Archive for the ‘Social Security’ Category

Seniors & Mental Health: Is it Mental Illness or Aging?

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

Seniors are more at risk for mental illness than the general population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 20 percent of people age 55 and older experience some kind of mental health concern. Not only are more seniors affected by mental illness, nearly one in three affected older adults does not receive treatment. By learning more about this often-misunderstood problem and watching for warning signs, we may be able to help elders in need get treatment.

Littman Krooks Elder LawMost people are aware that seniors are more at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairment. About 11 percent of seniors have Alzheimer’s disease, but it is crucial to understand that cognitive decline is not a normal part of aging. Therefore, changes such as increased forgetfulness, confusion or disorientation should be taken seriously. With a prompt diagnosis, seniors can benefit from treatment earlier, and any necessary changes to their living environment can be made in order to keep them safe.

Seniors are also at risk for depression and mood disorders. According to the CDC, in a 2006 survey, 10.5 percent of people age 65 and older said they had received a diagnosis of depression at some time in their lives, and 5 percent had current depression. Another 7.6 percent received a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. Anxiety disorders can include a variety of problems, such as phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, including hoarding syndrome. Many seniors fail to seek treatment, in part because some people mistakenly believe that depression is a condition natural to aging.

Mental health concerns can have consequences beyond the symptoms of the condition itself. Untreated mental illness can lead to social isolation, take away from seniors’ independence, and cause physical problems and additional medical concerns. That is why it is important for seniors to take preventive measures, and for their loved ones to be aware of warning signs.

Studies have shown that preventive measures can alleviate mental health problems. The risk of depression and anxiety can be lowered as a result of better physical health. Simple exercise three times a week can be even more effective than prescription medication. Research also indicates that keeping the mind active, through social activities, games and puzzles, and communication with friends and family, can decrease the risk of mental health disorders.

Loved ones and caregivers should watch for changes that may indicate mental health concerns for seniors.

Warning signs include:

  • social withdrawal,
  • a depressed mood that lasts longer than two weeks,
  • memory loss,
  • confusion,
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt,
  • unexplained physical changes, such as in dress, weight or hygiene.

If any of these symptoms appear, discuss them with the family doctor. Treatment such as counseling or psychiatric care can help seniors get on the right track to healthy aging.

 

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In Retirement Planning, Timing of Withdrawals is Everything

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Planning for retirement can be complicated. Many retirees rely on a combination of Social Security retirement benefits and retirement savings accounts such as IRAs. Knowing when it is in one’s best interest to start taking benefits or withdrawals is crucial: not too early and not too late.  Littman Krooks Elder Law

When it is “too early” to take benefits or withdrawals may be a matter of opinion. After all, if a retiree needs the funds at a certain time, he or she may be have no choice. However, in planning your retirement, it is important to know when taking money too early will carry penalties. With regard to savings in IRAs, if you withdraw funds before age 59 1/2, you will face a 30 percent mandatory withholding: 20 percent prepayment of income tax and a 10 percent penalty for early withdrawal. When it comes to Social Security benefits, keep in mind that taking early retirement benefits at age 62 means that you will receive a fraction of the benefits you would get if you waited until full retirement age or even longer. It’s also important to know that if you take early retirement benefits while still working, the money you earn over a certain amount each year may reduce your benefits, until you reach full retirement age.

At the other end of the scale, withdrawing money “too late” means failing to take your required minimum distributions from an IRA once you reach age 70 1/2. If retirees with pretax retirement accounts wait too long to withdraw retirement income, they can face a 50 percent tax. So whether you need the cash flow or not, be sure to take those required minimum distributions, even if it is only to reinvest the funds.

