Americans of All Ages Are Creating Wills

There has been an explosion in the numbers of Americans rushing to make their will online. Understandably, the coronavirus pandemic has created the scramble to set up wills and end-of-life-directives. However, online do it yourself (DIY) wills are often deemed invalid as they do not comply with all of the legal requirements of your state. According to Caring.com, the prevalence of will and estate planning has been on the decline since 2017 but this trend is quickly reversing itself with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic. So, who needs a will? Ask yourself if you care who gets your property or money if you die? If you have minor children, do you care who will act as their legal guardian? The answer is anyone married, anyone with children or anyone with assets needs a properly executed will. Wills are governed by state law. Your will should reflect your wishes in the language and format required by the state in which you live for it to be valid.

Many law offices are turning to teleconference with their clients to address social distancing protocols while still providing legal services such as writing a will. Businesses like Zoom are experiencing a quadrupling of daily users. Part of this significant increase includes hosting secure attorney/client meetings for will preparations. The importance of an attorney guiding you through the process of creating a will cannot be understated as they understand the nuances of how things need to be written. Once your will is complete, it must be correctly notarized as mistakes made in the will-signing process can potentially invalidate your will.  Your attorney will guide you through the signing process, and could involve signing during a video conference.

Beyond the creation of a will, many Americans are increasingly concerned about their powers of attorneys, health care surrogates, living wills, and end of life directives. These “life documents,” as they are active while you are alive, are equally as important as your will. Named executors, successors, beneficiaries, power of attorneys should have several back-up representatives as the mortality rate due to the coronavirus remains unknown.

According to research in a recent New York Times report, health care workers are more likely to contract COVID 19 than the average person. During this pandemic, many doctors and other medical professionals are rushing to have their wills drawn up. In addition to doctors, anyone on the front lines in the fight against COVID 19, from hospital custodians to nurses to EMS responders, should either make a will or review and possibly update their existing one. However, the truth is no matter what your profession or likelihood of contracting this virus, you should have a properly executed will during this time of considerable uncertainty.

There are few things you can act on during the COVID 19 pandemic that can bring you assurance and a sense of relief. The legal creation of your will and life-directives is an action you can take that protects you and your family. We can help. Please contact our office by giving us a call at (405) 241-5994.

Coronavirus Pandemic Forces Senior Living Workforce Issues

Fears that provisions in a coronavirus-related relief action by the US government could have severely curtailed the workforce in senior assisted living, independent living, memory care, and continuing care retirement communities provide a cautionary tale. The bill, HR 6201, is a multi-billion dollar aid package known as Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bill has recently been signed into law by the US President. Influential leaders, CEOs, and corporate Presidents in the senior care and housing industry addressed facility workforce concerns directly to the House Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) before the passing of H.R.6201.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Law expands unemployment and Medicaid benefits, provides for free coronavirus testing, and mandates paid sick leave and childcare. Now that schools have closed throughout the country for an indefinite time, the fear is that many senior care workers will, unsurprisingly, put their family before their healthcare worker employment. A reprieve of sorts was added before the law being enacted, which states that only certain employees can qualify for paid sick leave.  Because of these loopholes, healthcare workers like first responders, and hospital and nursing home staff are ineligible for paid sick leave per the Families First Coronavirus Response Law (FFCRL) amid fears of staffing shortages among medical providers.

Healthcare worker exemption from some FFCRL benefits is a relief to the senior housing industry but by no means mitigates other workforce challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. The pervasiveness of this contagion means that healthcare workers will be exposed to, and some will fall ill with full-blown coronavirus symptoms and illness. Obviously, in these cases, the healthcare worker will be removed from the senior living facility for quarantine and recovery and to protect the facility’s residents and staff. One coronavirus confirmed healthcare worker begins a domino effect within a facility. Regular operations become short-staffed, and operators face the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols that co-workers must also face quarantine.

Beyond coronavirus exposure, symptoms, and the diagnosed virus itself, there is the problem of how healthcare workers respond in a pandemic. The non-stop news and social media coverage of the coronavirus has put many Americans on edge, including health care workers. In a crisis, some people respond logically and calmly, while others may become fearful of their own circumstances and respond emotionally. Most healthcare workers would put their own family’s health needs and care before any employment, and in a free society, there is nothing to compel them to stay in a job if they choose to tend first to their own family.

