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Dementia and Guns: A Tragedy Waiting to Happen

It’s common for families of those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to realize that at some point, their loved one shouldn’t be allowed to drive. But fewer people know that they should exercise the same level of caution when it comes to restricting their loved one’s access to firearms.

This was one of the findings of a May 2018 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine covering firearm ownership among Alzheimer’s patients. The study noted that even though 89% of Americans support restricting access to firearms for those with mental illness, there’s been little attention focused on limiting firearm access among elderly dementia patients. Currently there are no federal gun laws prohibiting the purchase or possession of firearms by persons with dementia. And only two states—Hawaii and Texas—have laws restricting gun access for dementia patients.

A ticking time bomb

This lack of attention comes despite an increasing number of incidents involving elderly dementia patients shooting and killing family members and caregivers after confusing them for intruders. And with so many Baby Boomers now entering retirement age, this dangerous situation could get much worse.

In fact, the number of people with dementia is expected to double to around 14 million in the next 20 years, with the vast majority of those over age 65. Nearly half of people over 65 either own a gun or live with someone who does. So it’s clear that firearm safety should be a top priority for those with elderly family members—even if they don’t currently show any dementia signs.

Just talking about restricting someone’s access to guns can be highly controversial and polarizing. Many people, especially veterans and those in law enforcement, consider guns—and their right to own them—an important part of their identity. Given this, the study’s authors recommended that families should talk with their elderly loved ones early on about the fact that one day they might have to give up their guns. Physicians suggest bringing up the topic of firearms relatively soon after individual’s initial dementia diagnosis.

This discussion should be similar to those related to driving, acknowledging the emotions involved and allowing the person to maintain independence and decision control for as long as it’s safe. Even though this can be a very touchy subject, putting off this discussion can literally be life threatening.

All part of the plan

Since it relates to so many other end-of-life matters, this discussion should take place as part of the overall estate planning process. One way to handle the risk is to create a legally binding agreement laying out a “firearm retirement date” that’s similar to advance directives addressing the elderly relinquishing their driving privileges.

Such an agreement allows the gun owner to name a trusted family member or friend to take ownership of their firearms once they’re reached a certain age or stage of dementia. In this way,the process may seem more like passing on a beloved family heirloom and less like giving up their guns. Moreover, the transfer of certain types of firearms must adhere to strict state and federal regulations. Unless the new owner is in full compliance with these requirements, they could inadvertently violate the law simply by taking possession of the guns.

In light of this risk, you should consider creating a “gun trust,” an estate planning tool specially designed to deal with the ownership of firearms. With a gun trust, the firearm is legally owned by the trust, so most of the transfer requirements are avoided, making it a lot easier for family members to manage access after the original owner’s death.

Indeed, gun trusts can be a valuable planning strategy even for gun owners without dementia. Speak with us to see if a gun trust would be a suitable option for your family. A matter of life and death

If you have an elderly family member with access to guns, you should consult with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® as soon as possible. We can not only offer guidance on the the most tactful ways to discuss the matter, but also help you set up the appropriate estate planning strategies to ensure the firearms are properly secured and transferred. Given the grave risks involved, managing the elderly’s access to firearms should be taken every bit as seriously—if not more so—as managing their ability to operate motor vehicles. The safety of both your loved one and everyone who cares for them depends on it. Contact us today to learn more about your options.

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to learn how to get this $500 session at no charge.

Be On the Look Out for New Medicare Cards

The federal government is issuing new Medicare cards to all Medicare beneficiaries. To prevent fraud and fight identity theft, the new cards will no longer have beneficiaries’ Social Security numbers on them.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is replacing each beneficiary’s Social Security number with a unique identification number, called a Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI). Each MBI will consist of a combination of 11 randomly generated numbers and upper case letters. The characters are “non-intelligent,” which means they don’t have any hidden or special meaning. The MBI is confidential like the Social Security number and should be kept similarly private.

The CMS will begin mailing the cards in April 2018 in phases based on the state the beneficiary lives in. The new cards should be completely distributed by April 2019. If your mailing address is not up to date, call 800-772-1213, visit www.ssa.gov, or go to a local Social Security office to update it.

