Informed Decisions Require Information Regarding Individual Circumstances


About every two weeks or so I receive a phone call at the office or an email asking what to do in a given situation. Often the question or questions concern care for a parent or spouse or financial issues such as “should I transfer assets to children,” or “what options are there if I decide to move to a continuing care retirement community” and so on. These are not easy questions to answer and, certainly not ones that can be responded to effectively by phone. The full story is not available and obviously, personal preferences and choices play a significant role as well. This is when we say it is a good idea to schedule an appointment to review the details and discover what it is the caller or messenger wants to accomplish. We also request completion of a personal information form to provide some background. Where does the person live? What options have they tried? Is the consult requested for himself/herself or for another such as a parent or adult child? What resources have already been explored? Has the caller worked with a financial planner or a trusted advisor?

Strangely, sometimes questioners do not want to go into details. We live in a time when quick answers and easy choices are often preferred. Without adequate information answers and choices unfortunately can be wrong. I sometimes compare the experience of calling a doctor’s office, stating perceived symptoms, and requesting a diagnosis. The physician would not diagnose or treat without more knowledge and without a plan. Information and understanding of the individual circumstances are critical and, of course, final decisions belong to the caller alone.

How Information Helps. Consider the possibilities when a decision is being made, for instance, whether to move and, if so, to where. If no move is contemplated but decisions will be needed in the near future then what options would make it easier to remain at home? If a move is under consideration what are the resources and what are the steps to follow? Information regarding available assets and income, and personal preferences become critical for decision making. Not surprisingly, higher net worth individuals often have more choices available. Help can be brought into the home and home modifications can be made to assist in getting about. Another choice for those with the available assets and/or income can be a planned move to assisted living/personal care or to a senior community. What steps should be taken and when? Information regarding assets and income needs to be considered but also whether the type of community under consideration fits the personality and needs of the person relocating. This does not discount the possibility that some lower income/lower asset individuals might qualify for Medicaid at home under Community Health Choices (previously referred to as Medicaid Aging Waiver). Often those in the middle have the greatest difficulty. With neither the perceived assets or income or perceived qualification under the very low income/low asset rules, planning can become more difficult. Can an arrangement be made with other family members to move in together, improve or expand an existing home or can aother creative solution be found? Longer term arrangements often should consider a written family agreement taking into account potential changes in circumstances? No matter what the circumstances, these issues require a plan and a plan requires accurate and current information. It can also change.

Here are some general ideas to keep in mind.

An effective plan (1) correctly assesses the problem or project under consideration (2) considers and assesses the resources available (3) is based on adequate valid information (4) considers and respects the preferences of all parties involved and (4) recognizes that things change. This means there should be flexability to allow for changes to the plan at a later date.

To give an example. One family we worked with some time ago recognized, with mother undergoing rehab after hospitalization and father alone, that their parents needed additional assistance but they were located in another portion of Pennsylvania. Other adult children were located in Pennsylvania and still others in another State. Parents and one Pennsylvania adult child family both sold their homes and purchased a larger home to meet everyone’s needs with everyone’s agreement. Not all projects are this ambitious but information and creative planning can help.

About the Author Janet Colliton

Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.

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