Is Your Estate Plan Up To Date?

May 11th, 2017

By: Amy C. O’Hara, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

In order to ensure your existing estate plan meets your objectives, it is imperative that it be reviewed at least every 3-5 years and updated when needed.  Here are some issues that might necessitate updating your estate plan:

  • You want to avoid probate;
  • You or a beneficiary become disabled or have a long-term illness;
  • Death of a beneficiary;
  • Marriage, divorce or remarriage;
  • Birth or adoption of a child;
  • Death or change of executor, trustee, and/o guardian;
  • A change in the distribution of your estate;
  • A significant increase or decrease in your net worth;
  • Retirement;
  • Expecting to change state of domicile; and
  • Finally, any time you feel uneasy about any of your documents, making changes and/or speaking with your estate planning lawyer to make you feel comfortable with them.

Never make any changes on your current estate planning documents.  Mark-outs, interlineations and other informal changes are of no effect and will not be honored during an illness or after your death.  It is important to meet with an experienced estate planning lawyer to ensure you estate plan is updated properly to protect you and your loved ones.

 

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NYC Program Helps Seniors with Home Repairs

May 5th, 2017

Seniors who own their own home in New York City and need help paying for repairs may qualify for the Senior Citizen Home Assistance Program (SCHAP).

The SCHAP program is administered by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), in partnership with the Parodneck Foundation. Qualifying low- and moderate-income seniors can receive low-interest repayment loans or deferred no-interest loans to prevent physical deterioration of their home or to improve living conditions. The maximum loan amount is $40,000 for single-family homes or $30,000 per dwelling unit for two- to four-family homes.

Seniors may qualify if they have owned their home within the five boroughs of New York City for at least two years, and are 60 years old or older. Income guidelines apply, and the home must have liability and property insurance.

In the case of deferred, interest-free loans, there are no monthly payments, and fees plus ten percent of the loan are forgiven after the first year. The loan is payable in full if the house is sold, but if the borrower still resides in the home after 30 years, the balance of the loan is forgiven. In the case of low-interest repayment loans, the borrower is charged with 0-3 percent interest and repays the loan over 30 years.

The SCHAP program has been in operation since 1986, and has assisted more than 1,000 senior homeowners. In addition to affordable loans, the program also offers extensive technical assistance to qualifying seniors.

To learn more about the SCHAP program, including application requirements and the loan process, contact the Parodneck Foundation at 212-431-9700, extension 313, or visit: parodneckfoundation.org/schap.

 

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Before A Spouse Becomes Ill

April 28th, 2017

When a spouse becomes ill, the well spouse is suddenly faced not only with the emotional toll, but the burden of handling all the financial responsibilities and long-term planning on his or her own.  If the ill spouse always handled the financial matters, even paying bills can be overwhelming.  Additionally, the well spouse may not know what long-term planning considerations have been made for him/her or what is even available.  This article will provide an outline of things to consider and steps to take when the financial responsibility and long-term care planning burden passes to the spouse who has generally not had to deal with these issues previously.  Though not always possible, it is important to be as proactive as you can and review and familiarize yourself with these matters before a spouse becomes ill.

Locate and Organize Documents

First, it is very important to locate and organize your documents to see what you have, what long-term planning is in place and what needs to be updated.  Items to look for include:

  • Identification documents: Social Security card, Medicare card, birth and marriage certificates
  • Military records
  • Insurance documents: including, health, automobile, homeowners, life, long-term care
  • Legal documents: Last Wills and Testaments, Trusts and Advance Directives (Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, Living Will, HIPAA Release and Burial Designation)
  • Financial Information, including bank, brokerage and retirement accounts, stocks and bonds, income, tax records, debts and bills
  • Any other important items including: the deed to your home, title and registration to automobiles, and safety deposit box

Understand your Present Situation

Once you locate your documents, it is important for you to learn what they are and what purpose they serve.  Understand what your assets and expenses are.  Regarding your assets, careful analysis should be made as to what type of account you have, how much money is in it, how the account is titled (who owns it) and whether there are any beneficiaries.

Know what your income is and where it comes from.  Does your spouse receive a pension?  If so, will it continue if he predeceases you?  Do you have any retirement accounts (including IRAs, 401ks, profit sharing plans) that you are required to take minimum distributions from because you have reached the age of 70 ½?

