In the interview below Matt Parker of Marshall, Parker & Associates LLC. You can find a collection of useful links and resources related to elderly care law on the Marshall Parker and Associates site, and Matt shares a ton of helpful information on elderly care legal issues in the interview below. You can play the recording via the video link below, or read the transcript of the interview provided just below that.
Matt Parker Senior Law Interview
Q and A Transcript:
Woman 1: This call is now being recorded.
Brenda Ankley: So if you could, could you please introduce yourself. Tell me a little bit about Marshall, Parker & Associates, and your role as an elder law attorney.
Matthew Parker.: My name is Matthew Parker. I’ve been practicing as an attorney for 16 years. For the last 11 years I’ve been specializing in estate planning and elder law at Marshall, Parker & Associates.
My job as an elder law attorney involves helping people protect themselves from the personal and financial risks as they age. Through the use of estate planning documents and asset protection planning, we help people develop plans to protect themselves in the event of a disability, and protect themselves from financial risks such as taxes and long term care expenses.
Brenda Ankley: Who would you say then should be seeking the advice of an elder law attorney? And specifically, why elder law?
Matthew: An elder law attorney is uniquely trained to answer questions about the issues facing us as we age. We are regularly exposed to constantly changing benefit programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, along with inheritance taxes.
Generally, anyone who wants a level of expertise when trying to create a plan to protect themselves from the costs of aging should probably seek the counsel of an experienced elder law attorney. I should also point out that elder law attorneys also counsel families who have a loved one with special needs.
A family who is caring for a disabled child, such as someone with autism, often requires a unique estate plan, including a special needs trust or a guardianship. They will recently seek the counsel of an elder law attorney for such planning.
Brenda Ankley: Is there an ideal time to seek out the advice? I know a lot of people probably wait until it’s almost too late. Do you have advice as to a time frame for seeking your advice?
Matthew: Well basic estate planning is appropriate for those of all ages. For example, a power of attorney allows someone to make financial and medical decisions for you when you’re unable to make the decisions for yourself. Anyone could be in an accident and need such a document.
If you have a young family, a will can set forth who will care for your children if you are not around. So estate planning is not just for the elderly. Now, more complicated asset protection planning is important as we get older.
Many of our clients visit us as they near retirement. They are concerned about topics like inheritance taxes and preserving their savings for retirement. They want a plan to make sure their savings will be available for them and their spouses as they age.
Brenda Ankley: That actually leads into the next question. If you do have a loved one who maybe hasn’t done that yet, but is being admitted into a higher level of living. For example, a nursing home or an assisted living facility. Are there ways to help protect the assets of somebody who is in that situation?
Matthew: Many of our clients are facing a long term illness like dementia or Alzheimer’s. Their stay in the nursing home could be several years. Nursing homes charged about $8,000 per month in 2011. They can consume the saving of a couple very quickly.
However, there is planning that can be done to qualify someone for various government benefits that pay for long term care. These programs are asset and income based. So you will not likely qualify unless some planning is done. We help families restructure their assets so the spouse, who’s staying at home, is protected from impoverishment. Some families plan years ahead of such an illness.
If you do, you can preserve a significant amount of the savings from long term care costs. However, many of our clients do no pre‑planning. However we are still able to help them preserve much of their savings.
Brenda Ankley: With that then, what are the biggest challenges that families face when dealing with a loved one who is in that situation where there hasn’t been pre‑planning?
Matthew: The biggest challenges are those that the attorney really can’t solve. It principally focuses with the relationships with family members. How do the children convince their dad, for example, that he needs to do some estate planning when he stubbornly refuses to do so?
How does the husband in a second marriage deal with his wife’s daughter who distrust his decision when making decisions for his incapacitated wife? How does sisters deal with their controlling sister who wants to make all the decisions for her aging parents without their involvement?