 

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Age-Related Financial and Planning Milestones that People Will Encounter in their Sixties

Friday, March 28th, 2014

As one nears retirement age, a number of important financial planning milestones begin to approach. It can be difficult to keep them all straight. Here is a timeline of what happens when:

  • At age 59 1/2, people can begin to make withdrawals from 401(k)s, traditional IRAs and similar retirement savings accounts, without an additional tax penalty of 10 percent. (Withdrawals are still taxed as income in any case.) Of course, just because one can begin to make withdrawals at this age does not mean one necessarily should.
  • At age 60, if one’s spouse has died, then one can begin to collect a Social Security survivor benefit. This is also true if an ex-spouse has died, if the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the survivor did not remarry.
  • Upon reaching age 62, people can take the option of early Social Security retirement benefits. Keep in mind that starting one’s benefits early results in lower payments, and it is usually better to wait a few years to receive a larger benefit. If one is eligible for a pension, these benefits also often kick in at this age.
  • At age 65, one becomes eligible for Medicare. There is a seven-month window around one’s 65th birthday to sign up for Medicare benefits and avoid a surcharge.
  •  Age 66, for most baby boomers, is full retirement age for the purposes of Social Security retirement benefits. Additionally, at this age, someone who chose early benefits can now suspend benefits in order to build up delayed retirement credits.
  •  Upon reaching age 70, there is no further advantage to delaying taking Social Security retirement benefits. People who wait until this age to begin receiving benefits maximize their monthly payments.
  • At age 70 1/2, required minimum distributions begin for 401(k)s and IRAs. A certain amount must be withdrawn from these accounts each year, based on the total value of all such accounts.

By paying close attention to these milestones, one can complete a more precise budget, an important part of retirement planning.

 

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How Divorce and Remarriage Affect Social Security Retirement Benefits

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

People considering divorce as their 10-year wedding anniversary approaches should know that delaying the split until after the decade mark can result in higher Social Security retirement benefits for a spouse with a lower earning record.

Taking the example of a divorced couple where the ex-husband had a higher earnings record, if the couple was married for 10 years or more, then the ex-wife can receive higher benefits based on his record, provided she is age 62 or older and has not remarried.

Even if the ex-husband has not applied for retirement benefits, the ex-wife may receive benefits based on his record, provided they have been divorced for more than two years. If the woman remarries, then she would no longer be able to collect the benefits unless the later marriage ends.lawyer-or-notary-with-cl

Recent years have seen a rise in both marriages and divorces later in life, and statistics suggest that divorcing couples may take retirement benefits into account, as there is a measurable increase in divorce after the 10-year mark. As might be expected, the effect is most pronounced for couples nearing retirement age. A recent study found that for people 55 and older, there is an 11.7 percent increase in the likelihood of divorce at about the decade mark. For couples age 35 to 55, that drops to a 6 percent increase in likelihood of divorce at 10 years, and for people under age 35, there is almost no effect.

Other researchers are skeptical that many people take retirement benefits into account in their divorce decisions, pointing to studies that show that only 13 percent of people are very knowledgeable about how Social Security benefits are calculated.

Whether divorcing couples currently consider retirement benefits in timing their divorce, many advisers agree that they should. Divorcing just short of the 10-year mark could result in thousands of dollars in lost benefits, so it may be worthwhile for some to delay the process.

Financial considerations are often part of making decisions about divorce, so it is important to be aware of how Social Security benefits can be affected.

 

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New Program Enlists Doormen to Watch for Elder Abuse

Friday, December 13th, 2013

A new program in New York City is training doormen who work in apartment buildings to watch for elder abuse.

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, part of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, developed the program, which offers free training for doormen, porters, concierges and other building staff, at the building where they work.

Joy Solomon, the director of the Weinberg Center, said that many elderly people who were being abused did not come forward on their own, so advocates realized they would have to reach out to others who might be likely to spot the signs of abuse. The center has already helped to educate people such as estate lawyers, speech therapists, and those who deliver hot meals to seniors. Now building staff are being enlisted to help as well.

Many buildings in the city have a growing population of elderly residents. An analysis of census data by Queens College found that by 2040, an estimated 21 percent of adults in New York City will be age 60 or older, an increase from 17 percent in 2010.

At a training she led recently, Ms. Solomon told of an elderly resident of an Upper East Side apartment building, who was taken advantage of by a woman. Building staff witnessed the woman removing valuables from the man’s apartment, but did not step forward, perhaps because they did not want to overstep their bounds. Solomon said that when a staff member knows that something is wrong, it is important to take action. Several older apartment building residents said they would much prefer that building staff say something about a situation that does not appear right, rather than staying quiet out of a fear of prying into someone else’s business.

For elderly residents who do not have frequent visits from friends and family, a doorman may be the first person to notice an injury, signs of confusion, or other evidence that the person needs help.

