For decades, we have created estate plans that have enabled clients and their loved ones to manage their affairs during their incapacity, and to have the appropriate legal structures for the management and distribution of their estate on their death.
One of our frustrations over the years has been watching our clients struggle to manage the stress created when the client or a loved one was suffering from a chronic condition, even though many of my clients could afford the cost of high quality care. We have noticed that even clients who have been paying well into six figures to care for their loved one at home are under enormous stress in attempting to manage the care giving that they or their loved one need. We felt good being able to tell our clients about the benefit of a geriatric care manager, and to let them know about some of the board and care and assisted living facilities in the area. However, other than lending a sympathetic ear, and warning the caregiver that he or she had to take care of himself or herself first since many caregivers die from the stress, there was little we, as a traditional estate planning law firm, could do to help the client manage the burden of care.
In order to better serve the needs of our clients, we have expanded our practice to include Life Care Planning services. Katie Wiltfong, who has a Masters in Social Work from USC, has joined our staff as the firm’s Elder Care Coordinator.
Fundamentally, with Life Care Planning, we help people care for their mother, father, spouse, or other loved one.
If there is a major health crisis, one of the first questions is whether the clients will be able to remain in their home, or return to their home if they have been hospitalized. Clients are uncertain about what kind of assistance they will need, how to find that assistance, how to pay for that assistance, and how to manage their care and caregivers. If they are lucky enough to have children or other close family members in the area, they usually are interested in trying to reduce the burden on their children or other loved ones.
If the client cannot remain in their home, they need to know where they can go. What are the options, and what are the places most appropriate for them? For most people who have the financial wherewithal to do so, they want to know how to avoid spending the remainder of their lives in a skilled nursing facility.
Our Elder Care Coordinator has the expertise to counsel a client and/or spouse or other family members on all of these issues. She assists families in identifying the community resources given the medical needs and financial position of their loved one or others willing and able to help financially, and in managing those resources once they are in place. When necessary, our Elder Care Coordinator will advocate on behalf of a client, and if that does not get the response expected, she has a law firm behind her who will advocate on behalf of the client. Many of the facilities that house our loved ones very much appreciate the availability of an Elder Care Coordinator because, given the emotions involved in having a loved one cared for in an institutional or semi-institutional setting, family members sometimes get emotional, and the facilities appreciate being able to contact the law firm’s Elder Care Coordinator to try and smooth out the issues.
If a client is able to remain in his or her home, we help determine what type of assistance will be necessary. If clients cannot remain in their home, we will advise them of the various options in our community, and will help them choose and tour those options. We will determine whether they are going to need help with meal preparation and housekeeping, activities of daily living like bathing, dressing and toileting, medication management, transportation to medical and other appointments, and other needs. As a general rule, our Life Care Planning clients will get a full year of periodic monitoring and oversight by our Elder Care Coordinator once the first few weeks of heavy involvement have passed. When issues arise between the periodic contacts, our clients will call on an as needed basis.
Our Elder Care Coordinator already has made a huge difference in the lives of those of our clients who have taken advantage of her services. She is well versed in the day to day issues that arise both for the patient and the patient’s family in managing care for a chronically ill family member. She knows the resources available in our community. Having worked on the care giving end, she has a good sense of what facilities and agencies provide quality services, and what facilities and agencies have some serious issues, even if they look good to the untrained eye.
As the name connotes, Life Care Planning, like estate planning, is not limited to reacting in a crisis situation only after the onset of disease or chronic condition. As a planning firm, we would much prefer to see the Life Care Planning done in advance. In addition to the standard estate plan, a Life Care Plan is designed with the circumstances of our clients and their family in mind to meet their long term care goals and needs. We help our clients assess their current and future healthcare needs, the financial resources available to meet those needs, and obtain the guidance of our Elder Care Coordinator. We will determine whether the clients likely will be capable of financing their own care, whether long term care insurance already exists or is an option, or whether there may be a need to resort to government benefits to help pay for the care. Our Elder Care Coordinator is familiar with other community resources and care programs that may be applicable to the client’s situation.
In introducing you to Life Care Planning, it is important for us to let you know what Life Care Planning is not. We are not a home health care agency or a geriatric care manager. Our Elder Care Coordinator does not provide care, does not supervise care on a daily basis (though it may seem that way in the early stages of getting an elder situated), and will not hire caregivers, but will work with the elder and his or her family to find, coordinate and manage all of those needs. Furthermore, our firm does not receive any referral fees from the facilities we recommend to our clients. In this way, clients will know that our recommendations are not based on any financial incentives to us, but, as with all of our advice, are based strictly on our professional opinion of our clients’ best interests.
As a general rule, since we are a law firm, we do not provide Life Care Planning services to people who are not estate planning or trust administration clients of our law firm. However, where other attorneys have drafted an estate plan and the clients want us to assist in administering that plan, we will review the documentation, make any changes we recommend and to which the clients agree, and then assist those clients in the administration of their estate plan and in taking care of themselves or their loved one.
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