Most of us have needed legal guidance at some point during our lives, and we all know that it isn’t always easy to get the answers we need. Legal topics can be difficult to understand, and relevant information can be difficult to find if you don’t know where to look. When circumstances change for seniors during later life, the challenges can be even more difficult to overcome.
Because elderly populations face a unique set of challenges, namely in regard to medical, social, and legal matters, many seniors and their loved ones aren't sure what all needs to be taken into consideration. Making sure estate, finances, documentation, care, and support are all legally outlined and established will help ensure security for seniors. Because laws can vary from state to state, this guide will focus on the legal issues and considerations concerning seniors residing in the state of Arkansas.
Important Legal Documents for Seniors
As new legal considerations rise throughout old age, it becomes increasingly important to understand which legal documents are needed for each situation. These legal documents help outline what is to be done with assets, how finances will be taken care of, what type of government support will be provided, and who will make what decisions on a senior’s behalf. Some of the most important legal documents needed for elderly people include:
- living will
- power of attorney
- physician orders for life sustaining treatment (POLST)
- social security card
- life and/or health insurance policy card
- file of life document
- mortgage papers
- sources of income and assets
- bank statements
- income tax returns
- state ID
- veteran ID
- Medicare/Medicaid cards
Arkansas Advanced Directives
Advanced directives commonly cover the legal, health, and financial actions taken for an individual who is no longer able to make sound decisions on their own. With medical advancements, those in advanced years began to receive better physical care, and therefore a prolonged period of mental incapacitation. In response, laws were created to lift the burden on families and care workers by outlining and expressing the wishes of the individual ahead of time, rather than making assumptions on their loved one's behalf once the time came. These documents can come in several forms: a living will, durable power of attorney for health care, durable financial power of attorney, and POLST. Advanced healthcare and financial planning for important decisions will require a completion of the first three types of documents to ensure comprehensive coverage of care. A POLST is used only for patients with a serious illness or medical frailty such that a physician expects the patient to die within one year.
A living will specifies the medical treatments and actions taken for those unable to make those decisions on their own. It should be noted that a living will is only called upon when an individual is unable to give informed consent. Some common directives in a living will include forbidding certain medical treatments like feeding tubes, ventilators, and CPR. Because living wills can have limits and be written in a way that conflicts with quality medical practice, additional documents can be created. These additional documents are called second-generation advanced directives, durable power-of-attorney for healthcare, and POLST.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care in Arkansas
The durable power of attorney for health care document names a trusted individual to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated. Because the living will has limits and it is impossible to know what types of choices will have to be made, an individual must be designated to make specific decisions in medical matters. This person is known as the Health Care Agent, and he or she is named in the durable power of attorney for health care. For those wondering how to get a durable power of attorney for health care in Arkansas, start first by initiating a conversation between all parties involved. Then review the state of Arkansas guidelines and contact a lawyer to draft up a document for both parties to sign.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney in Arkansas
The power of attorney document identifies a trusted individual to make decisions on behalf of the incapacitated. The named person is granted financial and personal decision-making powers such as property, living arrangements, real estate, banking, financial transactions, beneficiary transactions, estate trust, and government benefits. The Arkansas Uniform Power of Attorney Act outlines the specific requirements included in the document to be used in order to create a valid power of attorney. For those wondering how to get a power of attorney in Arkansas, start first by initiating a conversation between all parties involved. Then review the state of Arkansas guidelines and contact a lawyer to draft up a document for both parties to sign.
Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) in Arkansas
Again, a POLST is used only for patients with a serious illness or medical frailty such that a physician expects the patient to die within one year. POLST complements an advance directive, if existing, by taking an individual’s intentions regarding life-sustaining treatment and converting them into a medical order. The hallmarks of a “signed” POLST are as follows:
- Immediately actionable as medical orders on a standardized, conspicuous, clearly identifiable form (pink).
- Recognized, adopted, and honored across treatment settings.
- Addressing a range of life-sustaining treatment interventions, along with patient's preferred intensity of treatment for each intervention.
The Arkansas Department of Health prescribes the standardized POLST form. The form must be signed and dated by the patient’s physician and by the patient or the legal representative of the patient.
Arkansas Wills and Trusts
Wills are one of the most well-known legal documents for seniors and can be used simply to show who is to receive what possession upon passing. Trusts are set up to ensure proper handling of tax and estate planning, as well as care for dependents. Trusts also avoid the often-lengthy legal probate process. A will and a trust are needed to both avoid conflict between family members as well as to protect assets. Several types of wills and trusts exist depending on the need of the individual, including a basic will, pour-over will, tax-saving will, bypass trust, QTIP trust, qualified-domestic trust, contingent-testamentary trust, and living trust. Regardless of the assets, creating a will and a trust will first require an account of the elder’s estate and assets and then a plan for distribution upon death. Next, attorneys for wills and trusts will need to draft up the documents.
