Elder Law Estate Planning

Most of the time, estate planning is not just about a deceased person’s estate. It is also about elder law options.

A long time ago, only wealthy people had estate plans prepared and the early estate planning options evolved to reflect their needs. They needed wills and trusts to pass down their wealth to their heirs.

Eventually, more and more people started getting estate plans and the planning needs of the non-wealthy began to receive more consideration.

One of the things they needed to address was how to pay for nursing home care, when a non-wealthy person needed it.

Elder law grew out of that concern, as the Times Herald-Record pointed out in “Plenty of reasons to do elder law estate planning.”

As a result of that history, when people do estate planning today, they normally take care of many of their expected elder law needs.

Elder law estate planning attorneys help people figure out how to pay for possible nursing home care.

Elder law estate planning attorneys get their clients general durable power of attorneys and health care powers of attorney, so their clients are prepared if they are ever incapacitated.

Elder law estate planning attorneys write living wills for their clients, so their clients can decide whether or not they want to live in a coma with no chance of recovery.

Elder law estate planning attorneys also help their clients avoid the possibility of being the victims of elder financial abuse.

If you are interested in any of those elder law options, and you should be interested in all of them, then visit an elder law estate planning attorney.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (July 5, 2017) “Plenty of reasons to do elder law estate planning.

Burial for the Indigent

The high costs of funeral services creates a problem, because many people pass away without having the means for their own burials. Their remains still have to go somewhere.

Every year, thousands of people with very little money pass away. Sometimes, it is not even known who these deceased people were in life.

While this might seem like a minor issue and something that has always been the case, it creates an increasing burden on local governments. They must determine what to do with the bodies of deceased people, who either cannot be identified or whose families do not have the money to afford burial or cremation.

It is not a minor expense, since the costs of disposing of a deceased body continue to rise.

One county in Florida had such a significant problem that they purchased a cemetery, as the Tallahassee Democrat reports in “A priceless burden: Indigent burials at Leon County’s ‘pauper’s cemetery’.”

The cemetery previously belonged to a hospital, but the county purchased it to dispose of the remains of the indigent as cheaply as possible. Graves are marked with the most basic of markers and no actual funeral services are allowed at the cemetery.

The deceased are buried as quickly and with as little fuss as possible.

This is an issue that could get worse before it gets better.

Elderly people are living longer and in greater numbers. That makes it likely that many more elderly will pass away in the future, after they have run out of their own money.

The burden to bury them will be on the government. Elder law advocates may need to address this problem in the near future.

Reference: Tallahassee Democrat (June 24, 2017) “A priceless burden: Indigent burials at Leon County’s ‘pauper’s cemetery’.”

Going on a Last Ride

Motorcycle riders in Lubbock, Texas now have the opportunity to incorporate going on a final ride into their funeral services.

The basic design of hearses has not changed very much over the years. They are somber looking vehicles, usually black, that most closely resemble a limousine.

At least, that is what almost everyone would imagine, when they hear the word “hearse.”

However, Derek Dunn of Lubbock, Texas had a different idea.

Dunn created a hearse that resembles a motorcycle and painted it red.

The hearse pulls a platform behind it that carries the casket, which is in the open air.

Different graphics can be displayed on the platform for groups, such as firefighters and police.

Dunn even created the hearse to appeal to motorcycle enthusiasts who want to go on one last ride.

Everything Lubbock reported this story in “A Unique ‘Last Ride’.”

This is a continuation of the larger trend to personalize funerals and memorials. More and more people are choosing to have more personal touches in their funerals, instead of sticking with just the traditional ceremony.

If the trend continues, more stories like the motorcycle hearse can be expected.

Elderly people should be aware of this trend for two reasons. First, if they want to have a non-traditional personalized funeral service, then they should make pre-arranged plans. There are many options available.

Second, and just as important, elderly people who do not want a traditional service, need to let that be known, in case their families might decide to do it on their own.

Reference: Everything Lubbock (June 27, 2017) “A Unique ‘Last Ride’.”

Physician Assisted Suicide in California

Last year, the State of California enacted a controversial new law that allows doctors to prescribe medicine to terminally ill patients that will let patients decide when to end their lives. The state has recently issued its first report on how the law is being used.

Elder law advocates have been paying a lot of attention to California’s new law allowing terminally ill people to seek physician assisted suicide. The law was extremely controversial and remains so.

