.  If your loved one died without a will, you could have a serious chore ahead of you.

·           Take care of any necessary court filings.  Even if the probate process is not necessary, the will still needs to be filed with the probate court.  If it turns out that the estate does need to go through probate, you could have a substantial list of filings to take care of.

·           Handling the day-to-day grind.  This could be a laundry list of little details that need to be taken care of to close out an estate.  You could be cancelling credit cards, notifying the Social Security Administration and Medicare of the death, stopping mail deliveries from the Post Office, determining who takes care of pets, and the list goes on.  Make sure you have the time and the ability to handle all these daily details before you agree to the task.

·           Setting up a bank account for the estate.  If you don’t have signature authority on the decedent’s bank accounts (and you probably won’t), you will need to set up an account to take care of the expenses involved in wrapping up the estate.  Any insurance payments, stock dividends or final paychecks will go into this account to pay ongoing bills such as a mortgage or property insurance until the estate is settled and the assets are distributed.  A word to the wise – keep thorough records of all sums coming into and going out of    this account to head off any potential problems with heirs to the estate.  

·           Paying taxes. Yes, a final income tax return has to be filed for the deceased person and it will cover the period from the beginning of the tax year until the date of death.  If the estate is a large one, state and federal estate tax returns will need to be filed as well.

Being an Executor Requires Commitment

Take another look at the list of duties we just gave you.  Stop and seriously think about all the things that would go into settling your estate – who needs to be paid, what needs to be sold, who gets what – and then make a decision on who would be the best person you know to handle all that.  Once you have someone in mind, talk to them about it at length.  Show them our list and make sure they’re okay with handling this much detail in someone else’s life before you name them as your executor (or before you agree to be the executor of someone else’s estate).

Call us to schedule your Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session today.  As part of our Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session, we will sit down with you and go over a list of what needs to be done with your estate and give you an unbiased opinion on your options for an executor. Our Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session is normally $750, but this month I’ve made space for the next five people who mention this article to have a complete planning session with me at no charge.  Call us at 770-425-6060 today and mention this article.

As Seen on Better Mornings Atlanta (CBS Atlanta): Adding Estate Planning to your 2011 Resolutions

Better Mornings Atlanta logo

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the opportunity to appear today on CBS Atlanta's Better Mornings Atlanta morning news show. Here is a link to the segment.

SMW on BMA medium

I was interviewed by anchor Tracye Hutchins on Adding Estate Planning to your list of resolutions for 2011. If you'd like more information about these topics, download my free guide, “What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt Your Family: 5 Easy Ways to Make Sure Your Children, Wishes and Assets Stay Protected Should Something Happen to You” at http://georgiafamilyresolutions.com/


Happy New Year!

Here's to the New Year


May it be a great one.


We wish all our clients and friends a happy, safe and prosperous New Year 2011.
We are very thankful for our relationship during the past
and we look forward to continue serving you this coming year.

I’m excited to announce that I will be appearing on the 6AM segment of Better Mornings Atlanta (CBS Atlanta) next Tuesday, January 4, 2011. Please tune in or set your DVR to watch! I’ll be interviewed on the topic of Adding Estate Planning to Your Resolutions for the New Year.

If one of your New Year’s resolutions this year includes getting your financial and legal affairs in order should something unexpectedly happen to you, I have a gift I know you’ll enjoy.
To be specific, you can now download a free report I wrote entitled, “What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt Your Family: 5 Easy Ways to Make Sure Your Children, Wishes and Assets Stay Protected Should Something Happen to You”.

You can download a copy at GeorgiaFamilyResolutions.com.

In this report you’ll learn 5 easy ways to get your legal and financial affairs in order, just in time for the New Year.  You won’t even need the help of an attorney for some of these important steps; simply follow the instructions in this guide and cross each item off of your “to-do” list as you go.

You’ll also discover:

  • How to legally name guardians for your minor children in a way that they hold up in a court of law
  • The difference between a will and a trust, and which tool you really need to make sure your family, wishes and assets stay protected upon your passing.
  • The details about a simple document you can make yourself that will give someone legal permission to act on your behalf if you were incapacitated in an accident but do not die (and without this document, no one will be able to help you under the current HIPPA laws!)
  • How to amass your “entire family wealth” and leave a true legacy to your children (hint: you don’t have to be wealthy and it’s easier than you think!)
  • And so much more!

To get your copy, simply go to GeorgiaFamilyResolutions.com.

Start off the new year right by having your family planning evaluated to ensure everything is up to date. Call us to schedule a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session. We will sit down with you, assess where you are now and where you need to be. There’s no obligation and it’s no pressure! Our Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session is normally $750, but for the January 2011 I've made space for the next five people who mention this article to have a complete planning session with me at no charge. Call us today at 770.425.6060 and mention this article
To your Family's Wealth, Health and Happiness,

Steve Worrall
GeorgiaFamilyLaw.com : Worrall Law LLC
109 Anderson St. #100
Marietta GA 30060
770.425.6060 T
770.424.5956 F


PS: Give us a call if you have questions. We would love to hear from you. Call us now at 770.425.6060