If your loved one is in a senior living facility, what can you do to mitigate the negative consequences of workforce disruption due to the coronavirus? In the short term, if you are able and your senior is well enough, you can put them under your care. Beyond family care, unless you have the resources for private pay at any cost, you, like the rest of us, are in the system and have to wait out the virus and its effects. There is no guarantee moving forward how the coronavirus will play out in senior living communities, America, and around the world.

One of the few things you do have control over is to assure your loved one has proper legal documents for end of life decisions. Take the time to review them to ensure they are in order. A do not resuscitate order (DNR), durable medical power of attorney, and end of life wishes should be on file with your loved ones living facility and the local hospital. Additional legal copies of these documents should remain in your car or on your person in the event a facility is unable to locate the paperwork. Preparing for the worst-case scenario is a harsh reality; however, it could make the difference between chaotic suffering and a peaceful passing.

We can help draft appropriate documents for you and your loved ones. If you have questions or need guidance in your planning, get in touch with our offices by calling us at (405) 241-5994.

What to Ask When Hiring In-Home Healthcare

There is a wide range of home health care services available from daily household tasks to medical care. Before identifying a health care service for information, get a clear idea of what you are in the market for, be it recovery from surgery or long-term care for a chronic illness. The first step is to determine what you need help with and how often you need that help. Then assess your budget to provide home health care services. Get the specific information together about the types of insurance you will be relying on for payment. Determine what your loved one’s comfort level is with the process. A non-compliant recipient of care is going to make for misery all around. Have open and non-threatening discussions with your loved one and listen to their concerns. They may give you refined information about what type of individual to look for in a home health aide such as a non-smoker, early riser, card player, fastidiously neat person, an aide with experience with a specific chronic disease, or a multi-lingual aide.

Once you have identified your needs, though they may change or need to be scaled back, the search for a provider begins. The Mayo Clinic recommends finding a qualified home care service agency. Only deal with properly licensed agencies. Most states require agencies to be licensed and regularly reviewed, so check with your state health department. Be sure the agency is Medicare-certified for federal health and safety requirements. If it is not, inquire as to why. Ask about employee screening and if the agency is willing to provide references and follow up on them. Request a list of the doctors, hospital discharge planners, and other medical and administrative workers who have experience with the agency.

The individual home health aide should have proper credentials. Check to see that they are appropriately licensed by directly checking with the licensing body itself. Does the aide have a track record, and can they provide references from at least two employers? Follow up on any references given. Also, check with your loved one’s medical team to see if they have specific individuals who would be qualified and a good fit as your home health aide. Check for the quality characteristics of the agency. How do they monitor and train caregivers? Are caregivers licensed, accredited, and insured through the agency and proper licensing bodies? Is continuing education provided to health aides? Does the overall attitude of your potential home health aide have a positive attitude and display patience? Can scheduled hours be consistent with the patient’s needs? Will the same aide reliably and routinely show up?

Once you have a few qualified home health care options available, it is time to identify which agencies are affordable to your budget in the area of your loved one. It makes no sense to learn about specific services that you cannot afford, so pricing is one of the first considerations beyond qualifications. Ask the agency how it handles billing and expenses and get literature that explains services and fees. What levels of care do they provide? It is important to get detailed, written information as to all of the costs associated with home care services. If it is not in writing, be wary and walk away.

Does the agency allow for fees to be covered by health insurance or Medicare? Talk with the agency’s billing personnel to ensure that your health insurance is accepted and be sure to understand the criteria that Medicare requires. Do not forget to ask about financial assistance or payment plans and again request that all the information is in writing. Once you understand the payment set-up, reconfirm what services are included in those fees. Often the sales pitch in the front office does not map out to the details of fee-for-service in the accounting department.

How much will the aide charge for providing home health services, and what services are included? Does this information mirror the data provided by the agency? Inquire about sick days and check for any scheduled vacations that might impact continuing service to your loved one. Who is responsible for payroll, social security, and other taxes associated with the aide? Does your aide receive standard holidays off as defined by federal guidelines; are they paid holidays, and who pays?

Before an aide enters into your loved one’s home, there should be a written care plan that includes details about medical equipment, specific care needs, and the responsibilities of the aide and the agency. This plan is usually in the form of a 3-ring binder where an aide denotes hours of care provided and can reference doctor input, which should be frequently updated. Also, in the book should be a list of responsibilities and rights for everyone involved, which is often referred to as the patient’s bill of rights. This document varies widely, but Medicare.gov provides a detailed example of what they include.

