Helping Your Elderly Parents during the Pandemic

Our elderly parents are especially vulnerable during the coronavirus, but there are ways to safely help them right now.

Considerable’s recent article entitled “4 things you can do for your aging parents during the coronavirus pandemic” reports that 8 out of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. related to COVID-19 have been in adults 65 years old and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Helping our elderly parents during the pandemic has become a major concerns for many people.  If your parents are in one of the vulnerable categories, here are four things you can do right now to help them.

  1. Shop or help them place orders online. With many cities experiencing a shopping frenzy in response to the coronavirus, personal care and household items have quickly disappeared from stores. You can help your parents by allowing them to stay home and going to the store for them and dropping off groceries on their door. You can also place online orders that can be delivered to their home.  Some stores have also set aside times for elder customers to shop to avoid them coming at peak times.
  2. Contact them regularly. The CDC says the coronavirus is believed to spread primarily from person-to-person contact, particularly between people who are closer than six feet from each other. Therefore, you have likely already been separating yourself from your family members outside of your home, including your parents. To avoid possibly exposing your parents, use Skype, FaceTime, or call them on the phone. Stay in close communication to keep their spirits up and check on how they’re feeling. This can help you to verify their mental and physical health, as the days of social distancing add up. You can set up a schedule with specific times you’ll call, so they have something to look forward to throughout the day.
  3. Watch for scams. We’re already hearing about the con artists coming out of the woodwork to prey on the elderly—and all of us in this medical and financial crisis.  See here for a fuller discussion.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/coronavirus-scams-are-surfacing/  Speak to your parents about these scams, so they can protect themselves. The Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines for avoiding scams, including the following:
  • Hang up on robocalls and don’t press any numbers.
  • Verify your sellers because many online sellers may say they have in-demand products in stock, when they actually don’t.
  • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
  • Research before making donations, and if asked for donations by cash, gift card, or wiring money, pass!
  1. Keep ‘em busy. Seniors have unique challenges when they stay at home. The inactivity that can be linked to being confined in the home can cause declines in physical health and in physical abilities. The elderly are also at greater risk of developing depression in social isolation, and their elevated risk for bad outcomes from this virus can cause higher levels of anxiety and lead to sleep difficulties and other health issues. Encourage your parents to read, play a board game, do a puzzle, or take a walk, provided that they’re keeping distance from others. Many religious groups have also transitioned their services online, and there are plenty of movies and TV shows on-demand for home viewing.

Most significantly, make certain that your parents are taking the pandemic seriously and emphasize the importance of social distancing.  The coronavirus has been hard on everyone, but following these suggestions can help your elderly parents during the pandemic.

Reference:  Considerable (April 8, 2020) “4 things you can do for your aging parents during the coronavirus pandemic”

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Coronavirus Scams are Surfacing

Several coronavirus scams are surfacing which will affect seniors most of all. Here are some scams to watch out for and reliable sources for information.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur is “encouraging all Marylanders to be aware of individuals attempting to profit from the coronavirus pandemic,” reported Marcia Murphy, a USAO spokeswoman.  The Cecil Whig’s recent article entitled “Maryland U.S. attorney warns of COVID-19 scams; Cecil County remains vigilant” cautions that coronavirus scams are being uncovered around the country.

Scammers have been sending e-mails to people claiming to be from local hospitals offering coronavirus vaccines for a fee. However, no vaccine is currently available for the coronavirus. Some of these criminals are using websites that appear to be legitimate but are actually fake websites that infect the users’ computers with harmful malware or seek personal information that can be later used to commit fraud. Many of these coronavirus scams prey on the most vulnerable, especially the elderly.

Effected individuals need to contact the police if they think someone has targeted them for a scam and to educate themselves on the COVID-19-related scams by checking official government websites, like the CDC.gov for information.  Many governmental groups, including at the state and local levels, are also hosting coronavirus information pages.  For example, Harris County, Texas has provided a public health page with information about the virus and resources for assistance.  http://publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/Resources/2019-Novel-Coronavirus

Individuals need to scrutinize anyone who makes a contact with them about a COVID-19 vaccine—which does not exist—and to report any such interaction to law enforcement.

