Formerly the Lehigh Valley Senior Services Council


Should I transfer my house to my children now?

This question comes up quite a bit. It seems accountants and financial planners who are not acquainted with current tax and estate planning laws and/or the Medical Assistance Regulations are advising clients to transfer the home now. There are some situations where the transfer of your home to your children may make financial sense, but there are just as many if not more circumstances where such a transfer could lead to unintended, even devastating results after the transfer is made or if the transfer is not to the appropriate trust or form of Deed. When considering transferring a home there are many considerations that must be addressed to ensure that your estate planning goals are met. Many are not aware that home ownership can provide a shelter to protect over $500,000 of your assets that would otherwise be spent down in long term care or skilled nursing care. Further, the tax implications of a transfer of your home during your lifetime can subject your children to much larger tax implications, among other hidden concerns.

If I do not have a Will, will the government take my assets when I die?

This question is very common. If you do not have a Will at the time of your death, you will be considered as having passed “intestate”. This does not mean your money goes to the government, but instead, will pass according to the Pennsylvania laws of intestacy. These laws dictate who will receive your money by hierarchy. The established hierarchy directs your money to your family members in the order as published in the Pennsylvania statutes. If you do not have family members in the established categories, your money will be directed to the Commonwealth of PA. Also, if a person passes away after receiving Medical Assistance and assets remain in the decedent’s probate estate, the Department of Public Welfare will have a claim against these assets. Careful estate and asset protection planning will ensure that your assets will be passed to your designated family members and/or intended beneficiaries upon your death.

Should I pay attention to the advertising and set up a living trust to avoid probate and/or taxes?

Companies that prepare living trusts often advertise misleading information in order to scare consumers into purchasing expensive living trusts and transferring all their assets into this trust to avoid probate and taxes. BE AWARE: living trusts will not help you avoid inheritance or estate taxes, and in most cases, probate is not a big deal or expensive in Pennsylvania. Living trusts can be useful if you own real estate in other states or if you prefer to avoid disclosing your assets through the probate process. Before establishing a living trust, be certain that you are clear about the benefits to you and that your financial condition makes economic sense to do so.

How can I pay for the cost of long term care for my spouse and be able to protect our hard earned assets while supporting myself?

Today’s cost of long term care is staggering. There are very few people fortunate enough to sustain such costs privately for long. Your health insurance and/or Medicare may pay for almost three months of care if long term care is necessary after a hospital visit and, only if, the recipient’s health is improving during this time.

If you are doing your estate planning before long term care is necessary and while you are relatively youthful and in good health, long term care insurance is an excellent option to protect your assets from the long term care expense. There are also governmental programs available to assist with these costs such as Medicaid and/or Veteran’s Benefits. But, these programs are designed to assist once you have exhausted your own resources. The obvious problem for couples is that the healthy spouse may be left destitute and unable to maintain household expenses during their partner’s period in long term care. There are protection options available depending on your situation. The earlier your planning begins, the greater the options. But, careful planning is necessary to keep within the protections provided under the current Pennsylvania regulations. If transfers or gifting is done incorrectly, benefits that may have otherwise been available could and will be denied. Meet with an Elder Law attorney who can review your options to preserve assets. With careful planning you can ensure that your family’s long term expenses are covered and your assets remain available to you and future generations.

When I was home for Christmas I was really quite taken aback to find my 83 year old mother’s home in such disarray, her memory failing and her hygiene so poor. I feel so guilty that I cannot help her myself, as I live and work a distance away. Where can I turn to for help?

You are not alone as this is a common concern and reality for so many adult children with elderly parents. There are many services available in the Lehigh Valley to help you keep your mother safe in her own home, from medical alert systems, to home modification companies, and in-home assistance. These services are aimed at keeping your mother safe while maintaining her dignity and to give you your peace of mind when you are unable to be with her.

My mother lives alone in a two story home. I thank god she has her mind, but physically she is having many difficulties and she refuses to even consider an assisted living facility. I am terribly concerned about her safety, but I work full time and am not available to help her. Do you have any suggestions?

There are indeed many first-rate assisted living facilities here in the Lehigh Valley but a simple answer for you may be in-home care from a licensed Home Care Agency instead!

A home care agency can assist your mother with bathing and dressing (this is usually a great safety risk for those who are alone), housekeeping and laundry (going up and down stairs is another great risk), food shopping and meal preparation (nutrition is so important for seniors!), and providing transportation to and from doctor’s appointments and shopping. The tasks that once were easy to do, may now seem burdensome and the companionship alone may be a real boost to her well-being and her dignity! Knowing that someone is there when you cannot be there will alleviate your worries! They can provide as much or as little help as needed. Remaining in your own home is a choice for your loved one!

My father is the primary caregiver for my mother who has dementia. He does everything around the house and my mother requires constant attention. I am concerned that it is becoming too much for him to handle. I work full-time and help out when I am able. Can you recommend any solutions?

As “America ages” I am hearing of this scenario more and more. In-home care from a licensed home care agency can truly be a saving grace in this situation! You can hire a caregiver to provide companion care for your mother to take the burden off of your father so he can take some time for himself. Some special assistance from a caregiver with personal care and grooming can help your Mother to maintain her dignity! Other services provided to lessen the burden are: light house keeping, meal preparation, laundry, medication assistance & reminders, shopping, and transportation. You may also want to consider an assessment by a geriatric care manager who can provide expertise regarding resources that are available in the community, so prudent decisions can be made about your parent’s long term care needs. Meals on Wheels is an option for home-delivered meals so nutritious meals are less of a concern.