Inquire if the agency will continue to work directly with you and other family members after the aide is identified and hired for service. What is the process for elevating concerns and complaints? If there are problems, what is the protocol to resolve them? What are the emergency plans in the event of power failure or a natural disaster that can create safety hazards, particularly with medical equipment? What are the response times during a medical emergency? Is your aide instructed to dial 911 first? Check for a back-up plan in the event the home health aide has an emergency come up or has car trouble, or inclement weather precludes them from showing up.

According to Homecare.com, the average agency health care worker has between 1 to 2 years of experience, so implement the 3 R’s and get resumes, references, and reviews. Ensure the credentialing process through your identified agency includes home health aide social security number and trace verification. Be sure it checks federal and state criminal records, sex offender registry, and valid driver’s license check through the licensing department in your state. The aide’s license and credential verification need to be vetted. Finally, there should be contact with the Fraud and Abuse Control Information Systems (FACIS), which checks for wrong actions by individuals and agencies in the health care field.

To hire the best home health care services possible for your loved one do your research thoroughly before moving forward. Once you are engaging agencies and individual aides ask questions, get literature, take notes and then follow up on references, license verifications and credentialing. The research and care you put into the process upfront can stave off unwanted complaints or problems with your home health aide selection. You will create the best outcome for the patient by identifying the most qualified and affordable candidate for your situation.

We help families create comprehensive estate plans for anyone who may need long term care. We discuss care needs, how care will be paid for, who will make decisions, and much more.

If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our Norman office by calling us at (405) 241-5994.

Your Guide to Elder Law Attorneys

According to the US Census Bureau, more than 51 million Americans are currently aged 65 or older, and the number is steadily increasing while medical and technological advancements are allowing seniors to live longer and better lives than ever before. The expanding needs of the US aging population are contributing to an increase in federal government senior assistance programs complexity and availability. Every senior has a unique set of circumstances that set parameters to navigate a successful aging plan, and the best way to determine what your plan should be is to retain the counsel of an elder law attorney.

How can an elder law attorney assist you? An elder law attorney provides overarching coordination for the financial, legal and health care decisions that seniors face. Finding and paying for long term care is something that many seniors and their family members fail to plan for, which can result in running out of money or not being able to secure appropriate care. Seniors or their families should seek legal assistance well before there is a need for long-term care of a loved one to plan for what type of long-term care is desired and how it will be paid for. While an elder law attorney cannot be a specialist in all facets of a senior’s plan for aging, they work in conjunction with other specialists when specific expertise is required.

Elder law attorneys can facilitate the establishment of a medical power of attorney, advanced health care directives in the case of dementia, or aiding in the selection process of the right long-term care facility and assisting in structuring the financial resources that cover the cost of that care. Those resources may include maintaining eligibility for Medicaid or Veterans’ benefits while protecting the senior’s assets for themselves and their legacy.

Elder law attorneys often assist with guardianships if a senior is no longer capable of making responsible and informed decisions regarding their health, living, and financial affairs, and no one has been designated to do so. Guardianships are normally a last resort, as they are costly, require court involvement for the lifetime of the incapacitated person, and a stranger could be appointed to oversee the incapacitated person’s finances. Ideally, a senior will have proper legal documents in place to avoid a guardianship, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

A properly drafted estate or long-term care plan can help avoid a guardianship, as the estate planning documents make sure there are proper agents named to handle financial and medical decisions in the event you or a loved one can no longer make those decisions. A properly drafted estate or long-term care plan will also address how long-term care will be paid for, and whether assistance with government benefits is necessary.

Identifying the right elder law attorney is essential for a senior, their future, and the future of their legacy. Typical questions to consider include how long the attorney has specifically practiced elder law, if they have a particular specialty such as veteran’s benefits, Medicaid, estate planning or probate expertise. You should also seek an elder law attorney whose practice is dedicated to elder law as this area of law is often changing and it is important to have an attorney who is on top of the latest rule changes.

Selecting the right elder law attorney for your personal needs or those of a loved one will make a significant impact on your plan for successful aging. Start well in advance of the time you or your family anticipates the need for your long-term care.

If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our Norman office by calling us at (405) 241-5994.

Strategies for Your Charitable Planning

There are many reasons why you may want to give to a charity: You may give because you believe strongly in a cause or organization, but it can also reduce your yearly income tax bill and remove value from your overall estate. If you are considering making a donation, but are unsure of how to proceed, we are here to help. Working closely with other members of your financial team, we can craft a plan utilizing the charitable planning strategies that will best help you achieve your goals.

