Good News Bad News

Good News / Bad News


Covid has been bad news with illness and death for millions, the loss of loved ones and caregivers for millions, and economic turmoil for millions more.

When the pandemic first took off, the hospitals needed thousands of respirators. The good news was that the government had thousands in storage. The bad news was that the vast majority of those didn’t work. Good news and bad news.

Despite the losses from the outbreak, the good news has been the success of the vaccines we have available in the US. In other countries, the success has varied.

The good news in the Seychelles, Bahrain, Chile, and Mongolia was that they got out of the gate very fast with high vaccination rates in their populations. The bad news was that all four of those countries used Chinese vaccines which apparently weren’t very effective, and soon all four of those countries ranked in the top 10 countries of the worst outbreaks worldwide. Yes, good news and bad news.

What about your estate plan? If you have one, that’s good news. If it won’t work when you need it, that’s bad news. Will it work? People counted on those Chinese vaccines to work, but it appears that they weren’t effective.

Does your estate plan reflect your current wishes? Are the right people in charge to look after your interests? Will the results be good news or bad news?

We often see trusts that don’t reflect the person’s current wishes because they just haven’t gotten around to making the updates. But in some cases, the trust was wrong from the beginning. It simply wasn’t a good trust.

In a recent case with a husband and wife, the trust says that if either is incapacitated, they agree to resign from being Trustee. The next paragraph gives a committee of people who will decide whether the person is incapacitated, and if two of the three say the person is incapacitated, then the person agrees to resign. (Committee of three is pastor and two medical doctors.) The problem with the trust is that there is no third step for removal of the Trustee if he or she refuses to resign, and now the couple has waited too long and the husband’s dementia has progressed to the point where he no longer has the mental capacity to resign. I cannot allow him to sign any documents at all. He can say his name, but he doesn’t know that he’s married to his wife, and when asked for his town, city, street, or number of children, he can only repeat his name. — He can no longer sign any legal documents.

The wife has exhausted their liquid assets in paying for their stay at an assisted living facility, and now she’s facing the prospect of selling their residence and paying a huge amount of capital gains tax. Due to many different circumstances, and waiting too long to act, she’s now facing a dilemma and has a poorly written trust.

Where do you stand on this issue for yourself? Do you have a good trust? Does it reflect your current wishes of who you want in charge and how you want any remaining assets distributed after your death?

If you don’t have a trust, go see a qualified attorney who practices elder law and estate planning. If you have a trust, make sure it reflects your current wishes and will work when you need it to work.

Protect yourselves. Protect your families.

Dementia and Your Finances

Dementia and Your Finances

A large study by a major financial institution a few years ago found that fears about dementia outweighed the fear of all other possible illnesses combined ­— and with good reason. Yes, more than from cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses combined.

If you have some wealth saved up through your own efforts or through an inheritance, how are you protecting that wealth in the face of future dementia?

The most obvious problems that come up are the scams that face seniors as they age, but there are also issues with basic financial decisions. One study found that our financial skills peak at age 53, so how good are you at making decisions at 75, 80, or 85? Think about it. Will you still be making good decisions, or will you just think you’re making good decisions.

Giving up sole control of your investments and savings may be harder than giving up control of the keys to your car. But it may be critically important to preserve the assets for the well-being of you and your spouse, or to have those assets passed onto loved ones in the future.

One 90 year old client asked me to help him review his taxes because he couldn’t figure out why he suddenly owed so much. Well, even though he didn’t need any additional income above his monthly Social Security and pension, his financial advisor had suggested he liquidate his smaller IRA account and withdraw the $150,000 balance. Really? Why? Now, the client owed income tax on the $150,000 withdrawal of funds he didn’t even need. It was a huge mistake, but he said he was simply following his advisor’s recommendation.

And who will manage your accounts once you die or have dementia or a stroke? One man, who was in the very early stages of dementia, claimed that he was still capable of managing his assets at 20 different institutions. Yes, 20 different institutions! I asked him how his wife would manage all of these accounts if he couldn’t. He was adamant that he was still fine, but his wife admitted that she knew nothing about the accounts and didn’t even know the names of the institutions that held their funds. What would happen down the road?

Since 2018, brokerage firms have been required to ask customers to designate a “trusted contact” who can be notified in case of possible problems, but less than 25% of clients have provided the name of a contact.

And what about the growing number of internet investment accounts that have no paper statements being mailed to the investors? How will a spouse or adult child access those accounts if they don’t have your passwords or don’t even know which institutions to contact to find your money?

I’m not against technology, and I’m not against using more than one institution for your investment accounts, but who else knows how to access that money if we need it for you and your family while you’re disabled or after your death? And how many different accounts do you really need?

Think about what you can do to make it easier for trusted people to help avoid problems if you’re in decline, and also making it easier for trusted people to access your assets while you’re incapacitated or after your death.