Important resources are available to aide you with this undertaking.  Many senior centers offer programs to assist with managing household finances and bills.  They also may have volunteers who will review your Medicare coverage with you as well as your medical bills so you understand what you are being charged.  If your spouse dealt with the same bank for several years, he may have developed a personal relationship with them and they may work with you to review your accounts.  Additionally, an elder law attorney can play a vital role in making this process easier for you.  He or she can meet with you either at your home or in the office and go through and explain all of your paperwork with you.

Simplify Your Life

You can set up automatic bill payments to have your utility, insurance and telephone bills paid directly from your checking account every month.  If your spouse always prepared and filed income taxes on his own, perhaps it would ease the burden for you by hiring an accountant to prepare your taxes.

Social Security

If your spouse dies, it is important to contact the Social Security Administration to advise of his/her death and to make sure you receive all of the benefits to which you may be entitled.  You may be eligible for a one-time payment of $255. Also, if you are considered full retirement age for survivor’s benefits, as defined by the Social Security Administration, you can receive Social Security benefits based upon your deceased spouse’s earning record.  This can be a significant amount if you either did not work outside of the home or earned less than your spouse during the time you were employed.  It is important to know that your full retirement age for retirement benefits may be different from your full retirement age for survivor’s benefits.  Also, if you are receiving survivor’s benefits you can switch to your own retirement benefit if your retirement rate is higher than the rate you are receiving for survivor’s benefits.  The rules are complicated, and, therefore, it is important that you carefully consider all your options before making a final decision.

Health Insurance

Littman Krooks Retirement PlanningYou need to understand what type of health insurance coverage you have, including Medicare.  If you have Medicare, review whether you have Part A, Part B and/or Part D.   Also, if you and your spouse has a retiree health plan through your spouse’s former employer, does it continue if your spouse predeceases you?

If it does not, you may be eligible for COBRA.  COBRA is federal legislation that allows former employees, retirees, spouses and dependent children to temporarily continue group health coverage that would otherwise be terminated.  If you are covered by both Medicare and a group health plan as part of your spouse’s retirement and your spouse dies, then you may have the right to elect COBRA continuation coverage with respect to the group health coverage for the maximum period of coverage available (18 to 36 months).  If you become covered by Medicare at any time after an election of COBRA continuation coverage your COBRA continuation coverage will probably end.  It is important to know that you only have 60 days from the date of your spouse’s death to elect COBRA coverage so action must be taken promptly.  Also, COBRA coverage can be very expensive (i.e., employer can charge up to 102 % of the employer premium).  The additional 2% is designed to cover administrative costs.

Legal Documents

Make sure your legal documents are in order and up to date.  Set up an appointment with your elder law attorney to review them.   If your spouse has become ill, consider appointing someone else as your executor under your will or as agent under your power of attorney and health care proxy.  You should review with your attorney whether you need to establish a trust to protect your assets should your spouse need long term care either in a nursing facility or at home.

Long-Term Care

Long term care is not limited to nursing homes.  Today, most care is received at home and it is important for you to understand what options you have available to you and your spouse.  Review whether you have long term care insurance and what coverage it provides.   It is important to familiarize yourself with the differences between Medicare and Medicaid and what each program can offer you.  Geriatric care managers are available to assist you with care planning assessments and provide solutions to your individual long term care needs.

If possible, it is important to review, understand and work on these issues.  The more familiar you are with these responsibilities, the more comfortable you will become with them and less fearful of handling them on your own.  It will help ease your burden and provide peace of mind so most of your attention can be paid to your ill spouse.

 

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Things for Seniors to Consider Before Remarrying

November 30th, 2016

To a young couple starting a family, marriage may seem like an obvious step. For those in their golden years, however, remarrying can involve some potential complications that they should be aware of.

Marriage later in life can complicate the estate plans of each spouse, especially if either or both of them have children from a previous marriage. Even if everything is left to the children, in the will, under the laws of New York and most other states, the spouse will be entitled to a portion of the estate. Consult with an estate planning attorney to be sure that the estate will be distributed accordingly.

Littman Krooks elder lawLong-term care plans are another possible complication. The potential cost of care in a skilled nursing facility can be difficult to plan for, since it cannot be predicted, and if it is necessary, the cost can be enormous. While some seniors may have long-term care insurance or have the means to pay for the care themselves, others will rely on Medicaid. People contemplating marriage late in life should know that the Medicaid agency will examine the finances of both spouses to determine eligibility. The non-institutionalized or “community” spouse may sign a spousal refusal, but this does not completely relieve them of liability for the cost of care.

