No one likes to think about getting older. But we’re all doing it, so we might as well do it right. Since May is National Elder Law Month, it’s a great time for people of all ages, but especially seniors, to make sure they’re up to date on their legal options as they get older (and wiser). Here are 10 tips that are absolute must-knows:
- You have rights. Know them: In situations where hospitalization is required the Hospital Visitation Rule allows you to visit your partner or spouse regardless of your sexual orientation or gender expression. If you think you are being discriminated against because you are LGBT, speak with the hospital’s risk manager. Hospitals that discriminate will lose their federal funding.
- You Don’t Have to “Go It” Alone: It’s easy to find almost anything on the internet these days, but downloading forms from the internet provides a false form of security. You may think you’re saving money but it costs more to fix mistakes later. Mistakes may include: Not giving your trusted decision-maker all authorizations needed to make financial decisions. Missing the names of beneficiaries. Or missing a signature or a notary. Save yourself the headache and hire a qualified elder law attorney.
- Never Leave Home Without It: Single, engaged or married, make sure you have a Durable Power of Attorney, Designation of Healthcare Surrogate and Living Will naming someone you trust to make your financial and medical decisions should you become incapacitated. Keep your privacy and avoid a guardianship!
- Be Like Mike: If your relationship is ending, be sure to update all your legal documents. Found unconscious after a drug overdose, NBA star Lamar Odom’s divorce papers from Khloe Kardashian were not finalized by a Judge. His legal documents were not updated to remove his soon-to-be ex-wife as his decision-maker so she made his decisions while he was incapacitated. On the other hand, Michael Jackson had everything in a trust, and maintained his privacy when he became incapacitated.
- They’re Legal Now: A child over age 18 is a legal adult able to make their own medical and financial decisions. That means that even if you’re paying their way, it does not entitle you to have access to medical (HIPPA Privacy Rule) or financial information should your “adult child” become ill or incapacitated in a car accident for example. Avoid an emergency - after they blow out their candles while celebrating their 18th birthday, have them sign a Durable Power of Attorney and Designation of Healthcare Surrogate.
- Plan for Your Minor Children: If you have children under the age of 18, you need to be prepared to make sure your children are taken care of during times where you may be absent (vacation, business trip). Your child’s medical decisions can be made by a trusted person named in a Designation of Healthcare Surrogate for a minor.
- ALL Married Couples Can (and should) Protect Their Assets: Assets can be transferred between spouses without affecting Medicaid eligibility. If one spouse becomes ill and requires long-term medical care, the assets of the spouse (including same sex couples) are protected under Medicaid law.
- Married Couples Can Qualify for VA Benefits: Married same-sex couples (or the surviving spouse) can qualify for veterans benefits regardless of where the veteran lives including: healthcare, pension, Aid & Attendance benefits, survivor death benefit.
- Beware of Scammers: Speaking of filing a V.A. benefits application, it’s free. Be aware of anyone not accredited by the V.A. who tells you that they can file your application for V.A. benefits for a fee.
- Special Needs Require Special Planning: If you are parents of a child with a disability or special needs, you may need a guardian advocate or guardian appointed when the child is age 18. Consider having a special needs trust for their inheritance.
A little planning today can help you to create the future you envision. Remember: you’re never too young to plan ahead.