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Elder Law and General Legal Information

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Senior law concerns include elder abuse, financial planning, estate planning, and grandparents raising grandchildrenEnsuring Your Estate Avoids Probate

Establish payable-on-death bank accounts by filling out a form, available from you bank, and designating the person to inherit the funds in the account upon death of the account owner.  All that is required is proof of death for transfer of ownership.  For joint accounts, as long as you have a right of ownership, when one account owner dies, the other become the sole owner.

Funds in retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k) do not have to go through probate after your death. The beneficiary, or secondary beneficiary if the primary is no longer alive, you have named can claim the money directly from the account custodian.

Most states now have put into effect the Uniform Transfer-on-Death Securities Registration Act.  This allows a beneficiary to be assigned for the inheritance of stocks, bonds or brokerage accounts.

For vehicles, there are few states that provide for assignment of beneficiary upon death.   Go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or the Department of Motor Vehicles. Name a transfer on death for each of your vehicles. Complete a new title application for each vehicle, identifying the person of your

The advantage of a living trust is that after your death, the trust property is not part of your estate for probate purposes. Be aware that the property is counted as part of your estate for federal estate tax purposes.

Giving away property while you are still alive helps you avoid probate by lowering the value of your estate.  It is best to make annual gifts that do not exceed $10,000 per recipient which is the threshold for required filing of a federal gift tax return.  

Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation

Elder abuse often takes place at home where adult children, other family members, or spouses/partners become the abuser. Elder abuse can also occur assisted care or nursing care facilities.  Abuse may be in the form of physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, neglect, financial exploitation, and/or healthcare fraud and abuse.  Signs of general abuse may not be obvious at first.  But if you observe frequent arguments or tension with the caregiver and or obvious personality or behavior changes, consider the signs of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

The stress of elder care can lead to mental and physical health problems that make caregivers burned out, impatient, and unable to keep from lashing out against elders in their care.  If the caregiver has indications of an inability to deal with the stress, signs of depression, does not have support from other to help with the physical, mental and emotion load, expresses that their caregiving is a burden, issues with substance abuse then you or your loved one may be at higher risk of being abused or neglected.   These signs stand true whether the caregiver is a friend, family member, or employee of a senior living/care facility.  If you are a caregiver, be sure you request help to lighten the burden, sleep and eat well, and seek professional assistance if the role becomes overwhelming.

The senior may also have factors that can make caregiving more challenging and lead to neglect or abuse.  If you or your loved one has a more senior illness or dementia, there is a lack of social interaction with others and/or their general personality and life experiences are aggressive in nature, caregiving can be more challenging.  Frustrations can unintentionally lead to neglect or abuse.

If you are the one receiving care, be sure to get your financial matters in order.  Get help from a trusted friend or family member or get professional help if needed.  It is important that you maintain your social interactions so call and e-mail when you are not able to visit in person.  And most importantly, never be afraid to speak up if you have concerns about your care.  Tell a friend, family member or other trusted person about your concerns.

Physical abuse may be in the form of force against one’s body or inappropriate but intentional application of medication or restraints.  Signs that physical abuse may be an issue include appearance of bruises, scratches, marks, broken bones, strains, broken glasses or other personal items, and reluctance by the care provider to visit your family or loved one.

Emotional abuse can be equally damaging but from a different perspective.  Verbal abuse could simply be yelling but could include humiliation, ridicule and placing unfounded blame.   Non-verbal abuse is emotionally devastating as well through ignoring the needs of your family or loved one, isolating them from their social circle or intentionally making them feel threatened or unsafe.  Signs this type of abuse is ongoing include signs similar to those of dementia, i.e. rocking, sucking, or mumbling.

Sexual abuse of an elder may be unwanted physical contact or forcing them to participate in or be exposed to sexually oriented activities.  If your senior family member or friend has unexplained contusions or bruises in the genital area, gets a sexually transmitted disease or has inappropriate comments that are sexual in nature they may be experiencing sexual abuse.

Elder neglect, which is a failure to adequately care for personal needs, is the most common form of abuse. Sometimes neglect is unintentional due to ignorance or denial.  But there are situations when caregivers simply do not take the time, interest or sense of responsibility to provide needed care.  With nutrition and hygiene being primary areas of home care, weight loss, dehydration, bed sores, dirty living conditions and clothing, and substandard environmental conditions can indicate your family member or loved one is being neglected.

Other forms of elder abuse do not impact their physical being but take advantage of their weaknesses.  These include, but are not limited to, financial exploitation and healthcare fraud/abuse.    As you age, vulnerabilities may increase.  With a growing need of assistance to accomplish daily activities, reliance on and trust in others grows.  Seniors may also be suffering from common conditions such as dementia.   And when you add the fact that dishonest people target seniors more frequently, this type of abuse is sadly common. 

Senior citizens often need assistance with financial matters.  Family, friends or financial assistants are often asked to assist with certain activities that require disclosure of personal information such as account numbers and passwords.  This can lead to family or friends taking advantage of this trust and gaining access to funds.  Scam artists also understand the vulnerability of aging adults and may easily convince them to disclose personal information through false pretense.  This can lead to theft of cash and identity.  Common scams relate to notifications of winning a prize, representation of phony charities, or nonexistent investment opportunities.  If you see sizable and unexplained withdrawals, credit card charges, or missing cash, it is possible that there is ongoing financial exploitation.

Unfortunately, even doctors, nurses, hospital staff and other professional health care providers and play a part in elder abuse.  Healthcare fraud and abuse occurs when an unethical professional charges for services that were not rendered, whether they were actually needed or not, overcharging for services, or recommending services that are not needed solely for the purposes of receiving payment.   Signs of healthcare fraud or abuse are receipt of duplicate billings, proof of over or under medication, and proof that additional care is needed after release of care.

All of the above abuse, neglect and fraudulent activities should be reported immediately.  Your life and livelihood or that of you family member, friend of loved one depends on others to ensure they are protected from or removed these situations.  

Report all abuse, neglect and exploitation. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police now!  Contacts for reporting misconduct at:

Elder Abuse or neglect:

  • Go to State by state hotline to file a report.
  • For physical abuse, you can contact your local law enforcement (emergency 911 and non-emergency police in local phonebook).

Medicare Fraud:

  • HHS Office of Inspector GeneralCall: 800-447-8477 TTY: 800-377-4950 Online: Report Fraud Online Mail: HHS Tips Hotline P.O. Box 23489 Washington, DC 20026-3489.  If reporting online, once you click the link, select either I am an HHS employee or I am not an HHs employee to enter the reporting process.
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid ServicesCall: 800-633-4227 TTY: 877-486-2048 Mail: Medicare Beneficiary Contact Center P.O. Box 39 Lawrence, KS 66044

Financial Exploitation:

For any abuse, neglect, or exploitation concerns, go to the National Adult Protective Services Association at http://www.napsa-now.org/get-help/help-in-your-area/ and click on your state to obtain your state’s contact information.  For physical abuse, you can contact your local law enforcement (emergency 911 and non-emergency police in local phonebook).