Solomon said that the training would be provided initially to buildings with large populations of older people, but would eventually be available to anyone requesting it.

 

Sharing Caregiving Responsibilities Among Siblings

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Caring for an elderly parent in declining health is a big responsibility, and one that can have a significant effect on the caregiver’s financial and emotional well-being. Having a sibling to share in that responsibility can make things easier, but it can also lead to conflict and resentment. It is important to understand the issues that may arise when two or more adult siblings are caring for an elderly parent, and the best ways to resolve problems.

One question that usually comes up at the outset is who will be the primary caregiver. If only one sibling lives close to the parent who needs care, that is often the deciding factor. When two or more siblings live close by, then the decision often depends on work schedules. If none of the siblings live close to the parent or have time available, then the question becomes how to divide the expense of hiring an in-home health aide or perhaps an assisted living facility, depending on the circumstances.

Good communication is probably the most important factor in making these decisions. Ideally, responsibilities will be divided in whatever way feels fair to everyone involved, and arriving at the best outcome depends on communication. Siblings should be encouraged to share exactly what they feel they should contribute and why. Factors such as an individual’s family income or work schedule are legitimate concerns that may play into decision-making. Feelings about this should be stated plainly so that later resentments can be avoided. Siblings should try their best not to let old sibling rivalries get in the way. Adult siblings caring for an elderly parent are taking on new roles, and they are best served by not replaying old ones.

In addition to family income and work schedules, siblings should consider each other’s particular skills. If one sibling is a more frugal money manager, it may make sense for him or her to hold the power of attorney for the parent. Someone with experience as a caregiver may do the best job handling day-to-day care. One fact that should not be forgotten is that caregiving is valuable and important work. Siblings who are not involved with day-to-day care may not be aware of just how much work is involved. The caregiving sibling should not be afraid to speak up and share with the others how much time goes into giving care for their parent. It can be easy for a sibling that is contributing more time or contributing more money to feel that his or her contribution is unfair or is going unrecognized. Full and frank discussion is the best solution.

Finally, as with most things, careful planning will save a lot of headaches. Just as mom or dad’s schedule of doctor’s appointments and daily medications needs to be kept track of, so should the finances be kept in careful order. An estate planning attorney or financial adviser can be invaluable in preparing a budget that accounts for the cost of different types of care that may be needed.

How Chained CPI Could Affect Social Security

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

As part of negotiations aimed at reducing the deficit, Congress and the President have considered changes to the way the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is calculated. “Chained CPI,” as the proposed method of calculation is known, could have adverse affects on Social Security benefits, as cost of living adjustments are based on CPI.

Proponents of chained CPI say that the current method of calculating CPI overestimates the real effect of inflation. When prices go up on some items, consumers may choose to purchase something else instead, thus mitigating the effects of inflation. This “substitution bias” is addressed by chained CPI. This technical change would result in lower payments for Social Security beneficiaries.

The proposed change is popular among politicians seeking to reduce the deficit, as it is estimated that there could be a reduction of about $390 billion from the deficit over the first decade, with about one third of the savings resulting from lower Social Security benefits payments.

Of course, Social Security beneficiaries do not want lower payments, and advocates for seniors have pointed out that chained CPI is not appropriate for estimating the cost of living for older people, as many of their expenses, such as medication and health care, are fixed, and therefore not prone to substitution bias. Further, Social Security is financed separately from the rest of the budget, and does not contribute to deficits in other parts of the budget. The bottom line is that seniors who depend on a fixed income are least able to afford cutbacks.

For more information about our elder law services, visit www.elderlawnewyork.com.

Some New York Nursing Home Evacuees Still Displaced

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

After Hurricane Sandy, hundreds of disabled and elderly New Yorkers were evacuated from assisted living facilities and nursing homes near the coast.  Now, more than two months after the storm hit, some evacuees are still getting by in temporary quarters.

The evacuees were moved to places like Brooklyn’s Bishop Henry B. Hucles Episcopal Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center.  The center was already operating at capacity before the storm hit and is now packed with more than twice the number of residents it is licensed to care for.  One hundred ninety patients from the Rockaway Care Center in Queens, which flooded due to the storm, have had to sleep on cots in multi-purpose rooms and in the center’s chapel.

