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Elder Law

Protecting What You Love For Years To Come

With prolonged life expectancy, elder law has become a prevalent need among families. The legal needs of the elderly and the disabled has expanded to include a wide selection of potential legal issues so that our seniors can be secure as the advance into the future. The Wheeler Firm is proud to bring the seniors, families and caregivers of Okaloosa and Walton County competitive and focused elder law services.

  • Estate Planning
  • Health Care Planning
  • Long-Term Care Planning
  • Guardianship
  • Retirement
  • Social Security
  • Medicare/Medicaid
  • Much More

What Elder Law Includes

WHAT DOES ELDER LAW SERVICES OFFER ME?

We help clients formulate an estate plan, help caregivers obtain guardianship over loved ones who can no longer care for themselves, help clients obtain Medicaid approval, and generally assist clients with other legal matters that are unique to aging. These matters require an experienced elder law attorney who is familiar with the legal and practical needs of seniors in need. An elder law attorney can help you navigate a variety of issues for your elderly loved one, or yourself, depending on your circumstances and needs. As a member of the Elder Law College, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys, the Estate Planning Council, we stay abreast of the latest developments and issues affecting seniors.

Estate Planning

An elder law attorney can help you devise an estate plan to protect property and funds, and avoid the need for costly probate litigation at your passing. The cornerstone of any estate plan is a Last Will and Testament. This document will set out a plan to distribute your estate at death, and designate a personal representative to enforce and administer your Will in the probate court. To avoid the costs of a probate proceeding, you should consider a revocable trust that can accomplish the same goals of a Will while avoiding the need for attorney’s or the probate court to be involved in the distribution of your estate.

Protect Your Property and Funds

An elder law attorney can create a durable power of attorney. A durable power of attorney ensures that, if for any reason you are unable to manage your property due to illness or other circumstances, another person will be able to act on your behalf. This document is one of the most important pieces of your estate plan. A Durable Power of Attorney can help you to manage day to day needs, including:

  • Pay Medical Expenses
  • Manage Real Estate Assets
  • Transfer and Sell Assets
  • Operate Any Business You Own
  • Hire a Lawyer To Represent You
  • Buy Insurance On Your Behalf
  • Collect Retirement Benefits
  • Invest Your Current Assets

Health and Care Planning

You should execute a healthcare surrogate designation document to compliment your power of attorney. This instrument will designate another person to make health related decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated and are unable to make health related decisions for yourself. A living will does not designate another person to make decisions for you; it is an opportunity for you to make certain end of life decisions for yourself, through the document, about what you intend to happen or not happen in the event you are in a vegetative state and have no hope for recovery. Together, these documents will protect your patient rights in the future, and help your family provide for you through doctors, insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid programs. You can therefore be confident that you will be taken care of as comfortably as possible no matter the circumstances. In fact, in most instances, the combination of a durable power of attorney and a health care surrogate document will avoid the need for a guardianship proceeding in the event of your incapacitation, thereby saving you thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs.

Medicaid and Long-Term Care

One of the most common uses of an elder law attorney is to obtain Medicaid benefits for seniors in need of long-term care. The average cost of nursing home care in Florida is $9,000 per month. Medicaid will pay for that care if the applicant meets certain income and asset criteria. For an individual seeking Medicaid benefits, the applicant cannot have more than $2,313 in monthly gross income, and cannot have more than $2,000 in countable assets. An elder law attorney can help the applicant qualify for Medicaid by using Qualified Income Trusts to isolate income, and by utilizing techniques to ensure assets and funds are exempt from Medicaid consideration. The result is your loved one will receive the care they deserve during their time of need.

Obtain a Guardianship

An elder law attorney can also help caregivers obtain a guardianship over loved ones who are no longer able to provide care for themselves. When we age, we invariably will become more and more reliant upon others for our daily needs. At some point, if you need to take care of an aging parent or other individual you may need to obtain court orders that give you authority to manage that person’s healthcare, property and funds. If you are appointed by the court to serve as the guardian, you will be able to do exactly that. You must demonstrate that the individual is unable to provide care for themselves in some meaningful way, and that you are an appropriate person to serve as guardian. If appointed, you will be required to submit annual reports and inventories to the court for approval.

Estate Planning

Unlike elder law, estate planning is probably one of the oldest forms of the legal profession. People have always had estates, and they’ve always had specifications about who gets what. The probate process can be grueling and expensive, but if you think ahead and prepare an estate plan before you pass you can save your family a great deal of money and hardship down the road. If you need to set up a trust to manage property and avoid the probate process, you can set it up with an elder law attorney.

COMMON ESTATE PLANNING QUESTIONS

Whether you’re attempting to understand your recently passed loved one’s will, or you’re simply looking for more information while thinking about your own estate planning, we can help. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions so you can educate yourself about the estate planning process and how an elder law attorney can help you.