Charitable Trust

Just like a revocable living trust can be used to benefit you during your lifetime and those you choose upon your death, a charitable trust can also be a great tool for benefiting a charity.

Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT)

This is a tax-exempt irrevocable trust designed to reduce your taxable income now and estate taxes when you die by removing cash or property from your ownership. As part of this strategy, you will fund the trust with property that has grown in value over the years (like stocks or real estate). Once funded into the trust, the property is sold and the money is invested in a way that will produce a stream of income. Because the CRT is selling the property, there will be no capital gains tax on the sale of stocks or real estate. Then, you will receive either a set amount of money per year or a fixed percentage of the value of the trust (depending on how the trust is worded) for a term of years. When the term is over, the remaining amount in the trust will be distributed to the charity you have chosen. The term of the trust can be for a set number of years or for your lifetime. Additionally, you will receive an immediate charitable income tax deduction based upon the value that will go to the charity.

Charitable Lead Trust (CLT)

Like a CRT, you are funding the trust with property that has grown in value, but in a CLT, the charity receives the income stream for a term of years. Once the term has passed, the individuals you have named in the trust agreement will receive the remainder. This can be an excellent way to benefit a charity but still provide for your loved ones. Also, you will receive a deduction for the value of the charitable gift that is made. This will offset the gift or estate tax that may be owed when the remaining amount is given to your beneficiaries.

Gift Annuity

A gift annuity is a contract between you and the charity you have selected. According to the contract, you agree to donate a certain amount of cash or property (stocks, bonds, etc.) and the charity agrees to pay you a fixed annuity either monthly or quarterly for the remainder of your life, or the combined lives of you and your spouse. The charity then invests your gift and pays you the annuity. Upon your death, and that of your spouse, if applicable, the charity receives the balance from the investment of your gift. Because a gift annuity is a contract between two parties, it can only be used to benefit one charity. Additionally, you are only able to get a partial income tax deduction when the gift is made because you are receiving part of the gift back in the form of the annuity. This is also the case with any capital gains tax that might be generated from the sale of your gift by the charity. Similar to the CRT, gifting the cash or property to the charity removes a large amount of money or property from your estate, thereby reducing the estate taxes due at your death.

Private Foundation

If you have a large amount to donate and you want to retain as much control as possible, a private foundation may be an option worth considering. This is an entity established with a charitable purpose and funded by donations from you and possibly your family that distributes money to charities you choose. The entity can be established as a trust with a trustee managing the donation or a corporation with a board of directors managing the donation. Since you create the entity, you control the operations, who will run the foundation, who will receive the donations, and how much will they receive. In order to qualify as a private foundation and receive the favorable tax benefits, it is crucial that all of the appropriate formalities and rules are followed when operating the private foundation. An income tax deduction may be received for the donations made to the private foundation up to 30% of your adjusted gross income. Additionally, if you donate an asset (e.g., stocks or real estate) that has increased in value, you may be able to avoid paying capital gains tax if those items are sold by the private foundation instead of by you. Lastly, after donating these valuable assets to the private foundation, they are no longer owned by you or under your control, so when you die, they will not be subject to estate tax.

Donor Advised Fund

As the name would suggest, this is a fund created by you but owned by a non-profit organization known as a sponsoring organization. You can deposit the money or property (real estate, stocks, etc.) you would like to use as your charitable donation into a fund account. Once you deposit the money or property into the account, you are eligible to take the income tax deduction. The sponsoring organization then takes ownership and manages the fund. This could include selling the property and reinvesting the money into an income producing account. Although the sponsoring organization owns the fund, you have the ability to advise which qualifying charities should receive money from your fund and what amounts should be distributed. One of the benefits of a donor advised fund is that you are able to get the income tax deduction the year you make the donation to the fund, even if the money is not distributed to a qualifying charity that tax year. As with other gifting strategies, because you have gifted the money or property into the fund, you no longer own it and it is not subject to estate tax upon your death.

Outright Gift to the Charity

If you would like to donate a lump sum of money and do not need to receive a stream of income from the gift, an outright gift may be the quickest solution. It will also provide the charity with the immediate benefit of the gift without any ongoing administration by either party. By making an outright donation, you are able to take advantage of an income tax deduction for that year. Additionally, you no longer own the cash or property, so it is not subject to estate tax upon your death.

As with most things in life, in order to be successful, you need to have the best strategy. Call us today to discuss your charitable objectives so we can work with you and your financial team to craft the best strategy for you to leave a lasting legacy.

