Tuesday, January 19, 2021

If Now Is THE Time, Then Why Wait


So many unsettling things going on in the world today.  For many years, I thought of the “things” as being remote from me.  Not now.  Those “things” are at home. 

Fortunately, my family is fine.  Some of my friends, however, have had experiences with loss- job, family members, housing, etc.  It’s during this time of “what if” we have the opportunity to become prepared for lessening the burden on our family/friends.  Whoever will have the responsibility of dealing with our declining health, our material possessions, our wishes, needs to know what we are thinking.

So, this goes back to my original topic of so many years ago- wills, powers of attorney, lists of important documents, and the courage to identify one person who knows where you keep your papers.

The AARP Bulletin of November 2020 highlights these important agenda items:  creating a will, living will and durable power of attorney;  having a conversation with your family or friends about your wishes about health care should you become incapacitated; getting an understanding of the estate laws in your state; choosing your agents ( the person (s) who will carry out your wishes) based on their qualifications not what you think you should do or what is expected for you to do; seriously considering dividing your estate equally among your children unless there are strong reasons not to; and remembering you can always change your documents- you may have to if you move out of state or your beneficiary or agent becomes incapacitated or dies.

AARP offers these suggestions:

Free services- Cake (JoinCake.com) or FreeWill (FreeWill.com)

Low-cost services- Gentreo (Gentreo.com), Quicken WillMaker &Trust by NOLO (NOLO.com), Trust &Will (TrustAndWill.com/AARP)

Pro Bono Legal Advice- law school clinics in your state- search “elder law clinic in…” and Legal Aid (LSC.gov)

Tell me what you think.  Have you taken action during the pandemic?  Did you have THE conversation with your family?

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Power of Attorney Discussion


An article in the local newspaper (yes, I still read a hands-on-newspaper) several months ago discussed guardianship which can be a life saving measure or a major problem.

Per the article by Julian Gray and Frank Petrich, “a guardianship is a court-appointed assignment of a surrogate decision-maker for the benefit of a person who has lost the ability to make informed decisions.”  The appointed person can be a stranger and you have probably read about individuals who have assumed a guardianship and then stolen assets from the very person the guardian was to protect.

If an individual has not planned, in advance, to appoint an “agent”, and the court makes the appointment, the relationship could continue for years while the person is incapacitated.  However, and this however is important, “the use of a power of attorney document generally avoids the need for a court-monitored guardianship.

I’ve talked about powers of attorney in previous blog posts.  Creating a medical/health care power of attorney and a financial power of attorney puts you in the driver’s seat.  You can change it any time without going to court.  So why don’t people create wills and powers of attorney?  The article gives 4 reasons: 1) People aren’t aware of the importance of these documents. 2)  People do not want to pay attorney fees.  3) People don’t have a trusted family member or friend to assume the role. 4) People don’t want to think about the future or about the possibility of future disability.

Bottom line:  plan, plan, plan.  Investigate these documents on the internet, contact a Bar Association in your state for a referral to an attorney, and talk to friends and family.

Comments?  I want to hear from you.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Hello Again

 It’s been many months since I sat down to write a blog entry.  I have many notes on my desk for posts and yet, as many people can relate to, something draws me away from my To Do List.  Any yet, here I am at the computer on a beautiful sunny fall day in Pittsburgh.

A letter to Ask Amy that appeared in our local newspaper caught my eye.  The writer was thanking Amy for advocating for people to make “end of life” decisions.  The writer told her story of discussing The Decision with her own mother and noting the amount of pushback she faced from mom.  It turned out the real reason for mom’s behavior was the perceived cost of legal fees. 

The writer investigated the mom’s state Department of Aging website and found numerous services including a free phone call with a lawyer and downloadable forms for a simple will, powers of attorney and DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form.  Mom’s bank had a notary who notarized the appropriate forms for free. 

Mom lived for another 20 years after the process and the writer felt at peace knowing she was able to carry out her mom’s wishes in the end. 

Bottom line, sometimes what we think we know, we really don’t.   Good listening skills are important and asking skillful and thoughtful questions can make the journey easier.  This is especially true when the journey is made in partnership – usually child with parent, friend with friend, partner with partner. 

Ask yourself if you are prepared to have THE discussion with yourself or a loved one.  If not, think about what you have to do to get prepared.  I suggest when you talk to your self, pretend you are talking to a friend.  Help that friend get organized and investigate what documents are needed in your state.  Wills and Powers of Attorney are your responsibility. 

 I, of course, welcome comments.  What has been your experience with loved ones or your own preparation?  Do you have a will, healthcare power of attorney, financial power of attorney? 


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Safety Deposit Box

When I was growing up, safety deposit boxes were considered the epitome of a safe storage place for jewelry and important papers like wills, mortgages, car titles.  Today, banks have changed their footprint and the need for a safety deposit box has lessened.  According to an article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from December 29, 2019 written by attorneys Julian Gray and Frank Petrich, you may not really need a safety deposit box. 

