New Jersey Elder Law Attorneys
Elder law is a relatively new area of law that has grown and evolved over the years. In fact, it is one of the fastest growing areas of law, thanks to the increasing number of Americans who are living well into old age. Although some senior citizens age well and approach their golden years in good health and with financial security, others may deal with health challenges, mental decline, and financial hardship. Elder law encompasses a range of legal disciplines that meet the varied needs of senior citizens. The legal team at Lyons & Associates, P.C. recognizes the unique challenges that the senior population faces, including decisions regarding health care, long-term care expenses, estate planning, and financial exploitation. Our dedicated and compassionate attorneys work tirelessly with clients to ensure that their elderly loved ones are protected, and that they have the resources and high-quality care to which they are entitled.
What is the Primary Focus of Elder Care?
Elder law primarily focuses on the specific legal issues associated with people over the age of 60, including the following areas:
- Estate planning: As people approach old age, it is important that they make arrangements for how they would like their properties, assets, and other financial holdings distributed when they have passed away. In addition to preparing a last will and testament, an elder law lawyer will advise clients and their loved ones about the tax consequences of a range of investment strategies, including creating a living will, establishing trusts, and all other important financial matters that could impact the elder’s estate as they approach the end of life.
- Medicaid, disability, and long-term care: Health care expenses tend to increase dramatically as individuals age, particularly if the health issue requires long-term care in a skilled nursing facility. For example, health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), dementia, and general frailty make it very difficult, if not impossible, for loved ones to care for the elderly person. Even if the family is able to care for the loved one, the costs associated with home care can cost several thousand dollars per month. If the family is not able to care for the elderly loved one at home, a skilled nursing facility can cost up to $11,000 per month. Too often, even if the individual has some type of insurance, it is not enough to cover the costly medical expenses that accumulate very quickly. For example, Medicare does not cover most long-term care. However, Medicaid is designed to ease the financial burden of paying for an elder to receive long-term care in a skilled nursing facility. It may also cover some of the costs associated with home care. However, the application process is very complex, and eligibility depends on a range of factors, including clinical eligibility and financial eligibility. Without the proper plan in place, this can be financially devastating for the loved one and his or her family.
- Guardianship: When an elder person becomes physically or cognitively incapacitated because of factors related to old age, a family member may serve as the elder person’s legal guardian. It may be necessary to establish power of attorney prior to the elder person becoming incapacitated. That way, the guardian will be able to handle the financial and legal affairs based on the elder’s wishes. If there is no family member available to be the elder’s legal guardian, one will be appointed by the court. The responsibilities of the appointed guardian will be thoroughly explained, including their legal obligation to the elder, how they will be compensated, and how they must administer and preserve the estate.
Although these are the main issues that elder law focuses on, it also handles a range of other important issues, including the following:
- Commitment: If the elderly person becomes too disabled to remain in the home, it may become necessary to move them to a long-term care facility where they will receive the care they require.
- Conservatorship: A conservator is responsible for protecting the elder’s finances. If the elder, or those trusted with his or her financial affairs, fails to protect those assets or depletes the funds, the conservatorship will protect those assets.
- Elder abuse, neglect, and fraud: Sadly, nursing homes do not always provide the most basic care that they are trusted to provide for vulnerable elders. This lack of care can cause bed sores, malnutrition, and other serious injuries. Senior citizens are also the target of many financial crimes, including identity theft and credit card fraud.
- Retirement planning: By today’s standards, age 60 is no longer considered elderly. Although that means that the older generation is living longer, it makes retirement planning that much more important and the key to enjoying the golden years with as much financial security as possible.
- Crimes against the elderly: An increasing percentage of elder law addresses crimes against the elderly and the severe penalties against individuals who take advantage of this population who may be vulnerable to things such as credit card scams and other financial-related crimes.
What is the Difference Between Medicare and Medicaid?
Understanding some of the key differences between Medicare and Medicaid will help elders and their loved ones make the best decisions about home care, long-term care, and assisted living facilities if their physical or mental health starts to decline.
Medicare covers the following:
- Home care for a short period of time, and only for skilled, intermittent care.
- Home care for two hours per day, up to three times a week for approximately six weeks, and only if the patient is receiving skilled care.
- Nursing home care if the patient spends three or more days in a hospital for skilled care followed by skilled care in a nursing home. Medicare covers the first 20 days in full, provided the patient is making progress with the skilled care.
- After the 20 days, Medicare pays 80 percent of days 21 through 100 if the patient continues to make progress. Medicare does not cover anything after the 100th day.
Medicaid covers the following:
- Medicaid is designed to help families with few or no assets. It has strict asset limits that many families will exceed. In some cases, the applicant may need to spend down assets in order to quality. However, if a spouse requires long-term care, the spending down can make it difficult for the other spouse to maintain his or her standard of living.
- To avoid a Medicaid penalty, individuals can transfer assets to family members or friends, in combination with a spend down. Although this will result in a Medicaid penalty, it is simply a period of ineligibility based on the amount of assets transferred.
- Once an application has been submitted, the government reviews the previous five years of financial transactions, also known as the lookback period, to determine whether any assets were transferred that would count toward the asset limit. If Medicaid finds a prohibited transfer, the application will be delayed.