Start Estate Planning Early

When Should I Speak to an Attorney About an Estate Plan?

Estate planning is a long and tedious process and one that you surely don’t want to undertake by yourself. It is always best to hire an estate planning attorney to help you on this journey. They can relieve the tedium, make things go more smoothly and efficiently, answer all of your questions, and leave with the best possible outcome for you and your loved ones. But what is an estate plan? An estate plan is a combination of wills, trusts, end-of-life, and other documentation put together in a portfolio. There is a lot to consider when creating an estate plan. Who will get your money and assets after you die? Who will care for your disabled spouse or children if you have any, and how will you be buried? These and many other questions are answered and taken care of in the estate planning process. 

Continue reading “When Should I Speak to an Attorney About an Estate Plan?”

Elder Law focuses on the aging population

What Exactly Is Elder Law?

Elder law is a highly sensitive and specialized area of law that focuses on helping seniors and the elderly through the later phases in life. It is different from other areas of the law because of the age of the clients. Older adults often have different things going on than younger adults, and their needs are often more specialized. An elder law attorney is often more equipped to deal with the sensitive emotional and financial needs of seniors and disabled adults. This means that they are able to handle challenging situations effectively. Elder law attorneys are able to deal with a wide variety of issues, including estate planning, long term health care, social security, guardianship, retirement, and Medicaid (or Medi-Cal in California), and Medicare.  Continue reading “What Exactly Is Elder Law?”


What’s hospice, and how does it work?

The formal definition of hospice, as per Medicare, is that hospice is for people who are terminally ill and not expected to live more than 6 months.

People need to understand that hospice is intended for people who are terminally ill, and the focus is on care in the form of comfort, and not on care for curing the person’s illness.  Hospice care starts when your doctor and the hospice doctor certify that you’re terminally ill, which means that you are not expected to live more than 6 months.

Medicare explains it as follows:  When you choose hospice care, you decide you no longer want care to cure your terminal illness and/or your doctor determines that efforts to cure your illness aren’t working.

There are people who actually “graduate” from hospice. It’s very rare, but some people placed on hospice later improve to the extent that they no longer need hospice care. In one case that I heard of, the woman actually went home and eventually started working again. Highly unusual, but it happens.

Hospice care is generally provided in the home, and for many people, that’s exactly what they prefer.

But have you prepared all the necessary legal documents ahead of time for any decisions that need to be made while you’re still alive, and for people to follow your wishes after your death?

All too often, I am asked to visit someone on hospice to prepare their legal documents, but sometimes the family has simply waited too long, and the person cannot make legal decisions or sign anything. This often leaves the dying person and the family in a very difficult position.

Who can make the person’s healthcare decisions? Who can pay their bills and make their financial decisions? Who will get their assets when they pass? Who’s in charge?

These are all very real questions that need to be given a lot of thought while the person is still of sound mind and can make the decisions their way without being unduly influenced by others.

I recently had a visit from siblings who accused one brother of stealing from the brother with Alzheimer’s, and of having the ill brother change his power of attorney after the ill brother was already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Picking the right people to make decisions for you is critical, and having the right documents put into place while you’re still mentally competent is also critical. You want the right people making your decisions for you, and you want your assets to go where you decide you want them to go upon your death.

The last thing you need is for you to have your hard-earned money stolen from you or your beneficiaries, or to have your assets spent on a litigation battle between your heirs and other beneficiaries.

Take care of things while you can and appoint people you trust to make the right decisions for you and follow your wishes.

Do You Have the Right Durable Power of Attorney?

What is a Power of Attorney? Sometimes it’s called a Financial Power of Attorney. It’s a document that gives authority to your named Agent to act for you in various situations.  That may be paying your bills, accessing your bank accounts, closing your accounts, or even selling your residence.

Have you named a successor Agent? Maybe you named your spouse or your oldest child as your Agent, but what if that person cannot act for you. Have you named an alternate so that you have some back-up?

Is your power of attorney elder law friendly? An example of the importance of this is whether your Agent can protect your assets and get you onto government benefits such as Medi-Cal if you need assistance at home or you want Medi-Cal to pay for your nursing home costs. It’s not just a matter of the application, but also allowing transfers of assets for eligibility for those benefits, and protection against the state placing a lien on those assets for repayment to the state. These are critical issues for many elders, and the lack of a power of attorney, or having the wrong power of attorney, can prohibit your family from taking the necessary actions to protect you and your loved ones.

I have seen many individuals and families face financial hardship because a proper power of attorney was not in place. Getting a good power of attorney is not difficult. Not having the right one in place when you need it can be devastating.

Every adult should have the right kind of power of attorney in place and have the best Agent and successor Agent available to take action to help them. It’s one of the most important documents that a person can have. If you don’t have a durable power of attorney in place, get one. If you have one, make sure that it is detailed enough to allow your Agent to take the necessary actions that may be needed to protect you, to care for you, and to protect your assets for the benefit of yourself and your family.

