With living trust scams on the rise both nationally and in Georgia, many seniors are being tricked into buying costly and unnecessary financial products which jeopardize their long-term security. As an elder law attorney in Marietta, I want to expose these scams for National Consumer Protection Week (ncpw.gov).
Preying on loneliness and a common fear of the unknown among seniors, scammers and unscrupulous salesmen in the US and in Georgia have found a new way to defraud seniors out of thousands of dollars: living trust scams.
March 6-12 is National Consumer Protection week and as a Marietta elder law attorney, I am taking this opportunity to warn seniors of these costly living trust scams in the metropolitan Atlanta area.
Don’t get me wrong: Living trusts can be an excellent estate planning tool to avoid probate and ensure your wishes are honored after death, but they are not a one-size-fits-all document and certainly not right for everyone – especially seniors on fixed incomes with limited assets.
Yet through public seminars, phone, mail and door-to-door campaigns, seniors are being contacted by salesman outside of the legal field who offer to living trusts as the solution to all of their fears and financial worries.
High-pressure tactics such as gifts, companionship and exaggerations about death taxes and probate are used to make seniors believe that their assets will be tied up in court indefinitely and that their loved ones will be on the hook for thousands of dollars in taxes and legal fees after their death.
What the salesmen fail to tell these seniors is that they probably won’t even owe estate or ‘death taxes’ after their passing. Worse is that many of these “trust kits” sold to seniors only contain boilerplate language and really do nothing to avoid taxes or the probate court. The real goal of the scam is to gain access to the senior’s financial information through the Trust Kit so they can be railroaded into buying additional annuities or insurance products the senior does not need.
According to an AARP study published in 2000, about four million people older than 50 with less than $25,000 in annual income may have purchased costly, unnecessary, and potentially dangerous living trusts as a result of high-pressure sales tactics by firms falsely representing themselves as AARP affiliates. These numbers will continue to grow as seniors remain fearful about growing taxes and their future financial security.
To avoid becoming the victim of a Trust Scam, seniors should always shop around and check with a qualified estate planning lawyer before deciding on any type of will, trust or financial product such as an annuity or long-term care insurance plan. I also recommend that seniors:
- Never sign anything with options or terminology that you don’t understand.
- Don’t give into high-pressure tactics such as gifts, nagging phone calls, and limited-time offers.
- Verify any stated affiliations with senior organizations or government agencies. (Note: due to the high rate of senior trust scams, the AARP does not endorse ANY company that sells living trusts.)
- Know your rights under the FTC’s “Cooling Off Rule”. If you purchase a living trust in your home or any place other than the seller’s permanent place of business (such as a hotel seminar), you have three business days to cancel the deal.
For additional tips on how to avoid financial scams for National Consumer Protection Week, visit the government’s official website at ncpw.gov.
As a sandwich generation kid himself, Steve (Stephen M.) Worrall KNOWS the struggles you are facing as you raise children, balance the demands of your job, and take care of your aging parents, too! You can reach him at 770-425-6060 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elder law attorneys in Atlanta Georgia very often find themselves advising adult children of the elderly on the intricacies of managing their parents’ finances. While it may seem straightforward at first, there are a lot of details and difficulties that can get in the way. There are so many things to coordinate, and often the parent is less than helpful in the process. Being somewhat prepared and having access to an experienced elder law or estate lawyer in Atlanta are two of the ways you can help avoid some of the more common pitfalls, such as:
- Memory Loss – Memory loss is prevalent among the elderly, and it’s actually one of the big reasons that adult children are called in to take over finances. Unfortunately, it also makes the job that much more difficult because the parent isn’t able to answer important questions such as “How much do you owe?” or “When is this bill due?”
- Role Reversal – For the majority of the adult child’s life, the parent has been in charge. Taking over and being firm with the parent can be more than a little uncomfortable. On top of that, it can be frustrating and cause resentment to see the person who taught you so much no longer following their own advice.
- Lack of Information – Your parent may have chosen to be forthcoming about finances with an elder law lawyer here in Atlanta, but that doesn’t mean that they want to let their children in on all the financial details of their life. Previous generations found it improper to discuss money, resulting in an air of secrecy that can be difficult to break through.
So, how should you deal with these obstacles?
As with so many other aspects of life, the best way to deal with problems is to avoid them altogether. The earlier you and your parent start meeting with an Atlanta elder law attorney that you trust, the more likely you are to get the information you need. As an added bonus, your parent will have the ability to make his or her wishes known in order to offer guidance on how to handle their affairs if and when all of the responsibility is passed on to you.
No matter what stage the parent is at, the subject needs to be approached. Again, earlier is better, as the parent is more likely to understand the importance of what is happening. You may choose to start the conversation by relating it to your own estate planning or by bringing up a situation you heard about recently, such as the death of a celebrity. A good elder lawyer in Atlanta GA can offer suggestions on how to bring up the subject, as well as how to help steer the conversation in the right direction.
As an elder law attorney in Marietta, I find that certain questions are asked of me over and over again. One area that sometimes requires explanation is the difference between guardianships and powers of attorney.
