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Seunghee ChaAttorney Seunghee ChaMany people want to avoid probate without realizing what it is or that it has benefits. Thorough estate planning involves a careful evaluation of whether avoiding or minimizing probate is desirable.

Probate refers to a court process for overseeing (i) the appointment of the personal representative (aka “executor”), (ii) the determination of the validity of a decedent’s will, (iii) the identification of heirs of the estate, (iv) the marshalling of assets held in the name of the decedent, (v) notice to creditors of the estate, and (vi) other property issues arising at death.

A few advantages of probate:

Legal notice. The publication required in probate gives creditors one year (in Massachusetts) from the date of death to make claims against the estate. For estates facing creditor problems, the deadline offers finality and protection.

Court oversight. Judicial involvement of the administration protects interested parties from possible mishandling of the estate by the personal representative. Many people can trust a family member acting as personal representative to administer the estate properly. In some situations, however, inventory and accounting requirements provide much-needed transparency.

The major disadvantages generally associated with probate are public disclosure of assets in the decedent’s name and the expense of the probate process. However, such disadvantages are mitigated by various factors. Consider:

Privacy. While assets in a decedent’s name often must be disclosed, life insurance proceeds, joint assets, and IRA and 401(k) benefits, which typically constitute the bulk of a decedent’s assets, are normally not disclosed because joint property and property passing under contract by beneficiary designation are not subject to probate.

Cost. Under the Massachusetts Uniform Probate Code, in effect since March 2012, the probate process is streamlined to allow less formal, more user-friendly administration options. Consequently, the cost of probating an estate in Massachusetts often is much less than in many other states and should not be the reason for deciding whether or not to avoid probate.

The major disadvantages generally associated with probate are public disclosure of assets in the decedent’s name and the expense of the probate process. However, such disadvantages are mitigated by various factors.

Strategies for avoiding probate include adding a joint owner to your property and establishing a trust and titling ownership of assets to be held in the trust. These actions incur cost and can result in loss of control, disposition of assets to unintended beneficiaries, and adverse tax consequences.

Probate is often misunderstood and unnecessarily feared. A good estate plan involves education to help individuals and families make informed decisions to meet their personal needs—which may not involve avoiding probate.

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311. Elder law resources may be found through the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, Massachusetts Chapter, at massnaela.com or 617-566-5640.

Community Legal Aid (CLA) provides legal services free to people age 60 and older for civil legal matters with an emphasis on access to health care coverage (MassHealth and Medicare) and public benefits as well as tenants’ rights. A request for legal assistance can be made by phone at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-252-5342 during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.) or any time online by visiting www.communitylegal.org.

Hear how Elder Protective Services works, including confidentiality and elders’ rights to refuse. Dean Lagrotteria, LifePath’s Protective Services Regional Program Director, and Mary O’Brien, LifePath’s Protective Services Supervisor for Berkshire County, sit down with Berkshire Senior TV Host Bonnie DiTomaso to explain Elder Protective Services and bring attention to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Saturday, June 15th.

See the video on Access Pittsfield.

Call (800) 922-2275, open 24/7, to report an elder at risk, including yourself.

Who to call when you need a ride.

When you aren’t able to drive yourself or find a family member available to help, who can you contact to help transport you from Point A to Point B? There are some helpful resources out there, although they vary depending on where you live. Here are a few resources that may be available.

John giving a ride to Aminta

Demand Response Service is a curb to curb service offered to the following individuals:

  • Elders 60 years or older
  • Consumers receiving home care services from LifePath, Inc.
  • Nursing home residents
  • Veterans with a disability rating of 70% or greater

To apply for Demand Response Service, you will need to complete an application and submit it to the FRTA. Hours of operation, cost, and services differ between towns. To contact the FRTA, please call 413-774-2262. The FRTA can send you an application. You will need to request the service at least two full business days in advance. If you live in Leverett or Sunderland, you will need to call the PVTA instead at 1-866-277-7741.

The Med-Ride Program offers transportation to medical appointments outside the county for elders who can walk on their own and are at least 60 years of age. All drivers are volunteers who use their own vehicles. Drivers are allowed to help you into and out of their vehicles, but are not allowed to assist you from your home to their vehicle or from their vehicle into your medical appointment. Also, drivers cannot help with the transport of health-related equipment. A companion may accompany you to help with these transitions. This program is offered through the FRTA and includes the towns of Ashfield, Bernardston, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Hawley, Heath, Leyden, Montague, New Salem, Northfield, Orange, Petersham, Phillipston, Rowe, Shelburne, Shutesbury, Warwick, Wendell, and Whately. You can schedule up to two months in advance, but must schedule at least 3 business days ahead of time. There is a limit of 2 trips per week for this service and you will receive an invoice at the end of each month for 40 cents per mile plus any parking or toll fees. The Med-Ride Program only transports to locations inside Massachusetts.

Of course, there are also the FRTA’s fixed routes. If you are computer savvy, you can visit the FRTA website (or call 413-774-2262) to find out about specific routes and costs. About Town Taxi is also available in Greenfield at 413-774-4000.

Athol residents who are at least 60 years of age or disabled can contact MART about “Council-On-Aging Transportation” at 978-575-9966. If you live in a neighboring community, MART can direct you to the proper number for your town, or you can visit the MART website for a listing of contact numbers for towns in the MART service area. If you are a veteran in Athol and need transportation to the Northampton Veterans Administration, you can contact the Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center at 978-632-9601 for their schedule. In addition, MART has its usual Athol/Orange shuttles every hour on the hour during weekdays. Winchendon Taxi at 978-297-1311 also offers transportation services in the Athol/Orange area.