Social Security benefits are an important part of many people’s retirement plans, and divorced or widowed spouses often receive benefits based on their ex-spouse’s record. However, remarrying will terminate the divorced spouse’s benefits, and remarrying before age 60 – or age 50 if one is disabled – will terminate survivor’s benefits. In addition, widows or widowers who receive a pension based on their late spouse’s work record may lose their pension if they remarry under certain circumstances.

 

Join us for a free workshop on estate planning, “Plan for Your Future and Avoid Guardianship” on December 7, 2016 at the Greenburgh Library from 10:00 AM-12:00 PM. Registration is required because seating is limited. For more information or to register, click here.


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Nursing Home Residents Will Soon Have Greater Rights

November 22nd, 2016

Update (12/1/2016): “The rule was supposed to take effect Nov. 28, but the American Health Care Association, an industry group that represents most nursing homes in the U.S., filed a lawsuit in October to block the rule, which it called “arbitrary and capricious.” To read more, click here.

 

A rule change by a federal agency will provide nursing home residents with major new legal protections by preventing facilities from forcing disputes into arbitration.

littman krooks long-term-careThe Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), part of the Health and Human Services Department, issued a rule preventing nursing homes from requiring that residents resolve disputes in arbitration rather than through a lawsuit. The rule applies to all facilities that receive federal funding, protecting the rights of 1.5 million residents. The arbitration ban is one of several new nursing home regulations promulgated by CMS, including new standards for nutrition and infection control.

Many families must make the decision about a nursing home under time pressure and in emotional turmoil, and they often are not able to consider the implications of all the contract terms. Nursing home contracts often contain fine print requiring that disputes be resolved through arbitration, taking away the right to sue for elder abuse, neglect and even wrongful death.

The nursing home industry said that the rule change, “clearly exceeds the agency’s authority.” Arbitration has reduced legal costs for nursing homes, but advocates for seniors say that it has prevented residents and their families from getting justice. Officials in 16 states and the District of Columbia had urged government action, arguing that private arbitration kept patterns of abuse hidden.

The new rule goes into effect on Nov. 28. It does not apply to contracts signed prior to that date, but current nursing home residents or their families can review their contracts and attempt to renegotiate or choose to move to another facility. After Nov. 28, nursing homes may still ask for a dispute to be settled through arbitration, but residents and their families have the right to file a lawsuit instead.

 

Join us for a free workshop on estate planning, “Plan for Your Future and Avoid Guardianship” on December 7, 2016 at the Greenburgh Library from 10:00 AM-12:00 PM. Registration is required because seating is limited. For more information or to register, click here.


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2016 Walk To End Alzheimer’s

November 1st, 2016

alz-walk-west-2016

Littman Krooks was a sponsor of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s at White Plains High School held this past September 2016. The walk, organized by the Alzheimer’s Association, the largest non-profit funder of Alzheimer’s disease research.

The organization is supported by local chapters that raise awareness and offer resources to people and their families that are impacted by the disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

About 1,500 people took part in the 2016 Westchester Walk to End Alzheimer’s. The five Hudson Valley walks are expected to raise more than $1 million over the next few weeks.

 

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Westchester to Receive $3.3 Million Grant for In-Home Senior Services

September 27th, 2016

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services will receive a $3.3 million grant for in-home services for seniors.

Gov. Cuomo said that the funding would help older New Yorkers continue to live in their homes with dignity and would improve their quality of life.

New York State’s county-based Area Agencies on Aging will receive a total of $50 million through the Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program to help seniors remain in their homes and communities. The program is intended to maximize independence, providing the assistance that seniors need in order maintain a high quality of life in their communities. This may prevent the need for more expensive care, the cost of which is often borne by Medicaid.

The services are designed to help lower income seniors who may have functional impairments and need help with activities of daily living. The in-home services program provides non-medical supports such as assistance with cooking, shopping and getting bills paid.Littman Krooks Elder Law

State Senator Sue Serino, chain of the Senate Standing Committee on Aging, said that both seniors and the community at large benefit when people are able to age in place. When seniors maintain their independence costly nursing home placement is prevented. The program is expected to benefit nearly 70,000 New York seniors.

To be eligible, seniors must not be eligible for similar services such as Medicaid, must be 60 years of age or older and must be able to reside safely in the community. It is not necessary to show that there is a medical need for the services.