VIDEO- Sept. 2017 Dementia and Alzheimer’s Public Forum

Back by popular demand, The Free Public Forum part II on Dementia and Alzheimer’s. We invited the experts back to Morgan Hill, CA to speak and answer your questions. These public Forums are very educational. We will continue to bring Dementia and Alzheimer’s awareness to the community. Please find us on Facebook and Google + for more information about future events.

What is Elder Abuse?

California Welfare and Institutions Code 15610.07 WIC — Elder abuse.

(a) “Abuse of an elder or a dependent adult” means any of

the following:

(1) Physical abuse, neglect, abandonment, isolation, abduction, or

other treatment with resulting physical harm or pain or mental suffering.

(2) The deprivation by a care custodian of goods or services that are necessary to avoid physical harm or mental suffering.

(3) Financial abuse, as defined in Section 15610.30.


I had originally planned to write something different for this article, but this morning I received a call from an attorney friend who was trying to help his aunt. The aunt is in her late 90s and has had advanced Alzheimer’s for a number of years.  The aunt has enough income to pay for her apartment rent, utilities, and food. It turns out that she had to be hospitalized because a grandson was physically beating her. The hospital reported the abuse and it became public. Several family members had been living with the aunt because she was the “golden goose” with her income, and they could live there for free and use her money to buy food. Other family members didn’t report the known abuse because they didn’t want to lose their golden goose. The physical abuse is certainly elder abuse, and the case likely involves elder financial abuse as well because the aunt’s income was being used to support several other people to her detriment.

The first step in these cases is generally to call the Adult Protective Services (APS) office in the county where the elder resides. They have the resources and trained personnel to handle these cases. If you suspect that an elder is being abused, whether it’s physical abuse or financial abuse, report it.

I had a recent case where a son moved into his father’s big house and hadn’t paid rent for two years, so the 94 year old father, who was living in a very old, one bedroom house together with his caregiver friend, was deprived of the rental income he needed to pay for food and medicine. The son was supposed to pay his father’s utilities, but the gas and electricity had been cut off once, the water department had threatened to cut off his water, and the son had refused to pay for his father’s land line telephone, so it was cut off too. The son was taking his father’s income and only giving the father $300 a month to live on, which was not even enough to provide food for the father and his caregiver.

Don’t let these things happen to someone you know. Report elder abuse if you suspect it.

Why don’t people plan ahead with an Estate Plan? It’s a basic combination of procrastination and lack of knowledge.

Most people know that they should have some type of an estate plan in place, but they just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Or perhaps they made a plan 10 or 20 years ago, and it’s now outdated due to family changes or tax law changes. Procrastination is the enemy of good planning. Don’t let yourself wait so long that dementia, sudden illness, or death will prevent you from doing proper planning. Plan ahead.

Good estate planning encompasses how decisions will be made if a person dies or becomes incapacitated, and elder law planning takes things a step further to look at how your assets can be protected in the event that you need nursing home care. Everyone should consider both.

If you succeed in reaching the ripe old age of 65, the odds are slightly greater than 50% that you’ll spend some time in a long-term care facility, and the average length of stay in a long-term care facility is about two and a half years. That’s a huge cost. Don’t take that gamble.

A great myth about Medi-Cal is that you can’t qualify unless you have no money at all, or that the state will take everything from your family when you die. Proper planning can change all of that. Learn what can be done.

If you don’t yet have an estate plan, you should consult a knowledgeable attorney. If you have a plan, but haven’t looked at it for 5, 10, or 20 years, I suggest that you pull it out, take a good look at it, and see whether it still accurately reflects your wishes. If your plan was prepared without looking towards the potential need to have Medi-Cal pay for your long-term care, then your existing durable power of attorney may actually hamper the Medi-Cal planning efforts that someone might want to do on your behalf. Be proactive. As Gen. George S. Patton said, “Be prepared for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” Don’t let yourself delay to that point where the lack of a plan hurts you and your family.


VIDEO- March 2017 Dementia and Alzheimer’s Public Forum

March 2017 in Morgan Hill, California, attorney James A. Ward sponsored a free public forum on Dementia and Alzheimer’s. He invited two local experts in the field to speak on the subject; Tiffany Mikles who has over 20 years of experience working with seniors and training care providers; and Dr. Gary Steinke M.D., founder of the San Jose Alzheimer’s Activity Center. Both speakers have immense knowledge on the disease and both speakers share a passion for helping and educating the public. James Ward is an Estate Planning and Elder Law attorney who meets clients every day and has seen firsthand the reality and the struggle for families watching a loved one decline. His passion for helping clients prompted the idea of sponsoring the first public forum on Dementia and Alzheimer’s in Morgan Hill, CA, and many of the attendees requested more forums in the future, so Mr. Ward plans on holding two forums each year.