Elder Law, Medicaid, and Probate in Wichita
What Does Elder Law Really Mean?
My name is Jennifer Stultz, and I practiced law in Wichita now, for about 18 years, and my practice really focuses solely on estate planning and elder law and probate work. A lot of people wonder, “What does Elder Law really mean?” Elder Law actually covers a lot of areas of the practice of law. We do everything for people, including estate planning. We might assist with some qualification for Medicaid or division of assets, basically any area that would be a legal area, that would be for our clients who are seniors and older.
To put it in layman’s language, as we get older, we might need someone with experience with any kind of legal matters, that has to do with aging, or things that affect people that are aging.
A lot of the clients that we’ve been meeting with recently have had issues with impairment, or a diagnosis of a disease that is going to cause impairment in the future, and we spent a lot of time with people, working on getting documents in place that would be appropriate: powers of attorney for financial matters, for healthcare matters. A lot of people who want to do some very basic estate planning, to know that they have everything covered in the event something happens, because obviously want to become impaired, you’re no longer able to do your estate plan or change your estate plan in those cases.
Wills and Trusts
This would include things like wills and trusts. You need all the other supporting documents for certain things. That’s a lot of chatter as I talk with seniors here in the area. They’re always so concerned about getting that will done, or getting the trust done, and they been meaning to get it done for, you know, maybe a lifetime, but it’s something that’s important. But that’s something that you start and then educate them on other documents that they may need to protect them or their family.
We do a lot of education and discussion about whether you need a will or whether you need a trust, and what are the options that are available, and tailor that specifically to the client and what they may need or may not need.
Legal and Financial Matters
Legal and financial matters all kind of go hand-in-hand, and there’s a lot of misconception. I don’t know where it’s all been generated, but I’ve spent a lot of time in my 18 years of practice really helping to teach people what the law is, what would happen if you don’t have a will, or you don’t have a trust, or if you don’t have these documents in place, and I think that’s, you know, part of what a good lawyer should do — is to really read people, to make the decisions that they want for themselves, and not really just decide that everyone needs this particular kind of estate planning package.
If we were to say that people’s good intentions aren’t necessarily very legally binding, that would be correct. That would be true.
Preparing your Own Will
I recently just had someone in the office who had decided to prepare their own will, which can be valid, but luckily they came in, and we went through it. It was not valid. It would not have done what they wanted it to do. So that was a really good thing that they came in to have just — just to have me review it to make sure it was going to work like they wanted it to work.
I spent a lot of time recently helping people who believe that once one’s spouse needs to go live in a long-term care facility that they need to immediately prepare for division of assets and apply for Medicaid, and we spend a lot of time crunching numbers and making sure that that is really something that—you know, sure, legally I could help that process take place, but maybe it’s really not necessarily the financially smart thing to do for the client.
Power of Attorneys
Most people know that they need a power of attorney, and I’ve heard excuses of why they didn’t get one, what I call, “professionally done,“ “Well, they have them ready for me to sign when I go to the hospital,” or “If I go to the bank, I can just sign this,” or “I don’t have to worry about it because it’s in a joint tenants.”
The most important reason to have a power of attorney, at least from my perspective, is that we are all more likely to become disabled or impaired than we are to pass away. We all know that that is going to be inevitable, but our bodies are being kept alive a lot longer; we’re having our minds maybe not as sharp as they once were, but it is possible for anyone to need one, at any moment. So I think that powers of attorney are probably one of the most important legal documents that you can have in place.
Two Major Types of Power of Attorney
There is a financial power of attorney, and that authorizes someone to handle all of your financial business in the event that you become impaired, and then there is a healthcare power of attorney. Again, the same situation: you’re unable to communicate what you want for your healthcare; someone needs to be able to tell the healthcare providers what your wishes are. It is different from what’s called “the living will.”
A living will is simply your expression that you don’t want your life to be artificially prolonged in the event that your death is imminent or that you are terminal, and that whatever they want to do well only prolong the dying process. So that’s your living will, and that’s your intent to not be kept alive.
Clients will say, ” Well, I’ve got that medical thing,” and they didn’t know there’s a difference between power of attorney and living will, or “medical care directive.” A lot of times we’ll end up with documents that were generated at the hospital, so that someone has filled out this documentation. It may or may not really address what your wishes might be. It really, typically doesn’t usually give the agent enough authority to be able to make decisions that you may have wanted made. You know, sometimes there’s new information that’s discovered, and your agent, under the power of attorney, should be able to make decisions, based on the new information, judging by what you would have wanted, had you known it.
It gives them the ability, as your conditions change, for drug treatment, medical care, all kinds of different things, where a one-stop-shop, this instant, covers everything for all time, might not really do what people think. Different hospitals will treat people differently. Different facilities may have a belief that food and nutrition, for instance, is not medical care, and so you know, if you have a very strong feeling that you don’t want to be fed with a feeding tube, or you want to be able to eat your food how we normally would, then you may want to be able to not be in that kind of a facility.
Know Where Your Documents Are
Attorney Webb: I know that my own personal experience where I was very thankful that I had “my ducks in a row,” as I called them, legally, as I went for a medical procedure, standard procedure — you go home in less than an hour; life’s good; you can need a big dinner; you know, no worries. Well, it went wrong, and all of a sudden I needed emergency care, and I remember them giving me the pain medicine. That was very appreciated.
Then it’s like, “Hello. How are you? Do you have a will?” I mean, you know, you’re going for test, and the first question after “Do you feel any pain?” “Do you have a will?” “Do you have power of attorneys? Who is this person with you? Are they that person? Where are your documents located if we need them?” That’s pretty scary. The comfort then, knowing that I had mine done, and that was not planned. So that’s my own personal experience, but I know you see and hear these things all the time. I don’t know if you get calls to rush over because “We didn’t do anything, and now we have 30 minutes to get something done.” People have urgent medical needs, and you don’t know that today you may have a stroke, or something may happen where you need those documents in place.
More Important: Medical or Financial Power of Attorney
The healthcare or the medical power of attorney is very important, because your wishes may not be carried out if you don’t have them. From a financial perspective, having the right person designated to be able to step in, to deal with — you know, we typically think about dealing with financial institutions, with banks and investment companies, but we don’t think about the fact that someone needs to deal with the health insurance company or Social Security or being able to sign a tax return. Those kinds of things are not taken care of having someone as your joint tenant on your bank account. That’s not enough.
The three most important things are to have the durable powers of attorney in place. You need one for medical. You need one for financial; a living will, obviously, if you want one; some kind of documentation that would allow someone to be your person who can receive your protected health information, so that facilities or the hospitals can communicate with the people; making sure that you choose the right people.
We see a lot of times that we’ve chosen a group of people to be the agents who will not necessarily get along, or a person who won’t follow your wishes. I mean, you know, that’s always a little bit dicey.
What Sets Us Apart
I think one of the things that we really strive to do is to custom tailor our representation, or our time with our clients, to be about what they need, and to spend an adequate amount of time with them, so that they’re comfortable. I build relationships. I have been associated with other places where there may not have been that type of emphasis. So my firm really believes and really practices in building long-term relationships with our clients, knowing about them and spending the time that’s necessary to really understand what they need, and to find solutions that make sense financially for them, as well is legally.
It’s kind of rare when someone really cares. We are still taking new clients, so if someone wants to get in contact with us, we are in Wichita, and the phone number is 316-558-3540, and we’re in the phone book, as well. Our website is StultzLaw.com.