All of these are examples of the family dynamics that elder law attorneys face everyday. We can provide a lot of legal and financial solutions. We don’t always have the answers for how families can cope with difficult personal relationships.
Brenda Ankley: What do you do in those situations?
Matthew: Well, can you repeat the question?
Brenda Ankley: I said what would you do in a situation like that? Would you refer them to counseling?
Matthew: Well, as I mentioned, it’s very difficult for attorneys to resolve the family dysfunction. There are people who are involved in counseling families to get through these conflicts. But it’s very difficult to get siblings to agree to go to a counselor to solve these problems.
Many times these relationships are simply not resolved adequately. And the attorneys simply have to work with the dysfunctional relationships between these family members in order to help their client, either preserve their assets, or establish a plan that will protect them in the event of disability.
Brenda Ankley: Well, particularly in light of the family dynamic when it’s tough to get everybody to agree, or to get dad to participate, or whatever the case might be. Is there one thing, one document, one piece of information, that as a family, as an individual, you should obtain? What would that be?
Matthew: Well one of the basic estate planning documents I would recommend is a good power of attorney. Powers of attorney name someone to be your representative when you are unavailable or incapacitated.
They serve to allow someone to mange your finances or make medical decisions when you are incapacitated. They are practical documents that can be used whenever there is a medical crises, such as a car accident or a sudden illness, like a stroke.
Without these documents, it’s very difficult for a family member to authorize medical care or pay your bills. Powers of attorney are just as valuable for the young, as they are for the elderly.
Brenda Ankley: And a power of attorney can also be a financial document, correct?
Matthew: Yes. The powers of attorney typically cover two topics. One would be for bill paying. The other would be for making medical decisions for you when you are incapacitated. And a financial document covers everything from managing your home, to retirement accounts, life insurance policies. So they cover both topics, the financial and the health care.
Brenda Ankley: What are your thoughts on living wills? I would assume that is another popular estate planning document that is drawn up for the aging and the elderly.
Matthew: A living will is also known as a advanced directive. It sets forth your instructions for medical care that you desire in the future. If you would be suffering from a terminal illness or you would be permanently unconscious, like in a coma.
A living will is used only when you can’t communicate. It addresses your desires for life support, such as ventilators and feeding tubes that are essentially prolonging your process of dying. Today the instructions set forth in a living will are frequently included in your health care power of attorney. For years living wills were separate documents.
But the new forms used in Pennsylvania now include both the living will and the health care power of attorney in one document authorizing your health care agent to make those decisions on behalf of the incapacitated person.
Brenda Ankley: Does it still set forth the individual’s wishes?
Matthew: Sure. It gives instructions to your agent at the time that you are incapacitated with regard to your desires for end of life health care. We typically look upon this as life support, that would keep you alive, but for the use of this life support, you probably would die of your condition within a short period of time.
Examples of this life support would typically be ventilators and feeding tubes. So these are instructions given ahead of time to your agent as to how you want to be treated in the event you cannot tell the doctor with regard to your health care desires.
Brenda Ankley: Do you have any words of wisdom for those that are aging or those caring for the aging when it comes to protecting their assets, or their interests, or just estate planning in general?
Matthew: Well, procrastination is your enemy. If someone waits until an illness progresses, such as in Alzheimer’s disease, they may not be able to sign a power of attorney or change a will, since the person is now incapacitated and cannot understand the document.
Once there has been a diagnosis of an illness, one of the appointments you should make early on is with your elder law attorney to make sure that all of the documents are in place, and investigate all of your options with regard to asset protection.
Brenda Ankley: Is there anything else that you would like to add regarding elder law or the state of society that we’re in now as far as estate planning and aging is concerned?
Matthew: Elder law is an extremely rewarding profession. It is very challenging since we are dealing with many areas of the law from government programs, tax laws and estate planning issues. Elder law attorneys primarily serve to help families work through some very difficult and stressful times. At the end of the day we provide a positive benefit to our clients’ lives.
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