Notes, News & Musings on Elder Care



Property Tax Freeze and Relief

Property Tax Freeze and Relief

Many seniors want to stay in their home for as long as possible. However, the expense of property taxes can be a major burden, especially for seniors on a fixed income. Often, the property tax bill can equal or exceed a senior’s full month of income.

The State of Tennessee recognizes this burden and has put in place programs to help certain elderly and disabled individuals pay their property taxes. Property tax relief is a program whereby the state will pay or reimburse a portion of the property taxes of a qualifying individual. The property tax freeze program allows counties to lock in the tax amount due so that is will not increase in future years.

There are two programs for tax relief. One is for elderly or disabled homeowners. The other is for disabled veterans or their widow(er)s.

Once qualified, the state will pay or reimburse the property taxes on the first $23,000 of appraised value of the person’s property tax. Because property tax rates vary between counties, the actual dollar amount of the relief varies as well. In Knox County, for example, the program provides a benefit of up to $145.00 a year. The individual must pay the normal tax rate on the appraised value above $23,000. In other words, if the senior’s home has a tax appraised value of $70,000, the state would pay the taxes on the first $23,000. The senior would still be responsible for the taxes on the remaining $47,000.

It is important to note that this program can apply to both city and county taxes. That means a Knoxville resident, for example, can get the full reimbursement amount twice. He or she can receive it once on the city taxes and once for the county taxes. In order to do this, the senior would have to apply separately to the city and the county.


Qualification For Elderly and Disabled Homeowners Tax Relief

In order to qualify, an individual must meet a number of income and other eligibility requirements. First, the person has to be elderly or disabled. To qualify as elderly, the applicant must be 65 or older during the year in which you apply. So, if you are applying for relief of your 2015 taxes, you must turn 65 before the end of 2015. To qualify as disabled, an applicant must have been rated totally and permanently disabled by the Social Security Administration before December 31 in the year you apply. You may apply for relief beginning the day you receive your tax bill until 35 days after the bill is delinquent.

The combined 2014 income of the applicant, the applicant’s spouse, and all other owners of the property cannot exceed $28,690. Note that the income of the applicant’s spouse counts, regardless of whether the spouse is a co-owner on the property.

Annual income includes income from all sources. This specifically includes, but is not limited to:

  • Social Security (after Medicare is deducted)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Retirement or Pension benefits
  • Veterans’ Administration benefits
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Salaries or Wages
  • Interest or Dividends


There is no asset test to receive tax relief. In other words, it does not matter how much money an applicant has or how much the home is worth. The test is how much income the applicant made in the last year.

A final requirement is that the applicant must own and use the property as his or her principal residence. Proof of residency may be requested. If a qualified individual owns multiple properties, they can only receive the relief on their principal residence. If the person is going to be away from the home for an extended period of time, he or she should notify the collecting official of the absence.

In order to apply, a senior will have to provide evidence of their age. A disabled individual will have to provide proof of their disability. In addition, an applicant may have to provide evidence of 2014 income, such as a tax return, 1099, or W-2.

Tax Relief For Disabled Veterans or Widow(er)

Many of the rules for Disabled Veterans and their Widow(er)s are the same, but there are significant differences. First, the benefit amount is different; the state will pay the taxes on the first $100,000 of appraised value. This was lowered from $175,000 last year.

The income limit is also different. The combined annual income for the disabled veteran, spouse, and all other owners of the property must be $60,000 or lower. Again, the income of the spouse counts, even if he or she is not a co-owner of the property. Prior to 2015, an income limit was not required. The same sources of income are counted, namely annual income from all sources. It is especially important to note for disabled veterans that VA benefits do count as income.

The disability requirements for a disabled veteran are more stringent than the disabled individual rules. There are three ways to qualify as a disabled veteran.

  1. The veteran has a total and permanent disability rating from a service-connected disability;
  2. The veteran has a 100% total and permanent disability rating from being a prisoner of war.
  3. The veteran has a service-connected disability that resulted in one of the following:
    1. Paraplegia; or
    2. Permanent paralysis of both legs and lower part of the body resulting from traumatic injury or diseases to the spinal cord or   brain; or
    3. Loss, or loss of use of, two (2) or more limbs; or
    4. Legal blindness

Please note that it is not enough to be rated 100% disabled from a service-connected disability. The veteran must have the permanent and total rating as well.

Tax relief will also be extended to the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran who was eligible for property tax relief when the veteran died. In addition to the qualifications for disability above, a spouse qualifies if the veteran’s death either:

  1. Resulted from:
    1. A service connected, combat related cause, or
    2. Killed in Action (combat related);
  2. Or resulted from being:
    1. Deployed, and
    2. Away from home base of training; and
    3. In support of combat or peace operations.

