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Briarwood center offers free elder care seminars

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As America’s population ages, more and more people are confronting the confusing maze of legal and medical issues that face the elderly.

In response, Silvercrest Extended Care Facility in Briarwood has begun a quarterly series of free seminars to educate Queens community members about elder care law, Medicaid, Medicare and other topics of vital interest to senior citizens.

“Our nation is getting older and the population representing 65 years and over is expected to greatly increase. We all need to be ready for this,” said Patricia Leddy, vice president of Silvercrest.

Queens has New York City’s largest population of seniors, with nearly 375,000 residents over the age of 60, according to the 2000 Census. In comparison, Manhattan has approximately 251,000 residents over the age of 60.

The first Silvercrest seminar on Jan. 24 delved into the legal aspects of wills, living wills, powers of attorney and health care proxies — documents that are often misunderstood and that have a lasting impact on seniors and their families.

“It’s very complex,” said Lloyd Torres, who coordinated the event. “A lot of seniors — or even their children or family members — don’t realize the legality issues when it comes to caring for elders.”

Kerry O’Shaughnessey, an elder-care specialty lawyer and the featured speaker at the seminar, said many people confuse the purpose of these legal documents. She explained that a will takes effect only after death, whereas the other documents apply during one’s lifetime, particularly when one becomes too ill or incapacitated to make his own decisions.

While power of attorney appoints someone to make financial decisions for the incapacitated, O’Shaughnessey said, a health care proxy appoints someone to make medical decisions. A living will spells out what medical measures should be taken when a person becomes suddenly very ill or incapacitated — for example, whether life-sustaining measures should be used to save someone in a medical emergency.

“I have clients who are 89 years old who say ‘I want to be kept alive no matter what happens’ and others who say ‘no, let me die. I want to be comfortable.’ They don’t want life-sustaining measures taken,” O’Shaughnessey said. Without the proper legal documents, however, such decisions are left to family members and can often lead to squabbles that end up in court.

O’Shaughnessey, who volunteered to speak at the seminar after Silvercrest contacted her, said the legal fees associated with a court guardianship proceeding can range from $5,000 to $10,000. In contrast, she said law firms like hers charge between $50 and $100 to establish a proxy or power of attorney to prevent potential court disputes.

Although she recommended that all adults — not just seniors — consider setting up the documents, O’Shaughnessey admitted there are some potential risks associated with giving legal power to just one person to make such important decisions.

“Definitely people abuse it. There’s a lot of fraud,” she said. Unsuspecting seniors may be tricked into signing a legal power of attorney that they don’t understand, and then the person named in the document abuses the power for his own profit. O’Shaughnessey recommended that seniors choose only someone they know and trust to avoid being scammed.

More than 60 people from throughout Queens attended the January seminar, according to Torres. The next free Silvercrest seminar is planned for April and will focus on resources available to seniors through Medicare and Medicaid.

Reach contributing writer Patricia Demchak by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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