 

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When Not to Claim an Inheritance

August 26th, 2016

Although it may seem counter-intuitive to turn down an inheritance, there are situations in which it may actually be beneficial to do so. When a person refuses to accept an inheritance, that person is said to disclaim it, and the effect is the same as if the heir had predeceased the person who died. The gift will pass on to the next person in line to receive it.

Littman Krooks elder lawOne reason to disclaim a gift is when the asset is actually undesirable, for instance a piece of real estate with a low potential sale value but high property taxes. Other gifts may come with strings attached, such as a requirement to get married or to take care of the deceased’s pet.

Another reason for disclaiming an inheritance is for the heir to avoid estate taxes while passing wealth on to his or her own heirs, who may be in a lower tax bracket.  Individuals who are already wealthy and potentially facing a significant estate tax may want to disclaim an inheritance, allowing it to pass directly to their children without it ever becoming part of their estate. This may be useful for many types of assets, but disclaiming an inherited IRA may have the additional benefit of passing the asset along to an heir who can stretch out distributions over a longer period.

Disclaiming an asset is not something to take lightly or decided upon spontaneously. Instead, disclaimers can be part of your estate planning process, undertaken only with the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney.

 

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Settlement Reached for Seniors Who Must Leave Assisted Living Home

July 5th, 2016

An assisted living home for seniors in New York City is closing and five residents who had refused to move will accept a $3.35 million settlement.

In March 2014, the management of a home for seniors in Brooklyn announced that the facility was closing and the residents would have to move within 90 days. Many of those affected were angry, alleging that the building owners wanted to sell to a developer. Most moved out as requested, but one group filed a lawsuit to halt the closing.

Littman Krooks Elder LawThe New York State attorney general, investigated the matter, saying that giving seniors 90 days to leave their homes was unreasonable. Some had Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia; family members worried that they would not be able to find the same level of care at another facility and that moving would be traumatic.

By November 2014, there were eight holdouts in the building, faced with empty halls and dwindling services. Now there are five, ranging in age from 91 to 101. Each of them will receive more than $500,000 in the settlement, but they must leave their apartments by the end of the summer.

Attorneys for the residents said the settlement was a victory, giving the seniors the time and money they need to find other accommodations. An attorney for the building’s owner said he was satisfied.

The lawsuit also named the New York State Health Department as a defendant, claiming that the agency did not follow federal and state rules regarding the closing of the home. A resolution to that part of the lawsuit has not been reached at the time of this writing.

 

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Medicaid Asset Transfers: What Are The Rules?

June 21st, 2016

For many families, paying for a loved one’s extended stay in a nursing home would be difficult without the help of Medicaid. However, in order to qualify for the program, a person’s income and assets must fall within certain limits.

Federal rules state that to qualify for Medicaid nursing home coverage, a person must have no more than $2,000 in “countable” assets. However, New York State has more generous rules, so for New York residents in 2016 the limit is $14,850 for a single person. If a married person needs nursing home care, there are protections for a spouse who remains outside. In this situation, the community spouse has a maximum threshold of &74,820 to $119,220 ($14,850 for the institutionalized person and $119,220 for that person’s spouse). Certain types of resources are exempt, such as up to $828,000 of equity in a home and one motor vehicle.

Littman Krooks Elder LawIf you have countable resources above the limits, you may be told that you need to “spend down” your assets, paying for nursing home care yourself, until you reach the resource limits, at which point Medicaid begins covering the cost. This is what happens in many cases. In other cases, a family may anticipate the need for long-term care and wish to transfer assets to the next generation ahead of time, in order to preserve the family’s resources while still qualifying for Medicaid. This is an excellent strategy, as long as the Medicaid rules are followed.

Medicaid has a five-year “look-back” period for transfers of assets. A person applying for Medicaid must disclose all financial transactions for the previous five years. During this time, any transfers of assets for less than fair market value may prevent the person from being eligible for Medicaid. (However, in New York State, the asset transfer rules do not apply for recipients of Medicaid for home care services.) In addition, invalid transfers may result in a costly penalty period during which ineligibility may continue even after assets are spent down.

To avoid ineligibility and penalties, it is important to plan ahead. Transfers made more than five years in advance are not affected by the rules. There are also important exceptions to the asset transfer rules as well as legal strategies including certain trusts that can help preserve assets while ensuring eligibility. As you can see, Medicaid planning is very complex and it is essential to have help from a qualified elder law attorney.

 

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