You and your parents need a Plan B for care


You and your parents need a Plan B for care

By Kay Falk, for SBT

A very important question you need to ask yourself and the elderly relatives you’re close to is: Who’s going to make decisions about your health care and finances if you can’t?
According to Julie Short, an attorney with Vance Wilcox Short & Short who specializes in elder law for clients in Jefferson and Walworth counties, you can save money and reduce stress and heartaches if you plan ahead.
"At a minimum, you need to set up both health care and financial powers of attorney," she stressed. "For example, if a parent or you suffer a stroke or if you are in an accident that even temporarily results in legal incapacity, someone else will have to make health care and financial decisions for you.
"If you have no durable health care or financial power of attorney designated, someone close to you has to get a court order to be appointed as a guardian. That process is time-consuming, stressful at an already stressful time, and costly, often more than $1,000," Short said.
Short points out that Wisconsin has a statutory health care power-of-attorney form you can download from the Internet, and that many hospitals and even doctor offices have the forms, as well as lawyers.
"This form is readily available at no cost, and includes provisions to address life-sustaining procedures," she notes. Because it is a legal document, she recommends that you consider reviewing the form with an attorney.
To establish a financial power of attorney, someone who can make financial decisions if you’re incapacitated, you definitely need an attorney.
"There are many strategies to fit various financial situations, and you want to be very careful about designating a trustworthy person," Short notes. "A specialist in elder law can be very helpful in seeing that your wishes can be carried out if you’re not able to be in charge."
Some of the services an elder-law attorney offers include:
— Making you aware of the pros and cons of annuity, long-term care and Medicare supplemental insurance plans. "There are many options and increased flexibility in today’s insurance offerings. Most elder-law attorneys have low or no-fee first appointments that you can use to discuss these options," Short explains. "Too many people are scared into buying a plan by insurance sales rhetoric. It’s often wise to let an independent person explain options and evaluate the plans before you sign."
— Alerting you to state and federal government benefits. For example, many people don’t know they could qualify for SeniorCare prescription drug assistance. A good elder law attorney is familiar with those benefits.
— Helping with estate planning to reduce tax consequences and more easily transfer assets following death.
— Creating a contingency plan for small business owners. "If you die or are temporarily incapacitated, are you comfortable having your business partner, spouse or child make decisions for you?" Short asks. "It’s important to establish a plan, a clear tool that lets all parties understand what you want to happen. Succession planning can set up a buyout or repurchase formula for survivors. This makes it easier on who’s left, and allows them to concentrate on continuing the business."
— Assessing contracts for various living options, such as those required by assisted living or nursing homes. "You need to know your rights," Short says. "If your loved one has Alzheimer’s, you don’t want to have the care facility kick he or she out because of new symptoms that require more attention and care. There are state codes that address these issues, and an elder care attorney can help you make sure all steps have been taken. Sometimes it’s just as simple as assuring special diets and other needs are included in the contract."
— Clarifying the law on transfer and sale of assets. "There’s a lot of misinformation that, if you follow it, can lead to tax penalties, regarding selling assets to obtain state and federal benefits," Short said.

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For a referral to an elder law specialist in your area, you can contact the Wisconsin State Bar Association at 608-257-4666. Other resources are available at its Web site at

April 18, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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