1.         Capacity – Who has the right and responsibility to make decisions?

2.         Power of Attorney – What is a “POA” and how does it work?

3.         Federal Benefits – What is a “payee?”

4.         Income – What counts as income for all of these programs?

5.         Scam and Fraud Calls – What should I do when I get a scam call?

6.         Debt Collection – What can debt collectors do to my loved one (or me)?

7.         Exploitation – What is exploitation and how do I stop it?

8.         Medicare – Why is timing so important?

9.         Legal – How do I get help with legal issues?

10.       How do I get help with other issues related to aging or disability? 

 

1.      Capacity - Who has the right and responsibility to make decisions?

Guardianship: Every person has the right to make decisions about her life, home, medical issues, estate, family and money unless a Probate Judge takes the right away in a court proceeding called “guardianship.” Once a person is placed under guardianship, that person can no longer make legally binding decisions, and neither can anyone with Power of Attorney. Only the guardian can now make decisions for the person.

For more information about guardianship, see Handling Someone Else’s Money, a Florida-specific guide developed by the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

IF A PERSON HAS NOT BEEN DECLARED LEGALLY INCAPACITATED BY A COURT, THEY HAVE A RIGHT TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR THEMSELVES.

Other Tools: Financial Caregivers can use other tools to help them manage someone else’s finances.  Each of these tools has special rights and responsibilities. They include: Power of Attorney, becoming a Representative Payee or a Veteran’s Affairs (VA) fiduciary, or creating a revocable living trust.

 

2.      Power of Attorney (POA) – What is a POA and how does it work? 

Many people, including seniors, have one or more Powers of Attorney. Powers of Attorney allow specific people to assist the senior in making decisions and carrying out transactions. Think of this like the co-pilot of an airplane.  Someone with Power of Attorney can do most things that the senior would normally do for herself, if the senior is not able to handle matters herself. However, control remains with the senior.

A Power of Attorney (POA) only gives someone the power to do things included in the document. All powers of attorney have some limits.  Any person or business should read the document carefully before taking action to make sure the POA document allows the action.

There are certain things nobody can use a Power of Attorney to do. These include:

(a) Violate the terms of the Power of Attorney document

(b) Prevent the senior from revoking the Power of Attorney or changing the person who holds Power of Attorney

(c) Take action regarding: voting rights, making a will, testifying, marriage, or divorce

Most powers of attorney also have other limits. The Florida Bar advises a person granting a Power of Attorney to specifically initial each section granting certain powers. Requiring these initials helps ensure that everyone involved understands exactly who has the right to do what. 

These sections that require initials include:

  • Right to buy or sell real estate
  • Right to make or change investment strategies
  • Right to change pensions
  • Power to make gifts
  • Right of the holder of the Power of Attorney to be paid from the senior’s funds

The Power of Attorney should also state whether the person wants to limit any gifts, payments or reimbursements that the Power of Attorney holder can make to themselves or others.

Some powers of attorney have time limits and expiration dates, or they may expire when certain events occur. For example, some powers of attorney expire when a house is sold or when the person is declared incompetent.

Some seniors have one person designated as a Health Care Surrogate for medical decisions and a different person as general Power of Attorney. Others may have multiple people serving as a Power of Attorney. This can cause confusion and expense when the Power of Attorney holders disagree, unless a way to decide disagreements is included in each Power of Attorney.

 

 

3.      Federal Benefits - What is a “Payee?”http://pixel-geo.prfct.co/cs/?partnerId=fbxhttp://pixel-geo.prfct.co/seg/?add=2501737,2501949,2537220,2544421&source=js_tag&a_id=38165http://ib.adnxs.com/seg?t=2&add=2544421

 Social Security and Veteran’s Benefits (VA) recipients who have difficulty managing their money  can choose a Representative Payee. The payee will receive the Social Security or VA payments  by check or direct deposit. The payee must keep this money separate from the payee’s own  money. The payee must use all money only for the person they are assisting. The payee can  be a friend, relative, or family member.

The payee cannot have felony convictions and must have a means of supporting himself, which can be a job or a monthly government benefit, such as a Social Security benefit. If the Veterans Affairs Office or Social Security Administration believes a person cannot handle their money but the person does not suggest a payee, the office can select a payee from its list of paid payees.

The payee must be able to visit the senior at least once a month to ensure the senior’s needs are being met, and must use all funds for the senior’s benefit.

 

4.  Income – What counts as income and who decides? 

For many programs, income, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Before you write a senior’s income on an application or form, find out what calculation the program uses. Different programs, even from the same government agency, look at income differently.

For example:

  • The IRS counts some social security money as income, but excludes a certain amount.
  • Housing subsidies often deduct medical expenses from income.
  • Food Stamps (SNAP) may deduct housing expenses from income.
  • Medicaid may include the value of certain insurance as income.

Before you report income on any form, make sure you know exactly how the agency that uses this form defines income. If you are not sure, call the agency and ask!

 

5.      Scam and Fraud Calls – What should I do when I get a scam call?

Hang up the phone immediately! Although it feels rude to hang up on someone, remember that this person is trying to scam you. You DO NOT owe them your politeness or your time! You have the right to protect yourself from fraud and scams by hanging up the phone.