Late last week, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr sent a memo to all U.S. Attorneys, in which he made the investigation of these coronavirus scams and the individuals perpetrating them a priority. Therefore, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are prepared to investigate these frauds.

The Federal Trade Commission has consumer information about coronavirus scams on its website, including a complaint form to report scammers. Elderly victims can also call the newly launched Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311), if they believe they are victims of coronavirus scams—or any other type of fraud.

In addition to selling bogus cures and infecting computers by using COVID-19-related communications, other examples of coronavirus scams include:

  • Phishing emails from entities posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Those asking for donations for fraudulently, illegitimate, or non-existent charitable organizations; and
  • Scammers posing as doctors, who ask for patient information for COVID-19 testing and then use that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.

Barr asked the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19, by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at disaster@leo.gov.

Reference:  Cecil Whig (March 23, 2020) “Maryland U.S. attorney warns of COVID-19 scams; Cecil County remains vigilant”

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Removing your House from your Trust

There are ways to remove your house from your trust, but work with an estate planning attorney to do so while preserving the trust benefits!

Occasionally clients ask for assistance in removing their house from their trust.  They do so to facilitate refinancing the house, the client wants to add a relative to the title, to ensure the home is considered a residence for Medicaid purposes or some other similar issue.  There are a number of issues to consider before doing so as the recent nj.com article entitled “I want to revoke a trust on my house. What do I do?”  points out.  Whether it is a good idea to remove your home from your trust and actually doing so will require the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney.

The answer to a question about how to get a house out of your trust is going to be in the trust terms themselves. However, if the terms of the trust are silent, the answer may be found in the trust laws in the state statutes.  If answering the question in general terms, the primary concern is whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable.

The first step is to determine whether the trust is revocable.   Most clients use revocable trusts, so assuming it is a revocable trust, the trustor (person who set up the trust) has the right to remove the house from the trust.  The trustee (probably the same person) can execute a deed conveying the property from the trust to the trustor.  That takes the property out of the trust.

In the majority of cases, this will solve the problem.  Also, if the property was removed to refinance, you can safely convey it back to the trust once the refinance is done.  Similarly, if a client wants to add someone to title to change where the property goes at death, it is often better to just change the trust terms to leave the residence to the beneficiary.  This is often better for taxes as well.

If the trust is irrevocable, it means that the house can’t be removed from the trust unless the terms of the trust permit it.  There are exceptions, such as asking a Court’s permission to revoke the trust or remove the property, or in some cases, terminating the trust with agreement of the trustee and beneficiaries, but these are more difficult options and not guaranteed.

Next, let’s look at the reason why the home was initially put in a trust.  It is important to keep these ideas in mind as removing the property from the trust may negate important benefits.   See here for the benefits https://www.galliganmanning.com/category/trusts/page/6/      There may be alternatives which accomplish the same goals as well.

If the purpose was to lower estate taxes, it may make sense to remove the house from the trust. This is especially the case if the property is in a state that doesn’t have state estate taxes.  Very few states still do.  An estate rarely meets the threshold for federal estate taxes, so clients actually save taxes by removing the property from trust.

If the property is owned by an irrevocable trust for asset protection in long-term care planning, it might make sense to keep the property in the trust.  However, if you are using a revocable trust and want to consider asset protection in long-term care planning, it is often better to keep the property in your name. This is because Medicaid may exempt your residence if you own it personally.  In our office, we prepare “Lady Bird deeds” for Texas residences which allow a client to own the residence personally, and transfer it to the trust automatically when they pass away.  This works with both asset protection planning and probate planning.

If the trust owned the property for probate avoidance, the property often will be put back into the trust or conveyed at death to the trust such as with the Lady Bird deed.

In sum, there are some reasons to remove property from a trust, but doing so should always involve an experienced estate planning to preserve the benefits of the trust and to ensure your goals are met.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 4, 2020) “I want to revoke a trust on my house. What do I do?”

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