What are Common Signs of Elder Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse can happen to anyone at any time. However, older individuals are particularly vulnerable for a number of reasons. Age-related issues such as dementia can have a negative impact on one’s ability to think clearly and make decisions, making them easier to exploit. In addition, older people who have accumulated a lifetime of savings and investments are often targeted by people looking to make a quick buck. If the elder person does not have family or a trusted friend to help make important financial decisions, individuals with malicious intentions often take advantage of them, befriending them, gaining their trust, and stealing their money. This can be avoided by working with the elder to establish an estate plan that will prevent problems later. In addition, recognizing some of the common signs of elder financial abuse can help family members and loved ones to take proactive steps to protect the elder’s finances. The following are common signs of elder financial abuse:
- Unpaid bills: Oftentimes, an elderly person will give money to someone, thinking he or she is using it to pay bills, only to realize later that the person was pocketing the money. This person is usually a con artist posing as a family member or trusted friend.
- Missing property: If an elderly person or their family members or loved ones notice that collectibles or other items of value are missing, this may be a sign of financial elder abuse. Elderly loved ones who are suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other types of mental decline are particularly vulnerable to this type of behavior.
- Notices from landlords or mortgage companies: If the mortgage or rent has not been paid because the elder loved one trusted someone to handle their expenses, this is often a sign of elder financial abuse.
- Bank or credit card statements that show overdue payments: Another example of financial elder abuse is if it is discovered that the elder has poor credit, despite being unaware of every opening of credit cards that are in their name.
- Unexplained financial transactions: If there are financial transactions for which the elder is unaware, this may be a sign of elder abuse. Examples may include transfers of funds, unexplained account withdrawals, and large credit card purchases that the elderly person did not make.
Unfortunately, elder financial abuse is more difficult to spot than other types of elder abuse because the victim has not been physically harmed. In fact, this type of abuse can continue for years before it is noticed and the abuser is caught. By the time the abuse is finally discovered, the consequences of the financial exploitation are typically devastating. Oftentimes, the victim’s entire life savings that they accumulated over decades of hard work is completely wiped away, leaving the victims unable to afford rent, health care costs, and even basic living expenses. In addition to the financial devastation, this can have severe emotional implications as well. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), this kind of financial exploitation can cause elder to feel depressed, anxious, and humiliated.
What are Common Examples of Nursing Home Abuse?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), elder abuse is an intentional act, or the failure to act, which causes harm to adults aged 60 or older. One example of elder abuse is nursing home abuse, which is particularly disturbing when the people paid to care for patients are the abusers. The following are examples of nursing home abuse:
- Physical abuse: When a staff member causes pain, illness, impairment, or death by pushing, slapping, hitting, kicking, or burning an elder person.
- Emotional abuse: This refers to a range of behaviors that cause to elder to feel afraid, distressed, anguished, or feel mental pain. Examples include threatening behavior, humiliation, and harassment.
- Sexual abuse: Any form of forced or unsolicited sexual interaction is considered sexual abuse, including non-contact acts such as sexual harassment and unwanted penetration. This also includes sexual interactions with an elderly person who cannot give consent.
- Neglect: If the nursing home staff fails to meet an elderly person’s basic needs such as food, water, shelter, hygiene, clean clothing, and medical care, or this can cause a range of serious health complications. Failure to protect the elder from a range of health and safety hazards is also an example of nursing home abuse. If the neglect is severe and prolonged, it can cause tragic fatalities.
What are the Signs of Nursing Home Abuse?
With close to two million elderly people living in long-term care facilities in the United States, nursing home abuse is a serious concern. Despite federal nursing home regulations that state that all residents have the right to be free from abuse, involuntary seclusion, and corporal punishment, elders continue to suffer from abuse and neglect in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. This can cause devastating physical injuries, emotional trauma, and in extreme cases, death. The following are examples of common warning signs of nursing home abuse:
- Pressure ulcers or bed sores
- Refusal to eat, drink, or take medication
- Poor hygiene
- Rapid weight loss or weight gain
- Unexplained bruises, cuts, or welts in various stages of healing
- Recurring infections
- Behavior changes, including becoming easily agitated, withdrawn or non-communicative
- Reluctant to speak if a staff member is present
- Unsanitary conditions, including soiled sheets, or an unkempt room
- Fear of being touched
- Heavily medicated or sedated
- Injuries that require emergency treatment or hospitalization
How can an Elder Law Lawyer Help Me?
The experienced and compassionate legal team at Lyons & Associates, P.C. provide a wide range of services that address the specific needs and challenges of senior citizens. Oftentimes, these decisions can be difficult, overwhelming, and heart wrenching, particularly if an older loved one’s mental or physical health is starting to decline. The dedicated New Jersey elder law lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. offer the following services:
- Comprehensive legal advice covering a range of health care, financial, and legal issues.
- Thorough assessment of all assets, taxation, and beneficiary issues.
- Available to attend client meetings in their home or at a facility if necessary.
- Conduct a thorough review of home or facility care options, as well as potential sources for funding care.
- Walk clients through important documents, including affidavits, irrevocable trusts, and estate planning essentials, and address all questions and concerns with compassion and care.
- Investigate community services that serve the elderly.
- Assistance with acquiring Medicaid, Medicare, and other benefits.
New Jersey Elder Law Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Advocate for Elders and Their Loved Ones
If you or someone you love is facing difficult financial and emotional decisions, including health care costs, financial security, and estate planning, associated with growing older, do not hesitate to contact the New Jersey elder law lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. We understand how challenging these decisions can be, particularly if a loved one’s physical or mental health is declining. Our compassionate legal team will walk you through every important decision, address all of your questions and concerns, and ensure that your loved one’s best interests are protected. Call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.