Creating a personal road map

April 9, 2011
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Three local companies have combined their talents and efforts to create the Circle of Care Network, which is dedicated to helping seniors and their families maneuver through a maze of financial and legal obstacles that can often be confusing and even overwhelming.

Law firm Plachta, Murphy & Associates PC, accounting firm Echelbarger, Himebaugh, Tamm & Co., and Founders Bank & Trust formed the circle about 18 months ago. But the seed that ultimately led to its formation was planted five years ago when Plachta, Murphy & Associates created a new elder-care practice group.

Brian Plachta, a partner at the law firm, said there was a need back then to coordinate and explain the services that were available to seniors, and to their care-giving baby-boomer children, as they transition from independent living to nursing home care. Plachta was one of those baby boomers who had to make his way through the maze on his own. As he was doing that, he soon discovered that a “road map,” as he put it, didn’t exist.

“So pretty much as a result of that experience, I basically set out to create a road map that we can use to help families move through these elder-care issues and to pull together the services of people that could help people. About a year and a half ago, we intentionally created the Circle of Care Network, which is designed to be a consortium of West Michigan professional organizations to educate, prepare and assist families with those elder-life transitions that we all go through,” said Plachta.

“So we pulled together people that we trusted in terms of certified public accountants, financial planners, health insurance and long-term care agents and people from the banking field that we felt we could work with. Our primary purpose is to educate the public about this area that doesn’t seem to have a road map,” he added.

The network uses free seminars to reach the public. Some of the topics covered are estate planning, government benefits, Social Security, trusts, veterans’ aid and benefits, caregiver contracts, tax strategies and financial planning. The elder-care attorneys, such as Ryan Huizenga at Plachta, Murphy & Associates cover the legal issues, while Robin Stoner, a CPA with EHTC, handles the tax and accounting issues. John Logan of Founders Bank & Trust addresses banking issues.

An example of one area the seminars cover is a veterans’ benefit of which, Plachta said, a lot of people aren’t aware but which can provide financial help.

“Quite frankly, it’s probably the best benefit out there as opposed to Medicaid. If the individual veteran or the surviving spouse meets the criteria, they can get close to, I think, $1,600 a month now to supplement their income, and they can use it in any way they want. They can use it for in-home care, independent living, assisted living and nursing-home care,” he said.

Plachta said estate planning is another key issue that many should learn more about, especially the children of seniors. They need to make sure their parents have a durable power of attorney and patient advocate in place. He said children sometimes call and ask if an estate-planning document for a parent can be put together after that parent has been hospitalized with dementia and isn’t legally competent to sign one. The answer is no.

“Now we’re into guardian conservatorships and probate court, and that’s much more expensive and time consuming. So planning ahead with an estate-planning document and updating one to make sure it’s current is probably the second area that is important,” said Plachta, who added that long-term care insurance should also be looked at closely.

“I think the solution for a lot of these issues is not to try to plug into Medicare, Medicaid or VA, because I think these are going to get constricted. So the other thing I often suggest is people should be going back to their financial planners and looking at that long-term care. At least get a quote on that.”

Another issue that could be added to the list is how seniors, and even younger retirees, can replace the income they may lose from their pensions if lawmakers approve the budget submitted by Gov. Rick Snyder. His budget proposes to tax public pensions and eliminate the exemption for private ones, which would be a first for the state.

Plachta said Stoner goes over the tax codes at the seminars and will likely talk about the pension issue.

“We don’t know where that issue is going to go. That certainly could get taxed and create more issues for our seniors,” said Plachta.

The Circle of Care is hosting a free dinner and a seminar at 5:30 p.m. May 17 for seniors and their children at Pietro’s Italian Restaurant off 28th Street and Breton Road SE in Grand Rapids. Those interested in attending should contact Jeremy Johnson at (616) 458-3994 or for more information or to register. Seating is limited. Those who can’t make the dinner but want the information should also contact Johnson or Plachta.

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