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Parenting Guide: Senior Living

Having one’s affairs in order can make it easier on family members in the event of a medical emergency or death.

Conversations about getting older and death are never easy to have, which is why so many people put off estate planning or making arrangements for if and when they suffer a medical emergency. But it is critical to address these issues not only to protect certain assets, but also to ensure that loved ones are not dealt a difficult hand.

“We say to our clients that you’re basically giving a gift to your family by making things easier on them when you pass away,” says Pamela G. Martini, an attorney who specializes in elder law, estate planning, probate, guardianship and special needs. “You don’t want to leave them with a huge mess and trying to figure out where things are.”

The earlier these decisions are made, the better, and an experienced attorney like Martini can be a valuable guide along the way. She spoke to us about the primary concerns for her senior clients and the documents they should have in place.

A will or trust

Having a will or trust in place not only ensures that one can control how and to whom his or her property and assets are distributed, but also can save headaches for family members and friends down the road. It also should be revisited over time and kept up to date.

“A will in Florida makes probate easier, but it doesn’t avoid probate, so that’s part of the conversation we always have with our clients,” Martini says. “Yes, you need to have a will that says who’s in charge of your estate and how you want your estate distributed, but let’s discuss ways that you can avoid probate completely because that’s an added expense for your family that you might be able to avoid, and there are different ways to do that.”

A power of attorney

A medical crisis can soon become a financial crisis as well, Martini notes, if a power of attorney is not in place. This document designates someone to make financial decisions on the person’s behalf, granting access to records and the ability to make transactions.

“A power of attorney is often the most important document during your life, because if you need somebody to take over and help you with your finances, there’s nobody who can step in if there’s not a power of attorney without going to court and getting a court-ordered guardianship, which is very expensive and time-consuming,” she says. “I tell clients that keeping the power of attorney up to date can be the most important tool in your estate planning toolbox. But power of attorney is only good during your life—the way we put it is, power of attorney ends at the moment of death and the will kicks in at the moment of death. They’re both important documents to have and they both have different roles to play in protecting you and your family.”

A living will

Also known as an advanced health care directive, this document will spell out a person’s wishes in the event of a medical emergency or serious illness, and often includes instructions related to resuscitation, life support and organ donation, for example.

“That’s just to name who they would want to be the decision-maker for health care decisions if they can no longer make decisions for themselves, either temporarily because of a medical emergency or a permanent incapacity situation,” Martini says. “We try to look at the big picture, so we’ll also have the discussion about long-term care insurance.”

Martini will also talk to clients about protecting assets for the spouse of the sick individual and break down the misconceptions about applying for Medicaid.

In addition to obtaining these documents, it is also recommended that seniors keep them safely stored.

“I encourage my clients to buy a simple fireproof safe and make sure their family members know how to access it, or there are even fireproof and waterproof document sleeves that you can buy on Amazon to put your most important documents in,” Martini says. “The most important thing is that your family members know where they are or know the contact information for your attorney if they need to find out that information.”

Housing Options as You Age

Retirement should be a relaxing time for one to put the stress of work in the past and focus on favorite hobbies and spending time with loved ones. There are still key decisions to make, however, and choosing the right living situation is chief among them, especially when assistance with daily activities or even medical attention may be needed.

Fortunately, Florida has plenty of options, including Sonata Windermere, which offers assisted living with supportive care services, independent living and award-winning Alzheimer’s and dementia care.

Perhaps the type of care provided at an assisted living facility is not necessary just yet. In that case, a 55-plus apartment community like Overture Dr. Phillips is worth a look. Here, residents can take advantage of resort-style amenities and maintenance-free living while building new friendships.

Then there is the newest opportunity to reach the area from Vibrant Living at Home, a division of Orlando Senior Health Network, which offers the best of both worlds.

“Continuing care at home has been around for several years but we’re the first in Central Florida to be doing this for seniors,” says Lynne Atkinson, executive director. “It’s a comprehensive, membership-based program that lets a person stay in their own home and receive services.

“The backbone of our program is that they receive a personal care navigator, and that person coordinates whatever type of services they need. All they would have to do is pick up the phone and make one phone call to their personal care navigator to receive services. That personal care navigator gets to know them, their likes and dislikes, gets to know their family and will even speak to their doctor. It’s kind of a middle person to help them through the maze of long-term care services and whatever they need.”

Vibrant Living at Home has all the best features of long-term care alternatives, including assisted living, skilled nursing and even 24/7 home care if necessary. Services can also be accessed at Orlando Senior Health Network’s three downtown facilities, where members are also welcome at any time to socialize with residents, take part in activities, join day trips and use the dining options. The program is especially appealing to those who have retired to Florida and have concerned family members living in other states.

“Some people don’t want to leave their homes,” Atkinson says. “They want to maintain their independence and they also want to protect their finances, because long-term care is expensive and it’s rising every year. They can still get the socialization by coming to our communities, and they can have peace of mind knowing that the what-ifs are covered.”