Working with a Legal Professional Can Help the Elder Care Planning Process
There is perhaps no worse feeling in the world than that of being overwhelmed. Often when it comes to elder care planning and financial preparation, people don’t know where to begin, who to turn to for help, or what to ask.
“People do feel overwhelmed by the aging journey, partly because it sneaks up on them,” says Joshua McMahan, a Kokomo attorney with Butcher, Lowry, McMahan & Mclelland. “You’re 40, you blink, and you’re 70, and you’re thinking, ‘How did that happen?’”
It’s unsettling when you think you have all of this time to consider next steps and suddenly you realize that it’s urgent to make some decisions. At that point, McMahan, who specializes in elder law, suggests folks initiate conversations with their immediate family to discuss what to do if their health declines. Beyond that, it’s smart to meet with a financial planner to plan for retirement.
“Attorneys can help you with the legalities of things such as wills, power of attorney and things like that, but if you’re worried about how you’re going to be able to afford everything after you retire, lawyers can’t help with that,” McMahan says.
That’s why he highly encourages those who are inching close to the “magic age of Medicare” to meet with a professional who is well-versed in the world of Medicare and Medicaid.
“People think, ‘I’ll pay off my mortgage, I won’t have any debt, and I’ll be fine,’” McMahan says. “But your active income will stop even with your pension, you’ll most likely make less money.”
It’s a good idea to meet with an insurance agent who specializes in Medicare supplements and how that will play in with your retirement.
“Don’t just make an appointment with your everyday insurance agent who does homeowners and car insurance,” McMahan says. “It’s a different animal.”
Medicare and Medicaid are overwhelming. In order to break the topic down into manageable pieces for his clients, he starts by explaining the eligibility rules in the simplest terms — providing a soft introduction by using plain English and omitting all “legalize.”
“I want them to leave knowing more than they did when they got here so I don’t get into too many details or else they lose the big picture,” McMahan says.
Once they discuss the framework and the landscape of it all, clients feel empowered by their newfound knowledge. McMahan then schedules follow-up conversations to discuss the nitty-gritty details and mechanics of how to go about obtaining eligibility.
Over the years, McMahan has witnessed families not seeing eye-to-eye on various issues. The disagreements may center around a difference in financial philosophy. Other times it’s butting heads over the best course of action. It’s also not unusual for family members to be overly emotional due to the circumstances surrounding the meeting (i.e., parents’ declining health). There’s sometimes just bad blood in terms of family history that brings out the ugly in people.
“There will be a lot of noise in the room, sometimes from people who aren’t even my client so I have to make sure when we are here talking about mom or dad that they [remain the priority,]” McMahan says. “At times I have to reign everyone in, bring them back to what’s important, and negotiate the best plan forward.”
Though there is a lot of legality involved in all of this, there is also an emotional component as well.
“People sometimes refer to lawyers as counselors,” McMahan says. “This is an example of when I go into more of a counselor type of role as I try to offer comfort by letting them know that though life may be changing, they’ll be okay financially.”
He has seen clients panic at the thought of losing their autonomy, and that really is heartbreaking.
“They feel kind of helpless,” he says. “Plus, often they’re trying to talk about these things when they’re already in a weakened [physical or mental] state. From a human perspective, fearing the loss of what’s normal is understandable — not to mention fearing the unknown as they enter this new phase of life.”
Add to that the stress of figuring out how to pay for the care and that’s a tough combination.
Sometimes when it comes to making decisions, people tend to turn to their friends for support or bury themselves in online research. Both endeavors can serve to be problematic simply because the information may be wrong or inapplicable to your situation.
“There will inevitably be some nuance that they’re not getting that can be very important,” McMahan says. “If you’re going to talk to your friends or peruse the internet, never assume your circumstances are the same even if the scenario may seem similar. Taking an example from somebody else and applying it to your life can potentially be dangerous.”
Joshua P. McMahan is an attorney with Butcher, Ball, Lowry, McMahan & McClelland. Offices are located at 201 North Buckeye Street in Kokomo. For more information, call 765-457-1126.