The changeover is attracting scammers who are using the introduction of the new cards as a fresh opportunity to separate Medicare beneficiaries from their money. According to Kaiser Health News, the scams to look out for include phone calls with callers:

  • claiming to be from Medicare looking for your direct deposit number and using the new cards as an excuse,
  • asking for your Social Security number to verify information,
  • claiming Medicare recipients need to pay money to receive a temporary card, or
  • threatening to cancel your insurance if you don’t give out your card number.

There is no cost for the new cards. It is important to know that Medicare will never call, email or visit you unless you ask them to, nor will they ask you for money or for your Medicare number. If you receive any calls that seem suspicious, don’t give out any personal information and hang up. You should call 1-800-MEDICARE to report the activity or you can contact your local Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP). To contact your SMP, call 877-808-2468 or visit www.smpresource.org.

For more information about the new cards, click here and here.

For more information about Medicare, click here.

When Something Is NOT Better Than Nothing- Part 2

In part one of this series, we discussed the hidden dangers of do-it-yourself estate planning. In part two, we cover one of the greatest risks posed by DIY documents.

Maybe you think that you can save time and money with DIY documents you find online.  You’re probably anxious to check estate planning off your life’s to-do list. These forms may tempt you because they seem quick and easy. And you’re busy, so why not? Unfortunately, this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing.

But DIY wills lead to the false sense of security that you have things covered. But the reality is that those generic forms could end up costing your loved ones more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.

In this way, DIY wills and other legal documents are among the most dangerous choices you can make for the people you love. These generic documents can leave the people you love most of all—your children—at risk.

Children at risk

First, it’s probably distressing to think that by using a DIY will you could force your loved ones into court or conflict if you become incapacitated or die.

Second, if you’re like most parents, it’s probably downright unimaginable to think about your children’s care falling into the wrong hands. But that’s exactly what could happen if you rely on free or fill-in-the-blank wills found online, or even if you hire a lawyer who isn’t equipped or trained to plan for the needs of parents with minor children.

Naming and legally documenting guardians involves a number of complexities that most people aren’t aware of. Even lawyers with decades of experience frequently make at least one of six common mistakes when naming long-term legal guardians.

If wills drafted with professional help are likely to leave your children at risk, the chances that you’ll get things right on your own are pretty much zero.

What could go wrong?

If your DIY will names legal guardians for your kids in the event of your death, that’s great. DIY documents are too risky!  Consider these factors.

  1. Does it include back-ups?
  2. If you named a couple to serve, how is that handled? Do you still want one of them if the other is unavailable due to illness, injury, death, or divorce?
  3. What happens if you become disabled and are unable to care for your children? You might assume the guardians named in the DIY will would automatically get custody, but your will isn’t activated if you become disabled.
  4. What if the guardians you named in the will live far away? It would take them a few days to get there. If you haven’t made legally-binding arrangements for the immediate care of your children, it’s highly likely that they will be placed with child protective services until those guardians arrive.
  5. Even if you name family who live nearby as guardians, your kids are still at risk because it’s possible they might not be immediately available if and when needed.
  6. And who even knows where your will is or how to access it?

The Kids Protection Plan®

To help ensure your children are never raised by someone you don’t trust or taken into the custody of strangers (even temporarily), consider creating  a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan®, which our firm is trained in.

Get the right “something”

Protecting your family and assets if you die or become incapacitated is too important to do on your own. No matter how busy you are or how little wealth you own, the potential disasters of DIY documents are simply too great.

Plus, proper estate planning doesn’t have to be super expensive, stressful, or time consuming. We offer options for all budgets and asset values.

Also, many of our clients actually find the process highly rewarding. Our systems provide the type of peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve not only checked estate planning off your to-do list, but you’ve done it using the most forethought, experience, and knowledge available.

Act now

If  you haven’t done any planning yet, contact us to schedule a Planning Session. This evaluation will allow us to determine if a simple will or some other strategy, such as a living trust, is your best option.