A surviving spouse must have been married to the disabled veteran at the time of death and can not have subsequently remarried.

Most of the other rules are the same as for seniors and disabled individuals. The veteran or widow(er) may only apply for relief on his or her primary residence. The disabled veteran or widow(er) can receive relief on both city and county taxes. Documentation of residence, income, and disability will be required. In addition, the applicant will have to file a consent form that allows the VA to disclose the veteran’s disability to the office. These forms can be found at the applicant’s county trustee’s office or at the city collecting official’s office.

Tax Freeze

The tax freeze program allows qualifying seniors to have the property taxes on their principal place of residence frozen. Unlike the Tax Relief program, the tax freeze is not mandatory. Individual cities and counties get to decide whether to participate in the program. Knox County, for example, has decided to implement a tax freeze program, but it is not available for Knoxville city taxes.

Once a homeowner is approved, his or her property taxes are frozen at a base rate. As long as the homeowner continues to qualify, his or her taxes cannot increase because of a higher valuation or an increase in property tax rates. There is an exception if the homeowner makes improvements to the property resulting in an increase in value, such as adding a new room or a pool. Also, property rates are not fixed if the homeowner sells the home and buys a new residence.

The freeze only applies to a homeowner’s principal place of residence. The applicant must be 65 or older at some point during the year that they apply. Finally, the senior must have income from all sources that does not exceed the county limit. Income limits vary by county. In Knox County, for example, the limit is $37,980 dollars a year. A list of income limits per county can be found at:


Tennessee’s property tax relief and tax freeze programs provide an invaluable savings for many seniors. For more information, or to apply, contact your county trustee or city’s property tax collector. Applications for some jurisdictions, such as Knox County, can be found online. Other jurisdictions, such as the City of Knoxville, require an application in person or on the phone.



Continue reading


Hospitalization can be a trying and difficult experience, especially for older adults.  The senior aged population is at higher risk for hospitalization and more vulnerable to encountering problems while there.  In 2010 alone, over 13.6 million adults over the age of 65 were treated and discharged from the hospital with an average length of stay at 5.5 days1.  Patients with dementia are at especially high risk for hospitalization, often with poorer outcomes and worsening cognitive status2.

A little planning and preparation can help make the hospital experience go more smoothly for patients and loved ones. Navigating through the maze of hospital settings is a little easier with a “roadmap” to follow.  By better understanding how key people and departments can help, you will also know who to turn to for assistance should you run into any bumps along your way.

The Emergency Room (ER)— The goal of ER personnel is to assess, treat, and stabilize the patient, and this process can take 4 or more hours3.  If unable to return home, the patient will be moved to a different hospital department to be admitted or observed.  (See our article on observation vs admission in our Fall 2013 newsletter for more information on this very important subject:

Since most patients enter the hospital through the ER, it is a critical point in relaying information to the healthcare team.  To make the intake process easier, some caregivers choose to keep the following information readily available to bring to the hospital.  Make sure that the hospital staff copies the records and returns the originals.

  • An up-to-date list of all medications, supplements, herbal remedies, and over-the-counter medications
  • Copies of insurance cards, Power of Attorney (POA) paperwork, and if available, Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (POST form)
  • A list of allergies and general medical history including any recent changes and past surgeries

Now is not the time to downplay symptoms.  Give details on pain levels, symptoms, and any recent changes in health or medications.  Since many primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists are associated with hospitals, be sure to mention any doctors seen recently.  The ER may be able to access records online through a healthcare portal.  This information together with symptom information will help the doctor to diagnose the patient appropriately and to suggest treatment options.

Patients with dementia need special attention in ER settings and all-too-often do not receive it.  ERs are anxiety producing, busy places that can be confusing.  The experience can be improved by having someone present—either a loved one or hired personal care attendant–who can help calm the patient’s nerves, answer questions, and offer reassurance.

The PIN number—Many hospital settings have changed their rules about providing private health information to friends and family.  In most hospitals a 4 digit code is set that allows those who know it to receive updates from hospital staff.

There is also an option to set privacy settings with the hospital as a “no information patient”.  This will mean that when people call the main line of the hospital and ask for the patient’s room number the operator will say that there is no one at the hospital by that name.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU)—ICU departments have rules and regulations that are different from other areas of the hospital.  Admission of children as visitors (even in the waiting room) is much more restricted, as are visiting hours and numbers of visitors.  If the patient has dementia or is easily confused, we recommend talking with the ICU staff about allowing a loved one or hired personal care attendant to remain with him or her at all times.  Often ICU staff will be somewhat flexible in an effort to help accommodate patient needs such as these.