Guardianships for Elders
Guardianships come into play when an adult experiences some sort of issue that leads to a mental disability. Elder lawyers see this type of situation in regards to the onset of dementia, for example, but there are other causes, such as a brain injury. If the elder adult is unable to make responsible decisions for himself or herself, the courts can appoint someone to make them instead. “Guardian” is a common term for this position, but it may also be referred to as a “conservator.” The person for whom the decisions are now being made is often called the “ward.”
A guardian is typically authorized to make most of the important decisions for the ward regarding things like health care, finances, and legal proceedings. There are times, however, when the guardian may need to obtain court approval before their decisions become final. Additionally, it is possible for there to be a “conservator” in charge of finances and a “guardian” in charge of other types of decisions.
Guardianships are not something that are handed out lightly. Having one’s independence handed over to another is profound, and therefore elder lawyers work with the family to exhaust other options first.
Powers of Attorney for Elders
A senior will often find that they have more freedom when they choose to give someone power of attorney. The power of attorney is similar in that it gives another person the right to make decisions in case of incapacitation, but it is more restrictive. For example, the elder lawyer may be directed to draft the power of attorney to only allow the “agent” to have control over certain types of decisions. (Again, healthcare, finances, and legal are some of the more common areas covered.)
Powers of attorney can be limited, too. For example, if a client is going to be out of town while a legal transaction is taking place, they might direct their elder lawyer to give a third party the power of attorney to represent them. Or, they may only give the agent power of attorney for certain activities, such as signing checks to pay monthly bills.
Comparing the Two
One of the biggest differences between the two is that the agent with a power of attorney is chosen by the individual, whereas a guardian is appointed by the courts. When a senior works with a Cobb County elder lawyer to draw up the power of attorney, they are able to choose someone they trust to have their best interests in mind. On the other hand, when the courts choose a guardian, they will be using legal precedence rather than considering what the senior would prefer.
If you have other questions about estate planning, probate or elder law issues, please call us at 770-425-6060.
Many people approach estate planning attorneys in order to determine how their assets will be divided among survivors after their death. Unfortunately, a huge number of them don’t take the high likelihood of long-term care into consideration. Elder law attorneys in Atlanta see this situation come up time and again, and it is important to educate clients on the options they have available.
First of all, long-term care is a very likely scenario. People are now living longer than they ever have before. This can be a great thing, but it also means that the period of time in which we cannot fully care for ourselves may be longer, too. More and more people find that they truly need some form of long-term care. In some cases, this can be handled through an in-home healthcare worker rather than in a nursing home, but even that is expensive.
Nursing homes are a common solution when it comes to long-term care, and a good elder law attorney should help you plan for how to make this possibility happen. It’s common for people to think that the government will simply pay for their needs or that a nursing home isn’t any more expensive than renting an apartment. Both ideas are usually untrue.
So, how does one pay for long-term care? Elder care attorneys typically see four approaches:
- Private Pay – Any care that is needed, from nursing homes to prescriptions drugs (including co-payments or full costs) are covered out of pocket. Elder care services tend to be very expensive, and the costs associated with them are incredibly high. It’s not unusual for assisted-living placements to cost upwards of $8,000 a month. That means that “simple” basics that are required for day-to-day living come out to $96,000 a year.
- Medicare – Medicare is a health insurance program administered through the government. Elder law attorneys work with this program a lot because one of the basic requirements is that you must be over 65 to receive benefits. Many people are surprised to learn that Medicare does not typically cover long-term care. So, even if you qualify for this program, it cannot be used to cover nursing home care or in-home healthcare professionals for more than about 100 days.
- Medicaid – Medicaid is used by those with great financial need, and you must apply and qualify for the benefits. Many people are shocked when their elder law attorney explains that Medicaid is not actually available to everyone, and if you have much by way of assets (even a modest home or a few thousand dollars in the bank), you may not qualify at all. If you hope to qualify for Medicaid, you must prepare several years in advance to protect your assets.
- Long-Term Care Insurance – This type of insurance can help to cover or offset the costs associated with long-term care, such as an in-home healthcare worker or nursing home care. Policies can be somewhat confusing and expensive, so it’s highly recommended to work with an impartial elder law attorney when reviewing potential policies to ensure you understand them and are getting what you expect.
There are many issues to take into consideration when planning for your future, and long-term care is undoubtedly one of the most important. Working with an elder care attorney in Atlanta means that you will understand the options that are available to you and how they apply according to state and federal law.
Elder lawyers in Atlanta work not just with our older clients, but also with their caregivers. In many cases, this means adult children who have or will be given power of attorney, not to mention those who just step up to help when something is needed. There are some legal issues which seem to arise caused by people who see the elderly as targets or victims, and often it is the caregiver who is left to pick up the pieces. A good Atlanta elder lawyer may be able to help you prepare for, and hopefully avoid, these pitfalls.
Unfortunately, caregivers may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of confronting a sibling who is taking advantage of the elderly parent. It seems the least responsible child can sometimes find ways to “freeload” off the parent: requesting money, gifts, and special favors which the parent cannot necessarily afford.