If you’ve already created a plan—whether it’s a DIY job or one created with another lawyer’s help—contact us to schedule an Estate Plan Review and Check-Up.

No matter what you do, make sure  have a “something” that’s actually better than nothing. Contact us and we’ll provide you with that level of confidence—and so much more.

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.

That’s why we offer a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

When Something is NOT Better Than Nothing – Part 1

Online you’ll find tons of websites offering cheap wills. Simple wills, for example, often cost less than $50. And you can complete and sign the forms pretty quickly.

In our super-busy lives and DIY culture, this might seem like a good deal. You know estate planning is important, and even though you may not be getting the highest quality plan, those documents can make you feel better for having checked this item off your to-do list.

But this is one case in which SOMETHING is not better than nothing, and here’s why:

A False Sense of Security

Creating a DIY will online can lead you to believe that you don’t have to worry about estate planning anymore. You got it done, right?

Except that you didn’t. You thought you “got it done” because you went online, printed a form, and had it notarized.  But you didn’t bother to investigate what would actually happen with that document in place in the event of your incapacity or when you die.

In the end, what seemed like a bargain could end up costing your family more money and heartache than if you’d never gotten around to doing anything at all.

Creating a DIY will can lead you to believe that you no longer have to worry about estate planning. In the back of your mind, you might even promise that one day you’ll revisit and update your plan with something better. But chances are, having done “something” will lead you to put this off until it’s too late.

At least if you do nothing,  estate planning will still be on your to-do list. (But then you’re at the mercy of the state’s “default settings,” which might really go against your wishes for yourself and your family.)

It’s More Than Just a Document. 

Unfortunately, many people don’t understand that estate planning involves much more than just filling out legal documents. So they end up making serious mistakes with DIY plans. Worst of all, these mistakes are only discovered when you become incapacitated or die, and it’s too late. The people left to deal with your mistakes are often the very ones you were trying to do right by.

The main purpose of wills and other estate planning tools is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your death or incapacity. With the growing popularity of DIY wills, thousands of families have learned the hard way that trying to handle estate planning alone can not only fail to fulfill this purpose, it can make the court cases and conflicts far worse and more expensive.

Watch Out For Hidden Dangers!

There are many potential dangers involved with DIY wills and other estate planning documents. Estate planning is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all deal. Even if you think you have a simple situation, that’s almost never the case.

These are some of the most common complications resulting from DIY wills:

#1 Improper execution:

For a will to be valid, it must be executed (i.e. signed and witnessed or notarized) following strict legal procedures. Such procedural requirements are designed to prevent foul play and vary by state. For example, many states require that you and every witness to your will must sign it in the presence of one another. If your DIY will doesn’t mention that or you don’t read the fine print and fail to follow this procedure, it can be worthless.

#2 Court challenges:

Before the assets covered in a will can be transferred to your heirs, the will must go through the court process called probate. During probate, creditors, heirs, and other interested parties have the chance to contest your will or make claims against your estate. Though wills created with an attorney’s guidance can also be contested, DIY wills are far more likely to be challenged.

#3 Thinking a will is enough:

Very rarely is a will enough to handle all of your legal affairs. At your incapacity, you would also need a health care directive and/or a living will plus a durable financial power of attorney. At your death, a will does nothing to keep your loved one’s out of court. And if you have minor children, having a will alone could leave your kids at risk of being taken out of your home and into the care of strangers, at least temporarily.

In many ways, DIY will planning is the worst choice you can make for the people you love because you think you’ve got it covered, when you most certainly do not.

If you’ve yet to do any estate planning at all, have DIY documents you aren’t sure about, or  created a plan with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been updated or reviewed in the past 2 years, call us. We can help keep your family out of court and of conflict when something happens to you.

This article is a service of Myrna Serrano Setty, P.A. We don’t just draft documents, we help you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Planning Session,  during which you’ll get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call us today to schedule a Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $500 session for free.

In part two of this series, we cover one of the biggest dangers with DIY wills.