Estate Planning in Arkansas
Estate planning is an anticipatory process where individuals and families make arrangements with estate-planning lawyers to successfully manage and transfer assets upon death. Elder-law estate planning will also consider planning for incapacitation, as well as for reducing estate taxes. Real estate, titling, life and disability insurance, wills, selling or gifting property, trusts, and living wills are all common areas to consider in this process. One of the major benefits of estate planning is to provide a clear and legal path to estate transfer upon death and to avoid property matters being decided by Arkansas probate court. The benefits of having trusts in estate planning is to successfully transfer assets to younger generations who may not be ready for them.
Long-Term Care Insurance
Long-term care insurance is an option for seniors who may need personal or medically skilled assistance in the future. Depending on the policy type, this insurance can help cover home assistance, assisted living facility, nursing home, home modification expenses, adult day care, and care coordination. Long-term care insurance policies will depend on the following factors: health, age, income, policy type, premiums, savings, investments, and taxes. Private policy types can be individual or employer-sponsored. State-sponsored care insurance options are also available, including Medicaid.
Arkansas Medicare eligibility for medical insurance requires U.S. citizenship or permanent residency, in addition to being 65+ years old or being a qualified disabled individual. Arkansas Medicare coverage comes in several forms. Part A insurance refers to hospital insurance, while Part B covers medical insurance for beneficiaries. Medicare Part C or Medicare Advantage Plans in Arkansas incorporate Part A and Part B benefits into pre-existing private insurance plans. Medicare Part D offers a prescription drug plan as standalone coverage intended to supplement overall Medicare coverage. Typically, within 3 months of turning 65, seniors will receive a Medicare welcome pack in the mail to become enrolled in the program.
Seniors looking at assisted living in Arkansas may have limited income and assets and find themselves in need of financial assistance. Arkansas personal-care services are offered to assist families in covering these costs. Arkansas Medicaid eligibility requires participants to be residents of Arkansas, and the senior living community must also be in-state. Each individual will have a plan of care created from an assessment of functional ability. From this, personal-care services are outlined and daily living activities are determined. Arkansas Medicaid coverage will depend on both the functional needs of the individual, as well as income. To apply for Medicaid in Arkansas, complete an Arkansas Department of Human Services Application for Health Coverage at a local Medicaid office. As a senior living care provider in Arkansas, our professionals at Peachtree Village at Holiday Island or Peachtree Village of Farmington can assist you with this process.
Broadly, social security refers to governmental social-welfare programs intended to help those needing financial assistance. These benefits come in the form of insurance and services. In the context of senior citizens in the U.S., social security more commonly refers to Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI). Social security insurance is a system where payroll taxes are deducted from employees to fund financial support for those in retirement. Payment of retirement benefits is dependent on a person’s year of birth, and the earliest age anyone can collect is at 62 years old with reduced benefits. In the case that someone decides to keep working after retirement, social security benefits can still be received. In Arkansas, approximately 7.5% of residents receive benefits from the Social Security Administration. Those looking to receive Arkansas social security benefits should apply online here or visit the local Social Security office.
Arkansas Veterans Benefits for Seniors
The Aid and Attendance Pension Program is one of the most important veteran’s benefits for senior citizens, especially those needing personal care. This program is intended to help cover care cost for qualifying veterans and surviving spouses. Benefits are not dependent on disability status or income. However, to qualify, a veteran has to meet a certain amount of wartime service.
Supplemental Security Income
Supplemental Security Income pays benefits to disabled individuals who have limited income, as well as to seniors 65+ years old with financial need. Seniors can apply for Supplemental Security Income in addition to Social Security Insurance. Supplemental Security Income, however, is different in that it’s not based on previous work history and is funded differently. Supplemental Security Income is taxable, but whether you end up having to pay will depend on your tax bracket. Seniors over 65 years old can apply for Supplemental Security Income by visiting the local Social Security office.
Arkansas Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps)
Formerly called the Arkansas Food Stamp Program, SNAP can be a great resource for those in retirement needing help purchasing food. Arkansas SNAP eligibility is needs- and income-based, and benefits are distributed monthly through an electronic card transfer called an EBT card. People looking to applying for SNAP benefits can visit the local Arkansas Department of Human Services or apply online here.
Low Energy Home Energy Assistance Program of Arkansas
The Arkansas Department of Human services offers financial support for energy needs such as gas, electric, propane, and home weatherization services. To qualify, Arkansas residents must fall within 60% or less median income level of all households for regular assistance. Assistance is provided as a one-time per year basis for qualified applicants.
File of Life Program
In Arkansas, File of Life is an information card that seniors can keep readily available in case on an emergency. This index-sized card lists allergies, emergency contacts, current medications, and preferred doctors and hospitals. Since emergency medical personnel may have little time to ask questions and seniors may not be in a state to provide answers, these cards provide a convenient way for first responders to get the information they need. An order request for the File of Life card can be found here from the Arkansas Attorney General’s office.
Arkansas Elder Law and Senior Legal Resources
When it comes to legal considerations for seniors in Arkansas, getting familiar with the various legal terms, issues, and documents as early as possible will make the biggest difference in being prepared for what the future has in store. Children and loved ones of the elderly shouldn't hesitate to start having these legal conversations early. Be sure to reach out to an elder law attorney near you for any extra assistance you and your loved ones may need.