Do not give the caller any personal information.

If the caller claims you owe them money, tell them to “put it in writing” and send you a letter with the information. However, DO NOT give out your address. The debt collector should already have access to your name and address if they are legitimate.

You can also report the scam call to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by filing an online report or calling 1-888-382-1222.

 

6.       Debt Collection – What can a debt collector really do to my loved one (or me)?

If a senior is behind in paying bills, or if a creditor’s records mistakenly make it appear that they are behind, a debt collector may contact them.

According to the Florida Attorney General’s Office, a debt collector cannot:

  • Contact you or your family so often that it can reasonably be considered harassment
  • Contact you at work, if the collector knows your employer does not approve
  • Contact you at unreasonable times or places, such as before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m., unless you agree.
  • Harass or abuse you
  • Use threats of violence against you, your property, or your reputation
  • Use obscene or profane language
  • Lie about their identity during the phone call (such as saying they are an attorney)
  • Lie about anything else, such as saying you have committed a crime, saying that your debt is higher than it is, or saying you will be arrested if you do not pay (this is false!).

A debt collector is required to send you a written notice within 5 days after you are first contacted, telling you the amount of money you owe. The notice must also specify the name of the creditor (the person to whom you owe money). The notice must explain what you can do if you believe you do not owe the money.

You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter telling them to stop. Once the debt collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again except (1) to say there will be no further contact, or (2) to notify you if the debt collector or the creditor intends to take a specific action.

If you do not believe you owe the debt, you should write to the debt collector within 30 days after you are first contacted and tell them you do not owe the money. The debt collector may not contact you again after that unless it sends you proof of the debt, such as a copy of an unpaid bill. 

 

7.      Exploitation – What is exploitation and how do I stop it?

Exploitation is when someone who a senior should be able to trust instead uses the senior’s money and property for their own purposes.

Many times, the best protection against abuse, neglect and exploitation is an ongoing conversation. Abusers and exploiters try to isolate their victims, to prevent others from challenging their actions. Regular, caring communication in person and over the phone can prevent isolation. Encouraging your loved ones to interact with others also helps prevent isolation. Neighbors, friends, family, and social groups all form a caring circle of protection around the vulnerable adult and give him somewhere to turn when life becomes difficult.

Being elderly does not mean a senior is incapable of making good decisions. Many people, including seniors, make better decisions when they have caring people to talk to about their choices. 

 

8.      Medicare – Why is timing so important?

According to our Medicare experts at SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders), one thing caregivers often fail to understand is that while Medicare insurance policies can be cancelled at any time, they can only be started during special enrollment periods.

If a senior or caregiver cancels a policy when the senior is not in a special enrollment period, the senior could lose Medicare coverage until the next enrollment period and have to pay a financial penalty.

To make sure your loved ones get and keep the best coverage for them, call the SHINE program to get free help. SHINE volunteers provide free and unbiased information to Medicare beneficiaries, disabled adults, caregivers, community groups, and more. SHINE is funded by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and is administered by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.

For more information or to make an appointment with SHINE, call the Helpline at 1-866-684-5885.

 

9.      Legal –  How do I get help with legal issues?

Seniors facing legal issues may not know that they have several options to assist them. Several government agencies and nonprofit organizations help Floridians with legal issues.

 

If You Want to Hire an Attorney

  1. To hire a private attorney, call the Palm Beach Bar Lawyer Referral line at 561-687-2800 or visit www.palmbeachbar.org.
  2. To receive Legal Assistance for people over 60 through the Older Americans Act:
    1. In the Treasure Coast, call the Florida Bar at 1-800-342-8011
    2. In Palm Beach County, call Palm Beach County Legal Aid at 561-655-8944

 

If You Want to Represent Yourself

The Palm Beach County Clerk of Courts has a Self Help Center with low cost forms and documents. Attorney consultations are available by appointment at all Self Service Center locations. The attorney can offer procedural advice on Family, Small Claims, and Landlord/Tenant issues. The cost is $15.00 for 15 minutes, $30.00 for 30 minutes, and $60.00 for 60 minutes. To schedule an appointment with an attorney, please call 561-355-7048

 

The Treasure Coast Counties may have the forms you need on their websites. For help, call the Clerk of Courts: 

  1. Martin County:  772-288-5576 or Martinclerk.com 
  2. St. Lucie County:  772-462-6900 or StLucieclerk.com
  3. Indian River County: 772-770-5185 or clerk.Indian-River.org
  4. Okeechobee County: 863-763-2131 or clerk.co.okeechobee.fl.us

 

For a chart listing the top 10 legal issues the Elder Rights Center of Excellence sees affecting seniors, caregivers and loved ones, please click on the link below.

http://www.youradrc.org/legal-questions-who-to-call-for-help

 

10.    How do I get help with other issues related to aging or disability?

Simply call our office at 1-866-684-5885 and ask for our Helpline! Our Helpline staff members are trained to understand your needs and provide you with information and resources to help you. We look forward to serving you!

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