About 160 residents of an assisted living facility in Queens called Belle Harbor Manor had to be evacuated to the grounds of the Creedmor Psychiatric Center, a partly-unused mental health facility.  The evacuees complained of being mixed in with patients suffering from severe mental disorders, and losing freedoms such as the ability to have visitors in their rooms.

According to New York’s Health Department, more than 6,200 people were evacuated from 47 different nursing homes and assisted living facilities as a result of Hurricane Sandy, and storm damage has meant that about a dozen were still closed two months later, with others only able to accept a limited number of residents back.

The majority of patients were evacuated after the storm, under flood conditions, and were unable to bring extra clothing and personal belongings.

Officials said it may be weeks before facilities with some of the worst flood damage are able to re-open.

For more information about our elder law services, visit www.elderlawnewyork.com.

For End-of-Life Care, Many Must Choose Between Nursing Home and Hospice

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

According to a recent study released by the University of California, San Francisco, close to one-third of elderly people needing end-of-life care enter a nursing home. The issue? Nursing homes are not always the best environment for end-of-life care. A nursing home is equipped to oversee many basic elements of end-of-life care, including IV hydration and monitoring vital signs, but staff may not be adequately responsive to issues such as pain management, palliative care and support for bereaved family members.

The study used data from 1994 through 2007 from the National Health and Retirement Study. Researchers examined more than 5,000 cases of people who lived independently. Some 30 percent of individuals older than 85 eventually used their Medicaid skilled-nursing facility (S.N.F) benefit within the final six months of their life.

Care options are limited for those with tight budgets. While some end-of-life nursing home residents can receive hospice care in a nursing home, Medicare seldom reimburses for the room and board provided by the facility as well as hospice care. Residents must choose – and nursing home room and board can add up to hundreds of dollars per day.

An individual can choose to have home hospice care and use those Medicaid benefits, but if there are any “medically complex” issues, home hospice may not cover those expenses. Additionally, home hospice assumes there are family members and a home where care can be given. An individual who needs 24-hour care may have to choose between skilled care and hospice care. But for many, the need of 24-hour care outweighs other options. Complicating matters further is the way Medicare restricts coverage: if an individual is hospitalized for a diagnosis unrelated to the hospice diagnosis, he or she can often get nursing home and hospice coverage.

For more information, visit www.elderlawnewyork.com.

Elder Law Attorney Bernard A. Krooks to Speak at Heckerling Institute

Monday, January 7th, 2013

White Plains, New York (January 10, 2013) – Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP, will be a guest speaker at the 47th Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning on January 14, 2013, at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort and Convention Center, in Orlando, Florida.

Mr. Krooks will be speaking about the “graying” of Baby Boomers and their need for elder law services. Mr. Krooks will also discuss “Later Life Law” and how elder care attorneys can assist their clients with Medicaid options as well as other areas of elder care planning including retirement accounts, long-term care insurance and tax considerations and the use of trusts in elder law and special needs planning.

The Heckerling Institute on Estate Planning is known as the premiere U.S. conference for estate planning professionals, including attorneys, accountants, trust officers, insurance advisors and wealth management professionals. The program offers lectures and special sessions with comprehensive coverage of estate planning techniques and strategies, designed to allow attendees to customize their educational experience.

Mr. Krooks has been included among The Best Lawyers in America® for each of the last six years. He has been selected as a “New York Super Lawyer” since 2006. Krooks has received his AEP accreditation from the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils. He is a member of the Real Property, Probate & Trust Law Section and Tax Section of the American Bar Association. He is a sought-after expert on estate planning and elder law matters and has been quoted in leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Forbes, among others.

About Littman Krooks

Littman Krooks LLP provides sophisticated legal advice and the high level of expertise ordinarily associated with large law firms along with the personal attention and responsiveness of smaller firms. These ingredients, which are the cornerstone of effective representation and are necessary to a successful lawyer/client relationship, have become the foundation of the firm’s success.

Littman Krooks LLP offers legal services in several areas of law, including elder law, estate planning, special needs planning, special education advocacy, and corporate and securities. Their offices are located at 399 Knollwood Road, White Plains, New York; 655 Third Avenue, New York, New York; and 300 Westage Business Center Drive, Fishkill, New York. Visit the firm’s website at http://www.elderlawnewyork.com.