All You Need to Know About Advance Directives

Kevin stands at the door of Winnie’s nursing home room, tears streaming down his face. The medical staff just finished inserted a feeding tube into Winnie – an act Kevin knew she didn’t want. Unfortunately, Winnie couldn’t express her wishes due to advanced dementia, and she had no legal documents that expressed her wishes not to be fed by artificial means.  Kevin had no choice but to sit back and watch his wife go through a procedure she didn’t want.

The situation with Kevin and Winnie could have been avoided through the use of proper advance directive. An advance directive is actually a collection of documents. What that includes differs depending on your needs and wishes, along with what the law allows. However, it usually means at least a Living Will, and a Power of Attorney for Healthcare.

The purpose of this set of documents is to allow you to control what happens to your health care in case you cannot speak for yourself. If certain criteria are met, your doctors must consult with your advanced directive before making decisions about your care.

Usually, what this means is that two doctors agree that an individual is terminally ill, permanently unconscious, or at the “end-stage” of a condition. Once that happens, and the individual cannot express their preferences, doctors turn to the advance directive to figure out what the individual wants.

A Living Will determines what happens to an individual making it, unlike a Last Will and Testament, which determines what happens to their money and possessions. A Living Will describes what healthcare providers can and cannot do to prolong your life and/or ease your pain when you cannot express those preferences yourself. For example, do you want to be placed on a ventilator if you cannot breathe on your own? Do you want a feeding tube and IVs set up, and if so, for how long? Do you want to be an organ or tissue donor?

A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare lets you choose someone to make healthcare decisions for you when you cannot. They still must follow your Living Will, but they will be able to make decisions not explicitly considered by your Living Will, in accordance with the facts of the situation. In most states, there are “default surrogate consent laws” which allow family members to make treatment decisions on your behalf, but who is chosen to make these decisions and what they choose to do may not be in accordance with your wishes, as it hopefully would be with a Durable Power of Attorney.

Other documents may be part of an advance directive by law, or they may be worth including on your own volition. These include Do Not Resuscitate orders and Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, among others. You might also consider an advance directive in case of a mental health crisis.

This is a difficult subject to consider, and it always seems like it won’t be necessary. But nearly 70 percent of Americans don’t have plans in place for a worst-case scenario, which means for some of them, decisions may be made for them with which they would not agree, if they had the capacity to choose. For that reason, it is worth thinking about implementing an advance directive even if it seems unnecessary now.

If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our Norman office by calling us at (405) 241-5994.

Seniors Are Facing an Affordable Housing Shortage

There is a growing need for affordable senior housing that is only starting to be addressed by businesses that build for this market. If you have a lot of money you typically have a lot of options. At the other end of the spectrum if you have nothing you can qualify for government assistance though these programs, but most often include wait times, years of wait times, due to lack of available housing. The truth is many seniors, nearly 40%, have less than $50,000 in savings, not including the value of their homes, according to a study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies and Harvard University. That doesn’t make them poor, but it doesn’t make them rich either. Middle income seniors are stuck in the middle and the statistics are indicative of a looming senior housing crisis. By 2035 one in three households will be headed by someone aged sixty-five or more years and the population aged eighty or more years will have doubled to 24 million.

The truth is that thoughtfully designed housing for senior adults is not being created on a scale that reflects the growing need and the need is palpable. Many aging adults don’t even want to project that one day they will no longer be able to live in their current home. When asked about their forward living plans it usually consists of some variant of “the plan is to die in my home.” Sadly, it is impossible to script your passing and while you might hope it happens gently in your home it is more likely that an adverse event, such as a fall, will change everything and you will require some level of care. The Social Security Administration estimates that if you turn 65 today, you will live to 84.3 if you are a man, and to 86.6 for women. Added SSA: “And those are just averaging. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of ten will live past age 95.” (https://www.thestreet.com/story/13640644/1/inside-the-nation-s-looming-senior-housing-crisis.html) Those numbers of longevity represent staggering costs when you consider the likelihood that those oldest years will require the most significant care.

That “significant care” costs serious money. According to “A Place for Mom,” the average national cost for a private assisted living facility is almost $4,000 per month. If you want private nursing home care that cost increases to more than $6,000 per month, depending on where you live. If you compare these costs with the fact that nearly 50% of adults aged sixty-five or older have just enough income to afford basic expenses, you can intuit it is a recipe for disaster. The only thing left is to spend assets pay for care. That is not a good option for several reasons. First, you will likely run out of assets quickly due to the current costs of care. Second, you would be unable to leave a legacy to children or continue to provide for a spouse after you are gone.

