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Important Legal Issues That Commonly Arise When Caring for Elderly Parents or Spouses

Joyful woman taking care of elderly mother. Young woman hugging senior lady and showing something out of window. Positive emotions concept.

On the whole, we in the United States are all living longer and healthier lives. One consequence of this positive advance is that more of us will experience age-related decline and require assistance with activities of daily living, whether in our own homes, the homes of our grown children, or professional care facilities. Taking care of our loved ones – be they parents or spouses – requires careful planning and attention to legal issues that arise. We’ll explore some of these issues below. For expert guidance and assistance tailored to your particular needs, whether you are in a planning phase or crisis mode in Texas, contact the Law Office of Maria Lowry to visit with an experienced and dedicated Houston estate planning and elder law attorney.

Planning for Incapacity and End-of-Life Care

No one should be without a solid estate plan, which at a minimum includes a will, medical and financial powers of attorney, a HIPAA release, and an Advance Directive or “living will.”   A Declaration of Guardian in Advance of Need can be useful too. These legal instruments need to be executed while the person is mentally competent, and every adult should have all of these documents. Many attorneys can prepare them for less than $1,000 per person.  Online sites and forms may purport to help you create a will less expensively, but be warned that documents created this way seldom ever turn out to be valid – or never, in our experience. Always there is some technicality that is fatal to the document, with truly tragic results for people who thought they were customizing a plan to meet their needs.

If you die without a valid will in Texas, the Estates Code determines who will receive your estate, and it might not be the people you want to inherit.  Also, if there is no will, the cost to probate the estate is significantly higher – more than the cost of getting an attorney to do a valid will for you in the first place. 

If you are unable to manage your health care decisions or your money decisions, a person you appoint in a Power of Attorney can do those things for you. If there is no valid power of attorney, the probate court can appoint a Guardian of the Person, a Guardian of the Estate, or a Guardian of Both Person and Estate. If you know who you want to be your guardian, if one is needed, you can declare that in a formal document. Or if you know who should NOT be your guardian, you can declare that.    

The Advance Directive is about end-of-life care.  Do you want hospice and comfort care, or to be maintained with a ventilator and external heart machine? It can be very helpful to the family members having to make hard decisions to know that they are acting as you would have wished.    

Planning for Medicaid

Medicaid provides important healthcare services for eligible individuals, including paying for long-term care in a nursing home or assisted living facility, something that Medicare does not cover. Unfortunately, Medicaid is only available to people with low incomes and low levels of assets, so careful planning is needed to qualify for Medicaid without going broke in the process or being forced to spend one’s life savings.

If it is likely that Medicaid will be required, the planning for that should begin six or more years before it is expected to be needed. There are ways to preserve assets but there are strict limits as well. The rules change constantly, so you will want to consult an attorney who regularly does Medicaid planning as part of their practice.

If the person for whom you are caring receives government benefits – disability, social security, food stamps, Medicaid – you need to be cautious if the person receives an inheritance. An inheritance could destroy eligibility for benefits and end up costing far more than the amount of the inheritance. Consult with an attorney about creating or using a trust or other tool to receive those funds. When making a will, plans can be made to take care of this issue.

Help With Estate Planning and Elder Law in Houston

For help with estate planning, planning for Medicaid and long-term care, or other vital elder law issues in Hariss County, call the Law Office of Maria Lowry at 713-850-8859 for a conversation with a skilled and experienced Houston estate planning lawyer and elder law attorney.

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