For MassHealth Standard and CommonHealth members, there is a free non-emergency transportation service available to medical appointments if the appointments themselves will be covered by MassHealth. The first step to receive this free transportation is for your Primary Care Physician to fill out a Prescription for Transportation (PT-1) which they will need to fax to MassHealth for approval. Your best bet is to contact your PCP for more information.

Hulmes Transportation Services at 413-323-6100 offers wheelchair-accessible transportation at $100 round trip plus $3 per mile.

LifePath also has a volunteer escorted transportation program, Rides for Health, for active Home Care clients only. Call LifePath to see if the Home Care program might be right for you.

These are just a few of the services that can get you from Point A to Point B. Contact the Information and Referral Department at LifePath at 413-773-5555, extension 1230, with any questions.

Tips to Stay Safe During New England’s Peak Tornado Season

Lightning striking the groundAccording to a meteorologist from the National Weather Center, there were 500 eyewitness reports of tornadoes made in the 30 days between April 27 and May 27 in the US, mostly in the midwest. Tornadoes in New England are relatively rare. However, these deadly and destructive storms do occur; on average, about eight tornadoes are reported in the region each year. For example, on June 1, we marked the 8th anniversary of the deadly and damaging tornado that tore through Hampden County, including Springfield. Also, February 25 marked the 2nd anniversary of the devastating Conway tornado. Almost 200 people have been killed by tornadoes in New England, and two of the ten most destructive tornadoes in US history happened here. Additionally, research shows that the frequency of severe weather events is increasing due to climate change, so it’s smart to be prepared.

When the summer months arrive, it’s time to tune in to the local weather forecasts to be aware of potential severe weather risks. Peak tornado activity in New England occurs during the summer months of June, July and August. Tornadoes typically strike between 3 and 9 pm local time.

When the risk for a tornado is present, the National Weather Service will alert the public through television, radio, and the internet. The first alert will be a Tornado Watch, which means tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. Watches are issued by the Storm Prediction Center for counties where tornadoes may occur. The watch area is typically large, covering numerous counties or even states. When a Tornado Watch is issued, review and discuss your emergency plans with the people you are with, check supplies (such as a disaster preparedness kit), and discuss where you will go in case of a tornado.

If a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar, the Storm Prediction Center’s local forecast office will issue a Tornado Warning. When this happens, there is imminent danger to life and property. Move to an interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows. If in a mobile home, a vehicle, or outdoors, move to the closest substantial shelter and protect yourself from flying debris. Warnings typically encompass a much smaller area (around the size of a city or small county) that may be impacted by a tornado identified by a forecaster on radar or by a trained spotter/law enforcement who is watching the storm.

“When the summer months arrive, it’s time to tune in to the local weather forecasts to be aware of potential severe weather risks.”

Practicing tornado safety during a Tornado Warning involves following three basic rules according to the National Weather Service:

  1. Get in. If you are outside, find a sturdy shelter. Put as many walls between you and outside as possible.
  2. Get down. Go to the lowest floor of the building. If possible, use an underground shelter or basement.
  3. Cover up. Get under a sturdy table or stairwell. Cover up with blankets and pillows.

As we enjoy all the summer has to offer, remember to prepare yourself for the risk of dangerous storms.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day: Building Strong Support for Elders

Josefa Scherer, Protective Services Supervisor
Michelle Billings, Protective Services Supervisor
Dean Lagrotteria, Protective Services Program Director

Saturday, June 15, 2019 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. On this day communities in the USA and all over the world will sponsor events to highlight solutions to this systemic social challenge. LifePath is proud to participate in this national conversation.

We appreciate the worldwide efforts to focus on telling the stories of older adults to highlight the importance of social connectedness and the structures necessary to support this essential feature of elder abuse prevention.

We want to use this opportunity to help clarify some important and regionally relevant connections. Community members in Franklin County and Western Worcester County are significantly impacted by addiction and elder abuse. Importantly, while addiction is a risk factor for elder abuse, wellbeing is a protective factor against both! Social connectedness, food and housing security and access to healthcare that treats the whole person are goals that we can focus on meeting, knowing that this enhances the wellbeing and safety of older adults, prevents risky drug behavior, and supports recovery from addiction.

“Together, we can and must support older adults in creating healthier and safer living environments.”

Opiate misuse, and addiction in particular, is linked to financial exploitation, medication mismanagement, caregiver neglect, and other kinds of abuse. Recovery from addiction and safety from abuse are linked to social connectedness, spiritual wellness, expectations of physical safety, and other dimensions of well-being.

Together, we can and must support older adults in creating healthier and safer living environments. We can do this by strengthening social support networks, decreasing isolation, and enhancing well-being. LifePath’s programs help to address transportation issues, access to social and educational programs, in-home health and personal care, and caregiver support. LifePath also administers the Adult Protective Services program, which investigates and intervenes in the abuse, neglect and exploitation of people 60 and over.

If you are a community member interested in more information about how to keep older adults in our communities safe, please reach out to LifePath at 413-773-5555 or explore our programs on our website. To make a report of concern about elder abuse, call 800-922-2275.