My mother fell down the stairs at home and fractured her hip. She is presently in a rehabilitation facility but will returning to her home in a few weeks. I live out of the state and no other family members are available to help her. How can I assure her safety in the future?

Your concern is well-founded as statistics show that falls are the leading cause of death due to injury among the elderly; 87% of all fractures in the elderly are due to falls and about half (53%) of the older adults who are discharged for fall-related hip fractures will experience another fall within six months. To eliminate the risk of falls that stairs may cause, you may want to consider setting your mother up on the first floor of her home by moving her bed downstairs and having a bathroom installed there too, if she doesn’t already have one; (There are a handful of companies right here in the Lehigh Valley that specialize in just this type of remodeling.) or you could have a stair glide installed. A good consideration is to hire a caregiver from a licensed Home Care Agency to assist your mother with more difficult tasks so you don’t need to worry about her. An in-home care agency may be just the help she needs. They can assist with personal care, laundry in the basement, cleaning the bathroom and kitchen, vacuuming, dusting and shopping. Seniors Helping Seniors® Home Care Agency of the Lehigh Valley offers an In-Home Restorative Program that provides our clients with a trained exercise coaching aide who will encourage them to stay motivated through regularly schedule exercise sessions that will serve to maintain their strength and ability to live safely.

My father fell last month and was just discharged from home PT and OT services following a hospital stay. This is the third time this has happened, so I know he won’t continue with the exercises the therapist has given him, and I’m afraid he will just fall and get hurt again or worse. How can I break this cycle?

Seniors Helping Seniors® Home Care Agency has teamed with a licensed therapist to introduce a new program to
meet this exact need. We offer an In-Home Restorative Program that provides a trained exercise coaching aide that will visit a client, such as your father, at his own home twice a week to ensure he continues his program. He’ll receive the encouragement and assistance he needs to maintain the gains he’s already made in therapy and to continue to improve his physical strength and balance and ultimately his SAFETY and the ability to maintain an independent lifestyle! In addition, knowing that a parent is safe will help free family members from worry!

My Mother is 70 and lives alone. She has been living on her own since my father passed away 3 years ago and doing very well; however, she was recently hospitalized for bypass surgery with multiple complications and is presently in a rehabilitation nursing facility. She is scheduled for discharge within 2 weeks and I will be able to fly in from Florida to help her for about a week but then I will need to return home. I fully expect her to make a full recovery but I know she will need some help for a few months. Can you make any suggestions?

This is a time to call on family and friends to help out but they may not be available on all the days that help is needed. In this case you could call on a licensed Home Care Agency to come to the rescue! They can send a competent and caring person to provide assistance and special attention to your Mother’s needs while she is “getting well”. You may want to schedule a caregiver regularly for a short term and then you can wean services as your mother improves. Many agencies offer a two to four hour minimum and you can schedule the services at your discretion; so you can have someone in for a longer shift or break the day out into two or three-two hour shifts (ie. breakfast, lunch & dinner). This will give your Mother the confidence from day to day and you the peace of mind when you cannot be there.

Services offered are companionship, household assistance (cleaning, changing linens & doing laundry), assistance with personal care and grooming, meal preparation, medication reminders, shopping, transportation, emotional support and more. Understand, this is a difficult time for your Mother, so remind her of the importance of taking one day at a time to reflect on the gains she has made from the day or week before; and that it is really okay to accept some help to help her to restore her independence! To find out about other options that may be available to your mother if you think her returning home may not be an option in a 2 week time period you can call upon a geriatric care manager who will do a complete assessment of your mother’s personal situation and present a detailed option plan. The geriatric case manager could even act as a surrogate on your behalf since you don’t live near by.

What is the difference between a Home Health Care Agency and a Home Care Agency? Are these services covered by Medicare?

A Home Health Agency is an agency that covers medical care after a hospitalization or home care services may be initiated by a physician in an attempt to prevent the need for a hospitalization. They offer Visiting Nurse, Physical and Occupational services which may include a Home Health Aide for assistance with personal care if deemed necessary. These services are covered by medical insurance with ongoing certification based on medical necessity and are usually short term.

A Home Care Agency offers non-medical services and is not covered by medical insurance. These services would be paid for privately or can be covered by a long term care insurance policy. If someone is a veteran or the spouse of a deceased veteran they may be able to receive financial assistance through Veterans Aid and Attendance program. Home care agencies offer assistance with activities of daily living such as personal care & grooming, meal preparation, medication management and cleaning for people of any age group. Many senior persons utilize home care services to help them to maintain an independent lifestyle in their own home. This is a great alternative to the need to sell one’s home and move to an assisted living facility.

My Mother lives with me. She has worsening dementia and she calls me constantly while I am working and I am so distracted that I am not as productive as I should be and I am afraid I will lose my job. Do you have any suggestions?

Adult daycare is an option you may want to consider as there are a handful of wonderful programs in Easton, Bethlehem and Allentown. There is also a life care program in Bethlehem that accepts persons for medical care and a day program with transportation but, those individuals must be nursing home candidates under Medicaid. Another wonderful option for you is to hire a Licensed Home Care Agency to provide care for your Mother while you are working so she can remain safely at home. You can schedule care for only the times you need someone there Monday through Friday. They can assist your Mother with meals, medications management, mobility, personal care & grooming, companionship and assure she remains safe. They can even help you out by doing some light house keeping and laundry or taking your Mother to her doctor’s appointments.

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