If it is deemed successful, then its advocates think the law can be used as a model for other states to follow. Those who are opposed to the law, are watching it closely to see if there are any problems with it that they can use to bolster their arguments.

The State of California recently issued a report about usage of the law in the first six months after it was enacted, The New York Times reports in “State: 111 Terminally Ill End Lives Under New California Law.”

Life ending drugs were prescribed to 191 terminally ill patients. A total of 21 of them passed away before taking the drugs, and 111 used them to end their lives.

The fates of the remainder were not known at the time that the report was issued.

The typical patient was a terminally ill elderly person diagnosed with cancer who was receiving hospice or palliative care. In total, 173 different doctors prescribed the drug to patients.

One thing the data shows, is that the median age of the patients was 73 and the majority were over 60.

Reference: New York Times (June 27, 2017) “State: 111 Terminally Ill End Lives Under New California Law.”

Does the Senate Bill Cut Medicaid?

Even though a vote over the Senate’s bill to repeal Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) has been delayed, it is important to know whether or not it cuts Medicaid. The answer depends on how you look at it.

Very little in government is ever straightforward. One example is the Senate Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

A vote on the bill has been delayed. However, it is likely to still come at some point in the future. Therefore, what the bill proposes to do with Medicaid funding, is important for elderly people who rely on the program for their nursing home care.

On one side of the debate over the bill are Democrats, who claim that it will slash Medicaid spending. On the other side, are Republicans who claim that the bill will increase Medicaid funding, as Fox News reports in “Fact Check: Dem claims that Senate bill guts Medicaid ignore billions in new funding.”

Which side is right depends entirely on how you look at the issue. If the Senate bill passes and eventually becomes law, then Medicaid funding would increase by $71 billion by 2026. However, if the Senate bill does not become law and the current law remains in place, then Medicaid funding would increase by $231 billion during the same time period.

Under either scenario, Medicaid funding increases.

The argument is over how much it should increase and whether any increases are enough to meet future costs.

In the current highly partisan climate, it can be difficult to understand what is going on, as politicians and the media discuss policy changes. For that reason, it is important to look carefully at the facts to determine what the real question is.

For Medicaid that question is this: are politicians making sure the program can continue to do what it was designed to do without the country going broke?

Reference: Fox News (June 27, 2017) “Fact Check: Dem claims that Senate bill guts Medicaid ignore billions in new funding.”

Medicaid Facts

Repeal of the Affordable Care Act has been one the biggest news items in recent weeks. Changes to Medicaid in Republican proposals have received a lot of attention, but many people do not know exactly what Medicaid does.

You probably know that Medicaid is the federal government program that provides health care coverage to poor Americans. However, in the debate about the repeal of Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) and possible reductions to Medicaid in various appeal proposals, what often gets lost is exactly what that federal government program for the poor does.

Facts about the program get lost in the media noise.

It is important to know the facts, because only then can you really decide if you are for or against any changes.

NPR recently published a list of some lesser known facts about Medicaid in “From Birth To Death, Medicaid Affects The Lives of Millions,” including:

•It is very expensive. Medicaid currently takes up approximately 10% of the federal budget. State governments contribute even more on top of that to the costs of the program.

•Half of all births in the U.S. are covered by Medicaid. The program has been expanded multiple times to include more and more pregnant women.

•Some 62% of nursing home residents have their care through Medicaid.

•Disabled people and the people who take care of them are often eligible to receive their care through Medicaid.

•Medicaid is a major source of funding for the fight against opioid addiction.

Reference: NPR (June 27, 2017) “From Birth To Death, Medicaid Affects The Lives of Millions.”

Fiduciary Rule Confusion

The new fiduciary rule for financial advisers has caused a lot of confusion about what is and is not allowed with retirement accounts.

On June 9, a controversial new Department of Labor rule went into effect. The rule seems simple enough. Financial advisors who give investment advice to consumers about their retirement accounts, must act as fiduciaries of those consumers.

At least for attorneys, that is a very simple idea to understand.

Nevertheless, for consumers and their advisors the new rule has caused a lot of confusion, as the Washington Post details in “A new conflict-of-interest rule for retirement savers is causing a lot of confusion.”

The easiest way to understand what the new rule means, is that advisors have to act in the best interests of the people they are advising. Investment advice must be based on the best thing for the saver, not the advisor.