That is why the understanding of aging is facing a paradigm shift – many companies that design and build for retirement communities want the word “senior” dropped altogether. Innovative technology companies and non-profits are sounding the alarm and changing the discussion from challenge to opportunity, from health care to health, wellness, and lifestyle, and bringing entrepreneurial ideas to create a positive change. It is a step in the right direction, but it does not change the current reality – there is a shortage of affordable senior housing and there is a continuing increase in need for senior residency.

What is your housing reality and future? Do you have a plan in place to handle the changes that most likely will affect you and your living environment? It is important to have this discussion with your family, and with a professional elder law attorney. Proactive planning is in your best interest.

If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our Norman office by calling us at (405) 241-5994.

Understanding the Impact of Coronavirus on Seniors

We are living in confusing and scary times. The senior population has been identified as the most at-risk demographic for COVID-19. Information coming out about COVID-19 is very fluid, which can also contribute to overall stress. Thankfully there are ways to try and manage stress and stay as healthy as possible during this time thanks to advice from several federal agencies monitoring the situation and the impact of COVID-19 on the senior population. This article highlights some of the advice provided from those agencies monitoring this situation closely.

For those living in a nursing home or long-term care living facility, new protocols have been established by the federal government to curb the spread of Coronavirus. A new preparedness checklist is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It includes staff education and training for the rapid identification and management of ill residents, as well as an increase in supplies and resources. There are also restrictions on all visitation, excepting some circumstances like an end of life situation.  Other restrictions have been placed on volunteers and non-essential health care personnel, and the cancellation of all group activities and communal dining.

Before the identification and dissemination of information about Coronavirus, the CDC had identified the 2019-2020 flu season as being particularly challenging. Now many seniors wonder whether they have a different type of flu, allergies, or are experiencing the Coronavirus. Not knowing is particularly frightening since seniors have been identified as the demographic with the highest mortality rate. The CDC has a straightforward checklist of symptoms of respiratory infection, including COVID-19:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Because other types of flu have similar symptoms and there is no Coronavirus vaccine, and its test is in very short supply, many older adults will only be able to treat their symptoms without full knowledge as to the contagion.

One their website under “How to Prepare” the CDC provides information on protecting yourself, your family, your home, and managing anxiety and stress. According to the CDC, there are some things that seniors can do whether or not they are in a facility or living at home that can help reduce their risk of catching the Coronavirus or any other virus for that matter in this bad flu season. The first line of defense sounds counterintuitive to a global pandemic, but it is crucial, stay calm and try to relax.

Getting quality sleep during this outbreak will allow your body the time it needs to restore immunity responses to contagions. Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Staying calm, getting restful sleep, and remaining hydrated will allow your body’s natural defense mechanisms to protect itself.

Have someone near you help you stock up on supplies. Stay in your home as much as possible. If the weather permits, open a window for fresh air. If you have a home with a porch or patio, take in some sun for vitamin D. You want your immune system to be as robust as possible. Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others. If it is not necessary, don’t go out in public, avoid crowds, stay away from anyone who is sick, and wash your hands often. Cancel any cruise or non-essential air travel and do not use public transportation.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has posted a list of disinfectants for use against the Coronavirus. Proper disinfecting of often-used surfaces is critical as this particular Coronavirus can live for long periods, up to 72 hours on some surfaces. As of now, the EPA reports no detection of COVID-19 in drinking water supplies and believes the risk to the water supply is low based on current evidence.

The CDC is reporting that seniors with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and should take extra precautions about self-isolating. Those seniors with these conditions in a nursing home or long-term care facility will be triaged according to CDC guidelines for best practices with the elderly who are the highest risk.

If you feel worried and panic is taking over your rational responses, seek a loved one or trusted friend to guide you through the steps you can take. There is a great deal that is unknown about the Coronavirus, but there is a great deal known about what you can do as an individual senior to combat the threat and remain healthy.

We would be happy to discuss any questions or concerns you have as we continue to understand the impact of COVID-19 on our country. If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our Norman, Oklahoma office by calling us at (405) 241-5994.