Q.

What Is A Will? ↓

A will is the document surrounding your estate planning and outlining your wishes. Often, it names representatives or executors of the will to oversee the implementation of your wishes. It will also name any potential guardians who you’ve established as the people taking over the care of any dependants and the property of those defendants. After your death, your elder law attorney can submit the Will for processing through the probate court, ensure that your Will is authenticated and ensure that your wishes are respected.

Q.

What Happens If You Die Without Estate Planning? ↓

If you die without a Will, your estate will be probated as an “intestate estate.” Your estate will go through a different process wherein your estate will be distributed to heirs according to a list of priorities outlined in Florida law. Surviving spouses get a lot of priority, but not total priority, especially if the deceased had children from a prior relationship. Surviving children and then more distant relatives are in line behind the surviving spouse, if one exists.

Q.

What is Asset Protection Planning? ↓

It’s a proactive legal action that will defend your assets against creditors, Medicaid, probate proceedings, divorce, judgements and lawsuits. We can guide you to engage in action that will isolate assets from being claimed by others or the government in certain circumstances.

Q.

What Does “Per Stirpes” Mean? ↓

It’s Latin for “by the branch,” which means that if one of your children or heirs dies then their children or heir will receive the share of your will instead.

Q.

What is Considered “Reasonable Compensation” For Personal Representatives of a Will? ↓

A personal representative is entitled to reimbursement for all the expenses incurred during their service. Some states, like Florida, organize fees according to the value of the estate. The Florida statute states that a personal representative is entitled to a reasonable commission. Reasonable is presumed to be:

  1. 3 percent for the first $1 million.
  2. 2.5 percent for all above $1 million and not exceeding $5 million.
  3. 2 percent for all above $5 million and not exceeding $10 million.
  4. 1.5 percent for all above $10 million.

In addition, a personal representative can receive further compensation for any extraordinary services, including:

  1. The sale of property.
  2. The conduct of litigation on behalf of, or against, the estate.
  3. Proceedings for the adjustment or payment of any taxes.
  4. The carrying on of the decedent’s business.
  5. Dealing with protected homestead.
  6. Any other services which may be necessary for the personal representative to perform.

Q.

Will everything pass through the Will? ↓

No. A will does not govern the transfer of life insurance proceeds unless the estate is the beneficiary (highly discouraged), accounts with a death beneficiary other than the estate, and assets that pass through a trust, to name a few.

Q.

What is the Differences Between Joint Tenancy and Tenants in Common? ↓

A “joint tenancy’ often with rights of survivorship means that whoever outlives the other receives the full ownership of that asset. When you see the term “tenants in common,” that means when one owner dies, the assets attached to that owner’s name pass on to the heirs specified in their Will.

Q.

Should I Create a Trust? ↓

Creating a trust is one of the many ways to avoid probate because it side steps the Probate Court entirely, meaning the entire estate remains private and out of the public eye because it does not go through a public court. It’s also a better way to provide tax benefits to your descendants.

Q.

How Often Should I Review My Estate Planning? ↓

Best practice is to review your estate planning materials once per year. This will ensure that your wishes will be carried out exactly as you wish and accounts for possible changes as they may come along. For example, you might need to amend your documents with major life events like marriage, divorce, and/or having children or have grandchildren that you’re hoping to incorporate in your estate. If, for some reason, your agent or trustee is no longer the best option for your will, you can always change it down the road.

Q.

What Documents Should My Estate Plan Include? ↓

A comprehensive, well-formed estate plan should include a will or a trust, the document detailing the power of attorney for health care and financial decisions. You should also include a living will and a declaration of your last remains. Depending on the details of your estate, your elder law attorney can help you navigate what documents you should include in your estate planning details. The benefits of having an experienced elder law attorney help you navigate creating a detailed estate is a tailored, fool-proof portfolio that outlines your wishes in a crystal clear format so that everything goes to plan and the stress of a family member’s death is greatly decreased with better planning.

CONTACT THE WHEELER FIRM FOR EXPERIENCED ELDER LAW

The Wheeler Firm has years of experience handling cases much like yours but we thrill at the possibility of being able to help you personalize and tailor your legal needs. If you’re looking for a detailed look at your estate’s future, please reach out to us. We’re eager to give you the personalized and critical analysis of your estate portfolio and help you determine what’s best for your heirs and your long term care planning.

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Led by experienced family attorney, Andrew D. Wheeler, The Wheeler Firm is firmly committed to the protection and security of every client and their family. Working to ease the stress of divorce and elder care, our team fights to help families transition through difficult times with ease. With more than 15 years of legal experience, and licensed by both the Florida and Alabama bar associations, we promise exceptional representation and advocacy.

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