Therefore, if an advisor would earn a higher fee from suggesting one investment rather than another, he, or she cannot advise the saver on that basis. If the investment that pays the least to the advisor is better for the consumer, then that is the investment that must be recommended.

Many advisors are taking advantage of the new rule to make changes to how they manage retirement accounts.

The confusion surrounding the rule has given them the opportunity to make changes customers may not like and place the blame for them on the new rule.

If you are not sure if a change your advisor is making is really required by the new rule or if you should look for a different advisor, ask an estate planning attorney.

Reference: Washington Post (June 19, 2017) “A new conflict-of-interest rule for retirement savers is causing a lot of confusion.”

ACA Repeal Vote Could Come Soon

Senate Republicans are planning to hold a vote on their version of repealing Obamacare by the end of June. No one knows yet what their bill contains.

Republicans in Congress are moving forward with their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The House of Representatives previously passed a bill that would do just that. It would have cut funding for Medicaid and increased health insurance costs dramatically for many seniors who have not yet reached retirement age.

A Senate version is expected soon, as Politico reports in “Senate GOP prepares for Obamacare repeal vote next week.”

The biggest problem with the Senate bill from an elder law perspective, is that no one knows what the problems are.

Since President Trump is reported to have told Republican Senators in private that the House bill is “mean,” it is expected that the Senate version will contain some softer provisions.

However, the negotiations over the Senate bill are being conducted behind closed doors. It is also expected that no hearings or debate will be held on the bill before it is called for a vote.

That makes it difficult for elder law advocates to determine whether the bill is supportable or not.

When details of the bill are released, it will need to be quickly and thoroughly scrutinized from an elder law perspective.

Reference: Politico (June 20, 2017) “Senate GOP prepares for Obamacare repeal vote next week.”

Tax Credits for Organ Donation

The state of New Jersey is currently considering proposals to offer tax credits for blood and organ donations. They might be in violation of federal law, if passed.

All over the U.S. many people die unnecessarily. This includes many elderly.

Why?

It is because of a lack of organ donations.

Getting people and their families to agree to donate organs has proven to be exceptionally difficult. In some cases, it is even difficult to find enough blood donors.

There have been many awareness campaigns, but they normally only have a short-term effect, if they have any at all.

The New Jersey assembly is considering another idea to increase donations, according to the Tax Foundation in “Organ Donation Tax Credits: A Life or Death Proposal?.”

The state is considering offering donors small tax credits for donating blood or organs. In the case of a deceased donor, the tax credit could be used on their final tax return filed by the estate.

Whether these credits would do very much to increase donations is uncertain.

These proposals could also be in violation of federal law, which makes it illegal to profit from organ donations. Other states have gotten around that problem, by offering tax exemptions for any expense incurred while donating.

It is important to find more blood and organ donors. However, it appears that these New Jersey proposals are likely not going to be solutions, unless federal laws are changed.

Reference: Tax Foundation (June 7, 2017) “Organ Donation Tax Credits: A Life or Death Proposal?.”

Major Social Security Raise Possible

Early signs indicate that Social Security benefits could see a dramatic increase next year. That will be welcome news for seniors whose benefits have lagged far behind their buying power.

Every year the Social Security benefits that millions of senior citizens receive on a monthly basis are supposed to increase with the cost of living. However, it has long been pointed out that it does not really happen.

The methods used by the federal government to determine cost of living adjustments are not an accurate reflection of the purchasing power of recipients. For example, since 2000 benefits have risen 43%, but senior buying power has risen 86% according to advocates.

The average increase in benefits in the last few years has only been 1%, since overall official inflation rates have been low.

That could change next year, according to Barron’s in “Big Social Security Bump Could Be Coming.”
Early signs indicate that a benefit increase of 2.1% is coming next year.

That is good news for seniors who have seen their benefit dollars pay for fewer and fewer of their expenses.

The bad news is what that might mean for the health of the Social Security system itself. It needs to be adjusted to make sure the Social Security Trust Fund does not run out of money in the next couple of decades, which would result in automatic steep benefit cuts.

Benefit increases are only expected for now.

No official announcement will be made until October. Therefore, seniors should not plan for raises yet.

Reference: Barron’s (June 6, 2017) “Big Social Security Bump Could Be Coming.”