Important Steps to Protect Your Special Beneficiaries

All children are a blessing. From the day they are born, you begin making plans to ensure that your child or grandchild has a bright future. What will their interests be? What job will they have? Who will they marry? While these are common concerns for most families, for those with a special needs child or grandchild, taking steps to ensure they have a safe, happy, and healthy future is even more important due to the additional hurdles they may face. To help provide a prosperous future for your special needs child or grandchild, we suggest the following steps:

Have a Special/Supplemental Needs Trust Prepared

One of the first things you can do in your estate planning is establish a special or supplemental needs trust (SNT) for the benefit of your child or grandchild. An SNT is a special type of trust designed to set aside money and property for the benefit of a beneficiary who may qualify for public assistance for medical and other care expenses as a result of his or her disabilities. This type of trust can be added to an existing trust, or it can be drafted as a standalone trust.

Because most government programs providing aid to disabled individuals have strict requirements about how much money and property a person can own and how much money they can receive on a regular basis, it is important to make sure that any inheritance your special needs child or grandchild receives is structured in a way that will not disqualify them from receiving the government benefits. Even if your child or grandchild is not currently receiving government benefits, this does not mean that they will never receive them. When planning for their future, we want to make sure that we are maximizing all opportunities available to them, not limiting those opportunities. To accomplish this, it is crucial that the trust be carefully drafted by an attorney who is familiar with the eligibility requirements for government benefits.

In addition to providing for your child’s or grandchild’s financial future, an SNT allows you to appoint a care manager or an advisory committee. As opposed to a trustee, whose job is to manage the money and property in the trust and make distributions, the care manager acts as your child’s or grandchild’s advocate. Depending upon the level of care your child or grandchild needs, the care manager may only need to check on them periodically or may be responsible for their day-to-day care. For those needing more assistance, the care manager may also serve as part of an advisory committee made up of multiple friends, family, and/or professionals. As an advocate, the care manager or advisory committee can advise the trustee about the beneficiary’s needs and the best ways to use the funds.

Within the SNT, a statement of intent can be included to instruct the trustee, and if necessary, the court, as to why the trust was established and how the money and property should be used. Although your intentions may seem obvious, including this section in the SNT can act as a safety net should there be a change in the law causing the special needs beneficiary to become ineligible for government benefits. If you include a statement of intent, it can be easier to change the trust to ensure that your original objective is carried out after you have passed away in the event of unforeseen changes.

Write Down Your Instructions

In addition to creating an SNT, writing a letter or memorandum of intent can provide excellent instructions to the trustee you choose about what is to happen after you have passed. Although this document is not legally binding, it can give your trustee insight into your true intentions. You can include instructions regarding the types of things you want the money to be used for (so long as they are allowable under the various government rules), milestones you would like to see the beneficiary achieve, and the standard of living you would like the beneficiary to have.

Consider Life Insurance to Provide the Necessary Funds

Supporting a special needs child or grandchild can be expensive. While you are working or have a stream of income, you can allocate money as you see fit. However, not everyone has enough of a nest egg to continue covering these expenses for their special needs child or grandchild once they have passed away. By purchasing life insurance and naming the SNT as the beneficiary, you can guarantee that there will be sufficient money at the trustee’s disposal to care for your child or grandchild. Life insurance can be an attractive option because it is paid out as a lump sum and does not have the same income tax liabilities as retirement accounts.

Review Your Retirement Accounts

With the passage of the SECURE Act, most beneficiaries lost the ability to stretch distributions from an inherited IRA over their life expectancies. However, Congress created a new class of beneficiaries called “eligible designated beneficiaries,” which includes disabled beneficiaries. These beneficiaries retain the ability to receive distributions over their life expectancies, reducing the amount of income tax due when those distributions are made. Congress also passed additional rules allowing the disabled beneficiary’s life expectancy to be used for certain types of trusts. If you have a large retirement account, it is very important that we meet to discuss ways this money can be distributed after your death to maximize its benefits to all of your beneficiaries.

Give Us a Call

Ensuring that your special needs child or grandchild is cared for after you are gone is likely a top priority for you. Our priority is to assist you in crafting a plan that will ensure continued support and prosperity for your loved ones. Call us today to schedule your appointment.

Why Do Americans Retire Poor?

Well managed money brings with it a freedom of lifestyle in retirement. Sadly, reports say that less than 5 percent of Americans will be financially free by the age of 65. Changes in the U.S. economy coupled with increased health care costs and lack of personal savings have put millions of American workers at financial risk as they approach their retirement years. According to a study published online at cnbc.com, nearly 40% of America’s middle-class will experience poverty in retirement. Why?

