Elder Law Protects You and Those You Love
Kathleen Lamonica Krochock, J.D.
Recently, I was asked about the consequences of an elderly person giving all of her assets to her children in order to qualify for public benefits. Not more than a day later, I was asked to advise one of our business owner clients whose father was in need of nursing home placement; he was very afraid those expenses would impoverish his mother. The area of law that addresses both these situations is called Elder Law.
Elder Law is the compilation of many different topics to help people avoid negative consequences, make best use of hard-earned life savings, tap into available public benefits and protect loved ones. A team of advisors from complimentary disciplines should be consulted in order to tackle the many topics encompassed by Elder Law. Three general lifestyle topics are the mainstay of Elder Law:
*Health & Long Term Care
Continue Planning for Financial Wellbeing
TCI assists clients in successfully navigating their finances toward many goals, the most important being a secure retirement. In addition, we strongly encourage our clients to have an estate plan in place. Through the use of trusts, wills and powers of attorney, they are able to effectively express their wishes in the event of their physical or mental incapacity or even death.
Retirement benefit planning and administration, Social Security benefit planning and also personal insurance benefit needs are three important Elder Law topics that affect all clients. Notice I’m talking about the value of planning. That’s because planning is the key to financial wellbeing after retirement. Planning also ensures you a secure retirement that is spent in dignity and autonomy.
Keep Living Environment Flexible
Financial security will be a tremendous boost to you in the very important issue of planning your retirement housing. Assets allow for flexible access to a wide variety of living options. Planning for retirement housing and health services also will enable you to have the highest quality of life. Depending on your health, the health of your spouse, and your standard of living, you may want to not only create, but actually implement, your housing plan years before your actual retirement.
As we age, life changing events occur and other living options might become attractive or necessary, including downsized retirement housing, in-home care, assisted or retirement center living or even nursing home care. Improper planning under this area of Elder Law could result in a need to convert your primary residence or vacation home equity into more liquid investments in order to meet your expenses. This could result in a dramatically reduced standard of living.
Whatever your needs and desires dictate, the important thing to remember is that advanced planning will result in the widest possible number of housing options from which to choose. Finally, it is imperative that you make your housing wishes known to those closest to you. Discussing this may seem awkward but it can avoid serious difficulties in the future.
Understand Health and Long-Term Care Options
Successful health care planning begins when you become familiar with health care benefits and the role they will play in your retirement. It is a good idea to investigate and incorporate your potential need for long-term care insurance in order to assist with expenses as you or your spouse age. Don’t do what so many people do and wait until you are at an age when the cost of the insurance would potentially outweigh the benefits you would receive.
Private benefits, such as employer based health insurance, Medicare supplementary insurance, long-term care insurance, and public benefits, such as Medicare, Medicare D, Medicaid and Veterans, will all come together in a unique mix for your care and wellbeing. Pre-planning will help you live as independently as possible, for as long as possible. It also will help you maintain dignity regardless of your particular life situation.
Assemble Your Team
All the topics covered by Elder Law are best addressed by a team of professionals who can assist you in learning the specifics of your financial wellbeing, living environment choices and health/long-term care options. As these professionals help you define and refine your thinking, you’ll become ready to put your retirement plans in place. Potential members of your retirement team are an attorney, your TCI financial advisor, your accountant, your doctor(s), a care-plan manager and pastor or other spiritual counselor.
In determining what attorney to retain for your retirement planning, we suggest you consider those who specifically practice in the area of estate planning. You may even wish to work with a more specialized Elder Law Attorney* whose practice incorporates both estate planning and other Elder Law topics. Your attorney will help you put your desires and needs in writing so that if ever you cannot speak for yourself, others will be legally bound to follow your wishes. The five most important legal documents to prepare are your will and/or trust, financial power of attorney, durable power of attorney for healthcare, living will and a comprehensive list of your assets.
It is important to have a clear financial plan and even more important to have the flexibility to adjust it should circumstances dictate doing so. Your TCI financial advisor can work with you to implement the right plan for your needs and then assist you in continual tracking and monitoring of your financial assets.
Your team of professionals will become your best allies in the future because they understand first hand your expressed wishes. Every team member should be known to the family and/or friends to whom you are most close. Elder Law planning requires time and effort but it offers tremendous peace of mind and a powerful sense of security. Let me know how I can help you successfully navigate through the process.
Because of the importance of research and planning within the many topics of Elder Law, I’d like to share two on-line resources I find particularly helpful:
*The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) defines its membership as being “comprised of attorneys in the private and public sectors who deal with legal issues affecting seniors and people with disabilities.” Their web site has a comprehensive directory of their member attorneys for your reference. The organization offers many resource brochures on elder law/retirement topics as well as information about specific state and international laws. There are more than 50 valuable resource links to advocacy organizations, foundations, societies, institutes, agencies and associations. Each of these organizations offers in-depth, topic-specific information as well as links to additional resources.
This web site provides information, not legal advice. This is a wonderful place to start your research because of the section called Elder Law 101, in-depth explanations of key retirement topics. You’ll also find such important planning tools as a calculator, checklist, glossary, links to other resources, Elder Law news articles and an Elder Law library. Because laws and resources vary so widely among states, this web site offers specific, timely information for each individual state.
Kathleen Lamonica Krochock graduated from Bradley University in 1981 with a degree in accounting. An Illinois attorney and a native of Lombard, Illinois, Ms. Krochock has been a trust officer since graduating from The John Marshall Law School in 1984. She has been serving trust clients in the Chicago area for the past 26 years at the First National Bank of Elgin (Chase), Merrill Lynch Trust Company, and the Harris Bank in Chicago. Ms. Krochock joined TCI in December 2002, and is the head of TCI’s Fiduciary Services Team. She regularly consults with staff on fiduciary matters and estate tax planning. She is an active member of the Illinois State, Kane County, and DuPage County Bar Associations.