The Treatment Team—Once admitted, doctors, nurses, and additional services such as respiratory care and physical therapy will meet with the patient for a review of care needs and treatment options.  This “treatment team” will decide treatment goals, estimated length of hospital stay, and discharge needs and options.  Some of the lesser known but very important members of the team are listed below:

  • The Nurse Caseworker or Utilization Review Nurse—This person works with the insurance company to decide to what extent and how long care will last. If there is a question or concern about admission status or length of stay, this is a good person to ask.
  • The Discharge Planner—We view this person as one of the most important members of the treatment team because he or she will work with the patient and family on nursing home and rehab (skilled care) options. Try to speak with or leave a voicemail for the discharge planner about preferences as soon as possible. Many nursing homes and rehab facilities have long waiting lists, but hospital patients receive priority on those lists.  If the discharge planner contacts the patient’s top picks earlier rather than later, there is a higher chance of receiving a preferred aftercare placement.   Discharge planners usually do not work weekends.
  • The Patient Liaison—Not every hospitalization goes according to plan and sometimes problems need to be addressed. If there are problems that have not been easily resolved, ask to speak with the patient liaison for assistance.
  • Dietary Staff—One of the biggest complaints that we hear about hospitals is that the food is less than delicious. Many people are unaware that patients can make special requests for favorite foods and can request a different meal tray if what is served is not appealing.  Remember that dietary staff must work within the dietary orders given by the doctor (so they can’t serve a huge slice of chocolate cake if the patient is on a diabetic diet!).  Snacks and drinks are also available through the aides and nurses on your floor.

DischargingNo matter how quickly the patient wants to leave the hospital, it is important to thoroughly review discharge paperwork and instructions.  It is much easier to correct any mistakes and receive clarification on discharge instructions now rather than doing so over the phone later.  Review the medication list and double check that it is accurate and that medication instructions are understood.  Make sure the doctor leaves any prescriptions that will be needed and any orders for home health, physical therapy, or lab work.  Work with the nurse and discharge planner on any follow up appointments.  If given an option, make appointments yourself so that they can be scheduled at convenient times.  If transportation is needed for follow up appointments, speak with the discharge planner about options.  Ask that the patient’s medical records from the hospital stay be sent to any physicians who will be seen for follow up.

A few other pointers

  • As part of the Life Care Plan Services through our office, Elder Care Coordinators are available to help with advocacy, referrals, and communication with the hospital treatment team. Do not hesitate to contact us!
  • Review the CDC document “6 Ways to Be a Safe Patient” found at for tips on reducing healthcare associated infections. Do not hesitate to ask hospital staff to wash their hands upon entering your room.
  • Be polite but assertive. Quality and speed of care ought not depend on how nice a patient is, but as the old saying goes, “you can draw more flies with honey than vinegar.”  Say “please” and “thank you” and remember The Golden Rule.  For exceptional staff, speak with a supervisor or write up a rave review to commend him or her for excellence.  If there is a problem with a staff member, request a transfer to a different team member for care.
  • “Where everybody knows your name…” Hospital staff get in the habit of calling patients by room numbers.  It is human nature to feel more connected to people whose names we know.  Get in the habit of making introductions with staff members as they come into the room and try to call them by their names—they will most likely reciprocate.  Maybe there shouldn’t be, but there is a difference in the way a person reacts to “Room 213 needs a pain pill” and “Mrs. Jones needs a pain pill”.
  • Don’t pack for a trip overseas. Remember that the more that is brought to the hospital, the more must come home.  It is especially important to leave expensive items such as jewelry, watches, purse/wallet, and laptops/tablets at home.  If the patient prefers to be in his or her own clothes, consider something easy to get on and off and will be comfortable for both day and night.
  • Boundaries are important for visitors. It is important for visitors to respect the privacy of loved ones and others in hospital settings by not posting photos or personal information on Facebook or other social media sites.  Balance the need to be present and support the patient with the patient’s need to rest and receive care and treatment from staff.  Don’t hesitate to show appreciation on behalf of the patient—staff almost always appreciate a treat like donuts or a fruit basket.  Note that staff in healthcare facilities cannot ethically receive personal gifts and should NEVER ask for any gifts.  The exception to this rule in most settings is if a gift of food is made to the team or unit.
  • Abuse or inappropriate behaviors. Unfortunately abuse and inappropriate behaviors do happen in hospital settings.  If there is a questionable behavior, immediately speak with hospital leadership and/or your area ombudsman.  If there is a question of abuse, contact the police.