First, even though the banks may be insured by FDIC, the contents of the boxes are not insured.  FDIC only insures deposit accounts which are checking, savings, certificates of deposit, etc.

Second, the contract that is signed when you rent a box probably states the limited liability the bank has for box contents and this may significantly be well below the value of the contents.

Third, if there is only one signature on the box contract and that person dies, “the bank will seal the box until the personal representative of the estate appointed by the court shows up to claim the contents.”  In Pennsylvania, that representative has to make an appointment with a revenue officer from the Department of Revenue to be at the bank when the seal is broken so the contents can be inventoried and taxed if appropriate.

Fourth, the cost of an in-home safe is relatively low and the convenience of being able to access critical papers quickly is important. 

Bottom line, if you have a safety deposit box, examine the reasons for continuing the contract.  If you don’t and are thinking about renting one, do a cost-benefit-analysis for renting one.

Until next time…

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Can We Talk?

The National Patient Advocate Foundation suggests 5 tips to share with your healthcare providers.

.      Share some information about you as a person with your team.  Are you a vegan?  Are you in the sandwich generation of being a parent and a caretaker? 

          Write down what is most concerning to you.  Be honest and direct.  Your doctor does not know if you are having financial problems, relationship issues, housing concerns unless you tell him/her.

3     Be prepared for your appointment.  Write down your health concerns, keep a daily log of your food, blood pressure, heart rate or whatever is bothering you.   For a few days before your appointment, write down you pain level as it related to your activity.  Come prepared with data.

.     Talk about your feelings.  What circumstances might keep you from taking your meds?  Are you having concerns about getting to your appointments, to the grocery store?

5     What is your preference for receiving medical information?  Do you want a summary or do you prefer all the details?  Discussing this topic may actually promote a more positive relationship with your healthcare provider.

For more information about this organization, go to npaf.org. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

A File for Life

One of my daughters sent me an announcement of a program in her community where first responders assist residents in completing a health form.  The EMS, police and firefighters know where to look in the home for medical and health related information—in the refrigerator.  The File for Life is a place to list prescription medications, doctors’ names, allergies and names of people to be notified in the event of a medical emergency.  The form is put in a plastic sleeve and the recipient is instructed to place it in the refrigerator. 

I’ve mentioned this idea in the past.  The titles of the forms can change; the intent doesn’t.  First responders need to know basic health status in order to convey necessary information to the hospital/ physician.  Since most people have a refrigerator, it makes sense to store this vital information there.
Back in 2015, a pharmacist in a suburb of Pittsburgh created a Vial for Life.  He came up with a pill bottle that would store the forms with the necessary information.  Working with the EMS department in his community, he distributed these containers and instructed people to keep them in the fridge. 

Even if you don’t have an “official” container or form, jot down your meds, your allergies, the names of your doctors and put the paper in a plastic bag and keep it in the refrigerator.  Tell your friends and family to create their own storage system for the fridge.  Or call your local emergency services department and learn what they need to better help you in a critical time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

There is Always Tomorrow

Since we have been at home, my life has been turned upside down.  I am used to getting up and out of the house daily for exercise, having a schedule for chores, computer, meal prep, phone conversations, etc.  Now, my attitude is, “I can do that tomorrow”. 

And I am sure I am not alone.  Sometimes I forget what day it is!  They blend together.  And I anticipate at least several more weeks of this.  Not everyone can learn a new language or create art or do online classes.  Sometimes it is OK to do nothing as long as there is awareness when the nothing becomes depression. 

There are so many resources available that having too much of a choice becomes paralyzing.  Seriously, how many choices do we need for cereal?  And what we do is become overwhelmed and we select the same kind as we have always used.  Change is hard. 

And there are many resources coming from new sources for ways to organize our lives.  My physician e- mailed information about planning for emergencies. Not only was there information about health issues, there were tips for pet care  and bill paying.   Financial institutions and grocery stores are doing the same.  The government, through several departments, publish information on what we should do.  Much of the information is the same.  Some of it is conflicting. 

So, what to do?  As one who loves learning, I tend to look at a variety of things and take what I consider valuable and doable from each source.  Planning is the most important lesson we can learn from this pandemic.  I liken it to insurance.  While we hope we never have to make a claim, it’s important and most often mandatory, that we have automobile and home insurance.  And we know that someone will have to carry out our plans so make them. 

Schedule an hour to get your papers in order, to make the appointment with an attorney to write a will, to download forms from the internet and begin thinking about what you want for end of life issues, and to think about funeral/cremation.  Be a part of the solution; don’t be part of the problem for your family or loved ones who will have to deal with financial and health issues if you are incapacitated or deceased. 

As always, please comment.

Be safe