Thursday, January 31, 2008


Use Smart-aging design ideas for safer living in your own home for as long as possible. Your own personal needs and preferences must be taken into consideration while incorporating basic construction and design elements that enable comfortable and safe living in your home.

Consider the following principles:

  1. Your home should be barrier-free, to accommodate current and future mobility aids such as walkers, canes, wheelchairs, etc.; and
  2. Physical support structures and safety systems like grab bars, in possible hazard areas with slippery floors, low lighted places, and stairs; and
  3. Indoor and outdoor lighting installed to illuminate dark corners and cut down on seasonal affective disorder (SAD); and
  4. Use a “Minimal Effort Test” to determine what things require manual operation and physical exertion; perhaps changing to lever handles in place of door knobs and sink faucets; and
  5. Color should be considered for aesthetics and functionality, for instance using contrasting colors on the edges of furniture, the risers of stairs, or grab bars can add warmth and better visibility.

    Before you get started, evaluate your current home, keeping in mind your life style, your current and future needs, and most importantly your budget.

    For very little money you can improve your home lighting by buying automatic night-lights that are energy efficient, or by installing wrought iron railings on outside stairs, or installing non-slip flooring in your bathroom, or a colorful grab bar in the shower. Designing for a lifetime is not about spending money, it is about thinking through the most important changes that need to be made in your home to allow you the maximum comfort and the highest degree of safety.

    The more common over 65 age group medical conditions are arthritis, heart disease, and vision loss. If you have trouble standing for extended periods of time, consider changes that would let you work in the kitchen, bathroom, or other areas of your home while seated. It could change your outlook on life because independence and the ability to take care of one’s self at any age are key determinants in aging with your dignity intact.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


A Last Will and Testament may not meet all your needs in an Estate Plan

A large percent of Americans over the age of 45 have not created a Will, 41% according to an AARP survey. This means that needless court costs and attorneys fees are eating into millions of inheritances and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is parceling out a person’s property after he or she dies.

But this begs the question, does everyone really need a Will? It IS important that everyone prepare some sort of an estate plan and it is also important that there is an understanding of how a person’s property is distributed if there is no plan.

What is an “estate”? All the property a person owns is part of his or her estate, which includes furniture, jewelry, motor vehicles, real estate, money, stocks, animals, etc.. A Last Will and Testament directs how that estate is distributed upon the death of the owner. A Will may be the only document necessary to pass property on to heirs. It is indeed an excellent idea to have one but it is important to understand exactly what a Will can and cannot do.

A Last Will and Testament will NOT distribute all types of property. A Will only governs “probate” property . . . that is property that the person making the Will owns outright, individually. Any jointly held property . . . things, assets, real estate . . . that are owned together with other people are not probate property. Also, anything held in a Trust is not probate property, and accounts with a beneficiary designation . . . insurance policies, IRA’s . . . are not probate property.

A Last Will and Testament MUST be kept up-to-date to be effective. It is extremely important to remember that a Last Will and Testament can only be created while the Principal person . . . also known as Testator . . . is still CONSCIOUS and NOT mentally incapacitated. A person needs to review his or her Will on a regular basis to make sure that the provisions provided for are still current and applicable. Confirm that the persons named in the Will . . . Executors, also referred to as Personal Representatives . . . are still able, healthy, and willing to undertake the responsibility and tasks of this very important position. Bequeathing property that was sold years ago can only serve to confuse the heirs who may not know that it was no longer owned by the person who made the Will, it may cause discontent, squabbles and distrust amongst the heirs searching for property that no longer exists.

A Last Will and Testament will NOT avoid probate. Administration of a person’s estate is overseen by a Commonwealth of Massachusetts Probate Court in the county where the person last resided before his or her death. This is required for many reasons . . . to keep the Executors honest, to ensure that all property is passed to the decedent’s intended devisees, to make certain that title to real estate and motor vehicles pass in a chain of title that gives proper ownership to the next legitimate holder of the property and to avoid more legal fees and costs if that property is incorrectly or illegally acquired.

A Last Will and Testament will NOT go into effect until the death of its maker. If a person becomes disabled, unconscious, or mentally incapacitated, he or she should have in place documents that name trusted persons to make the decisions they are not able to make for themselves. Two such documents are called a Health Care Proxy with Advance Medical Directives and a Durable Power of Attorney. Again, It is extremely important to remember that these documents can only be created while the person . . . also known as the Principal . . . is still CONSCIOUS and NOT mentally incapacitated. These documents can be used to name an Agent, also referred to as a Personal Spokesperson, to make health and/or financial decisions that the disabled, unconscious, or mentally incapacitated is unable to articulate for them self.

A Last Will and Testament will NOT ensure agreeable behavior among heirs. It is not unusual for families to bicker, fight, and have conflicts following the death of a loved one. A Will gives a simple message to the heirs how the assets are to be distributed; it cannot prevent squabbling and discontent. A properly written Will may prevent legal proceedings, costs, and delays if an omitted heir is specifically spelled out in the document. Creating a Trust, in addition to a Last Will and Testament, may better serve the blended family . . . children from previous marriages . . . if the basic needs of the current spouse is first provided for, and then ultimately the person’s own children. Many legal objections, costs, and delays can be avoided if the person speaks to and gives a brief overview to the heirs as to how he or she has designated certain property at death and how he/she wishes the heirs to behave . . . there are no guarantees, however!

Check list to avoid problems:

  • Create a Last Will and Testament -
    1. Review it on a regular basis to make sure it is current
    2. Create a Health Care Proxy with Advance Medical Directives –
      Make sure it contains language allowing your appointed Agent to discuss your private medical information (in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act “HIPAA”)
    3. Review it on a regular basis to make sure it still meets your wishes
    4. Give a copy to each of your named Agents, your Primary Care Physician, and bring it with you when you enter the hospital for any type of procedure
  • Create a Durable Power of Attorney - Review it on a regular basis (it CAN become STALE if it is older than 6 – 12 months)
    1. Show it to ALL your banking institutions to be certain that they will accept it
  • Talk to a trusted Attorney -
    1. Review title to all of your property
    2. Discuss if creating a Trust best protects you and or your family
  • Talk to your family about -
    1. Where you keep your legal papers (in a fire and water damage protected location)
    2. What property you recently sold
    3. Where to find your present property
    4. Who you have named as your Personal Representatives
    5. Explain to ALL of your family, not just your Personal Representatives, how you want the last moments of your life to be handled

Attorney Patricia Bloom-McDonald is an Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney.
You may reach Attorney Bloom-McDonald with questions or comments at:
781-341-0099 ● 508-636-6097