Millennials and Estate Planning: You are Not Too Young for That!

August 25th, 2017

By Alexis Gruttadauria, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

For many millennials, estate planning is not a topic that has even crossed their mind, let alone been made a priority. With more immediate concerns such as graduation from school, the start of a career, perhaps looking forward to buying a home and starting a family, the thought of planning for death or incapacity is a non-starter for many. Although people often think of estate planning as a task for later in life, there are aspects of estate planning that prove beneficial regardless of age or perceived net worth. Estate planning can include both planning for during life (“Advance Directives”) and for after death (“Testamentary Planning”), both of which are important for any person.

Advance directives, such as a Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney will benefit any adult, as accidents and emergencies cannot be predicted, and do not discriminate by age. By having a Health Care Proxy in place, a person can dictate who will make decisions on their behalf in the event they can no longer make them on their own. In addition, a thoughtfully drafted living will can assist the appointed agent in making the choices that a person would want made, including what kind of end-of-life care they would want to be given or withheld. Another document that becomes tremendously important in the event of incapacity is a durable power of attorney, which allows the appointed agent to manage the principal’s finances.

As for Testamentary Planning documents, although many people believe that they do not have sufficient assets to warrant the creation of a Last Will and Testament of Trust, there are many aspects of such documents that are important for people of all socioeconomic situations. For young adults who are not yet married, consideration should be made for aging parents who may be on government benefits like Medicaid now or in the future. Without proper planning any amount of money received as the beneficiary of an estate can jeopardize an aging parent’s government benefits. Additionally, as greater numbers of millennials begin starting their own families, a Will or Trust is essential, not only to ensure that assets are distributed according to their wishes at death, but also to nominate a guardian for your minor children in case of your death.

Even at the exciting a fast pace beginning of life, it is never too early to make plan for the unimaginable and for the benefit of your loved ones.

 

Learn more about elder lawestate planning and special needs planning at http://www.elderlawnewyork.com and  www.littmankrooks.com. Have questions about this article? Contact us.


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Advocates Say Proposed Cuts to Medicaid Will Harm Seniors and People with Disabilities

July 11th, 2017

Health care legislation currently being considered by Congress includes steep cuts to the Medicaid program, which advocates for seniors and people with disabilities say will cause tremendous harm.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the legislation, the American Health Care Act, on May 4, 2017. The U.S. Senate is now considering its amended version, which is called the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). The bill is a move by Republican lawmakers to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act, passed under President Obama.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that under the BCRA, the number of uninsured people would increase by 15 million next year, and by 22 million by 2026.

Critics have numerous objections to the bill, but advocates for seniors and people with disabilities have focused on the harm they say will be caused by cuts to Medicaid, the joint federal and state program that insures nearly one in five Americans.

The Affordable Care Act expanded eligibility for Medicaid, though states could opt out. The BCRA would phase out that expansion by 2024, and would make further cuts as well, by permanently restructuring the program. Medicaid is a partnership between the federal government and the states, and the new legislation would cap the amount contributed by the federal budget, leaving states to make up the difference or cut benefits.

Medicaid is the nation’s largest government health care program, covering more people than Medicare. Medicaid covers 64 percent of all nursing home residents, 60 percent of all children with disabilities, 30 percent of all adults with disabilities, 76 percent of poor children and 49 percent of all births.

Some nursing home residents could be forced out by the cuts. Under federal law, state Medicaid programs must cover nursing home care, but the Center for Medicare Advocacy predicted that under the budgetary pressures that would be imposed under the BCRA, states would have to limit how much they pay, or restrict eligibility. The AARP said that under the new legislation, older adults could also be charged up to five times more for health insurance than younger people. Under the Affordable Care Act, rates are capped at three times more.

People with disabilities say that cuts to Medicaid would be devastating, likely resulting in reduced access to home and community-based services that allow many to live independently rather than in institutions.

The BCRA is opposed by the Arc, the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society’s action network.

Concerned citizens can contact their representatives in Congress by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

 

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Understanding What Medicare Covers and What is Owed Out of Pocket

June 19th, 2017

By Elizabeth Valentin, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

Healthcare can be a large financial expense, and one that can be difficult to plan for.  Anyone who relies on Medicare should be aware of what is covered and what is not.  While Medicare is extensive in coverage, it does not cover everything and is not free.  There are premiums, deductibles, co-payments and prescription drug costs, and they can be significant.

Premiums

Medicare provides health insurance for Americans aged 65 or older who have worked and paid into the system through payroll tax.  It also provides health insurance to younger individuals with a disability status as determined by the Social Security Administration, as well as people with certain terminal illnesses. Part A, covers hospital and hospice services, and is free for those who have worked and paid the appropriate tax for at least ten years.  Otherwise, there is a monthly premium of up to $413.  Part B, covers outpatient medical services, and has a monthly premium of $134; however, those who receive Social Security benefits may pay less, approximately $109 per month.  Higher income earners may pay more.  Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, is an alternative to Part A and Part B.  Its premiums vary depending on the specific plan chosen.

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Deductibles and Coinsurance

Part A has a deductible of $1,316 for each benefit period.  After the deductible is met, the coinsurance or copayment is $0 for the first 60 days of each benefit period, then $329 per day for days 61 through 90, and then $658 per each “lifetime reserve day” starting with day 91 for each benefit period (up to 60 days over the person’s lifetime).  You are responsible for all costs beyond the lifetime reserve days.

The Part B deductible is $183 per year.  Generally, after meeting the deductible, you are responsible for 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for most doctor services, medical equipment, and outpatient therapy.

If you have Medicare Advantage instead of Parts A and B, the deductibles and copayments will depend on the specific plan you are participating in.

The deductibles for the Part D prescription drug plan may vary, but cannot exceed $400 in 2017.  Beyond that, you pay a certain percentage for the drugs according to the plan until the total costs reach the annual limit, $3,700 in the 2017.  This is the beginning of the coverage gap known as the “donut hole.”  While in the donut hole, you may have to pay 40% of the name brand drug costs and 51% for generic drugs until the costs reach the second limit of $4,950 (in 2017), at which point catastrophic coverage begins.

Out of Pocket Expenses

In addition to paying for premiums, deductibles and coinsurance/copayments, you may have out-of-pocket costs for any treatment that is not covered by Medicare, such as eye exams, dental care, hearing aids, cosmetic surgery, non-traditional treatments such as acupuncture, and long-term care costs.  Also, if you visit a healthcare provider that does not accept the Medicare assignment of costs as full payment, you will pay higher out-of-pocket costs. Certain newly developed drugs and/or equipment may also not be covered by Medicare.  You may wish to consider a Medicare supplement or Medigap plan to cover these out-of-pocket costs to limit your possible exposure.

What Medicare Does Not Cover

It is important to note that in addition to not covering vision, dental care, and hearing aids, Medicare does not cover most long-term care costs, such as the care provided in nursing homes or the continued receipt of home care services.  Paying for long-term care is generally not part of the Medicare equation.  As such, families that are not able to self-fund such care should consider long-term care insurance or speak with an elder law attorney to discuss Medicaid planning.

 

Learn more about elder lawestate planning and special needs planning at http://www.elderlawnewyork.com  www.littmankrooks.com. Have questions about this article? Contact us.


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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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