  1. National Hospital Discharge Survey. (2010). CDC.  Retrieved from
  2. Phelan EA, Borson S, Grothaus L, Balch S, Larson EB.Association of incident dementia with hospitalizations. (2012, Jan 11) JAMA. 307(2):165-72.
  3. Emergency department pulse report: Patient perspectives on American health care. (2010). Press Ganey.  Retrieved from

Continue reading

Join Alzheimer’s Tennessee for a FREE 3-part series at the Everett Senior Center in Maryville from 9:00 am – 11:00 am.  Every first Tuesday of July, August, and September they will cover a different topic that affects those with dementia and their caregivers.  The event is free but they will need a head count.  Please share with any family or professional caregivers who may be interested.  You may contact Bobby Fields atAlzheimer’s Tennessee for more information or for a hardcopy of the registration form.

The schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, July 1

Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias

Dr. Kevin James (Blount Senior Care Partners)


Tuesday, August 5

Caregiver Resources and Practical Suggestions

Cheryl Blanchard, LMSW (Lifepoints Consulting)

Register Here

Tuesday, September 2

Legal Issues

Brooke Givens, CELA (Elder Law Practice of Monica Franklin, CELA)

Register Here

Continue reading

Lee Ann Patrizio from NHC Healthcare will be the speaker for the June 10th  support group and education series entitled 12 Star Family Support. Lee Ann will be reviewing the very important topic of Skilled Care Financial Responsbilities.

This FREE event takes place on Tuesday, June 10th at 6:30pm and is hosted at The Courtyards of Knoxville and presented with Alzheimer’s Tennessee.

12 Star Family Support is Knoxville’s only support venue offering an elder with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease the opportunity to have fun and socialize in a safe environment, while allowing the caregiver a much needed break and the ability to gain education and support. Each month will have a different curriculum.  Attend all 12 months and become 12 Star certified!

The Family Support Group meets at 801 E. Inskip Dr., Knoxville, TN 37912–Traditional Family Support is a forum where caregivers take time for themselves to become educated, get emotional support and meet others who are in similar situations.

The Memory Lane Café  is available for loved ones next door at 815 E. Inskip Dr.–Memory Lane Café is a place where persons with Alzheimer’s or a related disease can go to just socialize and have fun with other people going through similar things. At a Memory Café, people can relax and just be themselves, knowing that no one judges them and all who are there are going through almost the same things that they go through every day.

12 Star Partners

Personal Care: East TN Personal Care Services
Home Heath: NHC Home Care
Hospice: Smoky Mountain Hospice
Assisted Living: Courtyards Senior Living
Nursing Home: NHC
Durable Medical Equipment: Lambert’s
Pharmacy: Mac’s Pharmacy
Attorney: Monica Franklin Elder Law Practice
Advocates: Elder Advocates
Medicare/Insurance: Senior Financial Group
Funeral: Dignity Memorial
Local Aging: Office on Aging
Alzheimer’s Experts: Alzheimer’s Tennessee

The Family Support Group meets at 801 E. Inskip Dr., Knoxville, TN 37912–Traditional Family Support is a forum where caregivers take time for themselves to become educated, get emotional support and meet others who are in similar situations.

Continue reading

We are proud to announce that our very own Monica Franklin honored to participate in the revision of  The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors for 2014.  Monica’s contribution focused on Medicare and Long-Term Care Services and Support through Medicaid or CHOICES.

Please feel free to share this link with family and friends who may be dealing with one or more of the legal topics concerning seniors covered in the handbook.

Information from Elizabeth Todaro on the TBA site:

The TBA Public Education Committee has updated The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors for 2014. The updated Handbook contains practical information on a wide range of topics, including issues such as applying for Social Security benefits, long-term care considerations and estate planning, as well as completely new sections addressing online security and new health care legislation. An updated list of resources relevant for Tennessee Seniors is also included.

Copies are available now for download or by order in printed form. For more information about the project, to request a presentation in your area or to volunteer to help promote the Handbook,  contact TBA Access to Justice / Public Education Coordinator Liz Todaro.

This publication is based largely on a previous edition of the handbook that was published and distributed in 2001 by the TBA Elder Law Section, the TBA Young Lawyers Division and the TBA Senior Lawyers Division. The TBA Public Education Committee worked this year under the leadership of Co-Chair Angelia Nystrom. The project was spearheaded by TBA President Cindy Wyrick, who identified this as a priority to help meet the needs of the growing and frequently underserved senior adult population in Tennessee.

Fortunately, there are many ways we can now distribute this valuable resource: via website download, electronic flashdrive or printed copy. The updated handbook is available (at no cost) to TBA Members via digital format for their use in counseling their clients. TBA Members are invited to add their firm’s logo and contact information to the Handbook cover for distribution to their clients. Electronic and printed copies are also available to the public directly from the TBA. This book promises to be a great benefit for the members of our communities and for the clients that we serve and all resources are available here on the TBA website and will be updated regularly.

Continue reading

Copyright © Monica Franklin 2010
Powered by WordPress