Attorney speaks to seniors about available legal tools


– Photo by Frank Weir

By Frank Weir
Legal News

Important life tips were offered to seniors recently at a "Senior Safe, Sound and Secure Seminar" hosted by TRIAD of Jackson County and sponsored by the Region 2 Area Agency on Aging.

TRIAD is a collaboration of seniors, law enforcement, and area organizations designed to reduce criminal victimization of older persons and the seminar was held at the County Human Service Complex on Lansing Avenue.

Presentations included a community update by Jackson County Sheriff Steve Rand; Residential Care Choices by Laura Letzler, of the Senior Brigade; and Legal Tools by Michael Derby, an attorney with Legal Services of South Central Michigan.

Derby noted that attorney services are free for all individuals over the age of 60. He discussed various documents recommended for seniors and some misconceptions that exist. Topics included: guardianships, powers of attorney, wills, and trusts.

"Guardianships and powers of attorney are subjects that come up all the time," he said. "These seem to be issues for lots of people."

He explained that guardianships are appointed by the court for situations where "someone is already at a point where they no longer are competent to make their own decisions." Although there are plenty of people with guardians, he said, they are not common. "Most individuals sign a power of attorney."

He noted that powers of attorney allow individuals to pick someone while still competent, who will make decisions for them if they do become incompetent or to assist them with their day-to-day life needs including financial transactions.

"There are two major kinds of POAs: medical and financial. Some call the medical POA a living will but in Michigan we just have the medical POA or patient advocate designation," he said. "It allows who you have named to make your medical decisions if you are unable to do so. If you know what's going on, physicians will always defer to what you want. But if you are unconscious or not thinking clearly, they will talk to the person you named in the power of attorney document."

Derby said that the financial power of attorney allows the person you name to handle an individual's finances. It can be made effective immediately or only when someone is disabled for becomes incompetent.

"The caution that I always give clients is that they are giving a person the ability to do anything they can do with their money. They can withdraw money out of the bank, sell something, or take out a loan but only for the client's benefit. So you must choose someone you completely trust."

Derby also touched on will and trusts, noting that a will lets an individual decide what happens to all that they own when they die. He added that if someone dies without a will, there is a statute that specifies who will inherit the deceased's property.

"The statute is common sense. It specifies that the decedent's spouse will inherit, if no spouse, his or her children or then back to parents, siblings, nieces, nephews. As long as you have heirs, they will inherit the estate."

But the value of a will, he added, is that it allows individuals to decide who will be in charge of the estate when they die.

"The person you name will make decisions about what's going to happen, estate sales, dividing up any money or other assets. The will also allows you to decide what happens with specific personal property, particular items. A will can include a list with the will of who gets what items."

Derby also noted that trusts allow more control of what will happen to assets when an individual dies.

"But they only make sense if you have a large estate or have something you want to have happen.

"Are trusts necessary? Not necessarily. If your major asset is a house and little money in the bank, you can set things up so these go to your children automatically. If you go into a nursing home, you might have to spend down your money before the state Medicaid begins paying. But if you don't have much more than $10,000 or $20,000, it may not be worth paying $5,000 or so to set up a trust."

He said for very specific assets, such as a cottage up north, a trust might make sense. And if an individual has a special needs adult child, a trust might be needed for care purposes.

"But for most people, a will is sufficient," Derby said.

Laura Letzler, a presenter with the Attorney General's Office Senior Brigade, discussed elder abuse and offered resources to contact for more information.

She noted that has a wealth of information resources for older persons.

She outlined different types of living arrangements for seniors including independent living, assisted living, and nursing homes.

"In Michigan," she said, "assisted living is just a marketing term. It doesn't mean anything, there are no standards, they are not regulated by the state. Typically, adults interested in assisted living are people who no longer can live at home alone safety but don't need a nursing home. They offer some level of help with daily living and managing medications. Those are two reasons that often are mentioned in needing assisted living."

Letzler noted that assisted living facilities set their own prices and policies so it is essential compare apples to apples when considering placement.

"What is included in their fees, what services do you have to pay for, is it a pleasant atmosphere with things to do, how is the security and physical features, will they take you shopping and to your doctor appointments," Letzler said.

"People in assisted living are residents, not patients. If you have dementia, let's say, they can ask you to leave if your condition worsens and they can't meet your level of care. And they can ask you to leave if you aren't paying your bill."

She added that skilled care facilities are licensed by the state and are required to make public a survey conducted by the state. The survey will reveal any violations found by state inspectors and how serious they were.

She recommended that those considering nursing homes, visit and look on the left side of the page for "Find Nursing Homes." Putting in a zip code will bring up local nursing homes and their ratings including for health inspections, staffing, and quality measures.

Published: Wed, Oct 28, 2015