While it’s no fun, it may be necessary to step in and put a stop to this behavior. This is much easier if the caregiver has a financial power of attorney in place. Even then, it can be difficult to convince the parent that he or she needs to stop funding the sibling’s bad behavior.
Another concern in this area is a sibling or siblings can falsely accuse the caregiver of misconduct. It could be because the sibling simply doesn’t understand the day-to-day responsibilities of taking care of the parents, or they may be jealous of the caregiver’s relationship with the parent. Greed can also come into play, with the sibling wanting as much money as possible to be left in the parent’s estate for him or her to inherit.
While unscrupulous siblings are certainly disheartening, the prevalence of strangers willing to take advantage of elderly people is absolutely infuriating. From those who want to sell bogus or unnecessary insurance policies to those who will flat-out rob a person of their identity, caregivers need to be vigilant to keep their vulnerable loved ones protected. Your Atlanta elder lawyer can keep you apprised of common scams which are going around the area and will offer useful advice for how to keep these con artists out of your family’s accounts.
A different group of people who are willing to take advantage of elderly folks are those who will insinuate themselves into the parent’s life as a boyfriend or girlfriend. In some cases, these individuals may be considerably younger—what are commonly referred to as “gold diggers.” These people flatter the elderly person, providing him or her with attention and what appears to be love. Instead, the “lover” is really interested in bleeding the elderly person’s bank account. He or she may even be angling to be named in the will.
Working with an Atlanta elder lawyer may afford some options for protection against someone who is obviously using your parent for financial gain. To learn what documents need to be in place to ensure your loved one’s finances stay protected and managed by someone the senior trusts, simply give our Atlanta area law firm a call at 770-425-6060 and ask to schedule a Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session.
As our parents get older and begin to lose their independence, many will turn to their adult children to help them navigate the complicated and costly world of long-term care.
Yet for adult children already caring for young kids of their own, this new role of “caregiver” can be a difficult one to assume. It’s no wonder this group of people is known as the “Sandwich Generation” as they are literally ‘sandwiched’ between the pressures of raising a family, holding down a job and managing mom or dad’s growing medical and financial needs.
As tempting as it is for Sandwich Generation Kids to bury their heads in the sand and deal with long-term care issues as they arise, failing to plan far enough ahead can cause your family to miss out on important benefits, long-term care opportunities and the ability to stay in control during mom or dad’s final years.
Here are 5 planning steps to help ensure your parents are afforded the most protection, flexibility and financial security during their golden years:
1. Find out if your parents have an estate plan and whether it’s been updated in the past 5 years- The will, trust, powers of attorney and health care directives your parents created years ago may not reflect their current wishes and long-term care needs now. Find out what they have in place and have it reviewed to ensure their documents have stayed up to date as their life and the law has changed trough the years.
2. Determine How You’ll Pay For Long-Term Care- Nursing home and assisted living facilities can cost up to $8,000 a month and Medicare will not pick up the tab. In-home care can be equally burdensome for the average family. Medicaid may pay, provided you are hovering around poverty level. The only other option is pay out of pocket—unless, of course, you plan ahead. By acting in advance and not waiting until your hands are tied in a crisis, tools such as long-term care insurance, trusts and annuities may be available to help your parents pay for their care without losing everything they’ve worked so hard for.
3. Get The Legal Authority Now To Manage Their Affairs and Maintain Control- If your parents do not have a powers of attorney or health care directives that allow you to communicate with doctors, access medical records and manage their financial affairs, it’s a good idea to create them now while mom or dad is still in good health. Otherwise, if a sudden medical crisis strikes or your parents no longer have mental capacity to sign legal documents down the road, you’ll be forced to petition a court for control (read: major time and money lost).
4. Document Their End-of-Life Wishes- Thousands of families each year are torn apart trying to decide what their loved one “would have wanted” in serious medical situations. Avoid the stress and conflict by asking your parents their wishes about things such as life support, feeding tubes, organ donation, etc. and legally document their choices to ensure everyone is on the same page.
5. Get Organized To Avoid Last Minute Scrambling- Gather your parent’s important information now to avoid any confusion and delays in the event of a medical emergency. Some important documents to collect would include their insurance information, front and back of all ID cards including drivers license, prescription cards and military ID card, prior medical history, names and numbers of doctors, copies of their living will, health care directives and a list of current medication and doses.
By being proactive and planning for these issues in advance, you can help make sure your parents always receive the care they need without worry or financial struggle. You’ll further avoid many costly legal headaches that adult children face when they are not prepared for their parent’s incapacity or ongoing care needs. It’s never too early to get started, so talk to an estate and elder attorney to determine the best ways to protect your parents, their assets…and your own sanity during the golden years.
To receive our FREE e-book, “Surviving the ‘Sandwiched’ Years: How to Protect Your Parent’s Assets, Honor Their Wishes & Provide Long-Term Care . . . Without Losing Money – Or Your Mind!”, please visit: GeorgiaSandwichGeneration.com