One reason is that few Americans clearly define what financial freedom means to them. The definition is a wide array of personal opinion, but there is an economic equation that can easily encompass the most basic standard set for financial freedom; P.I ≥ L.E. Translated it means passive income = lifestyle expenses. An individual’s passive incomes from assets need to be equal to or higher than the income you require to afford your chosen lifestyle. Many people retire poor because they did apply this fundamental equation to their financial future. Some individuals are too disinterested to engage in financial planning or too lazy to be proactive and productive. The adage, “failing to plan is planning to fail” sadly applies to many Americans’ retirement strategies. Hoping things will work out is not a strategy any more than planning on winning the lottery is. Individuals must establish their goals and ruthlessly and relentlessly pursue them.

Every American has a different financial reality, and much of it is derived from the mindset they choose to adopt regarding finances. Consciously, as well as subconsciously, rich people think like rich people and poor people think like poor people. What you manifest is what you see and in turn, what you become. This mindset is why so often lottery winners go bankrupt after “hitting it big” and why wealthy people who go bankrupt often go on to develop a new fortune. Keep your mindset focus positive and reinforce your short- and long-term financial goals daily. Your attitude can determine your altitude.

Many Americans who retire poor chose the “let’s just wing it” path or did not attain sound and conservative financial management help. Do not be influenced by other poor people. Surround yourself with successful friends and family and learn from them. You can model their behavior in your own life. Retain a trusted accountant, banker, or financial advisor who can tailor your individual financial needs into an easy to follow set of steps and apply them. It does not have to be overly complicated and sometimes, the more straightforward the approach, the better. If you learn from successful people and sound financial consultants, you stand a better chance of becoming financially free.

Some Americans stick their heads in the sand and never confront the facts of their financial reality. These are the people with stacks of unopened bank statements in their homes. While it can be painful to address a bleak economic reality, it is worse to have an inherent aversion to tackling the task at hand. You cannot abdicate your financial situation to anyone. You can receive trusted advice and help but do not avoid facing the truth of your finances. Oversight avoidance is how some famous athletes and performers have made vast fortunes but managed to squander every last cent. No one should care more about your financial freedom than you do.

Many people who retire poor did not save any money, and those who inherited wealth squander instead of saving in the name of immediate gratification of a new car, or large home. Extravagant expenditures feel great at the moment, but the goal is to live beneath your means. Make saving money your number one habit. People who are successful at saving sometimes make a game of it like shopping online for the best deals or using coupons. Small savings during purchasing not only add up over time, but they also reinforce the habit of saving money. When you save money, you can apply the power of compound growth. Many people who retire poor do not understand how valuable the concept of compound growth is. It can take modest savings and in time, create wealth. Sadly, many Americans understand the concept of compound growth from the wrong side of the equation. Generally speaking, Americans are debt slaves. They rack up credit card debt and pay services charges, which are the bank lending industry’s compound growth money maker. People retire in poverty because they are on the wrong side of the compound growth equation.

Without the saving habit, compound growth equation, living beneath your means, and acquiring as little debt as possible you wind up working for money instead of money working for you. It is essential to assess the three following ways income can manifest itself in your life. There is earned income, which generally is in the form of a paycheck or salary for services or products provided. Then there is portfolio income which represents stocks, investments, and pensions. Finally, there is passive income, which comes in the form of royalties, patents, online services, or rental revenues, to name a few. These multiple streams of income can make retirement far more comfortable than relying on a modest pension and ever declining social security benefits check. People who retire rich have multiple streams of income, giving them a real path to financial freedom. People who retire in poverty continue working for money without the benefit of alternative sources of revenue.

There is little excuse to lack the knowledge and skillsets to become financially solvent in the digital age. Americans who struggle financially in retirement did not take the time to become financially educated. Being ignorant about finances is a sure way to retire poor. Online and for free, you can find many websites that generate articles about financial education. It comes as no surprise that people who retire with financial problems have the worst reading habits. If you don’t enjoy reading, try financial literacy games for adults or learn through online seminars to boost your financial understanding. Even with financial knowledge if you lack a plan and the will power to follow it, you will retire without economic freedom. The practical application of your plan is crucial. Most Americans do not make a plan for their retirement, and many that do begin too late to affect a substantial change because compound growth and accrual of wealth take time. However, it is better to start your retirement plan late than not at all.

Ultimately the choice rests with the individual. Most Americans would rather retire with adequate incomes for a comfortable retirement lifestyle. Remember that you are not a product of your circumstances; you are a product of your decisions. Make the right decision today for your financial freedom in retirement.

If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our Norman, Oklahoma office by calling us at (405) 241-5994.

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